Sep 12, 2014
On True Detective’s New Location: Nic Pizzolatto Owes Me Money
True Detective showrunner Nic Pizzolatto recently confirmed that the upcoming season will be set in California.
Not Los Angeles, but some of the much lesser-known venues of California. And we’re going to try to capture a certain psycho-sphere ambiance of the place, much like we did in season one.” (We’re hearing, unconfirmed, that it’s mainly set in the present day, and that Northern California plays a key role.
It’s like this. When I was 11 and I lived in Bakersfield, my dad took me to a psychic. We were looking for someone and we had run out of options. The cops didn’t consider us a priority and detectives were too much money, so this was the end of the road. We were just going for posterity, to say we did everything we could.
The psychic, a very old woman who spoke so low she was barely audible, led us to a dark and humid room with disgusting carpet. There were vaguely mystical knick-knacks all over the place, and a cat was prowling around under the table. She talked to us in abstractions for awhile, so quiet and vague that my dad was asking for clarification after almost every sentence. But she soon claimed to have a vision and we were given a place to look for our missing person: a warehouse on an empty road. There would be a back entrance up a flight of stairs, and there would be a blue light. Warehouse. Back entrance. Blue light.
We drove and drove and combed the county as best we could. The first three days were a wash. We drove down lots of roads nobody was supposed to drive down anymore – intermittently paved two-lane stretches of nothing leading to oil fields or empty storefronts or wayward motor homes. I’d scout for anything that looked like the warehouse and point when I saw it. But I never saw a warehouse with a blue light.
Luckily, on day four, just after the sun went all the way down, we found it. Just stumbled on it, really. And there was no ambiguity. It wasn’t just that we found a warehouse with a flight of stairs to a back entrance, with a blue porch light. What mattered is we felt like we needed to be there. It was as though the warehouse didn’t exist until we needed to see it. There were no cars there, there was no signage, and it didn’t make sense for that blue porch light to be turned on. It seemed to serve no function at all. I couldn’t imagine a day when the warehouse was used for legitimate purposes. It seemed too far from the trucking routes.
After hesitating for awhile, my dad started to get out of the car. I was positive he was going to die but I don’t remember if I told him that. My chest was tightening, and I wasn’t breathing right, and all over there was this ache. It wasn’t pain. It was like being in free fall, or being on a roller coaster in the middle of the night. My dad left the key in the ignition and told me to sit in the driver’s seat and lock the doors and drive away if he didn’t come out in 5 minutes. I watched him climb the stairs and I wondered how I’d find the way home, or if the cops would believe me when I told them I had nothing to do with his death.
He knocked on the door and waited. Nothing. Then he tried the door and it opened and he walked inside. I looked all around to see if anyone was approaching in the distance. Finally I closed my eyes because the ache was too intense. “I let my dad die in a warehouse outside Bakersfield and now I have to go home and be the boy who let it happen for the rest of my life.”
But he made it back. It probably took him all of two minutes, but in this car, outside this warehouse, it felt like there had been a rift in space-time and he had been gone for hours. The warehouse didn’t quite exist, the blue light didn’t quite exist, and the psychic with the disgusting carpet was just a bad dream, a half-remembered corruption of a late night made-for-TV horror movie. I didn’t feel like I was in Bakersfield, or that it was 1999, or that I had a Game Boy on a table beside my bed and a Yoo-Hoo in the refrigerator. All of that was gone and my existence was whittled down to this warehouse standing defiantly in a place far away from what little I knew about humanity. The landscape changed as my emotions changed and all my footing was lost.
My first unique memory of California was of a warehouse in the desert, and that warehouse was my purgatory. It was an abstraction, a void that took whatever shape my 11 year old fears projected onto it. I was frozen, completely powerless, preparing for death because at least death had some certainty to it.
And California has been a place of sprawling cosmic doom for me ever since. I grew up about a hundred miles from L.A. and saw it a grand total of once before college. For years I thought Hollywood was a made-up place from Looney Tunes. When I moved to L.A., where people would laugh and smile and tell me about frozen yogurt and sushi and parties at the beach, in the back of my head I was always thinking one thing: do we live in the same universe? Have you never seen the warehouse with the blue light?
The first season of “True Detective” captured the emotional tenor of cosmic doom. It took me back to that warehouse, to those post-apocalypse emotions that I understand but never see on TV. And that was fine because it was in Louisiana, and I’ve never been there.
But Rural California cosmic doom is my thing, you know? Every time I sit down and write, no matter how asinine the topic, I’m thinking of that warehouse. If I’m making fun of Buzzfeed, that warehouse is pulsing through my subconscious. Every time I go walk somewhere and take pictures, I’m looking for that warehouse. I want to bring the cosmic doom of California, the other California and the one I still live in, into the public consciousness. The cities get too much screen time.
Every time I turn on the TV and see California described as the media capital of the world, as a rich man’s paradise of movie stars and flying electric cars (or whatever it is they do in Silicon Valley), I feel like it’s my duty to correct this misunderstanding. To fix the culture rigging that allows people to know what Malibu is but not Chowchilla or Porterville or Anderson or any of the invisible working class towns that seem to exist in broken-down versions of the late 1970s.
I drive through towns like that whenever I can, to take pictures, to document them to myself because it feels like they might slide off the earth at any second. Last year I saw an old farm house in the middle of being reclaimed by nature, and on the mailbox there hung a sign that said “SOCIALISM = COMMUNISM.” Near the barn, there was another sign that said “GOVERNOR MOONBEAM STICK YOUR FIRE TAX.” And that’s the California I know: those silent, dread-filled fringes.
Were those signs put there in Jerry Brown’s first term, or last year? Why are they there at all? They could stand for a hundred years and maybe 50 people would ever see them, none of them people who would vote for Jerry Brown. That’s the California the next season of “True Detective” needs to portray honestly, without being patronizing, without the classist suggestion of “hey, people of Chowchilla, just move to L.A. and let your town fall off the world like it’s supposed to.”
I’ve joked that I wanted a consulting credit on the show, that it’s my one shot to make it big, but the truth is that I don’t want to be involved. In a world of shows designed by committ –
Alright, I’m lying. I desperately want to be involved. I am qualified for exactly two jobs: retail, and writing about rural California cosmic doom. It’s all I know. And now, finally, there’s an opening for this made-up job. HBO is literally making a show about all this Highway 99 cosmic doom stuff, and here I am broke as hell, spending most of my leisure time wishing I could afford cigarettes.
It’s not like anybody owes me anything, but come on, can’t we come to an agreement, maybe pretend we live in a meritocracy long enough to placate my shockingly unstable ego? I’ve been doing this in obscurity for years, and I’m about to see one of the biggest prestige shows in the world ride it to millions of dollars. And I’ll have to hear “Nic Pizzolatto’s vision of California is so unique and uncompromising!” as I sit in my chair thinking about cigarettes.
I’m a modest man and I’m easily bribed. It won’t take much to shut me up. At the end of the day, all I want is some respect. I don’t think it’s too much to ask: the comfort of validation from the powers-that-be, so I can enjoy “True Detective” on its own terms, as a regular ol’ fan. I just want somebody over at HBO to acknowledge I’m out here in the trenches and I was here first.
And it’d be a cleansing thing, a healing thing, if that somebody could give me $50,000 and a consulting credit and a train ticket right the hell out of here.