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True Detective Recap: The Spaghetti Incident?

A sect of prehistoric Plains tribes traveling through North America sometimes wore wood-fashioned, antlered masks that lacked eye and mouth holes. Experts believe the disguise may have accessorized some kind of cultish deer worship. Not to say those natives were offering up innocents to voodoo deities, but the men who mutilated Dora Kelly Lange and Rianne Olivier — and most likely took Marie Fontenot, Stacy Gerhart, catatonic Kelly, Terry Guidry’s son, and maybe even Robert Doumain’s boy in 1985 (among others) — definitely relish what Rust deems a “rural sense of Mardi Gras.”

As Marty observed on that videotape in Rust’s storage space, the annual winter festival held by the Tuttles/Childresses/et al. happens far afield from Bourbon Street, replete with animal costumes, hooded men on horseback, the requisite antlers and, most reprehensibly, rape and pedophilia. It’s a rite they’ve practiced for a long time, as the closing scene’s lawnmowing man (who just may or may not be the Giant/the Tall Man/the Man With Scars we've heard mentioned previously) seemed to confirm in his cliché, cautioning-the-wind kind of way. Judging from those black-and-white photos we saw in Mrs. Kelly’s living room back in episode two, and from Rust and Marty’s fireside chat partway through “After You’re Gone” with Delores Jackson, the former maid of family patriarch Sam Tuttle, there may be ample evidence of the rituals going decades back. But as far as that creepy groundskeeper and his kin are concerned, such atrocities are an entitlement and an obligation that comes with inheritance of their tiny pirate hideout turned plantation township.

But in 2012, Rust and Marty are evidently contending with something that goes way beyond CID cover-ups and the distorted folkloric fetish of a closeted minority. It’s why they have little time or use for Steve Geraci’s lies and see their obfuscating old colleague as a means to an end, and thus are willing to deal with him accordingly. Marty initially had his hesitations about the use of unsanctioned procedural violence, maybe on account of his little blowup with the young men who had been caught with his daughter Audrey, but after seeing that gruesome tape, he’s beginning to realize that brute force is sometimes the only course of action. More crucially, he and his old partner have buried the hatchet. Their time in reflection illuminated that being detectives, not husbands or fathers or friends, is the one thing they’re good at. They identify that it’s time to end this sprawling sickness, or what Cohle might call “a cycle of violence and degradation.”

We know Rust has been living with this epiphany for two years, since he shook off self-doubt and began stalking his prey. He’s no longer sitting passively in dive-bar booths waiting for lowlifes like Dewall Ledoux to grant access inside outlying meth shacks. Now, he’s sitting confidently across from sources such as hooker and Tuttle-school alumnus Johnny Joanie, leaning in with purpose and extracting meaningful answers. No more will he play games in the offices of men like Billy Lee Tuttle. By this point, he’s hit them right where they live, breaking into Tuttle’s homes and uncovering incriminating and twisted images. He’s getting sharper, and has (as many suspected) been brilliantly playing to Papania and Gilbough’s linear theory about his disintegrating lucidity. (Poor Papania and Gilbough, pawns on either side — they can’t trust their instincts or their iPhone map.)

Marty’s sharper too, and humbler. He drinks, but not as often, or as much. When visiting Maggie, he’s happy to sink into the couch opposite her catbird’s seat, admire her new life and and offer gratitude for how well she’s raised Audrey and Maisie. His once robust professional skepticism, informed by all that inward self-destruction, has been restored to useful practicality. Watching Cohle and Hart volley back and forth about the veracity of Cohle’s storage-room gatherings was kinetic: They’re finally pairing all that muscle and messy energy with the wisened, journalistic persistence of Woodward and Bernstein (not that Bob and Carl would have resorted to a car battery and jumper cables to elicit intel from Deep Throat).

Yet for all the electricity of Rust and Marty’s determination, plus the anxiety of seeing things you can’t un-see, “After You’ve Gone” felt like a slow march to the end. Like Maggie, they’ve ostensibly exhausted 17 years of their lives on men who think secrecy makes them clever and proud. So why not get to know each other over beers and dated case files, even if Rust’s biggest revelation is that he may have been a painter or historian had obsessive police work not beckoned? It’s more natural than breakneck progress, though. As Geraci says to Marty on the golf course, we may as well “take it slow.”

With one final hour in waiting, it’s not premature to say that Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga have succeeded in that diligence. True Detective has taken us on an arc that lesser shows might resolve in a single episode, or, as we’ve witnessed more commonly, forcibly protract to the point of viewer disconsolation. It has instead used a finite narrative to introduce an incredible interconnected population of characters, none of whom are mere red herrings, while allowing us to stumble toward convictions alongside the show’s leads. Not to mention all that philosophy for thought, whether inconsequential or essential. The one sure thing is that, as Rust and Marty come up upon the Tuttles’ patch of land outside Erath, shit’s about to get real.

Apart from all that:

I love Marty’s description of Rust’s eyes as seeming “brittle.” He’s quite expressive when he wants to be.

It was cathartic to hear Rust call Marty out for shooting Reggie.

Is it possible that there’s gossip among all the kids in the greater parishes about the winter festival — hence Audrey’s early drawings?

Marty’s gut is its own character.

You could have at least gone with a 14-year Macallan, Marty. Cheapskate.

If Rust thought nothing grew in the right direction out by that secretary’s housing complex, wait till he sees Tall Man’s lawn mowing.

Geraci, quick tip: Don’t volunteer the topic you know the other guy’s sniffing you out about.

I love how you know it’s a Maggie entrance just by the song.

Speaking of which, here are what will likely be your final music footnotes, as next week’s conclusive episode will be largely scored. Hope you guys dug these, and hope you’re anticipating the finale (no screeners are being provided for critics, so I will have it written up in the shortest order I can afterward). Anyhow, this week you heard a little Juice Newton on that jukebox; a bit of spookiness from School of Seven Bells; a particularly plaintive number from noisy blues-gazers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; a slow burn courtesy of Richard and Linda Thompson and a little climatic Townes Van Zandt to leave you breathless. Anyone have final wishful suggestions for songs they think would have worked swimmingly in this show/episode?

Photo: LACEY TERRELL/HBO