True Detective episode 7 review: After You've Gone

Review Michael Noble
4 Mar 2014 - 13:57

The penultimate episode of the series takes us deeper into the horror of the Yellow King...

This review contains spoilers.

1.7 Haunted Houses

The name True Detective has its origin in those pulpy thrillers written quickly by writers who were paid by the word and sold cheaply to readers who read little else. They focused on the grislier aspects of crime; the hideous apocalypses of rape, torture and murder. In pursuit, they set men who were dedicated detectives but dysfunctional people; men who solved the crime while leaving a trail of empty whisky bottles and broken relationships in their wake. Sound familiar? They were of a piece with the true crime, non-fictional variety that Marty Hart bullshits about writing in this week’s episode. They too focused on the horror of crime and the doggedness of the chase.

After You’ve Gone, the penultimate episode of the series, had all three elements. Horror, proper detective work and a pair of broken men joining it all up. It was a relatively quiet instalment, no doubt saving some of the urgent buzz for next week’s finale, but it provided a reminder of everything that made the show stand out.

It’s become ever more clear, and never more so than now, that True Detective is interested in far more than simply the case of Dora Lange, or even the wider Yellow King mystery. The entire environment, while sun dappled and beautiful, is soaked with lies, murder and corruption. The effect that this has on the inhabitants is obvious, even they try to disguise it. Cohle’s pattern of destruction is well documented, but his partner? Hart may claim to be doing okay for himself, but it’s all front. His evenings are spent cruising dating websites and eating disgusting ready meals (a neat contrast with his comfortable home-cooked pasta dinner last week). He’s grown a horrible paunch, casting doubt on his claim that he hardly drinks anymore.  It’s been two years since he’s seen his ex-wife and, by implication, his daughters too. Audrey’s doing all right, but she will refuse to take her medication. Damn, Marty.

The emptiness of their personal lives means that there’s very little left for them other than the case, which means more of the actual detective work that the show (and its protagonists) does so well. Cohle’s obsessive interest has yielded some excellent, if stomach-churning, leads, but he needs help to follow them. We know that he takes the measure of every person he meets and it’s no surprise that he knows precisely how to get Hart on his side. That sense of righteous rage that we’ve witnessed over the preceding six episodes was the motor, the appalling snuff video of Marie Fontenot the igniting spark. Rust saw the whole thing; he had to, lest there be any further clues there. Marty managed a few minutes before turning away in incensed horror, the viewer, thankfully, saw even less, the shot of Hart’s appalled face being enough to carry the atrocity into our imaginations. The trick was repeated with the scene of the baby in the microwave; a crime terrible enough that it proved the catalyst for Hart’s leaving of the force, at least in his account of it.

It’s difficult to imagine what the rest of the trail of the Yellow King will do to him. Or to us. The ripples of the bizarre cult have been steadily expanding as more of their activities have become known. There are shades of The Wicker Man in the carnivalesque use of animal masks and in the extent and power of the central set of beliefs. It’s a family thing, a locality thing. It’s the acrid lifeblood of the entire region and it doesn’t do to pick at the scabs. There was a marked contrast, for instance, between the down-on-their-luck situations of Cohle and Hart and the comfortable, expansive lifestyle of Sheriff Steve Geraci, at ease on a sunny golf course, driving a Maserati and sipping an early morning beer on his boat. I guess that’s what you get for usefully not asking questions and conveniently looking the other way. If there’s any remaining doubt about how powerful people can get away with appalling crimes for so long, just compare the largesse of the gravy train with the self-destructive obsession it takes to bring it to a halt.

There was a contrast too, in the approach taken by Gilbough and Papania with that taken by Hart and Cohle. The newer detectives have a touch of the thoroughness (the lengthy questioning sessions are testament to that), but rather less of the dogged instinct of their predecessors. Or, it seems, their willingness to cross boundaries. In this, the first episode to be almost entirely set in the present, Hart and Cohle are fully on the outside of the wall I described last week. They pursue the case extra-legally, with a mini-bribe here, a lie there. A little breaking and entering perhaps and, towards the end, taking a Sheriff at gunpoint. They’re well on their way along the trail of the Yellow King, but it’s far from clear what they plan to do when they get there, or how they plan to explain their path. It may not have occurred even to them. All they know is that they must follow this to the end; there’s no one else who can.

Read Michael's review of the previous episode, Haunted Houses here

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