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True Detective Recap: Another Brick in Dewall

When Hart hears Detectives Gilbough and Papania’s argument for Cohle as killer and surmises, “You all have given me a lot to absorb,” he could easily be speaking for us in response to a dense and exciting episode. “The Secret Fate of All Life” is structured much like Cohle’s theories on humanity’s doomed circularity. A narrative breath in its midsection is rounded out on either side by high tension and uncertainty. There’s just enough time to contemplate what any of it means in between bracing for and sustaining trauma. 

What’s clear is that Cohle knows how to cover up a crime scene; less obvious: what the mysterious longtime narc and perma-loner considers to be just cause. Cohle’s quick thinking and clear conscience after Marty executes Reggie Ledoux makes you wonder what really happened to his daughter. Flash ahead seventeen years and take a leap in investigative inference, and it’s not hard to understand how Gilbough and Papania (especially Papania) could interpret Rust’s existential filibusters as spiritual confession. Cohle himself displayed similar prejudice against Reggie’s brother Dewall (a dead ringer for scruffy character actor Mark Boone Junior) and wannabe guru Reggie back in ’95. When the latter spouted off some heathen assurances of black stars rising (unrelated to Under the Dome’s falling pink stars, no doubt), Rust impatiently barked, “What is that, Nietzsche? Shut the fuck up.” (See the line that got cut from Ledoux's ramblings here.) Only Cohle didn’t seem so much convinced of Reggie and Dewall’s guilt as insulted by the Ledoux duo’s inelegance. The dead boy and catatonic girl Hart discovered in the torture chamber provided sufficient evidence of concrete wrongdoing.

Whether Gilbough and Papania are merely “company men” wasting Cohle’s “fucking day,” no less deluded and self-righteous in their own way than the aforementioned drug-manufacturing kidnappers, remains to be revealed. Writer-creator Nic Pizzolatto and season-one director Cary Fukunaga are clearly operating on the same page when it comes to shifting perspectives and forcing themselves and viewers to consider whether there’s room for ideology in casework and vice versa. That’s why Cohle condescends to Maggie on the finite utility of male-female coupling one week and Hart ostensibly echoes his view to Gilbough and Papania in “The Secret Fate of Life.” It also explains how men whose methods and rationale are so oppositional can spin such a convincing single yarn about what happened back in ’95. And those scenes of Hart and Cohle completing each other’s sentences (we now know that Cohle was interviewed first, and under the misleading pretense of consultation), cutting back to the incongruous (and we can only assume authentic) course of events in that ominous swamp nearly two decades prior were terrific, and more climactic than Reggie’s emergence.

After all Gilbough and Papania hear, even without the benefit of seeing what we viewers are allowed to see (however reliable that really is), it’s duly hard to blame them for choking on what they’re being fed from Cohle. Tall tales of heavy machine-gun fire, “anti-intruder” devices and convenient heroics all sound a bit ruckus-making, given that their perps were subverting parole and keeping their deeds quiet. And they’d be right, based on what we see really happened in 1995. But to steal a phrase from Cohle himself, they’d be paying attention to the wrong clues. Things didn’t go down that afternoon just like Rust and Marty have offered, but the cover-up doesn’t necessarily mean Cohle has something to hide. And he may, in fact, have laid low for several years, only to re-emerge right as victims similar to Dora Lange began dying off, even lurking around their crime scenes looking haggard and suspicious. But is that really self-explanatory? Or rather, could this obsessive one-time lawman have come back to finish a pursuit he started in ’95, one he knows never really concluded, one that the current CID will either mishandle or compromise?

That’s not the only loose end Pizzolatto and Fukunaga have left to be tied with just three chapters still unopened. Who is the Yellow King? Is it Cohle? Does it matter? Also, was that king-sized devil’s nest Cohle found at the school indeed intended for some cult monarch? And if so, can we expect any more odd parallels to Under the Dome (hopefully no)?

Internalizing True Detective is worth dedicating time to. After all, this is a show about obsessions — how they make us go yet stop us short of any meaningful destination. One could argue this series is really about the opposite of tunnel vision: being present, observant, and humble. Or maybe it’s a warning about the toll of taking too much in. Whatever Pizzolatto and Fukunaga are exploring in the friction between modern justice, personal relationships, and aeonian truths, it is resolving itself through a painstaking storytelling metamorphosis. In “Secret Fate of Life,” the build-up results in both closure and cause for anticipation, making the episode’s narrative just the right amount to absorb.

Apart from all that:

As far as tweaker tell-offs go, it doesn’t get much better than Dewall’s sneering comment to Cohle: “I don’t like your face. It makes me want to do things to it.”

Ginger will be missed.

Of course Marty owns a Division Bell-era Pink Floyd shirt.

I loved Marty’s testimony about how Maggie had come around, even though the zombified image of her at the skating rink told a different story.

Also, I really enjoyed the 2002 parts, and how everything was repeating itself as Cohle had been prophecizing, and that everything was dissolving, too (e.g., hairlines, old missing-children billboards, withering crime scenes), in addition to providing the perfect non-linear linear thread for the entire saga.

If you want to further feed your obsessiveness with the show’s obsessiveness, there’s always this.

Maggie must know that saying “You have a long road to climb” doesn’t make any sense.

See, if Hart had paid more attention to Audrey’s porno doodles, he wouldn’t have been surprised that she’d eventually be having threesomes with college guys. Clues, Marty, clues!

I loved when Maggie sniped at Maisie, saying “Go to bed, this isn’t about you.” Michelle Monaghan is the show’s most effectively used second-stringer.

Present-day Cohle wears a pretty nice watch for someone so resistant to time.

R.I.P., Billy Lee Tuttle.

Cohle’s musings, be they poignant or put-on, can be manic-depressive fortune-cookie fodder, but “death created time to grow the things that it would kill” was a winner.

Interesting theory from Cohle, misdirection as it may be, about the ’95 task force being in on it.

The new victim is 20-year-old Stephanie Kordish from Lake Charles. It may seem like the victims don’t matter, but the details of who they were are always there.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who plays Dewall, is not, in fact, a member of Sigur Rós.

This wasn’t an episode where the music told the story. But there was this Kris Kristofferson gem, an unexpected Kinks number and a fittingly eerie meanderer from Mars Volta offshoot Bosnian Rainbows. And in my own obsessing about this show, I decided I’d like to see this song and this song used in an episode at some point.

I’m not really speculating on what may or may not happen as the show goes along, but for me personally, it’s important for now to believe that Cohle didn’t do it.