OT: True Detective

Let me be crystal clear: you should be watching True Detective. Steal your neighbors’ cable, watch through the barroom window, steal your boyfriend's HBOGo account password; do what it takes. I rarely shill for any type of TV, but there are exceptions, and this is a big one. Anyway, once you’re caught up (this is being written between episodes five and six), enjoy the thread below; spoilers will run rampant. Share your links, spill your theories, note the details that everyone else has missed. This show is dense.

A few thoughts of my own to get started; remember that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, I just like the openness of possibility, as well as the assignment of meaning itself, which Rust Cohle bloviates upon once or twice. On that note, I think there’s a lot in TD that, as we look for clues and try to "solve" the show, reflects on the viewer. As Cohle said, "nothing is ever solved," and I’m a big fan of that inherent ambiguity. I’ll get back to that.

I love the use of imagery and symbolism throughout, but what I’ve been paying attention to most in this regard is the use of water. Louisiana is a great setting for the murkiness of truth, as laid out in the show. The separation between dry land and water is often unclear as swamps and estuaries make up much of the southern coastline. Water can symbolize purity and change, and if that’s a given, then it’s easy to read deeply into scenes. When Hart is arguing about change and how old men of every generation think society is falling apart with his father-in-law, both of his daughters are on a canoe in the lake. Hart decides he would rather spend time with his obsession (the Lange case) rather than his family, and his wife calls the girls back to land. Another instance would be when Hart and Cohle interview a crabber, the father of a previous victim of the Yellow King, Rianne Olivier, originally thought to have drowned in a flood; the crabber stays on his boat as the detectives tell him his daughter was actually murdered. Later, Cohle remarks how he almost envies the simplistic lifestyle of the crabber. These things almost announce a rejection of purity and truth by the main characters, and a soiling of those concepts around them. In the field where the tent revivalists have set up camp, we can see a container ship passing behind a levee, water unseen; I wonder if this is purposefully meant to indicate that, without the earthen wall to hold back the river, their church would again be rinsed clean.

Along the same lines, we catch mentions of hurricanes that have swept the area, notably Hurricane Andrew, having wrecked and closed Light of Way, the evangelical school that Olivier attended, in which episode five draws to a close. I’m not exactly sure what the meaning might be behind that; I want to say the original purpose the school served was swept away to accommodate its current use as a creepy dilapidated shithole. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

Or maybe we won’t.

I have to say, as I’m sure you regulars have guessed, I identify with Rust more than might be considered comfortable. A couple of concepts rile my senses, and I do love how they can be carried over from Hart and Cohle to the viewers. Again, this could be my amateur-analyst self reading too deeply, but I think there’s a lot to be said for obsession that is addressed by the show. Both main characters are hugely affected by their obsession with Lange and what we know as the Yellow King, as people are obsessed with the details of this show. We can see that, though obsession brought temporary resolve and fulfillment, there are still many outstanding issues. Cohle: "Fuckin’ fulfillment, and closure, fuckin’ empty jars to hold this shitstorm. And nothing’s ever fulfilled, not until the very end. And closure. No. No, no, nothing is ever over." And so I think we’re going to be ultimately disappointed with True Detective. That’s part of the point. If they’re calling it early, I have no issue with that. Perhaps it's right under our nose.

We also assign meaning to the clues we come up with, with whatever the internet has to offer, coupled with our overactive brains. This show, as a work of art, is enjoyable as they come; that True Detective has deeper meanings is just gravy on our biscuits. Yet we still put too much into it. Cohle, again: "People. I have seen the finale of thousands of lives, man. Young, old. Each one is so sure of their realness; that their sensory experience constituted a unique individual. Purpose. Meaning. So certain that they were more than a biological puppet." Beyond mostly agreeing with this on a personal level, I think it also shows that we think that everything presented to us, no matter what, has to hold meaning. That we are very special, and as humans, or at least HBO subscribers, we are owed a certain purposefulness. We are not. Cohle, ad-libbing I’m sure, during preacher Theriot’s sermon: "Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus, that it rewrites neural pathways in the brain, dulls critical thinking." It might be a stretch to replace "religion" with "television," but here I am, spending a good amount of time analyzing a show with very good reviews that is, in all probability, meaningless. And who here hasn’t found solace at some point in a narrative presented by professional storytellers? Are we not all baseball fans?

Finally, the last theme I’ve been tracking: honesty versus truth. Hart seems to have real issues with both, rejecting Cohle’s existential ruminations outright while also cheating on his wife and denying himself the opportunities to make his life right. He’ll reach for anything to keep from going home. Though I think that Cohle thinks he has a good grasp on truth, and therefore reality, despite his hallucinations, I don’t buy that he’s got the world sorted for good. We saw with the "shootout" that Cohle’s sense of honesty is highly questionable. Regarding truth, which, in 2012, Cohle seems to address at every turn, I’ll use his own interrogation technique against him: "Look, everybody knows there’s something wrong with ‘em. They just don’t know what it is. Everybody wants confession, everyone wants some cathartic narrative for it; the guilty especially. I find that everybody’s guilty." If Cohle has been able to form a more permanent truth beyond a sixer of Lone Star tallboys, we have yet to see it. As DeWall, Ledeux’s meth cook partner, told Cohle, "I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive. Like acid. You’ve got a demon, little man." Or even Hart, also addressing Cohle: "...For a guy that sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot. And you still sound panicked."

I'll certainly allow Cohle's response: "At least I’m not racing to a red light."

As viewers, there’s certainly that chance. No matter what, though, it’s been a hell of a race already.

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