True Detective Season 1 Episode 7 Deconstructed

True Detective’s penultimate episode aptly sets us up for what may lie ahead…

by: Michael Shields

 “My whole life is this expanding circular f*ck-up and I’m about to get clipped in a home invasion. What I’m saying is, I was aware that I mighta lost my mind.” – Rust Cohle

Suspiciously quiet for the penultimate episode of this volatile first season, this week’s True Detective, “After You’ve Gone,” aptly sets us up for the conclusion to the frenzied manhunt which has been nothing, if not all consuming. Although a very procedural episode, it felt good to be back in the saddle again, riding shotgun with Rust and Marty as they chase down leads and do what they do best. What we learned this week, above all else, is that Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart are in no way involved with these sickening acts. They are, in nearly every sense of the idea, “true detectives.” Now fully engaged, they inch us closer to a final confrontation with the miscreants responsible for not only preying upon young woman and children throughout the Bayou, but who have also haunted our thoughts for months now.

A weight has been lifted. There is something so freeing about having our heroes exonerated prior to arriving at the climax of our tale. Sure, anything can happen, and we were rightly suspicious of both Hart and Cohle at points ((“True Detective is not a whodunnit. True Detective is about a manhunt.” – Nic Pizzolatto. For a few weeks there, this idea wasn’t so obvious…..)). But it is hard to fathom for even a moment that The Yellow King spends his free time perusing Or, that the killer would devote years in restless exploration of the culprit (as evidence of the storage unit) if he were himself responsible. No, we are past the suspicion, a liberating and empowering feeling, as we now get the opportunity to finish this together.

Marty is recharged by the urgency and reality of the investigation. Talk of debts that would make the Lannisters proud, and a snuff video that requires a flask of fire water to behold, obligate Marty to finish a job incomplete ((Cohle wasn’t shy in pulling the guilt card in regards to Hart having shot Ledoux in the head, vanquishing any chance to learn anything from him.)). In essence, the band is back together for one last run at it. Although Marty doesn’t “dwell in the past” – there is no escaping it. And it appears as if they will both go to any extreme necessary, as abducting a sheriff at gunpoint is the literal definition of all in. 

And more than that. What this episode made readily apparent is that these two misfits need each other. Their bond, beyond their shared obligation, is their loneliness. The air of cocksure masculinity that defined these two men is no longer. Finally facing the truth that they are defective, that the basic ideology that guided their actions may have destroyed their lives, they now find themselves alone and isolated from the world. “My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation long as I can remember,” Cohle admits. “I’m ready to tie it off.” The case, the only thing keeping him going. Two men linked by a life altering event in 1995, which arrested them to each other and to the burden of their failings.

In direct contrast to Marty and Cohle’s shortcomings, Maggie’s wore her satisfaction upon her sleeve in “After You’ve Gone.” Filled with a comfortable confidence, and enjoying a far better life than could have ever been the case with her unfaithful ex-husband, Maggie’s victory is complete. But attachments, the ties that enduringly bind, linger. Although vindicated and free, her concern remains, as she once again asked Cohle to lie to her about her ex-husband. To tell her that her former husband is not in the line of fire. But this is far from the case, as Hart and Cohle are dancing alongside a fire poised to burn out of control. They are in danger, walking on thin ice into a world of fetishes, perversion, and murder.

In fastidious detail we caught glimpses of how Cohle and Hart have spent their time apart. While Hart was coming apart at the seams, witnessing atrocities that demanded a change in occupation ((The horrifying visual of an infant in a microwave reminds us how true the old adage – no country for old men – truly can be.)), Cohle took to breaking and entering in search of the truth. Even armed with an abundance of evidence (“sprawl” or “”conjecture” to Marty), he still required more. Though hot on the trail, and eventually finding damning evidence at one of Billy Lee Tuttle’s residences, Cohle began to question himself. “What I’m sayin’ is, I was aware that I mighta lost my mind.” This idea, that Rust was cognizant of walking the fine line between genius and insanity, is another example of how self-aware True Detective is. It wasn’t just Cohle, or Marty, or their superiors, questioning Cohle’s motives – but all of us viewers. An acknowledgement, at long last, of the extravagance of Cohle’s actions thus far. But as the truth bubbles to the surface, his justifications manifest profoundly purposeful.

The interview with one of the Tuttle family’s old employees, a maid named Ms Delores who makes sense to Cohle and Cohle alone (“That should worry you mister”), was the hair-raising peak of “After You’ve Gone,” when the devastating and lasting effects of time spent in Carcosa became shockingly apparent. The evidence is mounting, and leading us to one preeminent conclusion: The Tuttle/Childress family is responsible for the demonic behavior at the heart of our perverted tale. This isn’t merely speculation, but the natural course of things as presented from the initial episode (The Sheriff who covered up the Fontenot killing was a Childress. A cop on duty when Guy Francis killed himself was a Childress. The lawnmower man is a Childress. The task force intervention. The evidence found at Tuttle’s home, etc., etc.). As the evidence piles up, it becomes crystal clear that ritualistic rape and murder, along with the Yellow King/Carcosa mythology, is a family tradition, passed down through generations and covered up by the rich and influential men committing the atrocities.

And as expected, we have already met our Spaghetti Monster – if the scarred groundskeeper ((First encountered in Episode 3, mowing the lawn at The Light of the Way school.)), Errol Childress, is indeed our man. Casting clues have laid suspicion on our lawnmower man for weeks now, as he is played by Glenn Fleshler, Boardwalk Empire’s George Remus, a bootlegger who exclusively refers to himself in the third person. But True Detective threw you off his scent by offering other titillating aromas in the form of fellow HBO alums (Shea Whigham, Clarke Peters, and Paul Ben-Victor) whose dubious behavior had our attention. But it seems we have, at long last, found the gruesome offender, and he was right under our nose the whole time (“The Detectives Curse”), and this week could be found sitting literally in front of the lost, frustrated, and argumentative ((Interesting to note the contrast between our two sets of detectives.)) Detectives, Papgania and Gilbough (Detectives “Suck and Fuck”). As they drive away equipped with directions, a pan in on the face of a man with scarring beneath his nose ominously introduces us to the face haunting the dreams of children for decades ((The revelation that kids were abused during nap time at school is sickening.)). Scarring ever present, but not so discernable that Cohle would have noticed it upon their meeting, especially in light of the fact that Eroll’s face was bearded at the time.

With white tombstones littering the landscape behind him, Errol Childress remounts his lawnmower and continues cutting a flat circle into the grass. But not before delivering a chilling reminder of how long these atrocities against women and children may have been occurring. “My family has been here a long time,” he stoically declares, a suggestion of how deep-rooted and voluminous the evil at hand may be. Chilling.

But Errol alone isn’t the end-game. It is finding and bringing to justice the five men that modify the rituals of the rural (“Courir de”) Mardi Gras to their own Satanic and wicked ways. Five men confirmed in the video tape. Confirmed by Rust’s beer can men. Confirmed by the five hooded figures in a picture with Dora Lang at her mother’s house. And appallingly confirmed by the five clothed figures standing over a naked victim set up by Audrey Hart with her Barbies.

This is a world where nothing is solved,” Cohle once lamented in the interrogation room with Papgania and Gilbough. An existential truth of the world in Cohle’s mind, and also a warning to the viewer, a hint of what may be to come. Expecting a bow tied neatly upon the conclusion of the season ignores everything we have seen prior to the finale, and it dismisses what the show is actually about. We cannot reject the idea that one of the many points possibly being suggested here is the cosmically depressing truth that sometimes there is no justice. We dug into the case competently in “After You’ve Gone,” but the majority of our time was spent healing the open wound of Hart and Cohle’s relationship. This show has always been about these two men, and their journey, and now we are at a point where they are poised to finish what they started 17 years ago together. The outcome of this quest is anyone’s guess, but expectations of a tidy finish to this crusade may be naive, and unfounded.

We can also not dismiss a very real and distressing possibility, the prospect that one of our detectives doesn’t make it out of this alive. The signs are on the wall. Marty’s ‘thank you’s’ to Maggie felt like a good-bye, like his attempt at closure. While Rust discussed that one should “be careful what you get good at,” alluding not only to the disheartening fact that often in life your profession chooses you, not the other way around, but to the perils of his incessant manhunt. It would seem fitting that The White Whale Cohle relentlessly pursues finds a way to swallow him whole ((PLEASE, take note of this episode of Unsolved Mysteries which involves a woman named Dorothy Lang, lawn mowing, a big red pickup truck, and stars Matthew McConaughey – who is killed in the segment: – “everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”)), or that Hart pays the ultimate price for his sins. Ms. Delores urged Cohle to “rejoice, death is not the end!” Jaded, and weary of the world and all who inhabit it, Cohle longed for Ms. Delores to be wrong – that death is indeed the end of it all. The question now is: Will death be the end of True Detective in the concluding episode entitled, “Form and Void”….. ((This is a reference to the Book of Genesis which begins: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”))

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