Jul 1, 2020
Reunited And It Feels So Good: Your True Detective Recap
Having endured brief periods of career and domestic bliss last week, we’re about to see how the hard-bitten True Detective cops of 2002 will blow it all up over the final three episodes of the season and become drunk, lonely messes spouting incomprehensible monologues in 2012. Also, will there be answers to the show’s increasingly baroque mythology involving an obscure nineteenth-century short story collection, a mythology that has launched a few thousand frenzied blog posts speculating on the identity of the Yellow King?
First, Woody Harrelson’s Martin Hart has to avenge his daughter’s honor by beating up the two kids who were caught in flagrante delicto with the underage girl last week. This episode will see a lot of Hart beating or threatening to beat the crap out of other people: these kids, his wife, his partner. Hart has done a lot of this throughout the series, veering between laid-back good-old-boy and angry, jealous menace who can explode into violence at any moment. As he did last week when he executed Reggie Ledoux. You almost feel bad for the two kids who tried to have sex with his daughter as Hart stands outside the jail cell (the door having been helpfully unlocked by another cop), calmly lecturing the boys about honor and respect and what will happen to them in Angola Prison as he takes off his rings and puts on a pair of gloves to protect his hands just before he begins beating the kids into a pulp.
Hart is coming apart in other ways. On a shopping trip to buy a cell phone and a couple of shopping bags full of tampons (the price, I guess, of his daughters having hit puberty), he gives in to temptation and goes into a bar for a drink, and it’s a little frightening how casually and easily he falls off the wagon after going into a program a few years before as part of his effort to win back his wife. As he sits with a beer, the salesgirl who just sold him his new phone comes in and reveals her identity. She is the young kid who was living in a brothel out in the bayou that Hart and his partner Rust Cohle had checked out during the Dora Lange investigation in 1995. She’s grown up and is trying to make something of herself, she and Hart make eyes at each other, and a minute later they’re in bed at her place.
Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is also coming apart, but not in so obvious a way. He coaxes a confession out of a young woman accused of murdering her infant children, showing why he’s so in demand for interrogating suspects around the state of Louisiana. Having gotten the girl to sign a confession, he casually mentions that, prison being so tough and people who harm kids having an especially tough time behind bars, she should kill herself the first chance she gets. Then he tosses the handwritten confession at Hart and tells him to type it up. Almost instantly the two men are in each other’s faces, snarling, seven years of the partnership’s jealousies and resentments boiling over. About this point it occurred to me that Cohle and Hart are the only two living creatures who know what really happened to Reggie Ledoux, and those kinds of secrets between two people can be a terrible burden.
Cohle is driven by the thought that the Yellow King is still out there. He’s investigating old missing persons cases, seeing if any of the missing could be victims of the same person who killed Dora Lange (earning lots of anger from his current commanding officer, who keeps giving him the Southern-fried version of the “You’re a loose cannon!” speech that commanding officers are always giving detectives in police procedurals.) He’s turning up links to a creepy Pat Robertson-like evangelical preacher and his empire, including a program called Wellspring that ran religious schools in rural parts of the state. There are allegations that a high-ranking member of the church was a pedophile. But it’s all wispy, like strands of a spiderweb you walk through in an abandoned house. Nothing is really coming together.
Part of his investigation takes Cohle to a mental institution, to talk to the girl he and Hart had rescued from Reggie Ledoux seven years before. The girl, Kelly, has been all but catatonic ever since, but she comes out of it for just a moment when Cohle questions her about what she might have seen on the farm where she was held captive. To the surprise of her therapist, she begins speaking: “The man with the scars was the worst…the giant…he made me watch what he did to Billy…his face…” Then she begins screaming, orderlies rush in, and it’s interview over.
Hart’s new mistress has sent him a few pictures, which he leaves on his phone for his wife to find because it’s 2002 and adulterers have not yet learned their lesson from Tiger Woods’s example. Instead of confronting her husband, Maggie puts on a killer red dress and goes to a bar to talk up some yutz there. Then she goes to Cohle’s place, where he is studying some of those weird twig sculptures he found in an abandoned school last week. The only decorations on his walls are pictures of missing people and maps of Louisiana. She throws herself at him and he screws her (We told you people! We told you!) from behind, bending her over a kitchen counter. It’s angry, sad, and over in about five seconds, after which Cohle throws her out of the apartment while screaming “Get the fuck outta here!” in her face. This leads to Maggie telling her husband about it while letting him know it was revenge for his new affair and daring him to snap her neck when he grabs her by the throat.
Cohle has been suspended for a month for pursuing the Lange investigation against explicit orders, but he shows up at the office to collect some files. Hart attacks him and the two beat the shit out of each other in the parking lot, after which Cohle announces he’s quitting. “Fuck this world,” he mutters. And he’s off for his mysterious, ten-year sojurn to who knows where. (Maggie, being interviewed in 2012, insists she doesn’t know why Cohle and Hart’s partnership broke up and Cohle quit being a cop, and the moment when Michelle Monaghan has to pretend she has no idea what happened is probably the only really decent acting moment the scripts have given her all season.)
In 2012, Hart gets tired of talking to detectives Gilbough and Papania and declares the interview over. Driving along an empty highway, a red pickup appears in his rearview and begins honking and flashing its lights. It’s Cohle, the partners finally reunited. “Hey Rust,” Hart drawls, checking out Cohle’s ponytailed oil-rig worker look. “You change your hair?” Cohle, laconic as ever: “Buy you a beer, Marty? No wait, you buy me a beer.” He walks back to his truck, which still has a busted taillight from when Hart launched himself into it during their fight a decade before. As he goes Hart pulls out a revolver and checks to make sure it’s loaded before putting it away. Either he was spooked a lot more than he let on by the possibility of Cohle being the Yellow King, or there is some deeper, darker secret between the partners that will call for bloodshed to keep it from becoming known. Whatever it is, we’ve got two more episodes to find out.