Writers who are a lot smarter than I am have already written reams about True Detective. See here, and here. But whether you see the show as a funky character piece, a procedural with unreliable narrators, or a dip into a murky-deep mythos, I’ll say this: while I’m watching, I have to remind myself to breathe. Each hour intensifies a sense of sick tension that I’ve never really experienced with a TV show. The 8-episode run is more than half finished. I want the last three episodes now.
Spoilery spoiler spoiler SPOIL after the cut.
Anyway. The sense of location is magnificent. The utility plants, the vegetation, the long roads cutting through seas of saturated green. In the fifth episode, Cohle returns to the tree where he first encountered Dora Lange’s corpse, and the clouds were moving and the grasses rustling, and for such a calm little pastoral scene, it was terrifying. A tree in a field with some stick figures and an oculus woven from branches, and I could barely breathe. The music provides able assistance and the acting is fantastic, with all of it coming together in a sense of thick, brooding, ominous place. Not time, place. Time is increasingly irrelevant, as it turns out. Time is a flat circle.
I’ve seen it written a couple of times now that this first run of True Detective is metafiction, with Lange as the universal victim and the killer as the universal killer. There’s something to that, with Hart and his wife as marital tension that never ends, and Hart making promises he’ll never keep based on a code he’ll never actually follow. Hart can talk and talk, but he’ll always be the narcissistic man of judgment he fundamentally is. And Cohle can put on smiles and date a lady and build an impressive law enforcement career, but he’ll never escape his damaged, too-angry-for-real-nihilism, alone core.
Last night after watching “The Secret Fate of All Life,” I had a dream in which Cohle looked through the oculus and lost himself entirely. Didn’t he already, though? In going back to the abandoned school, he finds that the activity categorized, tucked away and tidily killed as “Ledoux” is still running strong. Black asterisks adorn the window that we’re looking through onto Cohle and the evidence.
And what might have happened if, back in 1995, they had actually gone inside the school? Or asked more of the bearded man on the lawnmower? Maybe it doesn’t matter, since everything circles back on itself into infinity. True Detective is a show about messed-up men with power and lawful (?) intentions acting according to the programming they’ll never escape. Maybe there will always be a Yellow King, just because there always has been.