Spoilers for this season in general and the most recent episode.
With only two episodes left, True Detective is the best new show you’ve not seen this season. I’m not a fan of the police procedural drama and I’ve had my fill of the paranormal. So with little to go on, I was ready to write off True Detective as not worth the investment. Before the first episode concluded, it was immediately evident I’d made the right choice in taking the time to give it the attention it deserves.
The show follows a unique format. Rather than trying to string a story along for an entire season or even multiple seasons, the writers and producers are directed towards focusing their effort on this one smaller effort. It has paid off tremendously. There is rarely a missed beat, little wasted time, and virtually no filler. In another show, random plot threads that lead nowhere with no pay off are common filler to give the characters things to do. That isn’t the case here as a single narrative is used to drive the story towards one finale conclusion. When all is said and done and the case is ultimately, as I believe it will be, I doubt few if any questions will remain, lingering in our thoughts as a final mark of content.
I find myself largely uninterested in the case itself, at least so as far as the actual murders are concerned. I’m much more interested in watching the interactions and often clashing nature of the two leads. The characters of Marty Hart and Rust Cohle are handled superbly by the talent of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Their conflicting personalities and the shady underbelly of Louisiana they explore in search of the Yellow King, is what draws me to True Detective. Here we see two men, who couldn’t be more different, but compliment each other in ways that neither are willing to fully admit. Without the other, they might stumble and fall, but together they form an odd couple powerhouse, capable of seeing things and taking actions that others would never consider.
The show is every bit about the tension between these two men and the spiraling out of control nature of their past, as the crime itself. In any other life, they might be bad men not worth emulating and in many respects, good intentions aside, they remain firmly entrenched on the dark side of right. As Cohle himself said, “I can’t say the job made me this way. More like me being this way made me right for the job.” Both walk a line of bad men being used to hold back the evil that threatens to break down the door, because it so often takes darkness to fight darkness. Even in the height of their asshole inducing antics, they are tapped into something beyond themselves that drives them towards the inevitable conclusion of their case.
In the most recent episodes, ‘Haunted Houses’ (February 23, 2014 penned by Nic Pizzolatto, who has written the entire eight episode season) we see Hart and Cohle begin the confrontation that leads to their split in 2002. As Hart’s infidelity and the spite induced infidelity of his wife Maggie with Cohle drives a wedge between all three, Cohle leads a one man mission to uncover the truth of a larger mystery. The killings never stopped. The Yellow King is still out there, murdering women and children and indications point to the involvement of the powerful Tuttle Family.
In the present, Detectives Gilbough and Papania (the detectives interviewing Hart & Cohle) are putting together their case, laying down pieces of a puzzle that paint Cohle as the real killer. From their side of the table, Cohle is pulling the strings in carefully choreographed ballet, leading Hart where he wants the case to go in an attempt to divert attention away from himself.
As the two Detectives lay out their theory, you can see the wheels turning as Hart’s investigative instincts begin to fire. Something stops him though. Maybe it’s the thought of personally getting revenge against the man he blames for ruining his marriage, but that’s not it. Hart is a different man now. Time has given way to the truth of his own failings and he realizes the mistakes made in his past, are entirely his own. Perhaps, he wants to bring in Cohle himself and put off the two Detectives, so he can take down The Yellow King that fooled them all.
But perhaps it’s something else, something so perverse as a loyalty that knows only the most basic bonds of trust, yet is stronger than any steel. Hart and Cohle are witnesses to the darkness of men in their own lives and in the homicides they pursue. It’s driven a wedge between them and the outside world that can never be broken. Only the two of them know the truth of how far they will go for the other, how much they are willing to risk to protect their partner. They may never be friends. There’s too much bad blood, but they can be brothers, a bond stronger and thicker than any argument. Apart, they are doomed to spiral out of control and they both know it, but together, they have a chance of doing something right.
So with a revolver tucked securely to his leg, Hart agrees to join Cohle for a drink. They drive off onto a deserted highway, both men mistrusting the other, yet neither one prepared to stab the other in the back. They need each other this one last time, because no one else sees the entire picture they way they can. Hart doesn’t have the insight to make the move and Cohle doesn’t have the good grace to get beyond the obstacles that stand in their way. Only together, can they answer that ultimate question.
Who is the Yellow King?