True Detective Season 1, Episode 5: “There’s a shadow in you, son.”

As the detectives attempt to wrap up the Dora Lange investigation, the truth of the actual events begins to unravel.

For a show that I have admired for its ability to open up and explore small spaces and time periods, True Detective this week took us through almost a decade of developments.

Up to this point, we have remained in the interview room. We have relived the investigation of Dora Lange’s murder through a series of recollections and learned about our two protagonists through their interactions with each other in flashbacks and their present-day monologues.

We have seen the change in each of them that happened sometime between 1995 and 2012, but until this week, we couldn’t begin to understand what caused that change. What caused Cohle to go off the grid, while Hart sits in front of the investigators in a suit, jaded but collected? With three episodes left in the season, we are given a first inkling toward understanding.

As the episode opens, Cohle and Ginger - the biker gang leader whom Cohle kidnapped during the shootout at the end of episode four - meet with Dewall, whom Cohle believes will lead him to Reggie Ledoux. Sure enough, though the initial meeting goes sour, Cohle and Hart are able to follow Dewall to the compound in the wilderness where we last saw the “monster” in the gas mask.

Here, at this significant moment, the detectives’ story as recalled to the present-day investigators again diverges from what we see in the flashback.

Before recounting the full sequence of events at the compound, Hart demands to see the new discovery file and to know why the detectives Gilbough and Papania are investigating Cohle, now, 17 years later. He is angry that they are questioning the story that both he and Cohle have told the same way for 17 years.

“It only went down the one way,” he insists.

The detectives invite him to finish, and promise to tell him what’s going on. He and Cohle go on, in their separate interviews, to describe how they worked their way onto the boobie-trapped premises, where they were spotted and encountered machine gun fire. They had no choice but to move in on the dwelling, where Hart encountered and shot Reggie Ledoux in the head. Dewall, trying to escape, stepped on one of his own boobie-traps - a land mine - and was blown to bits. The pair then entered the dwelling and found two children, one who had been missing since January and dead less than a day. The other had not been reported missing yet, and was catatonic. They scooped up the children and left the compound.

As with last week’s shootout scene, what the detectives describe and what we as the audience witness are quite different.

In fact, they were not set upon with machine gun fire upon entering the premises. They were able to sneak into the house, cuff Ledoux and bring him outside. While searching the premises for Dewall (who did, in fact, step on his own land mine), Hart finds the children.

In past episodes, despite each character’s flaws in integrity, we have seen their commitment to the protection of children. Hart fears the effect his missteps will have on his children; Cohle lost a child in a tragic accident - an event that destroyed his entire life.

Upon finding the children - one dead and one in traumatized stupor - Hart storms outside and shoots Ledoux, point blank, in the head. From there, the pair sets out to create the crime scene they later relayed to their supervisors in a debrief, and again to the present-day investigators. Hart cleans the scene around Ledoux while Cohle, in an epic use of slow motion camera work, peppers the compound in machine gun fire. They recover the children, and leave the compound.

After Hart tells the story, he talks about the seven years that then passed - the “good years.” He got back together with Maggie, and Cohle became famous for his ability to manipulate and lift confessions from suspects in the interrogation room. The present-day detectives ask when things began to change with Cohle.

In 2002, we see Cohle interrogating a double murder suspect. The man confesses, but then says that he wants to make a deal.

“I know things.”

When Cohle asks what he knows, the man says that he knows they did not catch the real killer of Dora Lange, and that the person who did it is still out there, killing.

Cohle’s temper escalates in an instant, and he beats the man, asking for a name. He comes back the next day to interrogate the man again, but the man has committed suicide in his cell after receiving a mysterious phone call from a payphone. Cohle, quietly hysterical, opens an investigation, telling Hart that he thinks the phone call caused the man to kill himself.

In the present day, as promised, the detectives give Hart the current discovery file. It turns out they are questioning the story of the investigation, because Cohle’s stories “don’t add up.” They believe that he fixed the investigation of Dora Lange’s murder because he was somehow involved. They invite Hart to think about where all of the evidence came from; Cohle brought it all into the case. They believe the Rianne Olivier murder, which Cohle connected to the Dora Lange case by the association between Charlie Lange and Reggie Ledoux, was in service of a bone Cohle had to pick with Ledoux, from his days undercover. They believe that in 2002, it was Cohle who made the phone call to the dead prisoner.

Worst of all, they seem to believe that Cohle is the real murderer in both the Dora Lange case and the present day Lake Charles murder case.

Do I believe it? Not for a second.

I do not believe that Cohle is a murderer. I believe that Cohle is a man living in the second act of The King in Yellow.

If you haven’t read Michael M. Hughes fascinating piece on io9 from last Friday, you should. In it, he details how True Detective is one extremely well executed Easter egg hunt for fans of the weird fiction literary genre.

I won’t rewrite Hughes’ piece, but to summarize: The King in Yellow is a fictional play from Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 collection of short stories of the same title. According to the story, the first act of the play draws you in, and the second act, is a “revelation of horrible, decadent, incomprehensible truths about the universe” that “brings despair, depravity, and insanity to anyone who reads it or sees it performed.” In his piece, Hughes details many of the references that Pizzolatto has made in True Detective’s first five episodes.

There were countless references to the story (which, I confess, I have yet to read) in this episode alone, including much of what Ledoux says while handcuffed in the yard of the compound, and Cohle’s “M-brain” theory that everything that has happened is destined to happen again. “Time is a flat circle” and we are bound to go around and around, over and over again, into eternity.

Perhaps this is the “horrible, decadent, incomprehensible truth” that marks “the secret fate of all life.”

We are well aware at this point that Cohle has seen, fought, and continues to fight his share of demons. The monster in the compound is but one, and because history is doomed to repeat itself, he is far from “gone forever.” The fate of the children in the compound is another demon - another horror bound to repeat itself. This is not a game of “one down, two to go.” The monsters are ever-present - they live in our very humanity.

With the presumed killer dead three episodes before the end, I am drawn back to the parallels between True Detective and Twin Peaks, which had a similarly whirlwind solution to its central murder in the episode “Lonely Souls.” This was an unfortunate choice for David Lynch and Mark Frost as it stagnated their otherwise groundbreaking series. However, it will likely work better in the confined first season of True Detective as it enters its definitive third act.

I imagine Pizzolatto will spend the remaining three episodes further rounding out his brilliant characters and grazing more deep existential truths. We’ve learned Cohle’s “secret fate of all life,” and now we must learn exactly what that means for the rest of us.




Check out this awesome graphical tribute to True Detective by designer and illustrater Nigel Evan Dennis:

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