True Detective Recap: Bow Before The Yellow King
The fifth episode of True Detective opens with Cohle, fresh from the botched stash house ghetto raid in 1995, in a southern roadhouse with crazy-eyed biker Ginger. The two men are meeting with a burly man, Duwalla, who is the meth cooking partner of Reggie Ledoux, the primary suspect in Dora Lange’s murder. Cohle, still undercover as a biker named Crash, tries to broker a deal to trade meth for cocaine for the Mexican gang he claims to represent. Duwalla turns him down but when he leaves the roadhouse Hart is tailing him. Cohle, with Ginger bound, gagged and cursing him from the back of his truck, is right behind him.
The two cops trail Duwalla to the house in the middle of nowhere that we had glimpsed briefly at the end of an earlier episode. Sneaking into the house, the men find Ledoux, wearing only a towel, heavily inked with some menacing tattoos. Handcuffed and kneeling in the middle of the dusty and rundown yard, Ledoux begins spouting nonsensical phrases. “It’s time, isn’t it? Black stars rise…You’re in Carcosa now with me…You’ll do this again. Time is a flat circle.”
“What the fuck is that, Nietzche? Shut the fuck up,” Cohle snarls as he holds a gun on Duwalla, who has come out of a nearby building and stands frozen, staring at the little scene.
Meanwhile, Hart is searching the house, where he finds two children dressed in rags and lying on a filthy mattress behind a locked door. Over all this, in voiceover, the two men spin an entirely different tale for the cops in 2012. In the official story, Ledoux and Duwalla spotted Cohle and Hart sneaking up the road to the house and unloaded on them with a machine gun. Bullets fly, tree trunks explode. It sounds actually a little bit like the ghetto shootout that closed out the last episode.
Hart, furious about the children, storms back into the yard, and now we see why the two cops had to make up an official story when Hart executes Ledoux as the man kneels handcuffed in the dirt. Duwalla takes off running and is blown up by a homemade booby trap that had been set up to protect the house. Cohle springs into action, finding a machine gun he uses to spray bullets around the fields. The scene set for the story he and Hart will tell for the next seventeen years, the two detectives gather the children in their arms (one kid, it turns out, is already dead) and walk out of the woods to where more authorities have gathered.
And then, as Hart says in voiceover, “Things were pretty good for awhile.” There are some scenes and some voiceovers describing the next seven years. Hart convinces his wife, Maggie, to take him back. Hart gets promoted. Cohle becomes known as the toughest police interrogator in Louisiana, getting called in to elicit confessions from suspects arrested by police departments around the state.The two double-date with Cohle and his new love, Laurie, a doctor Maggie sets him up with.
And yet, we know because we are only halfway through the series, any domestic tranquility cannot last. Hart’s daughters grow up and the older one is in open rebellion: wearing black, giant crosses dangling from her ears, getting busted having sex in a parked car with two twenty-year-olds, whom Hart threatens with statutory rape charges. Cole has settled in with Laurie but we already know from voiceover and from something he said to the 2012 detectives in an earlier episode that it doesn’t work out. Perhaps the funniest and yet saddest moment in the episode is Cohle and Laurie snuggling on the couch as she works the remote on the TV and he stares at her with horror on his face, as if he can’t believe he left the life of an undercover narcotics cop for the terror of living a quiet life.
Sure enough, it comes to an end when Cohle interrogates a suspect and tricks the man into confessing to a double murder. The man immediately becomes terrified and tries to save his own skin by telling Cohle, “I know who you are…He’s still out there, still killing. The Yellow King!”
Cohle is thrown back into the past, becoming obsessed with the possibility they got the wrong man in Reggie Ledoux. His suspicions deepen when the man who offered to serve up the Yellow King to him mysteriously commits suicide in his jail cell after getting a call that is allegedly from his lawyer but turns out to have come from a pay phone in the middle of nowhere – not exactly a law office.
While Cohle digs into files and reinvestigates the Dora Lange murder, the two detectives in 2012 finally reveal their suspicions. In 2002, Cohle and Hart had gone their separate ways, and Cohle disappeared, going completely off the grid. In 2010 he reappeared in Louisisana, working as a bartender in a roadhouse, having gone from a clean-cut cop to a ponytailed drunk who spouts mysterious and elliptical philosophies. He has a storage unit somewhere that the cops, Gilbough and Papania, are anxious to explore if he’ll only grant them permission. Strangest of all, Gilbough and Papania have pictures and witnesses showing Cohle hanging around the scene of the new murder we found out about in the first episode, the killing that indicates to everyone that Dora Lange’s killer might not only still be out there, but that he is killing again.
Gilbough and Papania try to bring Hart around to their point of view. If they drive a wedge between the two former partners, maybe the truth about Ledoux will come out. More importantly, though, perhaps they will find out the truth about Cohle and his mysterious secrets, and whether he was what he appeared to be in 1995 – a driven cop solving a murder – or if he is something else. Something darker and more deadly. Something that kills mercilessly, has kept killing, and is now taunting the cops to stop him from killing again.
The episode ends with Cohle exploring an abandoned schoolhouse from an earlier episode, where he finds a room full of the mysterious twig sculptures like the ones found at the murder scene of Dora Lange. But since we have spent this episode realizing that Cohle and Hart have spun one story for their fellow cops while we have seen something entirely different, how do we know this is real? How do we know anymore what is the truth and what is a lie in this tale when our two narrators have proven unreliable? How do we know the lies they have told have not bled over to the storytellers behind the scenes of True Detective? It’s a hell of a question, one for which we have three episodes left to find the answer.