True Detective Recap: Closing In - Finally - On The Yellow King
At the end of last week’s episode of True Detective we saw the least happy television reunion since Hollywood celebrities grimly applauded Ricky Gervais trotting out onstage for his second go-round hosting the Golden Globes. Detectives – sorry, former detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart met up for the first time in a decade, having gone their separate ways after Cohle slept with Hart’s wife around the same time he was being reprimanded for continuing to look into missing persons cases he thought might be linked to the Dora Lange murder, which led him to quit the Louisiana State Police. We’re done now with the structure of the first six episodes, the cross-cutting between the investigations in 1995 and 2002 and the interviews the old partners are undergoing with new detectives in 2012. This episode is a straightforward narrative, a plunge towards the endgame that makes some of the floundering around from past episodes seem somewhat important in hindsight.
Detectives Gilbough and Papania, currently investigating a strange murder they think might be linked to the Dora Lange case, have their suspicions about Rust and last week intimated that there is something mysterious about how Rust has been off the grid for a decade. Sharing a beer with his former partner for the first time in ten years, Rust claims the truth is something more prosaic: he has been living in Alaska, working on fishing boats, tending bar and living as a functional alcoholic. He came back to Louisiana because “a man remembers his debts.” The case he never solved to his own satisfaction eats at him and he has returned to settle accounts. He asks Hart to look at the evidence he has been collecting.
So it’s on to the mysterious storage locker, the one that Gilbough and Papania are so anxious to see. They would probably be unhappy if they did get a peek inside, as Cohle has turned it into a command center for the hunt for the Yellow King. Pictures, drawings, maps and case files cover the walls and every surface. The mysterious twig sculptures that have appeared at a few crime scenes dangle from the ceiling. Hey, it’s good for a man to have hobbies.
Cohle is still operating on his old theory that the Lange murder and the mysterious disappearances of many women and children were connected somehow to the schools set up by the Wellspring Initiative run by the Tuttle family out of its ministry. This has led him to some dark revelations:
- There were allegations of child molestation surrounding one of the schools, something that has been hinted at before, but since the Tuttles are one of the oldest and most powerful families in Louisiana, everything has been kept quiet.
- Cohle burgled one of the opulent homes of Billy Ray Tuttle, the minister he had gotten close to a decade before. Now he’s in possession of some disturbing photos and a grainy videotape of men in weird animal costumes raping a young, terrified girl who happens to be Marie Fontenot, one of the mysteriously disappeared children we heard about back in the first episode.
- One of the school’s former students is now a male prostitute in New Orleans. Cohle had interviewed him, and the kid told a story about men with “animal faces” who used to videotape – and sometimes do other stuff – to children in the dormitories at the school he attended. One man he saw didn’t wear a mask – a man with terrible scars on his face. The suspect that Cohle was chasing back in 2002.
Hart dives into the investigation, working his old contacts in the Louisiana State Police to get a look at some old files. In the meantime, Cohle moves his files into Hart’s detective agency office, which is a sad and empty space in a strip mall somewhere. This might be the most interesting sequence of the entire series, this look at the sad and lonely lives of these two middle-aged men with spoiled careers and unrealized dreams. Here is Cohle, working as a bartender in a dive bar on a lonely Louisiana road, hauling trash out to a dumpster, sitting and watching a pretty sunset while drinking a beer by himself. Hart eats a TV dinner alone in his apartment in front of a Western on the flat screen, or sits in his office late at night with a bottle of Jameson’s, surfing Match.com while telling us in a voiceover that he doesn’t have many girlfriends and lives a quiet life (and really, wasn’t Match.com over even in 2012?). Neither man has a family. Hart’s ex-wife, Maggie, has remarried and lives in a nice house with expensive furniture and looks almost exactly the same as she did seventeen years ago. Hart has no relationship with his daughters; on a visit to Maggie he asks questions about where they are and what they are doing and it’s clear he has not been a presence in their lives for many years.
So here they are, these two middle-aged men with paunches just starting to strain their cheap clothes, existing rather than living. Watching them sit in Hart’s office late at night, listening to Hart explain why he quit the force (something about seeing what was left over after a meth tweaker tried to dry his infant in the microwave), you can almost see this being a thing in the future, these two solving this case and continuing to work as private detectives together. Assuming they survive next week’s final episode.
While looking at the Marie Fontenot case again, the detectives make contact with an old police force colleague who is now the sheriff of the parish where Marie disappeared. Hart braces him over a friendly round of golf about the girl’s disappearance – he and Cohle have found something about the police investigation that they don’t like. Convinced he’s lying, Hart invites the sheriff onto his boat for a little fishing, but he’s got a surprise. Cohle is waiting to point a gun at his head and warn him that he’s going to have to answer a few questions.
Meantime Gilbough and Papania are running their own investigations. Lost on a country road where they are looking for the burned-out church took them early in the Lange investigation, they pull over to ask a man on a lawnmower for directions back to the highway. “Know your way around, huh,” one of the detectives says.
“Oh yeah, boss,” the lawnmower man says. “I know the whole coast. My family…”
“Thanks,” the detective says as the car accelerates away.
The lawnmower man — and we’ve seen him before, mowing the lawn at other abandoned schools, explaining again he has contracts for all these schools in all these parishes — stands up and watches the car vanish into the distance. “My family’s been here a long long time,” he mutters as the camera pans around and moves in so we get our first close look at him, and…are those scars all over his face?
One more week.