True Detective – Episodes 1 and 2

Note: I’m putting these up retroactively. I started catching up on the series about mid-way through.

And here I just thought it was going to be a nod to the magazine and pulp fiction. Instead we’ve got Southern Gothic with a touch of pre-Lovecraft.

I’m pretty sure every critic alive has discussed the gorgeous camera work and tour-de-force performances of Harrelson and McConaughey, so I’ll say I agree and move on to the mysteries the show has dropped us two episodes in. I’m still leaning on the theory they want the *mood* of The King in Yellow and some Lovecraft, with that sense of a cruel universe that would break your mind open if you truly understood it, and that we’re not actually going to get tentacled horrors from outer space.

Rust Cohle

It’s pretty clear that the detectives in 2012 suspect Cohle of being the killer. They’re too interested in his “process”, Hart’s recollections of Cohle’s quirks, and the convenient fact he went off the grid and came back only recently, just in time for a new dead body with an antler crown to show up.

He is playing the Sherlock role in one sense – surly, anti-social, brilliant, addicted – but he’s also clearly the one who’s seen beyond the veil and had his mind broken by it. “Mainlining the Truth of the Universe” as he says in episode 2. He sees the pattern, just barely, and it’s destroyed him. His nihilistic world-view back in 1995, his shattered visionary self in 2012, all of a piece.

There are three pretty obvious mysteries about Cohle, of which two probably are significant to the show.

* The first is just the full story of his past before 1995. It will flesh him out, but I don’t think it is relevant besides whether or not he was the driver who killed his daughter.

* The second is what caused him and Hart to split and Cohle to drop off the grid. (This all seems to happen around 2002.) The most obvious choice for a split would be Maggie. Not necessarily an affair, but just Cohle staying friends while Marty and Maggie split-up. We’ve already seen Cohle gets along better with her and Hart’s family than expected, he mentions that his almost-second wife was someone Maggie introduced him to, and one can’t help but notice that Hart no longer wears a wedding ring. That might explain the split, but it doesn’t explain Cohle crashing and burning into the wreck he is now. Siding with Maggie and Maggie dying? Possibly. Although given the issue with Marty’s kids, siding with Maggie for custody and one of the kids dying would also be a strong choice for his ending up like this.

* The third is whether or not Cohle is the killer. He could be. The other detectives think so, and he’s definitely haunted. I’m leaning against him being the killer, but if he is, I’m going with him not knowing it. He’s the perfect candidate for the amnesiac killer trope, somehow seeking redemption for something he doesn’t even know he’s done.

Marty Hart

I haven’t yet decided if Marty is as simple as he appears two episodes in. A salt-of-the-earth Louisiana cop, with all the problems of a man who thinks the world is supposed to run a certain way for men like him. A decently skilled cop without the brilliance of Cohle, but solid method and good at what he does.
Or maybe not.
Right now I’m leaning towards the idea that the weirdness around him is stuff he’s oblivious to, due to shortsightedness and privilege. He’s a fine contrast to Cohle in terms of philosophy, surface-level religious and happy to use his belief in good people and a proper family life to justify his sins. While Cohle claims to have seen “The Truth”, Hart embodies the “The Lie”. Hart cheats on his wife, and justifies it as for the good of the family. He wants his home life to be his anchor and solace, and indeed expects it as his due as the man of the house. He’s not stupid, and can see how unhappy Maggie is, and has clearly some inkling his daughters are disturbed by something, but stubbornly refuses to look at what might be the real cause. Instead, his wife is a “ballbuster” or has “a penchant for self pity”. She rightly calls him out on having selective deafness, and tells him he didn’t used to be such a chicken shit.

Marty clearly wants the world to work a certain way, and thinks any deviation from that is an affront to him. He gets called on this more than once, but it just seems to fly right by him. Maggie as mentioned above, but the madam at the bunny ranch does it as well- pointing out a woman charging for sex makes him mad because it implies she owns her sexuality and not him – and so does his mistress – noting she won’t wait in this deal as the Other Woman forever. He doesn’t really register it either time.

I’ve already mentioned he has no wedding ring in 2012, and I fully expect his split to be in 2002 and part of the reason he an Cohle don’t talk either.

But that’s all the simple story. There’s another one going on, one he either can’t see because he refuses to think of women as anything other than madonnas and whores who are there to comfort or satiate him, or one he’s more directly responsible for.

Something is affecting his daughters. They seem overly intrigued by Cohle when he visits. They have secret whispers. They almost get into a fight over their tangled fishing lines (which I think is the only reason this show passes the Bechdel test). They obviously are aware of Marty not being home when he should, even as he seems unaware of them noticing it.

And then there’s the scene where they appear to be discussing the car accident that killed Cohle’s daughter (despite no one telling them about that) while *acting out a gang bang with their dolls*. Marty notices, but sort of doesn’t notice that. Is he abusing his kids? Is someone else? (Their kinda racist grandpa perhaps?). Is someone else doing it? (Maybe at school?) Something is going on, and it is something we’re meant to notice, even if Marty seems determined not to.

The Murder

The killer is almost an afterthought at this point. In some ways this feels like Twin Peaks, where the journey the detectives are going on/have gone on is more important than who killed the girl.

Right now we have some hint of a cult, be it Old Gods or New, and some belief in ritual. A serial killer seems the obvious choice, although cult ritual also opens the door for multiple killers and a conspiracy. The obvious candidate right now is the Reverend Tuttle, or both him and his brother Edwin. Why? Because there is no reason to have a fake governer unless you’re going to have the story go somewhere the real governer would sue you for. So we’ll assume those two are involved.

I don’t think the missing girl would have been brought up without it meaning something, and so I’ll chalk that as evidence that this has been going on a long time. (And involving someone who could convince the police to chalk it up to “report filed in error”.) I can’t decide if the devil nets are something made by the victims or the killers.

Then, of course, is the question of whether or not we’re going to solve the 1995 case before the 2012 one, or whether it is going to be simultaneous. (“This is gonna happen again, or it’s happened before. Both”)

I’m still hoping against an actual supernatural explanation. The vast, cosmic inhumanity of The Universe is enough for me in this.

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