Saturday, March 8, 2014

True Detective, True Lies

What's real? What's not? Who knows?
If you’re not watching HBO’s True Detective, you’ve been missing out on one of the best crime dramas on television – no really, I mean it, you’ve missed out. The season finale airs tomorrow night. If you’ve not watched the previous seven episodes but think you might want to someday, STOP. Here be spoilers, yarrr! 

I’m not going to recap the whole series, but there are a lot of questions I’ve got that I’m hoping will be resolved tomorrow night, and I just needed to get them out of my brain and into something structured, so bear with me here. I’ve found that this is not uncommon – apparently many of those of us who watch show spend a LOT of time thinking about it. I’ll be standing there frying an egg and find myself wondering about the King in Yellow… but anyway.

When I first heard the buzz about this show last year, just from watching the trailer I knew it was going to be something worth checking out. Dark, murky, bleak… and featuring two amazing actors, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in the lead roles. Yeah, yeah, I know. On the surface, it sounds like a goofball and a pretty boy showing up on set each morning to smoke massive amounts of weed, how good could it be, right?

Harrelson got his start playing the cleverly-named Woody, the derpy but lovable bartender at Cheers, and some dimwit cowboy parts, and McConaughey took off his shirt a lot and starred in a bunch of romantic comedies that I’ve never even seen because I hate rom-coms (admittedly, he was stunning as the lawyer in A Time To Kill, but that was the only real role of substance I remember him in, in the early part of his career). But now that these guys are mature adults instead of young up-and-comers, they’re making way more interesting career choices. Case in point: McConaughey just won an Oscar for his role as a homophobic HIV-positive rodeo star in Dallas Buyers Club, and I don’t care what anyone says, Woody Harrelson’s performance as Tallahassee in Zombieland is a piece of cinematic mastery.

So, now you put these two guys in the bayous and swamps of impoverished Louisiana, throw in a couple of dead girls and a bit of occult symbolism, and holy cow, guys, stuff just got real. The series unfolds through a series of flashbacks, as the two detectives are being interviewed in 2012 about crimes that took place in 1995.

Harrelson’s Marty Hart is the self-professed family man – he loves his wife and daughters, he’s successful, and blah blah blah. But Marty is NOT a nice guy. He sees his family – and all the women in his life – as possessions. He cheats on his wife and ignores his kids. He’s a violent and angry man, with the rage simmering just below the surface, only popping out when someone drives Marty to snap – and snap he does, on many an occasion. 

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is the yin to Marty’s yang – he’s laid back and mellow, deeply introspective, and a lot of really disturbing existential shit comes out of his mouth. He’s a man with a troubled past too, regarding the death of his daughter and the divorce that followed it, but we don’t know the complete details on that yet. Rust Cohle might even be a more tragic character than Marty Hart – because while Marty is a miserable jerk who tries to control everyone around him, Cohle knows that none of us really have any purpose here, and it gives him the bleaker outlook on life, because there's nothing to exist for.

So, we’ve got two aging white men with no real discernible reason to be, other than to solve the riddle of the weird murders with potential occult ties. Meanwhile, much of the show’s premise is built on the idea that things are not as they seem. Marty and Rust tell one story to detectives Papania and Gilbough during the 2012 interview sessions (which I had rightly suspected were taking place all on the same day), but the camera shows us very different things. Marty’s a loyal family man? Sure… except when he’s feeling emasculated and goes off to sleep with the court clerk he keeps on the side, or the former teenage hooker. Rust needed a break and decide to go visit his dad? Yep… except he was really doing deep cover work with the meth-dealing biker gang, hoping to get a lead on Reggie LeDoux. Speaking of the biker gang, I loved every scene with Ginger, and wish we'd have gotten more of him.

The truth vs. reality paradox slams us in the face halfway through the season, as Hart and Cohle converge on LeDoux’s trailer/meth lab, and every single thing said in the interview is revealed by the camera to be falsehood.

True Detective isn’t as much about a couple of cops trying to solve a mystery as it is about making the viewer solve it.

The King in Yellow

So, questions that need some answering? The biggest one, of course, is Who Is the Yellow King? I’m not going to rehash some of the major theories that have been making the rounds, but the two big obvious ones are (a) Marty and (b) Rust. Either of these could be the case, and the show has dropped us enough hints to make either man suspect. However, I don’t think Marty is smart enough to be the leader of a renegade group of sexually deviant child molesting occultists. Not only that, if it turned out to be Marty Hart, then that makes Rust Cohle the most oblivious, incompetent and stupid cop on the entire planet.

Cohle is certainly smart enough to be the Yellow King – he’s by far the most intellectually developed character on the show – but I don’t think his moral code would allow it of him. Cohle is a protector of the defenseless, and being the Yellow King would offend his sensibilities on an ethical level in addition to a moral one. The scene in the storage locker, in particular, when he makes Marty watch the Marie Fontenot videotape, supports that. Marty – a man who has just seen a baby in a microwave and turned away from it with no emotion whatsoever – is driven to tears and rage and anger by what he sees on the tape, and tells Cohle, “You shouldn’t have that.”

Cohle’s response is, “No one should have that.”

Side note: anyone who knows any practitioners of Chaos Magic or even LaVeyan Satanism should see Cohle’s philosophy on life as very familiar.

Could Cohle be in deep cover with the Yellow King and his cabal of powerful men? Possibly, but I think it’s more likely that he’s simply watching from the edges, gathering evidence to stow away in his locker, until he’s got enough to bring them all down. This is why he appears at the 2012 crime scenes.

My suspicion is that the Yellow King will turn out to be someone we know, but not Cohle or Hart.

What About Audrey?

Marty’s oldest daughter, Audrey, has some serious issues. It’s never been addressed out loud, but it’s clear she’s been the victim of some sort of childhood sexual trauma. There are a number of scenes that point us towards this – at one point, she has five male dolls circling around a spread-eagled Barbie. Later, she gets in trouble at school for a sexually explicit drawing she makes. As a teen, she acts out sexually, leading Marty to slap her, call her a slut, and once again assert his ownership of his daughters.

As individual events, we could maybe dismiss these things, but combined together, it’s pretty apparent she’s been victimized in some way, despite the fact that her parents never seem to put two and two together. This show is very clear on the fact that nothing is a throwaway scene – if it’s there, it has a reason.

Remember Audrey and Maisie arguing in the front yard about the crown, the one that got tossed up  into the tree? Looks an awful lot like the one on Marie Fontenot in the video. 

In 2012, we learn from Maggie that Audrey is living as an artist somewhere far from home, and that Marty hasn’t even talked to his own kids in two years. Let’s talk about Audrey’s art for a minute… if you look closely at some of Audrey’s artwork, black stars and spirals appear in occasional pieces. And of course, black stars and spirals appear in all kinds of other places related to Carcosa and the Yellow King – Reggie LeDoux has black stars tattooed on him, Dora Lange, the 1995 murder victim, has a spiral on her neck. More importantly, though, is the painting of the field of flowers.

At one point, Rust Cohle goes to the hospital to visit a teenage girl named Kelly, who is virtually catatonic. Kelly, it turns out, is the little girl who was rescued from the LeDoux compound. There’s a giant mural on the wall beside her in the hospital, of a field of bright flowers. When I saw that painting, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out why it seemed familiar.

A smaller version of the same painting hangs on the wall in Marty and Maggie Hart’s bedroom. Seriously. It’s the same painting.

What has Audrey seen? Where has she been? Are the five dolls in a circle connected to the five men in masks in the Marie Fontenot videotape? Who has victimized her?

Maggie’s Dad

Above I mentioned that this show has no throwaway scenes. Everything that happens and that you see is very deliberately put there. Heck, even the title of the show is a gimme, because NOTHING is true at all, and it’s often pointed out that sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose. So. Maggie’s dad.

Maggie’s dad, whose name completely escapes me, is clearly rich and powerful. He’s accustomed to being obeyed. He’s the perfect profile for being part of the Yellow King’s cabal, possibly even being the Yellow King himself. And, he’s got a house on a lake in the woods, which was referenced by one of the witnesses at some point, but I have forgotten who. 

This is an ongoing theme of the show as well - fathers, and the children and families they have failed. We never hear about Marty's parents, we know that Rust's father is a wacky survivalist living in Alaska, Marty himself is a crappy dad, Rust's kid is dead and it could be his fault, and Maggie's dad is possibly a creepy pedophile.

Who is the New Victim?

We all know Dora Lange’s name, she was the first victim found in 1995. Now, in 2012, Papania and Gilbough are investigating a similar case in Lake Charles, but at no point have they mentioned the name of the victim. WHY? Is it because it doesn’t matter, or worse, is it because it DOES matter? Could it be one of Marty’s girls? I’m thinking it’s very likely.

Full Circle

I am positive that one of our two leads will be dead by the time Sunday night’s episode concludes. My suspicion is that it will be Rust Cohle, who will likely sacrifice himself in order to save Marty Hart. Although early in the season, in 1995, Cohle admitted that he just didn’t have the constitution for suicide, he’s indicated in 2012 that he’s ready to wrap it all up. I don’t see him deliberately eating a bullet of his own firing, but I can see him allowing himself to be killed to save someone else – especially Marty, or even Maggie.

Regardless, once this is all said and done, I feel like I’m going to need to go back and re-watch every episode with a fine-toothed comb, but this time understanding where the storyline is headed.

And the next time through, I’ll have a far better idea of where the truth really lies. At least, I hope so.