It all comes down to string theory. But, as Detective Papania says, “that’s over my head.” Rustin Cohle attempts to explain membrane theory to Papania and Gilbough, and if you pay attention I suspect that his explanation possesses all of the answers. I do not pretend to be even close to a theoretical physicist, but what I do understand is that in our dimension (our human reality on Earth) we perceive time as linear, progressing forward with each passing second. Membrane theory, an evolution of string theory, proposes that there are 11 dimensions that make up our universe and spacetime is different in each of them. The point, as Cohle makes it, is that time may be a circle or a loop. Events repeat themselves as we move ever forward, only to find ourselves back where we started. It is Reggie LeDoux who first mentions something on this order to Cohle, but it takes almost 20 years for him to consider it seriously.
There are episodes in television history wherein the very fabric or credo of a series is upended (think Alias’ “Phase One” or, more relevantly, Twin Peaks’ “Lonely Souls”) and “The Secret Fate of All Life” will certainly go down as one of those episodes. The narrative threads of the first four episodes served one purpose: find the killer (Reggie LeDoux) and put him away. Put away, indeed. After last week’s stunning beats of action, Cohle and Hart find themselves in perfect position to follow their way to LeDoux and in a quick, brutal outburst of anger and emotion Hart shoots LeDoux dead. LeDoux’s partner then gets blown up into pieces by one of his own booby traps. In the process they rescue a kidnapped girl and get labeled as heroes. These sequences are intercut with Cohle and Hart relaying the story to an advisory board, and it becomes clear rather quickly that the events as they describe them are not the events as they occurred. Much like last week, in which Papania and Gilbough are not told about the quick undercover operation, Cohle and Hart craft their story as best suits them. Cohle may fire an AK into the trees to make it look as if their story is true, but we know that these men are lying. Cohle and Hart constantly find themselves in the position of having to tell stories, and in many ways they are shaping their own narrative. At what point does the story become reality? How deep do the lies go? That becomes the new modus operandi, and something I have suspected for some time becomes quite clear.
It was mentioned earlier in the series that Hart and Cohle had a falling out in 2002, and in an elegantly crafted sequence the time passes from 1995 to 2002. A few things we know: Hart and Cohle remain partners and receive special attention and promotions for their work on the Dora Lange murder, Hart and his wife mend fences and rekindle their family, and Cohle enters a serious relationship. There is a lovely yet foreboding shot of Hart’s young daughters playing in a field that morphs to 2002 as we now see Hart’s daughters all grown up. When talking to the detectives in the modern narrative, Hart ponders on the nature of the “good times” and wonders if we realize that they are the good times when they are happening or if it only becomes clear to us that they were good after the fact. Cohle’s philosophical nature has rubbed off on him. The good quickly shifts into the bad as Hart’s older daughter is a troubled, sexually active teenage goth who is now subject to the anger Hart once had for his wife and perhaps that sense of foreboding from earlier will tragically come into play. Cohle is then faced with the interrogation of a man who recognizes him and tells him that the killer he was looking for is still out there. “The Yellow King,” he says, and the nightmares of Hart’s past quickly become the nightmares of his present. Before Hart and Cohle have the opportunity to question the suspect again he has killed himself in jail after receiving a mysterious phone call. Writer Nic Pizzolatto has structured this entire series as a puzzle of layers, and as we approach the final act a pivotal layer is peeled back.
It was known early on that these murders have once again surfaced in our modern narrative. That is the whole reason that Hart and Cohle were being interrogated to begin with. Now, after all of the lying, missing information (Rustin was off grid from 2002 until now), existentialism, and pain it becomes clear that Papania and Gilbough suspect that Rustin Cohle is the killer. Rustin is an exceptionally complex and intelligent man, and these two detectives believe that he is a mastermind, manipulating Hart into doing his bidding for him. Faced with this information, Hart takes a step back and considers the possibility. Hart knows more about Cohle than anybody, and if he believes it is possible then perhaps we should too? When Hart discovers that Cohle had been interrogated he says,”If you talked to Rust, you weren’t getting a read on him. He was getting a read on you.” We know this to be the case; Rustin has played Papania and Gilbough like a fiddle, with his beers and cigarettes and philosophical monologues (which are superficially hogwash but also vital to the tenor of the series and utterly compelling to watch). We leave in 2002, still with much ground to cover, such as the oft-mentioned falling out, as Cohle discovers an abandoned building filled with horrific sketches on the walls and a multitude of twig sculptures on the ground. Cohle examines a sculpture in great detail and with great intensity. This does not seem like the action of a man who was behind it all along but rather a man who is quickly becoming aware of a far larger mess than just Reggie LeDoux.
I mentioned earlier that I thought the answers existed within the notion of string theory. Rustin says, “Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” In this case, string theory can also be existential theory. We are doomed to circuitously repeat the horrors of our miserable existence. 1995. 2002. 2012. Events re-occur, mysteries remain unsolved, and the horrors repeat. Chilling. One thing is clear, though. The status quo is broken. Gone are scenes in 1995 and gone, too, are the interrogations. The hunt for Rustin Cohle begins, but Papania and Gilbough have their work cut out for them. How do you hunt a hunter?
- With each passing episode my respect and admiration for True Detective only grows. It is a pleasure to write about each episode because I have yet to have anything negative to say. The craft, performances, and slowly revealing structure are exemplary. We are at a turning point, though, and the final 3 episodes will dictate this show’s legacy. I have high hopes.
- True Detective may not be an overt horror story, but it is as disturbing and scary – in tone, execution, and ideas – as anything I have seen on TV in recent years.
- Much talk has occurred on the internet regarding the name “The Yellow King.” Website i09 published a must-read piece about a book of poetry from the late 1800s called The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. It is clear that Nic Pizzolatto is not only familiar with this work but he is using it as a sort of manifesto for the series. One wonders if Reggie LeDoux (he talks about “the black stars,” taken directly from Chambers’ work) and his people are familiar with the work, or if the book will come into play within the context of the series itself. You can find the piece here.
- Check out this excellent MTV article on last week’s stunning extended take here.
- I do not, under any circumstance, believe that Rustin Cohle is a murderer. Papania and Gilbough have photographs of him at the new crime scenes in 2012 and they use this as evidence against him. I believe that Rustin has been conducting his own investigation and the whole thing is about to come to a head. Rustin has a knack for undercover work. Has he been undercover since 2002?
- Throughout all of this Marty Hart has always seemed like the “better” of the two men, yet we have seen that he is capable of great anger and violence. I am not suggesting that he is hiding deep secrets or is the killer (although we do know he is a killer), but merely that as this puzzle begins to fit together we cannot forget him. It is not all about Rustin Cohle.
- As for my comments on the foreboding nature of the scene with Marty’s daughters, we cannot forget the chilling sight of the murder scene the girls created with Barbies. And what of their grandfather?
- The music on this show, composed/curated by the great T. Bone Burnett, almost an ambient buzzing and thumping, is incredibly unsettling.