In True Detective, time is a flat circle. Reggie Ledoux tells this to Rust Cohle as he’s being apprehended and Cohle initially shrugs it off. Later, however, he expands on the idea in his 2012 interview: “Everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” That’s been something of a theme for the last five episodes. Detectives Hart and Cohle may have solved one murder in 1995 but there is always going to be another one. In this case, it’s a near identical murder 17 years later, too similar for it to be a coincidence.
It should be easy to apply this philosophy to the show itself — every crime show that we’ve watched, we’re going to watch over and over — but True Detective stands out from its counterparts. For most of the first four episodes of the season, the show stayed away from action-packed violent thriller territory and instead concerned itself with philosophical conversations and questions of family, masculinity, and consequences. When True Detective did eventually include a violent shootout, even that was something very different than what we’ve come to expect from a show like this: it was a six-minute uncut tracking shot of a raid gone bad, a scene built entirely on brutality that was at once both thrilling and uneasy to watch.
“The Secret Fate Of All Life” subverted our expectations as well. With a show like True Detective, one that uses an anthology format that will reset next season with a new cast and a new narrative, one would expect that Hart and Cohle would chase down the killer until the season finale. Instead, Reggie Ledoux is shot dead within the first act of the fifth episode.
The entire scene is masterfully edited. Hart and Cohle, in their 1995 interview (I love the use of different timelines in this show), recount what went down that day. They were advancing on the house when Ledoux and his crony started shooting wildly at the detectives, forcing Hart to sneak around and shoot Ledoux in the head. Their stories are seemingly ironclad and identical to each other, but it’s not the truth. The scene jumps between the interview segments and the actual “shootout,” juxtaposing the fictional story with the truthful events. As it turns out, Hart and Cohle quietly snuck up to the house and cuffed Ledoux. So far, so good. Then, Hart goes to check out the house and finds two children tied up — one is already dead, one is catatonic and has yet to be reported missing — and Hart’s emotions get the best of him. He rushes back outside and shoots Ledoux (while Ledoux’s fellow cook tries to run away but is blown up from one of the homemade traps they built as a shitty security system).
Cohle immediately knows what to do: take Ledoux’s gun and fire bullets everywhere to corroborate the story, quickly take the handcuffs off of Ledoux before the blood settles, etc. The two detectives get their stories straight and everyone believes them. Even later, after their falling out, the two are dedicated to reporting nothing but that one version — which is probably part loyalty and part each one saving his own ass.
From there, the case is essentially solved. Ledoux killed Dora, Ledoux is now dead. But True Detective was never too focused on the actual case at hand. Yes, they need to know who killed the woman in 2012 and reopening the Dora case would surely help but the show also wants to show us this dissolved partnership between Hart and Cohle, Hart’s issues with his family, and the theory that Cohle may be the actual serial killer.
We don’t yet know why Hart and Cohle had a falling out (and it’s possible that True Detective will never give us the full details) but we do know that Hart has never fully trusted Cohle and it’s clear that this is coming more and more into play as the episodes go on.
As for Detective Hart’s life outside of the office, now that the case is ostensibly solved, the show focuses more on his reunion with his wife, Maggie. She forgives him, sort of, and allows him to come back home. But now the problems are with his oldest daughter who’s going down that “troubled television teen wears a lot of black” road. A deputy finds her in the backseat of a car “in a state of undress” with two boys each over eighteen. Hart, naturally, loses his shit, debates whether or not to press charges against the boys for statutory rape, calls his daughter a slut, and eventually smacks her across the face. He’s angry with her, of course, but it’s also obvious that he’s mostly angry with himself. Somewhere along the line he missed the memo that something was up with his daughter — and as a detective, this is a particularly big insult to himself. True Detective will definitely focus more on the familiar drama as it nears the end which is something that I’m both looking forward to and dreading because I’m too worried about the fate of Hart’s daughters.
Then there is the big switch: Cohle has gone from being a big shot detective to an alcoholic (who was always an alcoholic) who is now the subject of an investigation. From day one, there has been speculation that Cohle was behind the murder but now True Detective is going full throttle with the notion and the transition is seamless. There is no more dancing around the issue, but now the detectives are giving straight up facts. Most of it adds up, too: Cohle is the reason Hart finally broke his first big case and Cohle has been photographed at the crime scene. It’s an interesting route but also a predictable one but True Detective has already had so many surprising twists and turns in its short run so far that I know the show still has a few fun tricks for the final three episodes.