A review of tonight's "True Detective" coming up just as soon as I have an All-Around Cowboy belt buckle...

"There's a shadow on you, son." -DeWall

"The Secret Fate of All Life" is a major turning point in the story of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. It brings us to the end of the Dora Lange investigation, and the deaths of Reggie Ledoux and his partner. It introduces a new time period into the story, as we jump ahead to 2002, which is when we know that the partnership will end. And it finally makes overt what's been implied for a while: that the cops of 2012 suspect Cohle not only of being the killer in their current case, but for some or all of the killings from the 1995 investigation.

And you can understand how they came to this conclusion. They don't know as much as we do — a good chunk of this episode, in fact, is devoted to differentiating the fantasy from the reality of the "gunfight" that killed Ledoux — and so are free to look at the obvious holes in the 1995 story, Cohle's presence at the 2012 crime scene and the cupful of crazy he displayed in their interview and assume that they are staring at a meta psychotic, or someone who knows how to draw a paraphilic love map, the monster in the locked room, or any of Cohle's other dark theories brought to grim, mustachioed life. 

Knowing what we know, though, it's reasonably safe to assume that Cohle isn't the killer — and events here also strongly suggest that Hart isn't — not only because we know much more about his movements in 1995 (that he was undercover with the bikers, for instance, during the period where he claimed to be visiting his father), but because we've seen that this was an investigation filled with men every bit as mysterious, dangerous and hard to read as Rust Cohle.

"The Secret Fate of All Life" opens with Cohle and Ginger the biker meeting with Ledoux's partner DeWall, who seems to share Cohle's gift for both psychological profiling and colorful dialogue. "I can see the soul at the edges of your eyes," he tells him. "It's corrosive, like acid. You got a demon, little man, and I don't like your face. It makes me want to do things to it." He may not detect that Cohle is a cop, but he knows he's trouble and walks away.

And when our complicated heroes arrive at the cook site — in a sequence beautifully joined with the 2012 interviews so we are hearing one version of events at the exact moment we are seeing something very different — and get the drop on Reggie Ledoux, he also demonstrates a verbose quality, suggesting that Cohle is from Carcosa(*) and offering up the "time is a flat circle" theory that Cohle will incorporate into his own elaborate personal philosophy years down the line.

(*) That's a reference to both Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa," and to Robert Chambers' horror story collection "The King in Yellow," which borrows from the Bierce tale, and whose title no doubt influenced this story's Yellow King.

Ledoux happens to be saying this as Cohle is having a tense standoff with DeWall, with Hart nowhere in sight, and it is both oddly amusing and completely true to character that Cohle stops for just a moment to identify this as a paraphrase of Nietzsche. Cohle is complicated and unknowable in so many ways, but consistent in so many others, including his ability to segregate his emotions from the task at hand when necessary.

Marty Hart doesn't have that skill. The tragedies in Cohle's past have cauterized so many of his emotional nerve endings, so that he only feels things under extraordinary circumstances (like the discovery in 2002 that he and Hart completely missed the real killer). Hart, on the other hand, feels everything too strongly. It's why he was so insanely jealous when Lisa was dating another man, why in 2002 he's so cruel and, eventually, violent to his daughter Audrey. And it's why in 1995, upon seeing the two children (one dead, one just barely alive) who were being kept prisoner by Ledoux and DeWall, he breaks so thoroughly that the only response his mind and body can offer is to march right up to Ledoux and put a bullet in his head(**).

(**) Again, Matthew McConaughey is getting the bulk of the acclaim and will likely win the bulk of the awards (especially if the two leading men compete in the same category), but Woody Harrelson has been extraordinary in his own right, just in a less flashy (and, relative to prior roles, less surprising) way. Look at the expression on his face as Hart emerges from the house ready to kill Ledoux. That is a man who has just witnessed the absolute worst of humanity, and who is now being governed by a single, unshakable directive: to kill the sonuvabitch responsible. Good ol' boy Marty has been sent to the showers in that moment, replaced by something hollow and angry and unshakable.  

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