TRUE DETECTIVE: “The Secret Fate of All Life”

One dramatic narrative shift and new series of questions later, I have no idea where this show is going, and now I’m totally obsessed with it.

I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive, like acid…there’s a shadow on you, son.

–DeWall

Well, that escalated quickly.

Reggie Ledoux is dead!  The dude Rust and Marty have been after for weeks has been brutally dispatched. The chase, that appeared to make up the central narrative thrust of the series, is concluded…except, of course, it isn’t.

After the thrilling high of last week’s raid (and single-take mini-masterpiece), this was something of a transitional episode, as Pizzolatto and Fukunaga pull back the curtain just a bit to reveal the real story, and what Detectives Gilbough and Papania are after in 2012. But it was also marvelously tense, cleverly edited (juggling now three separate timelines with ease), and the best episode of the series thus far.

The gulf between the truth and the “official account,” which initially cracked open with Rust and Marty’s off-the-books sojourn to Texas, widens further: they’ve tracked DeWall, Reggie’s hulking relative, to the Ledouxs’ lair, avoiding trip-wires and more of those creepy stick sculptures in the process. (Pour one out for Ginger, who was left bound and gagged in their truck and never revisited.) But instead of falling back and calling for reinforcements, they decide to take matters into their own hands, skulking through the grass and getting the drop on both Reggie and DeWall.

That’s not how they tell it, however. The story — for 17 years, and spread far and wide through every cop bar in the state — is that Cohle and Hart were spotted immediately, fired upon, and managed to kill both men through quick-wittedness and luck. There’s a brilliant juxtaposition as the 2012 Marty and Rust spin the tale, adding machine gun sound effects for emphasis, when then the actual event is actually more harrowing: Marty finds two children (one dead, one comatose) in a back room, and in a fit of righteous rage, storms out of the house and shoots Reggie point-blank in the head. DeWall turns to run, but trips on his own grenade. So Rust sets about fixing the crime scene, spraying bullets into the trees, with a knowledge and authority that has to make one wonder if he’s done this before. Time is a flat circle.

But the two detectives are heroes, vindicated and front-page news, and things are actually pretty wonderful for them for a period of seven years. This leap didn’t feel as lurching as it could have been, as we’re already using the 2012 interviews as our framing device, but there’s now a propulsion and momentum that was entirely missing from the slow-starting early episodes. Even the stuff with Marty’s family works — as Rust predicted, and aided by the shootout story, Maggie “comes back around,” but the sense of coiled dread never goes away. The signs for trouble were there, but as Marty laments, he missed them: his oldest daughter Audrey has turned into a problem teenager, and when — after she is found illicitly in a car with two other boys —  he loses control and hits her across the face, it’s a genuinely shocking moment, but you can’t shake the feeling that something more terrible is still in store for the Harts. Time is a flat circle.

Speaking of “deep and dark,” just what has Rust been up to in the interim? When we rejoin the narrative in 2002, he’s actually settled down with a woman, and is widely-regarded as the best interrogation man in the state (with an unparalleled assist record), but he’s just as driven and off-beat as before. He’s also still haunted by the final words of Ledoux, who rambled about “black stars,” seeing Cohle in his dreams, and told him he was “in Carcosa now.” And when a run-of-the-mill interrogation suddenly brings all of that back up to the surface, something in Rust snaps: a small-time crook names Francis claims that the real Lange killer is still out there, and there are “big men” involved — including a “Yellow King.” It’s that last reference that sets Rust off, and back on the hunt. Time is a flat circle.

If you missed this article from i09 last week going deep into all this “Carcosa/Yellow King” business, what it’s a blatant reference to, and what incredible weirdness it could mean for the series going forward, read it now. I’ll wait.

But it was only a matter of time until the story turned against Rust Cohle, whose unsettling philosophical musings, relentless obsession, and too-impressive logical deductions now make him an ideal suspect for Detectives Gilbough & Papania, who are working a case in 2012 eerily similar to the one in 1995. After all, Rust is the one who entirely drove that original investigation, finding all of the clues and putting the pieces together — Marty just went along for the ride. And when, in 2002, Francis turns up dead in his cell following a mysterious phone call from a mysterious someone, could that have been Rust himself? And when Rust turns up multiple times  at the 2012 crime scene that sets this whole thing in motion, prompting Gilbough & Papania to bring him in, what was he doing? As the detectives explain to Marty, Cohle has always been a weird dude — “do you think ten years on the sauce made him more reasonable?”

It’s the implication that Rust might not only be responsible for the 2012 killing but every killing is hardest to swallow, and while Gilbough and Papania (and even Marty) are dealing with a very unreliable narrator, we as viewers can guess at a little bit more. When in 2002 Rust goes to re-visit all of those old crime scenes — hitting the motherlode of stick lattices in the process — he’s definitely not admiring his own handiwork. He’s looking for inspiration, for a cathartic realization. He’s gone rogue, but he hasn’t broken bad — we still don’t know what led to he and Marty’s falling out in 2002, but here’s a theory: Rust detonates that friendship on purpose, because he’s about to go somewhere Marty can’t follow. It’s perfectly plausible that he’s at that 2012 crime scene because he’s already closer to the real killer than the younger detectives will ever be. Maybe he’s already finished the job. Or maybe there are simply more than one — the crown of the Yellow King can be passed on, but if not to Rust, then to who?

Time is a flat circle.

I can’t hear that phrase — uttered repeatedly and illustrated by Rust via smashed beer can — without thinking of another circle and another king, the mad, murderous Red King of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That saga’s oft-uttered mantra, “Ka is a wheel,” with Ka essentially meaning “fate,” meant the same thing. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. (There’s some Battlestar Galactica for you. Man, this show really takes you down the rabbit hole.) Rust is trapped in this cycle, and as far as we know has come no closer to escaping it in the 17 years since the Lange case was first dropped on his desk. To him there will always be another dead girl, another unsolvable mystery, another reminder of the meaninglessness of human existence. It’s turned him into the gaunt shell we see in 2012, but I don’t think it’s made him a demon. We’ve only got three hours left to find out for sure.

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