by: Michael Shields
True Detective guides us through a series of “Haunted Houses” en route to its concluding third act…..
In the closing moments of True Detective’s sixth episode, “Haunted Houses,” we are presented with a striking and effectual shot of Rust’s broken taillight. Initially, it seemed as just another creative take from a show demonstrating a weekly knack for cinematographic inventiveness. But, the longer you considered the fractured light the more you began to resolve that it had a voice, one that recounted a penetrating tale. It told of an altercation a decade past that ruptured a deteriorating, yet fruitful, partnership. It spoke of angst, passion, and a melodramatic unraveling of epic proportions. It recounted the story of a man on a quest, and another in need of a reminder. A narrative that champions the idea that once damaged, mending is unlikely. And it spoke of a journey, into the past and through a series of dwellings possesed by the demons of prior sins. From encountering Joel Theroit nestled up to a bottle instead of his congregation ((“All my life I wanted to be nearer to God. The only nearness? Silence.”)), to Terry Guidry’s brokedown palace where the memory of his lost son still haunts his embattled existence and drove his wife to madness. To a mental ward where young Kelly continues to be plagued by the memory of her time with Ledoux and his demonic “giant” cohorts. And unto Tuttle’s plush sanctuary armed with questions about “dead woman and children.” We rattled about like echoes to locales where abominable behavior has led directly to unimaginable pain.
And above all, we spent time in the possessed homes of our detectives. One which has become a temple to a robust obsession, awash with the ghosts of missing and lifeless children, remnants of a case deemed solved by the powers that be. And another, devoid of love and trust, now overflowing with bitterness and resentment.
This week’s episode was more forthright than the previous two outstanding episodes preceding it, in that it meticulously filled in the holes leading up until present day – Tuttle’s 2010 death, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding it notwithstanding. Much of the episode was spent in chronicling “the human tampon’s” (Hart) ((Welcome Paul Ben-Victor, who played Vondas in The Wire, to the cast! Paul plays Captain Leroy Salter. It is worth noting that Leroy derives from French for “the king.”)) hideous nature – and it is hard to not wonder why the narrative led us this way ((Marty’s daughter drew this. Flower pic from Marty’s bedroom, also can be found at insane asylum.)). Cohle’s joke about Marty’s “down payment” to the underage prostitute proved prophetic, and we learned the cost of “a mans game,” exacting “a man’s price.” Slowly, but surely, we have arrived at a place where it is fathomable to expect the unexpected from Hart, and that Cohle, in turn, will go to any length to solve this crime.
“Haunted Houses” acquainted us to a name that felt poignant – one Austin Farrar, once accused by Tuttle’s ministry of embezzling from the church ((Remember Joel Theroit’s story about finding the photos of the naked young children – in this sect they shoot the messenger.)) who later died in an accident. Farrar’s involvement in this scandal remains cryptic, but he does share the name with an 18th century theologian and philosopher (a close friend of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis) who belonged to a group known as “The ‘Metaphysicals,” who believed “that human actions are fully our own but also are the work of God, though perfect, hidden.” An allusion to celestial thought being at the root of our tragedy.
It is interesting to consider the unique yet omnipresent code which drives Cohle. “The newspapers are going to be tough on you, and prison is very, very hard on people who hurt kids. If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself,” he tells a young woman named Charmaine (“The Marshland Medea”) straight-faced and sincere, who was responsible for the deaths of her infant children. Rust’s disgust in humanity, and the evil they are capable of effecting and then justifying is complete ((“You, these people, this place … you’ll eat your fucking young as long as you have something to salute.”)), and thorough rationale for his fixation. Rust is nauseated by Charmaine, and the world as he sees it would revolve just as smoothly without her upon it, but her immorality is a mere drop in the bucket to what he believes he is chasing.
Yet it is this same code that makes you wonder about his inability to ward off Maggie’s advances. But this line of thinking ignores the connection between Rust and Maggie scrupulously constructed throughout the season. Maggie, in some way, is the only one that can truly see Cohle for who he is, and she doesn’t just empathize with him – she respects him, and admires that he knows who he is absolutely. And Cohle feels this, is attracted to this adoration, and was, in that moment, amenable to giving Maggie what she needed most – a way out.
Woman are treated poorly in True Detective. This idea is indisputable. But instead of this being a prevailing fault of the show, a chink in its otherwise impervious armor, it is rather a component of the comprehensive point about human nature being made. The ills against woman, enacted by those wielding a badge or not, are disparaging flaws. These actions act as character assassinations, allowing us to see the depth of Marty’s illnesses or Reggie Ledoux’s insanity. The world’s gone mad. In fact, its always been. And it is fair, even in this day and age, to affirm that so often women get the short end of the stick. True Detective is a man’s story about a man’s world, where the horrors we bear witness to are the direct result of misogynistic behavior. True Detective knows this, and unrelentlessly thrusts this idea down our throat.
The fact that True Detective wades deep into chauvinistic seas, makes it all that much more satisfying when Maggie Hart bites back, and revels in her own “I fucked Ted” moment (a little something for all the Breaking Bad fans out there!). In a moment of extraordinary bravery and desperation, Maggie exploits Hart and Cohle’s complicated relationship and manipulates both men as pawns in her vengeful game. This week’s episode belongs to Maggie, as the lengths she went to rid herself of her unfaithful husband proved both jaw-dropping and effective. She took the power back, for good this time, proving she is, as she claimed, a seasoned veteran in the field of “navigating crude men who thought they were clever.”
True Detective had the internet working overtime this past week following episode 5, “The Secret Fate of All Life.” Not since Twin Peaks asked America “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” has a TV show driven viewers into such fevered speculation. Reggie Ledoux’s final words to Cohle about dreams, (“I saw you in my dreams. You’re a priest too.), Carcosa (“You’re in Carcosa now.”), and black stars (“It’s time isn’t it….the black stars.”) gave rise to a fervent escalation in speculation. Theories upon theories of who The Yellow King may be flooded the internet. And with good reason. The references to the fictional play within a collection of short stories (The King in Yellow) are deliberate and pertinent. And they, much like the metafictional work that incites madness and despair to anyone who reads it or who sees it performed, are affecting many of us, as we, ironically, dig in way too deep, stirring within us a frenzy of anticipation and conjecture.
The guessing game, fun as it may be, is only one aspect of this drama however. Just one piece of the pie. True to form, it is important to remember the crux of the drama will be about our two heroes. Nic Pizzolatto’s primary interest since day one has been the two main characters and who they are as men. And that idea was on display with vigor this week, as their relationship crumbled before our eyes, and then they ultimately reunite under far different circumstances.
Yet, we theorists who have spent the last five weeks barreling down this rabbit hole at warp speed, will presumably have our satisfaction. Cohle has come face to face with the monster. He knows the specifics of the crime scene, recreated for two oblivious investigators, fashioned out of empty Lone Star cans (pictured below). And he is not alone. Hart’s daughter erected the same crime scene in her room, five dolls around its ill-fated prey ((We must also take a moment here and remember the picture of the five horsemen around a young girl at Dora Lang’s mother’s home.)). It is justifiable to assume she herself was a victim (This leads to increased speculation about Marty, or possibly his father and law). And so it is likely that by seasons ends we too will be let in on the culprit, the increasingly terrifying “giant” with facial scars and the ominous “Big People.” Fingers crossed anyhow……
The fruit of the discussion between Cohle and Hart will blossom into the finality of the season, the closing two chapters in this all-engrossing and perverted tale. And something tells me we may already be acquainted with our villain. What’s that old saying about the detective’s curse? “Solution was right under my nose, but I was paying attention to the wrong clues.”