“I know how this ends.” – Reggie Ledoux
Well, that makes one of us.
For as much critical praise and viewer love as “True Detective” has garnered in just six short weeks, it’s almost comical now to realize that every major plot point so far was clearly but cleverly telegraphed in the first episode and that it was simply an appetizer designed to get us to the main course in the proper frame of mind.
In that premier, we meet mismatched partners Marty Hart and Rust Cohle and within 60 minutes we learn they had a falling out in 2002 and haven’t talked in 10 years. We know they solved a big case in 1995 that ended with a shootout in the woods. We know there’s concern that they might not have gotten the right guy. And we sense there’s suspicion in 2012 that Cohle is the real killer. Yet, getting to this point where all those things have actually happened has seemed fresh and frantic.
But in “The Secret Fate of All Life,” we realize, possibly for the first time for many of us, that “True Detective” isn’t really the slick cop show with a creepy murder and a surprise ending that we thought it was. It’s something that aspires to be much larger, much slicker and much creepier. Something deep and dark, indeed.
In retrospect, maybe this secret narrative at work on “True Detective” has been visible all along, but we’ve largely ignored it to get caught up in the other story, the telegraphed one, the one that Reggie Ledoux has seen happen before and will see happen again. The secret of all magic is misdirection and perhaps this magical TV showed has pulled the greatest trick of all, getting a mass audience to a point where we’re ready to ponder the nature of evil, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life, the importance of narrative and unknowable cosmic horror. Like those murder victims Cohle started at for hour after hour in 1995, we’re ready for it now, we’ll welcome it.
A key aspect of getting us to this point now is “The King in Yellow,” a collection of short stories, written in 1895 by Robert W. Chambers, that clearly have affected many of the characters in our “True Detective” universe and seems to have affected the universe itself. (Bonus points if you noticed the giant yellow crown in Sunday’s episode. If you didn’t look for it on second viewing during the tail scene at the beginning of the episode.)
But if we’re looking for literal meaning in “True Detective” from “The King in Yellow,” we should remember a couple things. First, it’s a FICTIONAL play (that is rumored to drive readers mad if they complete both acts) mentioned in several related pieces of FICTION. You can’t get much more unreal than that. Second, even in Chambers’ own work, the identity of The King in Yellow is never revealed and we wonder if that won’t be true on “True Detective.” It reminds us of how Verbal Kint described Keyser Soze in “The Usual Suspects” – a spook story.
Now, if you want to look for symbolic meaning, consider this: The fictional play “The King in Yellow” came in two acts. The first act is a setup and considered quite ordinary. It’s the second act that maddens the reader with “irresistible” truths. As noted above, the storyline so far on “True Detective” has been quite ordinary (although extraordinarily presented). The plot points were all foreshadowed in the first episode. If so, the death of Reggie Ledoux in 1995 and the suspicions about Rust Cohle in 2012 are the end of that ordinary first act. So what in the name of Carcosa is in store for Hart, Cohle and us in Act II?
+ If you're that interested, "The King in Yellow" is in the public domain now and can be read by clicking the link at right.
+ When we decided to start blogging on this show six weeks ago, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we'd be sitting here today discussing what an amazing job it did in introducing and explaining string theory (or membrane theory, as Cohle called it). Of course, it was Mr. Ledoux who really introduced the concept, at first dismissed by 1995 Cohle in classic form, "What is that, Nietzsche?" But it's clear that 2012 Cohle has spent a lot of time thinking about what Ledoux saw in his dreams and the flat circle that brings him back to their confrontation again and again. And his explanation of space/time is as good as any we've ever heard, "Time is something death created so it can grow the things it kills." Wow. We might blog further on Cohle latest monologue after we watch the episode five or six more times.
+ One of the things we want to explore further in re-watching "True Detective" is the idea that it's storytelling that gives our world its shape. Think about it. Pretty much everything you know, or think you know, about this world and your life came to you in the form of a story. And think of how many mentions there have been to narrative and stories in "True Detective." We once thought "Lost" was a show about the cradle of our world's mythologies. Now, we're wondering if "True Detective" isn't that show.
+ Although many of the foreshadowed plot points have been played out, at least two have not. First and foremost, what is going on with Marty and Maggie Hart’s daughters? We saw two clues about some kind of traumatic sexual experience involving the older daughter in 1995 and now we’ve seen that play out as overt sexual behavior in 2002. (And wasn’t that time jump sequence both beautiful and sinister?) There’s got to be more to this part of the story. Second, we got some more clues about how Tuttle Ministries and Billy Lee Tuttle might be involved in the story, as well as a pretty strong indication that Tuttle is not the killer, since he died in 2010, well before the newest King in Yellow murder.
+ Although the theory about the show that we hatched after watching Episode 2 still holds, we’re probably 50/50 or less on it now. It’s not anything specific thing that happened in “The Secret Fate of All Life” that has us doubting, it’s the overall tone of the episode. Our “solution” to the case is that surprise ending we mentioned earlier and we now don’t feel like that is where this show is going. We want to wait one more week, though, until we see how exactly Cohle and Hart come apart (something we think might happen next week), before we abandon ship on the theory.