True Detective episode 3 review: The Locked Room

True Detective takes a look inside men's heads and finds monsters lurking...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 The Locked Room

‘The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door’. Rust Cohle may possess a pronounced tendency to articulate his convictions and perceptions via a battery of ‘ten dollar words’ but there are times when single syllables will do. His assertion that there are uses for men with the worst impulses may seem odd for a man on the trail of whichever sonofabitch killed Dora Lange, but it may prove a comfort for his companion on that trail, a guy who we may now suspect to be rather a bad man too.

If there was any hint that Marty Harte would prove the good cop to Cohle’s single-minded obsessive, then that has been expunged by the events of this week. There’s nothing to indicate that either he or his partner are responsible for the modern day killing; that would be too trite a conceit for such a well-considered narrative as this, but that doesn’t inure him against charges of general assholery. That he was a philandering husband was established well enough last week, this episode’s escalation proved what a jealous, petty-minded and potentially dangerous man he actually is.

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His eye-bulging territorialism was made plain by his desperate rush to discover and eject whoever it was had been ‘mowing his lawn’. If there’s a euphemism there, it’s not mine. Harte has the violent jealousy of the truly insecure, not so concerned by the fact that Lisa had been sleeping with another man, but at what precisely they had been doing. He needed to know that there was some part of her that remained his, that his manhood hadn’t been completely diminished before returning, a double hypocrite, to his poor wife. 

He is utterly convinced that he’s doing OK and that his behaviour is either normal masculine pursuit or an outlet for horror made necessary by his day job. He’s a professional, he thinks, ‘I keep things even. Separate. Like the way I can have this one beer without needing twenty’ he says, boasting of his restraint, but again, we’ve seen him do this before. He’s making excuses to his wife and himself, every single beer ‘just one’, every marital failure recast as the means to preserve his marriage. The show is not merely about men, it is about the failures of men and the ‘locked rooms’ they keep above their shoulders and between their ears.  

Weak men don’t just fail as husbands and lovers, they make pretty terrible fathers too. Harte’s fatherhood has been presented in contrast to Cohle’s obvious absence of it, but there’s something rotten at home. Last week we saw his daughters recreating a crime scene with their dolls, this week we’re subjected to the crude sexual drawings in Audrey’s exercise book. This is not the handiwork of a child distraught by arguing parents, this is something much, much worse. It also throws Harte’s earlier anger at the underage prostitute into sharp relief. McConaughey has been winning most of the plaudits for his drawling, intense performance as Cohle but Harrelson has been consistently excellent in the dual performance of the decent detective and woeful family man Harte. Cohle may have undergone the most obvious transformation of the two, but his partner is not going to escape the horror and his modern day togetherness may just be yet another performance. 

Whatever Harte’s horror is, it’s almost certainly airborne. There’s a spirit of malevolence in the Louisana atmosphere and it exhibits itself in every suspect and almost every witness that Harte and Cohle meet. In describing the murder of Dora Lange, Cohle notes that there’s ‘some kind of culture to it’, something that inhabits the social texture of their surroundings from the Old Time Religion of the Friends of Christ to the synthetic drug trade to the derelict institutions that include a burned-out church and an abandoned school. This is already about more than the killing of a young girl; if the true detectives are to stand a chance of solving the case, they’ll have to solve the whole culture. 

With that task at hand, Cohle’s outsider status is a useful attribute. A Texan who arrived in Louisana by way of Alaska, he stands on the edge of everything he tries to enter. Grudgingly tolerated on the force, he’s barely better on Maggie’s contrived double date. A conversation about synaesthesia barely counts as small talk and it’s impossible to avoid the notion that he’d rather be at work. He’s back, glumly passing through photographs when Maggie calls him to check on her husband’s whereabouts, having reasoned that he’s outsider enough to not be in on the lie. 

Cohle is at least able to plough his energies into addressing the case. True Detective’s focus on actual casework is admirable (not least because it would be all too easy to lose it amid the southern philosophying) and seeing Cohle go diligently about his work is a pleasure. It was a clever montage, reminiscent of a similar scene in Seven in which decisive leads are found through the decidedly unmanly process of mining an archive. Cohle is also adept in ‘the box’, capable of discerning guilt within ten minutes and, where guilt is absent, drawing out the details he needs by following the same religious narrative that he so bitterly dismissed when it came from the mouth of Minister Joel Theriot. 

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The trail leads them to Reginald Ladoux, a suspect so ingrained into the surrounding circumstances of the case that there’s only the season’s novelty to stand between him and guilt. When we see him, or whoever we may presume is him, at the end of the episode, part naked and filthy, wearing a gas mask and wielding a machete, we’re back amid that malevolent spirit again. For a moment’ in that hazy distance, his limbs captured in slow strides, he resembled the Patterson-Gimlin clip of Bigfoot. His presence is heralded by a typically doom-laden monologue from Cohle. ‘It was all a dream that you had 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’. Yes, there’s a monster coming and that monster is a very bad man indeed.  

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, seeing things, here

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