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True Detective: Haunted Houses

“It’s all just gibberish.”

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?)


  1. If the previous episode was about closing a chapter on 1995, then the underlining reason for "Haunted Houses" was to bring the narrative to 2012. It was a great transition. I know I'm not alone in admitting that I cursed at the screen when the credits started rolling because I wanted the episode to keep going.

    In all honesty, it wasn't my favourite TD episode. Can't quite pinpoint what was it that didn't quite ping me.

    That said, I liked the show's nod to 1995 by having Cohle seek out Rev. Tuttle while Hart met up a grown-up (or, at least, older) version of Beth.

    I can't quite agree with Maggie's solution to Hart's cheating (though I give her points for telling Cohle about her reasons). The one super!sleazy note, however, was Hart sleeping with Beth.

    Cohle and Hart's 2002 fight was brutal. I most deffo winced a couple of times as each of them landed blows on each other.

    Overall, the one thing I'm feeling a little ambivalent about (as far as the story itself) is "the corruption from the higher-ups" angle. IF the whole "important people" conspiracy thing happens to be verified, I really don't know how the show would go about tying up all the plot points.

  2. Right from the start, I knew that Maggie was going to be the catalyst that drove these two men apart. I just wish the encounter had been a bit more… something. The one they had was gruesome.

    The fight was beautifully filmed and I gasped when they hit the pavement. You know that hurt! As I re-watched it, it occurred to me that Cohle allows Hart to hit him at first. He knows what he did and he knows what it will do to Hart.

    Speaking of fights, I loved the bookending of Hart taking off his gun, badge, and jacket both at the beginning to beat the kids who slept with his daughter and then again to beat Cohle.

    I love the articles you link to in your reviews, Josie. Hart and Cohle sounds a lot like heart and soul, doesn't it? Not sure if it was deliberate, but maybe we could join in all the internet chatter?


  3. Josie, I'm just ecstatic you wrote this so quickly after it aired! After watching it I am longing to devour every article and that naturally starts with Doux. Great fun personal review.
    I felt really heartbroken for Rust here. From getting rebuffed by the department (was he really that far off the mark suspecting Tuttle?) to being brutally manipulated by Maggie, I felt him become more damaged in this episode than any other so far.
    I loathed the Nussbaum article btw. I think you weren't a fan either if I read through the lines properly. It occurred to me that just saying out loud that women are exploited by their lack of interiorority makes women look like we need an apology or worse are pitiful or still worse(!) are even capable of being portrayed as one dimensionally _because_ we are women. It's, in my opinion, a horrible argument that sucks. Furthermore it absolutely should not be a concern for this particular story. Oy.

  4. Heather, I didn't like the Nussbaum article, although I usually enjoy Nussbaum's stuff: she's the one who coined the term "Bad Fan" to describe Breaking Bad viewers who thought Walter was a hero.

    I love a well-rounded woman as much as the next person (that sounds dirty, doesn't it?), but this isn't a show about people. It isn't even a show about men. It's a show about two particular men.

    I could even make the argument that this episode, with Maggie's interrogation, is the show acknowledging that we're not seeing her full story, just like the interrogating detectives don't see her full story. Why not? Because this is not a show about Maggie.

    Passionate rant over.

    ChrisB, that Grantland article includes a list of anagrams made from "Rustin Cohle" and "Martin Hart."

  5. I saw the anagrams and thought some of them were hilarious. Some people have a lot of time on their hands.

    I thought that Nussbaum was trying to make a point that, finally, has been made many times before. We all understand that women are not always portrayed in the best light -- especially in television drama.

    The women she chooses to strengthen her point ("Mellie, on Scandal; or Alicia, on The Good Wife; or Cersei, on Game of Thrones; or even Claire, on House of Cards) are not really the best examples. I can't really speak about Cersei, but Mellie and Claire are villains and Alicia's story is about her overcoming the betrayal. As you say, Josie, this is not Maggie's story.

    I do agree with her, however, on Top of the Lakeand The Fall. Both are superb dramas that deserve to be seen. But, again, these stories are about the women involved. I could argue that the men portrayed in these two shows, especially in Top of the Lake, are one dimensional, but why stir up the pot?

  6. This one definitely wasn't as strong as the more recent episodes. I find that when the bits that most pique my interest are related to the case and not the characters, then the episode isn't working on the same level for me as some of the better ones.

    I was very disappointed that Maggie was, indeed, the ultimate reason for blowing up the Cohle-Hart partnership. Even with it being because she deliberately manipulated the situation to hurt Marty, it felt too predictable. And I hated that she did that to Cohle.

    I read an interesting Willa Paskin article over at Slate (I think) yesterday, which argued that the flatness of the women in the story is part of the larger point that's being made. That it is a purposeful choice of the storyteller to underscore the flaws of these men (Marty, in particular). It was an interesting take, and it brought to mind Marty's line to the interrogating detectives in 2012 (last week) about inattentiveness being part of his problem.

  7. Links here..a counterpoint to the first article on Grantland..


    The opening titles with cats..

  8. The opening title with cats is hilarious! I'm planning to use that in this week's Doux News.

    Jess, I haven't read that article, but I agree with the summary you provided.

    For that matter, where are the articles complaining that this show give short shrift to its black characters?

  9. I was also heartbroken when the episode was over. I want more!

    My personal fan theory: Cohle hasn't proved the women and children are being killed. He just knows they're missing. What if they're being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery?


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