Three words: Cary Joji Fukunaga. I have spent a lot of time in my reviews for True Detective thus far discussing the work of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and the nature of the characters they play, and indeed there will be more of that within this review. Yet “Who Goes There” is a different beast than the 3 episodes that have preceded it, and Mr. Fukunaga proves to be up to the task in a big way. This story is now half over (if you can believe it), and in these four episodes Fukunaga has achieved a consistent tone of gorgeous, poetic, hypnotic, dripping dread. TV series that use varying directors throughout the episodes can have a distinct set of visual rules and tonal guidelines, but one can often tell that different directors are playing in the sandbox. Here, one distinct vision is in play and no episode better emphasizes that than this one. The aforementioned dread rolls over the screen like a dense fog, thickening with each passing moment. A bird’s eye shot of a car following another one at night, the barely illuminated sky making way for the harsh beams of the cars’ headlights. A smoky hallway lit only by a flickering florescent light, as if it were the path to hell. A rave in a warehouse with a thumping strobe. Two detectives framed only by a narrow doorway looking into the desolation of a prison cell. Stunning imagery and a handle on cinematic formalism lead way to moments that create mood and emphasize True Detective’s exceedingly dark worldview.
Then there is the tracking shot. The philosophical character meditation takes something of a backseat in this episode and for the first time we are faced with genuine action. Hot on the trail of their new suspect Reginald LeDoux (the horrific gas mask “monster”), Marty and Rust connect the dots to a biker gang called the Iron Crusaders. LeDoux, a crystal meth cook, solely produces his product for the MC, and as it so happens Rustin’s former years deep undercover trace directly back to the Iron Crusaders. Rustin concocts an elaborate, off book, high wire plan to quickly go back undercover in an attempt to use his relationship to the Iron Crusaders (in particular a biker named Ginger) and thus find LeDoux. This scheme takes up the second half of the episode, and it would be easy to dismiss this material as filler (and perhaps a bit too coincidental). Yet if True Detective has taught us one thing about its intentions it is that it is not so much interested in the whodunit of it all but rather using the framing device of this supposed serial killer as a means of examining our two lead detectives. As such, few elements of the series thus far have taken us as deep into the mind of Rustin Cohle as this foray into undercover work. Rustin reveals his big red box (pictured above), a sort of survival/undercover kit filled with weapons, boots, and of course Jameson. The ease with which Rust slips back into his old mindset is eerie. He is able to effectively fake tracks on his arms, steal high quality cocaine from the station evidence locker (he quips to himself that there has to be a better system for this), and almost completely alter his body posture so as to appear drugged and dangerous. Martin looks on with an equal combination of fear and interest. McConaughey’s quick transformation in these scenes is chilling.
Everything comes to a head as Ginger, as a means of ascertaining if Rustin (his undercover name is, appropriately, Crash) is still trustworthy, asks Crash to participate in a heist on a stash house in the East Texas projects. What follows is the long tracking shot mentioned above, and it is here that Cary Joji Fukunaga gets to show off his skills in a big way. Clocking in at a robust 6 minutes, we begin by following Rustin into the house and end with him shoving a bloody and beaten Ginger into the back of Martin’s car. These 6 minutes are stunning; expertly choreographed chaos and intensity with a multitude of moving parts. The entire cast and crew had to lend their A-game to this sequence, from the steadicam operator (major kudos; he had to travel over a fence on a gib arm) to the many extras who had to exhibit perfect timing, and especially McConaughey who is the centerpiece of the scene. Rustin exhibits an almost military precision and level of control amidst the madness. As guns fire, fights ensue, and more and more individuals “join the party,” we travel throughout the projects with Rustin as the only calm in the storm. Miraculously, Fukunaga not only manages to maintain the series’ tone in this sequence but it never feels unnecessary or showy. In fact, the sequence works so beautifully that it would be easy enough to miss that it was a tracking shot at all. The fact that it is and that it works so well is a testament not only to his craft but to the intention of the choice. Because of this tracking shot we become one with Rustin and experience the events as he does. It is one of the most incredible sequences I have seen on television and will likely be remembered as a centerpiece of the series.
Earlier in the episode we spend time watching Martin and Maggie’s relationship fall apart as Lisa (Martin’s stenographer mistress) tells Maggie of Martin’s actions. As the wedge grows wider between this husband and wife (a shouting match in a hospital lobby is of particular note), the gap between Martin and Rustin grows smaller. These two men may not like each other as friends, and they have certainly exhibited their fair share of philosophical and moral differences in the previous episode, but as they are men and partners they will still come to each other’s aid in a time of need. The paradigm of their partnership is ever shifting, and they each fall deeper and deeper into a black hole of despair.
Questions linger on. The 2012 scenes play less import in “Who Goes There” but the inquiries remain. Do Papania and Gilbough know more than they are letting on? They certainly were not aware of the stash house heist, attributing Rustin’s leave from the police force to his visiting his sick father. They are careful to note, though, that there was no record of his father ever being sick. And they certainly know something about the copycat murders. If True Detective is a character study first, it is a puzzle second. To my mind the whodunit is less about who the original killer was (at this point it seems likely that LeDoux is in fact their man) and more who is the copycat? With both Rustin and Martin being interviewed it would be easy to assume that it is one of them. Everything they leave behind turns to hell, after all. Just look at the episode’s final shot. Marty, Rust, and Ginger may have escaped the riot in the projects, but with a helicopter hovering above and dozens of bodies shooting and fighting below there was still much hell lingering long after they were gone.