[Spoiler Alert: This column is a discussion and analysis of the latest episodes of HBO’s True Detective. If you have not seen Episode 6 that aired on Sunday, February 23rd, please stop reading and catch up on your viewing. Plot points from Episode 6 feature prominently in this column.]
In the latest episode of True Detective, timelines have converged, some suspicions have been confirmed and some assumptions have been disproven. If there was an underlying theme to Episode 6, it was the destruction of long-term relationships. Marty delivered a fatal blow to his marriage with more extra-marital liaisons. Cohle’s off-the-books investigation into Reverend Tuttle and his cult theories in 2002 ended in his suspension and resignation from the police. Maggie engaged in “revenge sex” with Cohle, ending his partnership with Hart and causing a brawl in the parking lot of the police station.
Grading My Predictions: In my last column, I predicted that Cohle would interview Reggie Ledoux and his expert skills as an interrogator would tell him that Ledoux isn’t their killer. Wrong. Ledoux was instead executed on the scene by an enraged Martin Hart. No trial. No wrongful imprisonment. And no confirmation that Ledoux is the killer. Just one big fabricated story dreamed up by the two detectives to justify the body count at the remote meth lab.
I also predicted that 2002 would bring evidence that our detectives caught the wrong man. Correct. During an interrogation with a random murder suspect, the perp tells Cohle that the Yellow King is alive and well, preying on women and children. Cohle flies into a rage that buries itself deep inside the detective, resulting in a string of self-destructive decisions. He becomes obsessed with the man or men that got away. That obsession continues in 2012. My final prediction was that the 2002 break-up of the partners might involve some extra-marital activity between Cohle and Maggie. Correct. So, as the song goes, two out of three ain’t bad.
What’s in the Storage Unit?: During his 2012 sit-down with interrogators, Cohle is asked if they can search his storage shed. Only if you have a warrant, he replies matter-of-factly. So, is the shed full of evidence that Cohle is the killer? No chance. It’s Cohle’s war room, his headquarters that is filled with ten years of his independent investigation. Could the contents of the storage unit be misconstrued as evidence of Cohle’s guilt? You bet. But, that’s not Cohle’s motivation. No one believed him in 2002, so he won’t allow someone else to solve the case with his evidence and work. It’s a competition now. He’s been toying with his interrogators to see if he can learn anything he doesn’t already know. I have a feeling his 2012 Beer of Reconciliation with Martin Hart may just turn into a tour of Cohle’s storage unit, making a believer out of Hart.
Is Cohle Currently Undercover?: Is Cohle really some hippie-looking burn-out bartender or does something else explain his appearance? We were given a brief look at Martin Cohle Undercover Chameleon when he returned to his Texas biker gang roots. We saw him become another person and descend into the world he’s investigating. Is that what we’re seeing in 2012? Martin Cohle Undercover Cult Member? Maybe Cohle already knows the identity of the Yellow King, and he’s just trying to get close enough to his prime suspect to get the irrefutable evidence he needs. The former detective may sound crazy with all his existential musings and ramblings, but I think he’s crazy like a fox. Cohle would be more than happy for the two investigators to underestimate his broken down exterior. Even Marty Hart said, “If you didn’t get a read on him, then he was getting a read on you.”
One Tail Light: My favorite visual of Episode 6 was the tail light of Martin Cohle’s pick-up truck. During his parking lot brawl with Marty Hart, we see Hart slam into the rear of Cohle’s truck, and we hear the tail light shatter. At the end of the episode, when Cohle and Hart are face-to-face with one another for the first time in ten years, the camera lingers on the shattered tail light. It’s a nice metaphor for Cohle’s inability to move forward over the past ten years. The former detective is older and wiser, but he’s still trapped in 2002 by the harsh truth that Dora Lange’s killer wasn’t brought to justice. And like his battered pick-up truck that remains in the same state of disrepair and inertia, Cohle will never be whole until the case of the Yellow King is finally put to rest. Which brings me to ….
Will the Case Be Solved?: It is impossible to analyze a crime drama based on the seventeen-year search for a serial killer and not think of the Zodiac killings in San Francisco. Throughout this season of True Detective, I’ve pondered the real Zodiac case as well as David Fincher’s dark 2007 film based on that investigation. It’s not a spoiler to point out that those killings in the 1970s were never solved. The investigators felt certain they knew who their killer was, but there was never enough evidence to make an arrest. Are we headed to a similar resolution at the end of this season? Will the Yellow King remain the one who got away? That would not be the popular way to resolve an audience’s eight-hour time investment, but True Detective isn’t your typical crime show.
We have three possible outcomes: (1) the killer(s) are never identified, (2) the killer(s) are apprehended and (3) the killer(s) are identified, but due to the lack of formal evidence or political pressures he/they are never brought to justice. When I consider this question, I keep coming back to Cohle’s philosophical mantra that life has a tendency to repeat itself, and nothing is really ever over. The entire series is based on the lack of closure in the lives of Cohle and Hart and the self-destructive toll it has taken on them. So, will Season 1 conclude by being wrapped up in a tidy bow? No. There will still be some questions when the final credits roll. I tend to think it will be a blend of options 2 and 3. Some additional perpetrators will be apprehended, but not everyone.
Is True Detective Misogynistic? I had this column edited and ready to go when I came across Emily Nussbaum’s article (see below) about True Detective that appears in the March 3rd issue of the New Yorker. She makes the argument that the female characters on True Detective are one-dimensional caricatures that are used to provide timely, gratuitous nudity as prostitutes, crime victims, mistresses and casual hook-ups. Although she does compliment some aspects of the show, she feels it’s mostly every man’s pulp fiction fantasy of cool crime fighters who get their pick of the beautiful women along the way.
There are some basic points that Ms. Nussbaum’s article fails to consider. Women are often victims in crime shows not because men want to see women being dominated, but because women are typically smaller and easier to physically control. Criminals seek out targets who appear smaller and weaker than they are. Likewise, many murderers prey on the marginalized members of society. Prostitutes and street walkers are often homeless or transient and are not as likely to be missed as other women. If a show is going to depict the world of prostitution and strip clubs accurately, then sex and nudity will likely be part of that portrayal.
So, what about Martin Hart’s collection of bouncy mistresses?, Ms. Nussbaum’s article asks. What about them? It takes two to tango when it comes to marital infidelity, so it would be difficult to depict Hart’s self-destructive adultery without a few tempting women on hand. Is Ms. Nussbaum suggesting that it would be less misogynistic if Hart’s affairs involved unattractive women? It’s okay to victimize women on television as long as they’re not hot? That’s a much more troubling thought.
Would it have been nice to see Maggie Hart play a deeper role in the proceedings? Yes, especially with an actress as talented as Michelle Monaghan on hand to bring her to life. Perhaps, Season 2 will bring us a new perspective with a pair of female detectives. But in the end True Detective is the story of two very different men who were united briefly by an extraordinary set of events that they have been unable to leave behind them. Can they exorcise their demons by confronting their past? The next two hours will tell.
I’ll be back in two weeks to discuss the end of the series and analyze the answers we’ve been given.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.