What happened in 2002? This question is asked a few times throughout Haunted Houses, as we find Maggie in the investigation seat for the very first time. The women in True Detective have been entirely overshadowed by the men, a point I made clear from the first episode. In fact, it is not even so much that they are overshadowed but rather that they are simply treated poorly. This is by design. True Detective, more than anything, is about two complex, “horrible” men, and the show constantly puts them on trial for their actions; they are criticized in the text. As the show revolves around them, their mistreatment of women extends into the text and becomes a chilling and unfortunate aspect of this world. We are dealing with a case about “murdered women and children,” after all, and in True Detective men inflict physical and psychological damage upon women.
Even Maggie, portrayed by Michelle Monaghan (the only female in the show’s opening credits), has been treated poorly and often plays second fiddle to her male co-stars. As a character she has lacked agency, existing only to react to Marty’s cheating and anger and violence towards their daughter. Not quite anymore. Last week’s episode was all about the concept of “time as a flat circle,” and indeed in Haunted Houses we see that to be the case with both Rust and Marty. After the “good years,” both men find themselves back in the pit of despair of their own creation. Rustin is obsessed with the Dora Lange/Yellow King case, convinced that it is a far wider conspiracy than anyone is seeing or admitting. This affects his job, his demeanor, and his relationships. Marty allows himself to slip back into his old tricks (after a few years of not drinking and finding religion, a new fact we learn) and begins cheating on his wife again. The woman he cheats with is Beth (Lili Simmons), and her identity is one that I find particularly interesting. Beth was the underage girl at the brothel compound seen in episode 2, and the last time we saw her Marty gave her a lecture about her chosen work and her age. Well, Beth isn’t underage anymore and Marty has given over to temptation. His actions are cruel and hypocritical, and I am fascinated by the way all aspects of the old Dora Lange case are revealing themselves in the present.
This episode is barely about the case, though. After last week’s superb, narrative heavy episode, we take a step back with Haunted Houses and refocus on Hart and Cohle as men. Yes, Maggie is finally given agency in this episode and yet her agency exists only to throw a further wrench into the relationship of Rustin and Marty. After discovering that Marty is cheating again, she decides that she wants to take her life into her own hands. At first she attempts to chat up a stranger at a bar; this doesn’t work. She eventually throws herself upon Rustin, and in a rough, heated moment accompanied by creepy, gothic choral music they have sex against the bar of Rust’s kitchen. Realizing what just happened, Rustin is furious and kicks her out of the house, but not before she can make her agenda clear. “I’m sorry but thank you,” she says. This is what happened in 2002. It wasn’t just that the men were ultimately bad as friends and as partners, their perspectives on life and work too different. It wasn’t just that Rustin’s obsession with the 1995 case caused embarrassment to both men with their new boss, Leroy Salter (the great Paul Ben-Victor), resulting in Rust’s suspension. Rust had sex with Marty’s wife, and the epic brawl that occurs in the parking lot of the police station would be enough to end any friendship. This was Maggie’s design. Maggie eschews the idea of “time as a flat circle” because when faced with the same circumstances of old she takes a different course of action; it just so happens that her action is one that meets Marty on his level and is thus cold and disgusting. Like I said, the women on this show are not treated or portrayed well.
When Detectives Gilbough and Papania (both of whom have still yet to be seen anywhere other than an interrogation room) question Maggie in 2012, she too lies. She was the wife of a cop, after all, and for whatever reason she sees no need to tell them about what it is that actually led to the fight between Rust and Marty or why they haven’t seen each other for 10 years. She is sure to sing Rust’s praises, though. Maggie says, “Rust was an intense man but he had integrity. He was responsible. Not a lot of responsible people in the world.” Like Rustin in the previous episode, Marty finally gets fed up with the interrogation and he too leaves, leaving Gilbough and Papania as lost as they were before. As he leaves, Marty says, “Whatever Rusty is, or was, or became… don’t call me again. I won’t help you.”
The second episode of the series comes into play again as Rustin tracks down former revival preacher Joel Theriot (Shea Wigham) to ask him about the Wellspring schools and why he left. A note about naked pictures of children is disturbing. Rustin clearly has his eyes set on Wellspring (one of their schools was the one found in Pelican), though, and the man who was once at its head: Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle. In a somewhat surreal and strange scene, Rustin questions Tuttle about the Wellspring schools and the details are fuzzy. Rustin also questions the young girl he and Marty found alive at LeDoux’s place, asking her if there was anyone other than the 2 men they found. She mentions the giant with the scars on her face before becoming overwhelmed with screams of terror. And then there is the deacon Austin Farrar, who supposedly embezzled from the church before he was internally let go. How does this all add up? Rustin’s innocence has never been more clear in my mind; he is playing a very long game, and Tuttle is at the center of it. Yet Tuttle died of an overdose in 2010 and both of his homes were broken in to only 2 weeks previous. What is Rust up to?
The episode comes to a close with Rustin, the horn of his pickup truck honking furiously, pulling Marty over on the side of the road. For the first time in 10 years they are face to face, and all Rust wants to do is have a beer and talk. Marty may have other plans though; he loads his revolver ominously.
- This is perhaps the weakest and most traditional episode yet of True Detective, but it still made for excellent drama. The series’ female issues have become a hot topic of conversation, and while I don’t disagree on the surface I also think it is intentionally part of the design of the series, for better or worse.
- Up until now Matthew McConaughey has been the MVP of the series for me, and of course he is still terrific but Harrelson steals the show tonight. You can see the anger bubbling underneath. His physicality is impressive; just look at the gross way he eats that pasta.
- The identity of The Yellow King still remains, and although last week I thought Tuttle was a likely candidate he is almost too obvious at this point. What of Maggie’s father?
- Marty’s daughters, and their horrific barbie crime scene (which mirrors the layout of Rust’s Lone Star dolls from a couple weeks ago) linger on.
- The show is aware of how Rustin’s dialogue reads, and I love it for that. Marty says, “I caught zero logic in all of that. And the last bit? Pure gibberish.”
- How surreal was Tuttle’s school, with the mechanical doors with crosses, segways, and perfectly dressed students? I find religious/evangelical imagery creepy and this certainly got me.
- I had no time above to discuss Charmaine Boudreaux, Sids and the death of her children, Munchhausen by proxy, her signed confession, and Rustin’s chilling proclamation that “if you get the opportunity you should kill yourself.”
- “There’s no such thing as forgiveness. People just have short memories.”
- Tuttle: “I’ve seen more souls lost down a bottle than any pit.”
- Even Beth speaks in Rustin Cohle-esque existentialism: “God gave us these flaws. That’s something I learned. He doesn’t see them as flaws. There is nothing wrong with the way he made us. The universe forgives all.”
- I spent a good part of this season thinking that Marty was a better man than Rustin. Now? I’m not so sure. Rustin is certainly more nihilistic, but Marty is a pig. Neither are good men.
- The etymology of the name Leroy (Salter) is “the king.”
- The hair and make-up team are doing an incredible but subtle job of differentiating the characters in the different time periods.