This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 1 Episode 6
HBO’s True Detective drove Robert Chamber’s seminal horror classic The King in Yellow to the top of Amazon book charts. The 1895 collection of supernatural stories revolved around a play that drove anyone who watched it insane.
True Detective’s new episode, “Haunted Houses,” opens with the revenge fantasy that would run through every dad’s head if someone fucked their underage daughter: Jail just ain’t gonna do it. It’s too bad personal justice can only be meted out by those already afforded it, though. By cops who can abuse their power with impunity. It’s okay because it’s on TV and because watching Woody Harrelson further justify demolishing these young adults because they are patronizing is a split second tour de force. A comic calm before the storm. In real life, though, a cop would probably break a baton in the kids’ asses and still send them up. I like how the music sounds like the echo of Marty Harte’s anger. The blood in his ear.
True detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Harte are living in a land of nightmares that masquerade as clues, Carcosa. It’s not on any map of Louisiana, but there are markers everywhere. There are dream catchers, spirals and dark stars dotting every home that’s been touched by the Dora Lange murders. Or is it the lives that are touched by the Tuttle schools? When Cohle visits the alligator boy’s family, you can see a twig-weaved dream catcher, a Devil Trap’s cousin of sorts, at the door, like oranges in The Godfather. When the father says that the mother was driven mad, hearing her son’s screams from under the water, you feel the horror rising from the swamps. The insanity that comes from watching the play. No one likes a critic and the father closes the curtain on Cohle before he does something that’ll get him arrested.
That would suit the new detectives fine. These company men want Rust. They think he fits the profile and they are ready to close the case. It still looks to me like he’s on the job, looking for the Dora Lange killers. The guys at the precinct are looking at Cohle like he’s lost in some paranoid conspiracy hell. But you’re only paranoid if there’s no one on your ass. Cohle has some serious people on his ass. The more he finds big fish to fry the bigger the fire under his frying pan diving board.
It feels like whatever Cohle is kicking up in his probe is stirring the dregs to the surface. Little hands grab at characters while they are trying to swim, dragging them down under murky waters. Down to the realm of the Yellow King. The deeper they sink, the higher up the ladder the clues go. The more depraved the crime, the bigger the suspect. Only a well-connected person could get away with such horrible things. Everone in their wake is collateral damage. When the former reverend, played by Shea Wigham, tells Cohle that he had to prove he wasn’t confessing when he brought the pictures of the naked kids to his superiors, True Detective reveals how these things are hidden. Blame the messenger. No one will listen to the message. Bury the message and it won’t float to the surface.
Michael Potts as Det. Maynard Gilbough and Tory Kittles as Det. Thomas Papania play their roles straight. These are cops who hate wading through mud to get a clear shot. Although Rust Cohle, the only sane person in the state of Louisiana, sees them as cleanup men, wiping the fingerprints of very important people from a low rent crime scene, they could just be doing their jobs. Jobs that are made impossible when you bring in a Satanic cabal that includes your superiors. The New Orleans cop in the satanic detective film Angel Heart tells Mickey Rourke’s Harry Angel that there’s nothing worse for a cop than someone who’s killed for “nutso reasons.” That’s how they think in the big easy. Anything else would be too hard. The idea of a larger conspiracy involving cops and politicians is too convoluted to bring to a courtroom. This is the sort of thing that starts at home.
Maggie Harte (Michelle Monaghan) is a tough nut with a cracked shell. Neil Young pointed out that that rust never sleeps, but he didn’t say Rust couldn’t get his nut off up against the pantry. There’s something unsettling about this scene and it’s not just because of the betrayal. I could see Cohle resisting Maggie’s mesmerizing mojo on membrane theory rules alone. Or just because getting laid is good for him. The conversation leading up to it reminds me of the scene where Frank Sinatra meets Janet Leigh on the train in The Manchurian Candidate. When Maggie goes on the prowl in her red dress, it reminded me of Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. There’s something else going on here besides sex and betrayal. There’s more subterfuge in this kitchenette sex than the works of Twelfth Century Franciscan mystic Teleos de Lorca (by the way – anyone reading this – send me info on this guy).
Not that Marty’s screwing the child-whore he saved under the cute little demon on the dresser is any less diabolical. It brings up so much of the inner workings and the darker works at play. It feels like Marty is being drawn into the wake of Cohle’s investigation. The tendrils of evil pulling at every strand not yet tangled. Even the major knows Harte is becoming a human tampon. Last week, Marty’s daughter gothed herself all out in sanguine black to try out for the teen slut varsity squad. Didn’t Marty’s father-in-law predict that when she was about eight? Something went down with that kid to make her draw sex pictures and pose her Barbies spread eagle and ready for gang rape. Director Cary Fukunaga and writer Nic Pizzolatto want us to believe that Marty’s got more skeletons in his closet than a Tuttle School attic, but they also love throwing us curve balls that break just inside the strike zone.
Rust and Marty carry their kids in the wallet of their minds. Marty realizes his kids are his salvation too late. Rust, who lost his baby and his marriage in one fell swoop, has a minor implosion when he confronts the serial infant killer Charmaine. He tells her SIDS is an old word in her vocabulary and teaches her the new phrase Munchausen-by-Proxy. It’s an unforgivable sin to Rust. Those kids are off limits, even if an early death might save them from the ravages of life. When Rust tells Charmaine “If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself,” I gasped. Did he really tell her that? Honest as he is and no-brainer as it might seem to him, he’s still a cop who wants the collar. Isn’t he letting her off too easily? He’d probably do it himself if he could. Last week, the supermarket killer who wanted a deal because he knew who the “Yellow King” was killed himself. Looks like Rust has a new weapon in his interrogation arsenal. Unless, he had something to do with the cellblock suicide.
That’s what they want us to think. These company men know how to cover their tracks. Everything is under the surface. Tuttle is somewhere under the surface. An alligator in muddy waters. The new detectives are still watching out for that gator. The company men are fitting Cohle and Harte with interchangeable masks. Cohle tells Harte “Without me there is no you.” It sounds, on the surface, like he’s putting down his partner for hitching his wagon to Cohle’s dark star. I think they mean that they’re about to put on each other’s masks.
Masks made me wonder about the man with the scars. “The man with the scars was the worst,” Cohle hears from Kelly Rita, the catatonic girl who was forced to watch a boy get tortured to death. A few episodes ago, some girls told Cohle about a giant with scars on his face. That giant could be anyone if he’s wearing the right mask. The big men who are involved with this Yellow King are small men with long clutching fingers. The face can be a mask. After Kelly Rita shatters, McConaughey shows empathy, he is sorry he dropped her. But there is also disappointment dripping from his corrosive soul.
I can’t always tell if these true detectives are sabotaging themselves or being brought down by outside forces. When Harte’s wife straddles Cohle in full view of the spirals and missing children, something went off in me that said she’s a distraction. Cohle knows he’s burning bridges while he scorches them, but can’t understand why people are so upset about it. Marty Harte seems to know when he’s sabotaging himself while he’s in the middle of it, but it’s lost in retrospection.
True Detective shows that Louisiana is filled with conspiracies, large and small. For Marty, Rusty and Maggie lies come easy and everybody sticks to their stories. We can only conjecture as to the lies the new detectives are telling. When the two partners meet at the roadside, those beers they’re off to grab are so they can get their stories together not watch the bar TV. Neither Cohle nor Harte could get through an episode of Dumb Blonds in Cracker Country.