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True Detective Recap: Don’t Mind If I Ledoux

Marty Hart isn’t the greatest detective. Occasionally, his intuition guides him to solid casework. When the daughters of First Revival preacher Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham, a.k.a. Boardwalk Empire’s Eli with sideburns and a Bray Wyatt bluster) describe having seen Dora in the company of a “tall man” with a “strange face” and “skin shiny around his jaw,” Hart surmises it’s time to check all area hospital records for any patients with burns or scarring from the neck up — but not before polishing off a beer and banh mi first. But when it comes to the more imaginative part of investigating, he thinks a bit myopically and projects that very quality onto Cohle. After learning that his partner shook down a mentally-challenged ex-con suspect named Bert, Hart surmises, without even hearing how it went, that he could “see this as being some kind of retard job.” On some level, the guy’s just lazy.

Or perhaps he’s eager to “start racing to the red light,” as Cohle comically suggests during Theriot’s sermon about heavenly ascendance. It’s amazing how relentless Cohle can be when it comes to needling Hart about his personal life, and even more so that Marty doesn’t throw the guy against rows of lockers more often. They just can’t help themselves. Cohle can’t fathom how his partner doesn’t appreciate the family he has, and Hart kind of wants to be punished. Otherwise, he’d just seek absolution from preachers like Theriot, whose work he so admires. 

Then again, Cohle has his own way of twisting logic to suit his needs, the primary one remaining occupied amid his insomnia. He’s convinced whoever sacrificed Dora killed Marie Fontenot and at least several others. He pulls the requisite all-nighters scanning microfiche documents and gazing on crime-scene photos, like Ace Ventura trying to find a link between Finkel and Einhorn. When Hart arrives at work with a third consecutive hangover, threatening to shit in a jocular colleague’s sunroof, Cohle corrals him with the exciting news that the washed-up corpse of 22-year-old Rianne Olivier in Abbeville shares signatures with their Tall Man (telltale puncture wounds, traces of LSD and meth, a tree-ring symbol on the skin, etc.). It’s a solid lead, but one potentially contrived out of singular obsession. When Cohle’s dots actually appear to connect, who can’t appreciate Marty offering, “What can I say? For a minute, I just thought you liked looking at pictures of dead people.” 

But there are dead people, and there are people who pore over pictures of dead people, and then there are monsters. As we learn at episode’s end, in order to see how Rianne Olivier might lead them to Dora Lange, our weary badge-wearers have to get through Reggie Ledoux first. Reggie was Rianne’s last-known acquaintance, and a bad dude with a rep for statutory rape, cooking up meth, and printing LSD; his most recent cell mate happened to be Charlie Lange, ex-husband of none other than Dora. When we’re introduced to him from a sniper’s-worthy distance (one that seems apt to approach him from, even as a viewer), Reggie is absentia of his parole, missing all clothing but a pair of briefs, wearing a bad-ass gas mask, and clutching a machete. Toss in an eerie soundtrack cue (“Young Men Dead” by Black Angels, by the way), cut to the closing credits, and this methodical series about two intense guys intersecting at a volatile crossroads suddenly gets its first gut-punch oh, shit moment.

Nice as it is to see them get what Justified’s chief deputy Art Mullen might call a CID stiffy, you have to wonder if Hart and Cohle might be less psyched to go catch this bad guy if they knew what psycho-fetish weirdness lay over yonder. What we can probably be certain of is that “The Locked Room” of the title refers to neither the interrogation “box” nor Cohle’s present-day interview room (which he’s really made into a home with all those beer-can stick-figure cutouts and cigarette refuse). 

Or it could just as easily be citing the cloistered lives of our maybe-protagonists. Cohle has cut himself off from anyone with a pulse in order to, as Maggie pinpoints, preempt any chance of causing or absorbing any trauma. But she’s only seeing half the man. Cohle, like Maggie’s husband, feels owed a reckoning. Difference is, he’s let go of any notions about entitlement or being saved. You might say he’s depressed. That short-sightedness isn’t Maggie’s fault. After all, she’s only starting to infer that Marty is having an affair, and just when she gets close enough to condemn him, she pulls back and offers love. She can’t understand men failing to abate their urges, and it saddens her deeply when Cohle bluntly advises, “That’s because we know what we want. We don’t mind being alone.” It’s the second such time we’ve witnessed Cohle coldly keep Maggie at a distance, right when all she needs is to close the gap between her and Hart. It’s all Cohle can do, for now, not to be the bad man, but he’s also leaving clues that will help her to be a better detective and puzzle out the mystery that is Marty.

All this still leaves us holding the bag of speculating just what angle Hart and Cohle are taking in their 2012 interviews with “box man” Gilbough and increasingly touchy Papania. There’s evidence that points to their level of presumed involvement in Lange’s (or this newest) ritualized murder, but there’s also not much to say that each isn’t there in a helpful capacity. Credit goes to the leads in that department. Harrelson and McConaughey don’t have too many tells, and it’s easy to get caught up in their performances (as it is for Papania and Gilbough). McConaughey delivers philosophical buzzkills (e.g., “people are so goddamn frail”) with facetiously Shakesperean grandiosity, while Harrelson glibly grins when he should have his poker face on or stares at his naked ring finger long enough that you forget where the questioning left off, too.

“The Locked Room,” and this also applies to True Detective through three chapters, excelled because it seemed like you're figuring out the whodunit right along with Hart and Cohle in 1995, down to every detail. It’s the sensation of a radio serial set to film, and is very Fincher-ian (if that’s an accepted application). It’s all there for you to find: Rianne’s name scribbled alongside a high-school yearbook collage, Billy Lee Tuttle’s Ministries Wellsprings Program advertised on a flyer, incredible specifics about every DB and B and E that comes up in CID. Watching this show is an almost virtual experience, but requires being alert to illusions and misdirection. Or, if you choose, welcoming them. It all depends on where you want them to take you. For Hart and Cohle, for right now, that appears to mean a dance with Reggie Ledoux. 

Apart from all that:

I genuinely appreciate the feedback on details like Shrove Tuesday vs. Klan revival.

I know Billy Lee Tuttle’s relation to all this is neither revelation nor worth glossing over. I’m waiting and eager to see where it leads next week.

The dubbing of their killer as “Tall Man” is great mythmaking, simultaneously evoking Phantasm and Manhunter.

Also loved Nic Pizzolatto’s dialogue in this one, particularly in that scene with Theriot’s daughters. 

Why does Marty even bother? After asserting that Cohle can’t handle doubt, Cohle simply replies, “I doubt that.” There was a fun, funny man in there at one time, which we definitely get a glimpse of in the kitchen with Maggie.

Yeah, judging by the rigidity of Cohle’s hand during that slow dance, he’s not giving that lady a call back. Besides, he likes Maggie!

Marty really does not understand women. And this case, if not his marriage, could use a bit more of a feminine perspective.

This week’s music footnotes: not much, apart from the Angels tune, but there was some Dylan and slave-song revivalists McIntosh County Shouters in there.

I’m thinking about wrapping up each week with an aside acknowledging Marty’s Hart-to-heart gems, such as “You think that notebook is a stone tablet?” “For a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot,” and “Who walks that fucking slow?” (That last one conjures memories of Austin Powers demanding, “Who throws a shoe?”)

Photo: HBO