May 3, 2018
True Detective Recap: Going Undercover, And About That Amazing End Sequence
The third episode of “True Detective” ended with Detectives Cohle and Hart, excited over a lead on a suspect in the Dora Lange murder investigation, turning on the squad car’s siren and stomping on the accelerator. This week the show kept its foot on that accelerator, leaving behind its languid pace and zooming into action.
Having discovered that their suspect, Reggie Ledoux, was once the cellmate of Dora’s ex-husband, the detectives return to prison to question Charlie Lange. Charlie admits that he had some intimate pictures Dora had sent him that he had once shown to Reggie, partly because he was afraid to say no to his cellmate, who was a big man who said insane things. “Had to be tough,” Hart sympathizes while staring directly at Cohle. “Somebody spouting insane shit in your ear all day long.” Ladies and gentlemen, the first “True Detective” #subtweet!
The visit with Charlie yields the name of a possible Ledoux associate, a drug dealer named Tyrone Weems. But first, Hart’s marriage has to finally implode. The vehicle of destruction is his mistress, Lisa, who is furious over his actions in the last episode, when he broke down the door of her apartment to break up a date she was on with a younger man. She confronts Hart, who blows her off, and as an aside, will “True Detective” ever treat its female characters as anything other than either whores or screeching anger harpies? Between Lisa and Hart’s wife Maggie, the women seem to exist just to sneer about what assholes the men are. Not that they are wrong, it would just be nice to see them as something other than a plot device.
Anyway, Hart comes home from a long night of chasing leads to find his things sitting in two suitcases in the front hall of the house, along with a note from Maggie. The grief on Woody Harrelson’s face as he reads the Dear John letter is perhaps his finest acting moment of the series. He calls Lisa, whose first words to him are “How does it feel?” Turns out Lisa had come to the house to introduce herself to Maggie and spill her guts about the affair. Hell indeed hath no fury.
As a plus, Hart channels his rage into finding Tyrone Weems on his own while Cohle is home drinking and moping. It’s a nice reversal of the detectives’ roles, and we finally see that Hart might truly be committed to his job. He follows Weems’s ex-girlfriend to a warehouse rave and questions the cornrow-sporting young man about Reggie Ledoux. Seems Ledoux is still cooking meth but doing so for only one client, a biker gang called the Iron Crusaders. Hart relays this new clue to Cohle, and you can almost hear the excitement in the normally laconic Cohle’s voice.
It turns out that Cohle was embedded undercover with the Iron Crusaders back when he was a narcotics detective in Texas. He and Hart hatch a plan: Cohle will take a couple of weeks leave, ostensibly to visit his dying father, and go back undercover with the gang to try and get close to Ledoux. At this point I had a couple of questions, such as: why does he need to go undercover? Won’t that take too much time? Why not just get some other cops together, go question the Iron Crusaders’ leaders, and find out where Ledoux is?
But no, Cohle wants to pull out the box under his bed that contains a pint of whiskey and an AK-47. He’s an adrenaline junkie looking for his fix. Interestingly, in 2012 when he is being questioned about the case by Detectives Gilbough and Papania – and there is a lot less of the 2012 interrogations in this episode, thankfully, because those often slow the show down – he is still sticking to the story that he took personal time to visit his dying father. So are the modern-day cops not going to get the story of what happens when Cohle goes undercover with the Iron Crusaders? How else does the present story diverge from the past, and what does that mean for the case? Why, seventeen years later, are Cohle and Hart sticking to this fiction?
Cohle goes to a biker bar and locates Ginger, a crazy-eyed leader of the Crusaders. The detective spins him a tale about some Mexican drug gang that wants a meth cook in the U.S. who will supply them with product, and perhaps Cohle can broker a deal between the Mexicans and the Iron Crusaders, and again, this feels all needlessly complicated and time-consuming. But the biker bar is a frightening enough set piece, with heavily tattooed, leather-jacketed men glaring at each other.
Ginger makes a deal with Cohle, whom he knows as Crash: help Ginger and two other bikers rip off a ghetto drug stash house that night, and Ginger will make a deal with the Mexicans. Cohle reluctantly – or maybe not so reluctantly, he is hopped up on adrenaline and coke – goes along.
The stash house raid is the big set piece of the episode, and social media lit up Sunday night with talk about it. And it is one hell of an achievement, a six-minute unbroken tracking shot in which Cohle and the bikers raid the stash house, the raid goes bad, gunfire breaks out, Cohle punches out Ginger and drags him through the housing project, knowing that if he loses Ginger he loses his only link to Reggie Ledoux. The two men hide behind bushes and laundry hung on lines to avoid the crowds of angry gang members looking for them and at one point kick in the door of someone’s house so Cohle can use the phone to call Hart and give him a location to pick the two men up, which he does two minutes later.
I watched this sequence three times, and I was convinced it was actually a series of tracking shots edited together so seamlessly as to seem like one. But no, it was in fact one shot, as director Cary Fukunaga explained today. It’s as remarkable a technical feat as anything I have ever seen on televison, and by far the most exciting sequence we have seen on the series so far. It gives the show a very high bar to leap over in the second half of the season as the chase for the mysterious serial killer winds up. Let’s see what they manage to do next week.