True Detective Season 1 Episode 3 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

This week’s True Detective takes us to the edge, and offers us a glimpse of the monster which haunts the dreams within our “Locked Doors”…..

Life is all a dream we have inside a Locked Room, a dream about being a person, and like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it. – Rustin Cohle

I am always apprehensive of those that claim to have it all figured out. Those that don’t allow even a little wiggle room of uncertainty into their canon of beliefs. The vehement souls that are “incapable of admitting doubt.”1 I get uneasy around people that lack the ability to be open minded about the bigger, more existential questions in life, for what do we really know to be true beyond any reasonable doubt? That said, the duo who are our escorts through the unsettling backwoods bayous of Louisiana are just the type of people I speak of, individuals capable of bleeding a room barren of its air with their certain and righteous take on the world. The unrelenting confidence in their cosmic viewpoints, and their belief that they are above the moral failings of the universe as they perceive them, is the tie that binds them together. But, this week’s episode of True Detective, “The Locked Door,” is as much about their dissimilarities as their homogeneity, and the events and moments that will eventually tear these two men apart.

It often doesn’t take much. Sometimes you can gaze deep into the inner working of a fellow human being with the guiding light of a few simple words. When Detective Hart, torn with his feelings for two women2, ponders aloud if a man can love two women at once, Cohle chimes in that he doesn’t believe man can love. A telling acknowledgement of “Mr. Charisma’s” profound despair. Cohle’s beliefs, or lack thereof, bubble to the surface of “The Locked Door” as the depth of his contempt for believers is revealed with fervor. From his high-horse Cohle judges a congregation of religious zealots and their “propensity for obesity, poverty, and a yen for fairy tales.” Nihilistic to the core, he laments about how hapless the world is when people resort to getting together, “making up fairy tales, just to get through the day.” Faith, he claims, “dulls critical thinking.” Yet, Cohle exhibits just that lack of analytical thought he speaks of, and pushes his partner to the brink, when he fails to adhere to one of life’s long standing mandates – you NEVER mow another man’s yard…..

But alas there is a case here to discuss, and a few pieces of the puzzle fell purposely together, and in the spine-chilling final moments of the episode we may have gotten a raw, unforgiving look at our monster. A man clad in a loincloth, wearing a gas mask, and handling a sickle; the monster that haunts “The Locked Door” of our minds, and preys upon young woman making a “spectacle” of it all (Is this the “green-haired spaghetti monster”that chased the young girl through the woods in Episode 1?). The detectives’ hunt has chaperoned us to a tent revival led by a fiery evangelical named Joel Theriot3, where a woman in the congregation remembers Dora Lange talking to a “tall man” with “shiny” skin around his jaw – similar to burn scars. And later, Detective Cohle puts his persistent insomnia to some good use, confirming his serial theory and locating another victim, a young girl from Pelican Island with similar injuries and that same spiral symbol on her back as Dora. The detectives question her eccentric, hermit-like grandfather, who gives them the girl’s yearbook from Light of the Way school, revealing that the school is part of Tuttle’s Ministries Wellsprings Program (In an offhand comment earlier, Juel Theriot mentioned attending Tuttle college in Baton Rouge.). Her grandfather further exposes the girl ran off with a local boy, named Reggie Ledoux. Hart looks into Ledoux and discovers he skipped parole eight months ago, but that in 1993, he was busted in connection with a narcotics lab used to make meth and LSD, which Dora Lange and the second murdered girl were both “full of.” Ledoux did two years in Avoyelles Parish, where his cellmate was….Dora Lange’s ex-husband, Charlie. Paydirt. With merely two days left to spare before an anti-Christian task force takes hold of the investigation, they may have their man. “You’re bonkers,” Hart tells Cohle with a satisfied smile during a uniquely optimistic shared moment, “just not on this.”

Rust has been to the edge and back, but Marty is only now being pushed to it. We learned this week how incapable of dealing with stress, personal responsibility, and jealously he really is. More teenager than full grown man, Hart is denounced by his wife as she claims he “used to be smarter.” He responds by willfully channeling a vulnerable man struggling with age. Vulnerability, led to empathy, which led to a temporary moment of resolve within each other’s arms.

Detective Hart and Detective Cohle are both men who are intensely critical, both of one another and the world around them, and now we have gotten a glance at the dark corners their minds inhabit. Hart’s rage fueled jealousy and apparent mid-life crisis make him nearly as unstable as his partner, a man whose certainty about the lack of meaning in the word bleeds over to agitating cockiness. “Denial,” Cohle insists is the difference between them, but the truth is they are more alike than either of them would like to admit.

An awkward double date, an unexpected friendship between Cohle and Maggie Hart (rife with sexual tension), and the reveal of Cohle’s talent for fashioning dolls out of empty beer cans, rounded out another gripping hour of television, an able setup for the fireworks ahead. In Hart’s contradictory affidavit in 2012 he speaks of needing people in your life, as “people give you rules – rules describe the shape of things.” Yet, it’s clear we are well beyond structure and sense here. The hunt for a mad men requires demonic understanding, it requires bad men, “to keep the other bad men from the door.” “Not everyone sits alone in an empty room beating off to murder manuals” – but maybe we should be thankful that some do.

So for the first time in this young season4 we have been beset with a cliffhanger. We have been teased with an allude to a gunfight, and even a comparison of the encounter before us to ‘Nam. We are on the cusp of something big, an engagement that will forever alter the landscape of the constitution of those involved. True Detective has thus far been dark, existential, moody, and introspective. But now it appears as if it is about to become (for the lack of better $10 words)…extraordinarily intense!

  1. As Detective Hart claims Cohle to be. []
  2. It is worth noting the Detective Hart is not wearing a wedding ring during the 2012 interrogation. []
  3. HBO’s incestual nature, one we are fully behind, is densely abound within True Detective, as Juel Theriot is played by none other than Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham. And we already have been introduced to Detective Maynard played by Michael Potts (Brother Mouzone from The Wire) and a minister played by Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon, also from The Wire). []
  4. Young, yet we are already nearing the halfway point already. Remember, we are dealing with an 8-episode season here. Quality will always trump quantity. Every time. []

1 Comment

  • Thanks for these pithy deconstructions. I’m just loving your spin on what is undoubtedly the best thing on television this season. I live(in dread while also) for True Detective!

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