May 1, 2020
True Detective Recap: Martin Hart's Life Begins Inevitable Implosion As Cops Close In On The Killer
Last week True Detective left us with Detectives Cohle and Hart staring at an image of a bound and naked woman with deer antlers sprouting from her head, just like the victim whose murderer they are chasing, painted on the wall of a burned-out and abandoned church in some out-of-the-way corner of Louisiana. In fact, after three episodes I have no idea what city the cops actually live and work in. New Orleans? Baton Rouge? Shreveport? If keeping that information vague is a deliberate choice by the filmmakers it’s a good one, as it feeds the sense of dislocation and unease that fills every frame of the show. Cohle and Hart are rarely in their police station, spending most of their time driving through wide expanses of nothingness along roads that seem to stretch on forever, places so flat one can see for miles, and you wonder if the evil they are chasing is hiding in the tall sawgrass or the brackish ponds they are passing. It must be; otherwise they could see it coming a long way off, and something tells me something is going to blindside these guys somewhere down the road.
Having found the burned-out church, the detectives go in search of the congregation that once occupied it. The group, Friends of Christ, is now meeting in a tent in a muddy field – the traditional tent revival tradition of evangelical preaching. The congregation’s minister only vaguely recognizes the picture of poor murdered Dora Lange, but when Hart and Cohle focus on a congregant who’s mentally disabled and has a rap sheet for dick wagging, the minister suggests Cohle spend some alone time with the man and he’ll be convinced he couldn’t have done it. A convinced Cohle leaves the man in the trailer, having seen the messy castration scars perpetrated on him by his fellow prisoners. Cohle embraced him; he shit his pants.
A couple of congregants tell the detectives they once saw her at a service talking intently to a tall man with scars on his face. It’s a maddeningly vague description, but the detectives will have to run with it. Time is short, and their commanding officer is anxious for them to pass the case off to a state-appointed task force and go back to working other murders.
Last week we also got some of the back story on Rust Cohle and his haunted past. This week we’re learning more about Martin Hart and his messy present. Cohle has gotten to know Hart a little bit and is not uncomfortable calling him out on some of his crap. When Hart calls his partner “obsessive,” Cohle tells him “You’re obsessive too. Just not about the job.” This is the great contradiction of Martin Hart so far. His commanding officer has talked him up and treated him like a great detective, at one point telling Cohle he was only being allowed to work on the case because of Hart’s reputation. But Hart has not shown particular dedication or drive to do what he does, to the point where I wonder why he’s a cop at all. As Cohle also observes, he just seems interested in having guilt-free good times. He could just as easily be selling real estate or coaching high school football.
Hart’s wife Maggie is also aware of this, telling him during a fight “You put a ceiling on your life.” And it’s true, his ambitions don’t run much beyond doing his job, seeing his mistress, and coming home (sometimes) to drink whiskey and hang out with his kids. But this messy present is falling apart on him. His daughter has gotten in trouble at school for drawing crude pornographic pictures and Maggie does not think her husband is showing enough engagement in the problem, or in anything else with regard to their marriage and family. Meanwhile his mistress, Lisa, wants to end things and move on with her life. One night at a bar with Rust, Maggie, and a woman Maggie is fixing up with Rust, Hart sees Lisa on a date and we can see it is taking all of his energy to not make a scene. Later when he is good and drunk, he drives to Lisa’s apartment, kicks in the door, and roughs up the date, demanding to know if Lisa sucked his dick. It’s an impressive moment of machismo and jealous rage, and like most such moments, will likely come back to bite him now that he has alienated his mistress. “Do you think it’s possible for a man to love two women at the same time?” Hart asks Cohle the next day, and you know pretty soon he is not going to get to love either one.
The search for the tall man leads the detectives to another possible victim of Dora Lange’s killer, a woman whose drowning in a flood may not have been what it seemed, and also a suspect, a man named Reggie Ledoux who once spent time in prison for running a meth-and-LSD lab (two drugs found in the systems of both Dora Lange and the flood victim). Reggie Ledoux just happened to also be the cellmate of Dora’s ex-husband, Charlie. The moment when these pieces click together for Hart and Cohle is pure joy as they both realize they might be close to finding the killer. Hart starts up the car, Cohle turns on the siren, and suddenly they are speeding along the road with a new intensity and purpose.
If Ledoux is the killer, we already know he has a twisted mind. But one final image of the episode may indicate the detectives don’t know just how twisted. (You might have laughed at the final image. You wouldn’t be the only one.)
Presumably they — and we — will find out soon enough.