Your Comprehensive Guide to Re-Watching ‘True Detective’: Episodes 5-7

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Yesterday, we re-watched (and wrote way too much about) Episodes 1-4 of True Detective in preparation for Sunday’s season finale, and today we’re getting right up to date with Episodes 5-7. As much as anything, the experience has been a reminder of just how many questions Episode 8 has to answer, but it’s also provided some measure of insight into what’s gone before. What do Reggie Ledoux’s tattoos mean? Is the green-eared spaghetti monster the most sinister TV villain since BOB from Twin Peaks? And just what the hell is Carcosa? Roll on Sunday, already.

Episode 5: “The Secret Fate of All Life”

In which we meet (and bid farewell to) Reggie Ledoux, skip forward several years, and contemplate whether time is a flat circle.

Things to watch out for:

Oh, so many things — which is hardly surprising, given the scope of this episode. In the space of an hour, our questionable heroes catch the man who appears to be responsible for Dora Lange’s murder, kill him, stage a firefight to justify said killing, live happily ever after for seven years, and then snap back into a reality where, actually, things aren’t fine after all. It’s an episode that meditates on the nature of time, and also does strange things with it — as, indeed, does the show in general, when you think about it.

All that time devoted to the bikers; none devoted to Rust’s life with his… wife? Girlfriend? We never even find out. The shot of Rust and his wife, who we never get to know at all, is more eerie than anything — the two of them on the couch, bathed in the light of a flickering TV. It’s dealt with in barely 30 seconds, another example of the curious timekeeping of this show. There’s a sense that we’re skimming over important material, and that the characters are doing the same thing.

The most disturbing part of this episode is the transition between past and “present,” via a much-discussed and gorgeous shot wherein Marty’s kids throw a crown into a tree, where it remains, slowly fading and cracking, as the years pass. By the time we return to the narrative, Marty’s oldest daughter is a rebellious teen, but also, arguably, displaying many of the traits of someone who’s been sexually abused. Maggie knows something’s very wrong — “You need to tell me what’s going on,” she appeals to her daughter — but all Marty sees is a slut and a whore.

It’s something that Marty alludes to when he looks regretfully back at his failings as a husband and father: “You ever feel like… The future is behind you? Like it’s always been behind you. I cleaned up but maybe I didn’t change, not the way I needed to. The solution to my whole life was right under my nose. That woman, those kids. And I was watching everything else. Infidelity is one kind of sin, but my true sin was inattention. I understand that now.”

But shit, let’s not be guilty of the same thing — let’s overanalyze Reggie Ledoux! First, there’s his tattoos, which like so much on this show hint at answers that remain frustratingly elusive. A noose. A star. A Baphoment. The Imperial Eagle of Germany (not, it should be noted, from the Nazi era). A woman (?) praying. A curious swastika. A 666. Another strangely stylized swastika. The letters SWP (supreme white power?). The letters AB (Aryan Brotherhood). A spiderweb on his arm. The same eight-pointed thingamajig that Björk has on his forearm (or, perhaps, an eight-pointed star of chaos — it’s hard to tell). A rose. A skull. An Iron Cross.

Much of this hints at him being a racist satanic lunatic, which seems, y’know, right. But there’s also more to be gleaned, perhaps. The noose seems to indicate that he’s a condemned man, which makes sense if he’s already foreseen his death.

But the most interesting thing is what’s missing: the spiral. It looks like it was on his back… but it’s been removed. There’s only a scar left. Now that’s something to think about.

Then there’s Reggie’s “speech,” which is a bunch of incoherent mumbling about Carcosa and black stars and time being, yes, a flat circle. One thing I missed first time around, or at least didn’t fully appreciate, was that 1995 Rust seems to give all this stuff short shrift. Something happened between now and then to make him believe all this stuff, and it still hasn’t been fully explained. Is it just years in his storage unit, staring at dead bodies and the hideous Marie Fontenot video? Or was there some sort of definitive event? Perhaps this will get resolved on Sunday. But, y’know, perhaps not.

And then there’s the key question: why does Marty shoot Ledoux? There are theories that it was done to silence Ledoux, rather than out of righteous rage, but if that’s true, then Marty is a much better actor and a much more nefarious character than we’ve been given any reason to believe. I don’t buy it. Reggie had plenty of time to talk if he wanted to. If Marty wanted Ledoux silenced, he would have done it straight away. He had the chance to shoot him when he first apprehended him. There is another possibility, though — that Marty knew something about the cult, but not the extent of Ledoux’s depravity. Either way, he’s hypersensitive to anything that involves children.

Beyond this, watch how desperate 2012 Rust is to get his hands on what he thinks is new information. When one of his interrogators asks him why he’s “so hot” to see the new file, it’s the only time we see Rust look rattled. He wants it badly, badly enough to sit through hours of questions.

Something you’ll almost certainly have missed first time around: the name of one of the officers who visited the hapless prisoner who names the Yellow King is… Officer Childress. The same family name as the sheriff who Marty and Rust abduct two episodes later, the one who covered up the Marie Fontenot case. It seems to confirm that the man didn’t commit suicide; he was silenced.

One unresolved question: what is with the flat human figures Marty is making out of his beer cans? And doesn’t this rather remind you of the scene with the dolls from Episode 2?

One more thing: watch for the way that 2012 Marty reaches for his absent wedding ring when he’s lying. If that’s intentional (and I’m sure it is), then it’s the sort of acting genius that should win many, many awards.

Episode 6: “Haunted Houses”

In which Rust falls from grace (again), Marty blows up his marriage (again), and we discover why the two of them don’t really get on anymore.

Things to look out for:

The more I think about this episode and the one that follows, the more I think about how perhaps everyone (including Rust Cohle himself) went overboard with the idea of endless repetition being the secret fate of all life. What we see in this episode isn’t characters literally reborn into the same body; it’s characters doomed to repeat their mistakes over and over, because they’re too blind or too stubborn to change.

Change is something that gets discussed constantly in True Detective — the fact that Marty refuses to change is an accusation that Maggie throws at him the first time his marriage founders, and here we find him again, seven years later, making the same mistakes. For all his talk of promise giving and sobriety, the man we see in 2002 has the same failings as he did in 1995: a propensity for violence, a latent misogyny, a tendency toward self-destruction, a warped vision of manhood and fatherhood. Watch how he drags the two kids who were getting it on with his daughter out of the cells and beats them — he’s doing this for himself, not Audrey. And in a weird way, he’s doing it for them, too, imparting his idea of manhood with every punch. “A man’s game charges a man’s price,” he tells one terrified teen. “Take that away from this, if nothing else.”

And then off he goes to make a man’s mistakes — namely the inability to keep his dick in his pants. It’s interesting, though — the two 2012 detectives have noted several times how often the trajectory of Marty and Rust’s investigations has been defined by fortune and circumstance, and it’s the same here. Beth, the girl who Marty met (and put a “down payment” on, remember) in 1995, appears again as a sort of succubus in 2002? Although really, she’s a girl who knows what she wants, and Marty, again, is too blind to see it — and thus, he repeats his mistakes.

Her entire situation gives lie to Marty’s notions of saviordom, too. She saved herself. “You’re a good man,” she tells him. “Anyone can see that. God gave us these flaws. It’s something I learned. There’s nothing wrong with the way he made us. The universe gives all.” We make our own decisions. And we live with them.

If there’s a theme here, it’s that the men in this series only realize too late when they’ve made mistakes, or repeated them. We visit the Reverend again, now a very different man from the confident fire-and-brimstone preacher he was in 1995. He’s an alcoholic, a broken man. He realizes now he’s been a patsy for something horrific. “I lost heart,” he tells Rust. “A little too much [alcohol]. All my life I wanted to be near to god. The only nearness? Silence.”

Even Rust, our favorite philosophizin’ detective, falls victim to this flaw, which perhaps explains his rage at Maggie once he realizes he’s been played for her purposes. His anger is terrifying. Just like Marty’s. He’s drinking scotch, just like Marty. There’s something redolent about seeing him have rough sex with Maggie in front of the devil nets and the pictures and projections of antlers. And then there’s Maggie’s curious speech after: “You’ll have to go, you see. He won’t live with this.” Why does she want him to leave?

The confrontation between Tuttle and Rust is also fascinating, especially now that we know the way their little battle ended — i.e., with Rust breaking into Tuttle’s house and Tuttle “having an accident” shortly after. Just like Austin Farrar, the deacon to whom the Reverend brought his concerns about the pictures he found in a book. Marty says on an earlier episode that Rust has an eye for weakness, but so does Tuttle, clearly: “I’ve seen more souls lost down a bottle than any pit. At the same time, it’s hard to trust a man who can’t trust himself with a beer.”

As far as visual clues go, there’s actually one from the last episode that attains even greater relevance here. In Episode 5, Rust drove past the same missing person board he drove by seven years before:

And now we discover from the Reverend that “there was [a case] in 1988, accusations of children being interfered with. It was kept internal.” Of course it was. Was it Stacy Gerhart? It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch, does it? That’s one case our protagonists could have looked at from the start? Again, an answer was under their noses, and they were looking elsewhere.

Some questions that remain unanswered as we approach the series finale: first, there’s the letters of Telios DeLorca, the book out of which fell the pictures that so appalled the Reverend. “A 12th-century Franciscan mystic,” says the Reverend of the book. Yes, of course the internet has gone crazy trying to find these. No, they haven’t been able to. Apparently the book doesn’t exist.

Beyond that, we never find out why Rust breaks up with his wife. All Marty says is “reality,” but what the hell is reality? Especially on this show? And then there’s Marty’s unfeasible loyalty. As we see in Episode 7, Marty hates Rust. But he still vouches for him. Why? Just the shooting? No, I suspect there’s something deeper.

And finally, there’s this… thing that Rust finds when he returns to the decrepit school in 2002. What is it? And why does it look so damn ominous?

Episode Seven: “After You’ve Gone”

In which Marty and Rust get the band back together, we discover the ghastly fate of Marie Fontenot, and the man with the scars appears again.

Things to look out for:

And finally, we arrive at the most recent episode. We don’t have any extra knowledge to apply to “After You’ve Gone,” but still, it’s interesting to watch it again a few days later. This episode didn’t strike me as one of True Detective‘s finer moments first time around — it seemed hurried and somewhat contrived, especially the way Marty and Rust get back together (and, indeed, get along better than the first time around).

But watching it again, the way Rust convinces Marty is perfect, playing on his pride and on the visceral disgust Marty has displayed again and again where children are involved. “If you wouldn’t have clipped Ledoux back then, we might have got the whole story back then.” Well, yes. This is an observation that plenty of people have made, and clearly it hasn’t escaped Rust, either. But now Rust has proof, and he reveals it to Marty piece by piece, culminating in the hideous Marie Fontenot video. (Thank god we don’t have to see what happened.)

The internet has pointed out that aspiring New Orleans pimp Toby Bouler was in the photo of the school that we saw in Episode 3, which indeed he is, although I’m not sure that’s any great revelation — the reason Rust is talking to him is because he attended that school. He describes the man with the scars again, which does raise the question of how and why that same man is standing next to Bouler in the school photo. Bouler’s decision that everything was a dream is redolent of Rust’s philosophy of life as a dream in a locked room. We all have our methods of dealing.

Maggie, again, proves that she’s sharper than her ex-husband, asking if he’s come to say goodbye. Which he has, I think — there’s a sense that no one involved is going to survive whatever’s coming in Episode 8. Think right back to Episode 1, where Rust talks about Jesus offering himself up for crucifixion. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Matthew McConaughey speaks of 2012 Rust as a man who has “lived longer than he hoped.” Actually, that description applies to both Rust and Marty — they’re men out of time, men whose future is behind them, men whose reason for continuing to live has now shrunk to one thing only: finding the Yellow King and Carcosa.

And speaking of the Yellow King and Carcosa, the most interesting piece of new information that comes out of this episode is their discussion with Tuttle’s former maid. She offers up the name of the scarred man (he’s a Childress, apparently), and she freaks out at the sight of the devil nets. “Him who eats time. Robes. It’s a wind of invisible voices. Rejoice, death is not the end. Rejoice, death is not the end. Rejoice, Carcosa.”

What the hell? All will be made clear next week, presumably. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is: I think the Yellow King and Carcosa are an extended metaphor for the atavistic evils of sexual abuse. The time-is-a-flat-circle stuff is a metaphor for how families pass down their baggage from generation to generation, not unlike how Twin Peaks BOB is a metaphor for child abuse. The sins of the father, and all that. Every episode has had a huge emphasis on families and fatherhood, and every one has contrasted the ideal of families with the grubby reality. (Also, both the Ledouxs and the Tuttles are families where evil seems to be passed down the family line.)

I might be wrong, of course. But hey, that’s part of the fun. In the meantime, one last time: visual clues. There’s not a great deal to be gleaned from the wall of Rust’s storage unit — “YELLOW KING,” “SCARS” and “CARCOSA,” but we knew that stuff already. And the picture of the spaghetti monster. What are these symbols behind Marty, though?

Also, this may be nothing, but what is the thing beside Audrey in this picture on Maggie’s mantelpiece?

And finally, one last question: Tuttle recognized the scene of the Dora Lange murder, and moved to shut it down — that’s been clear almost from the start. But there’s still the question: why was Dora Lange left like that? Why blow the cover off the whole thing? Most of the other girls have never been found, and active attempts have been made to cover up their disappearance. Why did this whole story begin in the first place? And how on earth will it end? Only two more sleeps until Sunday!