I spent this episode—oh, who am I kidding?—I spent this weekend thinking I had this episode all figured out. We’d get a big reveal at the end: Surprise! Rust and Marty are still partners; they’re just hiding it from the rest of the world, and the blow-out in 2002 is no more real than the shoot-out in 1995 was real.
I started to build a decent case, too, as this episode marks a departure from the previous format: no Cohle interrogation, limited Hart interrogation. Instead, we get a chat with Maggie in which she proves to be just as dishonest as he husband and one-time lover, and an awful lot of scenes between Hart and Cohle that took place in the public eye. “It’s all a ruse!” I cried from my couch.
Then I realized I was wrong.
Trust True Detective not to go to the same well twice: this is a show that thrives on reinventing its pattern. Remember how it took Lost three seasons to stop with the flashback episodes? It took True Detective five episodes to shake up the interrogation format.
That’s a welcome shake-up, even if “Haunted Houses” is my least favorite episode so far, simply because it’s a letdown after the greatness of “Who Goes There” and “The Secret Fate of All Things.” This episode was necessary, though, as it began to build—through Cohle’s off-book investigation—the case against the Reverend Tuttle. This episode was also necessary to explain just how many bad decisions had to be made for Cohle and Hart to have a knock-down drag-out fight.
And what a fight it was: when Hart body-slammed Cohle I yelped. That looked like it hurt, although I think Cohle is feeling more injured by Hart having attacked him at all, since he hasn’t fixed the broken brake-light since 2002. As Billie would say, that wins the award for Most Obvious Symbolism. That’s not to say that Hart’s anger was misplaced: his wackadoo partner did sleep with his wife, and Hart is the kind of man who cheats but can’t imagine being cheated on by either his wife or his partner.
Perhaps Cohle did not think his partner would ever truly leave him, either. It’s hard for me to tell. Of all the episodes this season, it wasn’t until this one that I felt unable to pin down exactly where Cohle and Hart were on the emotional map. Maybe that’s because I spent too much of the episode suspecting a twist that never came, but I think part of it is the plot-service quality of many of its scenes. We know who, we know why, we know what…but we don’t entirely know how either man feels about what happened back then. We have an outline, but that’s all. Surely it will be colored in next week.
We also have the outlines of a case against Tuttle and his ministries. That case—the ostensible reason for the show, the question awaiting an answer—is the locus of so many fan theories, which range from an assumption that we’ll suddenly veer into supernatural territory and discover that Huey P. Long was, is, and ever shall be the Yellow King of Carcosa/Louisiana; to guess-who games about whether or not Hart (or Cohle!) is the Yellow King; to ever-more arcane Doc Jensenisms about the John Deere yellow stag logo on the bottom of the mug Theriot was drinking out of. No one seems to be advocating for my guess: What we see is what we get. Tuttle (or his acolytes) are behind the murders. "The Yellow King" is a wannabe voodoo/Satanist cult leader who rapes and murders children. Because this isn’t a mystery show, it’s a story about those who solve mysteries.
I may wind up eating my words, of course, in which case I invite you all over to watch. But, for now, I’m still luxuriating in the character study of Cohle's brutal and appropriate last words to the Munchhausen-by-proxy mom, Hart staring down the barrel of a hundred tampons and deciding to cheat, Cohle losing himself in his once-again Spartan apartment, and Maggie turning Marty’s tricks back on him. I’m enchanted by the subtler parallels in the story, like the way that Maggie and Marty are both covering up the truth of what Cohle (and Maggie) did, just as Cohle is accusing Tuttle of covering up what he has done. And I can’t wait to see next week's episode, with Cohle and Hart together onscreen in the present day for the first time, hashing it out over a beer.
Fun Links: The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum tells us that True Detective doesn’t have any well-rounded female characters, in case we didn’t notice that before and are just now realizing this is a story about two men. And the Grantland writers diagnose a serious case of Doc Jensenism on the internet, but seem to have caught the bug themselves.
If you find great wacky articles about True Detective, feel free to share them in the comments!
Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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