True Detective continues to impress with an episode about how this fallen world can drive us mad, whether that’s the madness of hallucinations and believing there is a secret truth of the universe, or just the madness of believing that deeds and intentions need not always match up.
Two episodes in, I continue to think that the case is not the point. It’s the excuse. An excuse for us to watch two men skirting the edge of their emotional limits. Hart, as we suspected in the pilot episode, finds “comfort” outside of his marriage. He sees that comfort as a way of buttressing his marriage: he exorcises his demons away from home, as it were. However, Hart also sees his marriage as his own buttress, a place for him to find peace and calm. Of course, that leaves his wife as nothing more than a provider whose own emotional needs are untended.
It is a minor matter—just a marriage—in a story of missing children, child prostitutes, and mutilated women, but it’s also the most important matter. How can a person ever return to idle chat about Clinton and dinner when he has to go searching out darkness on a daily basis?
Hart’s struggle is made no easier by his partner, who provides a buttress against absolutely nothing. Our understanding of Cohle’s struggles deepened in this episode, as he revealed the extent of his drug-induced neural damage to the present-day interrogating cops. Director Cary Fukunaga in turn revealed just what that might look like: lights sliding past on the road, the color dripping from the sky, and a coded message in a flock of birds.
I’m fascinated, and wildly impressed, with the beauty of Cohle’s dialogue. He used passive grammatical structures when describing the disintegration of his marriage, only gradually working his way up to “the marriage didn’t survive” (grammatical active, but without a strong sense of agency or ownership of his actions) to more clarity about what happened: he was assigned, his wife left, he was owed favors. The first active step he seems to have taken, in his view of his life’s journey, was demanding a job in homicide. Everything else happened to him.
That’s not to say he’s a passive-aggressive man, though. (More on passive-aggression in a moment.) Rather, Cohle sees himself as divorced from his own life, from reality, and from the “body” of civilization. He wanted to become one with it, but he failed to do so. In 1995, he stared into a tiny mirror on the wall.
Although Hart’s dialogue is less complicated, it retains the same flair from the pilot episode. I never think of Woody Harrelson as intelligent, and Hart underplays his intelligence. But his cute conversation with his girlfriend about how he doesn’t like her “passive-aggressive” behavior made me smile; it was such an odd phrase to hear out of his mouth. Of course, Hart understands people better than most: he immediately sees the political issues Quesada must navigate, and figures out a way to swim them.
That’s the all-male world of politics, policing, and cheap ties, though. Hart may have less ability at understanding women. After all, he was wrong about the passive-aggressive tendencies of his girlfriend. He had forgotten that she needs to have a life outside of his needs, just as he seems not to realize that about his wife. When the underage prostitute told the detectives that she needed “tips” on how to do her job, Hart didn’t know what she meant. He didn’t realize that desire might be simulated, or that women might develop a bag of techniques for dealing with male interest and male interference. Hart understands that men have needs, but has less awareness that women do, too.
Both men have their blindsides, then. Cohle doesn’t fully own his life or his experience of reality; Hart doesn’t understand 51% of the human population. For all their friction, they may be able to cover one another’s backs, although the present-day interrogation continues to imply that something went wrong. (I can’t wait to hear about the big deal in the woods.)
Perhaps the biggest revelation for the case was the discovery of the burnt-out church and the crude drawing of an antlered woman. For the first time, the detectives have a real lead, the beginnings of what Hart called a “narrative”—and one that moves beyond the quest narrative we’ve gotten so far. Now, we’re discovering what happened, what is happening, and what will happen (between 1995 and 2012) all at once.
That church scene was also beautifully shot. Director Fukunaga and cinematographer Darren Lew did an incredible job of emphasizing the stark duality of the half-burned, half-standing church, and how the discovery of an answer to the questions these men are asking occurs at the intersection of the ruined and the still-standing. Against the flat blue Louisiana sky and the dead gray of the rivers and swamps, the church stands as a symbol of destruction, but also a hint that there may be a secret to the universe, if only these men can hold themselves together long enough to discover it.
Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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