Yearly Archives: 2015

On The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)


There is no single character motivation as clear or compelling as revenge. A character is wronged and seeks vengeance for what he perceives to be an injustice—an emotion that any audience member can recognize and understand. In his trilogy of films exploring the concept through three different, yet kindred premises with revenge at their core, director Chan-Wook Park weaves a compelling triptych that examines these themes of revenge, violence, and redemption—along with their consequences—in a profound, thought-provoking manner.

Starting with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, then the infamous Oldboy, and concluding with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, each film shares a single protagonist on a relentless quest for revenge. Each of their journeys also includes creative and shocking set pieces fueled by their specific versions of vengeance, as each character successfully accomplishes their pursuit. And yet, throughout each, a curious feeling looms over the climax—a feeling that the satisfaction of revenge promised by the premise has also clashed against a new feeling of uneasiness cemented by the consequences of the character’s fate. And, ultimately, Park uses this compelling vehicle of the revenge to demonstrate how such a strong motivator can often be the most futile and unsatisfactory path to moral fulfillment.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance


The first film in the trilogy demonstrates this dichotomy of revenge through the two characters on either side of its agency—and the most blatant example of its futility for both parties. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance starts as the story of Ryu—a man both deaf and dumb—determined to save his sister’s life by buying a kidney from black market gangsters: a kidney that he hopes to purchase by kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy executive from the company that laid him off. Ryu’s reasons for revenge occupy the first half of the story. Besides these disabilities, he is also laid off from his grueling factory job when he is most in need of money. But despite these obvious reasons for revenge (which would suffice most storytellers), Park painstakingly displays the various ways that both Ryu and his anarchist girlfriend—Yeong-Mi—hope to avoid the conventional label of kidnappers and the negative connotations that accompany their actions: they entertain the victim, try to avoid any violence, hope to only ask for the money (which they justify as the victim not even needing due to his extravagant wealth), manipulate the truth of the situation to appear worse than they are actually treating her, and attempt to rationalize every line of logic that would make their reasons for revenge justifiable.

And, of course, everything goes wrong.

Ryu’s sister discovers the kidnapping plan and—feeling herself to be the cause of this abhorrent act—commits suicide. While burying his sister, Ryu becomes so hypnotized in the promise of burying his sibling in the spot where she asked—not to mention the fact that he is deaf—that the kidnapped Yu-Sun accidentally drowns in the surrounding river. Her father, Dong-jin, now becomes fueled for his own quest for revenge against Ryu and those responsible for the death of his daughter—shifting the narrative at almost exactly the midway point to trek this new track of revenge. While Ryu and his anarchist girlfriend attempted to justify their reasons for revenge, the death of his daughter leaves Don-jin in a state of near-suicidal plan of action. The father sees no other outlet for satisfying his bloodlust other than the murder of those who murdered his daughter.

Park’s more playful and ironic reversals of the revenge tale that populate the first half are given drastic, darker contrast in the latter half. Whereas Ryu and his girlfriend upheld a falsified version of their savagery, Dong-jin wastes no time employing every barbaric method at his disposable to avenge his daughter’s death. Specifically, and most memorably, he devises a makeshift electrical device upon Yeong (Ryu’s anarchist girlfriend)—for which he brutally tortures her. Though she warns him of her importance as part of an anarchist group, Dong-jin shrugs away any threats of violence that may come to him—again—demonstrating a man prepared to fulfill his revenge or die trying to achieve it.

Sympathy for mr. Vengeance 4Finally, after electrocuting Yeong to death, and after Ryu’s discovery of her corpse, the two men began a tense standoff waiting to murder the other. Ultimately, Dong-jin proves the victor after rigging his home with an electrical trap that knocks Ryu unconscious. Now hauling Ryu back to the lake that proved to be the site of his daughter’s death, the father forces Ryu to undergo that same punishment that engendered his daughter’s death. Though Dong-jin acknowledges that Ryu may be a good man, the father also explains that he has been left with no recourse but to kill him due to balance out the tragedy of his daughter’s death. This leads to the brutal, stomach-turning climax, where Dong-jin hacks off both of Ryu’s Achilles Tendons to induce his drowning.

Not much later, Dong-jin reappears from the site of the fateful lake—dragging bloodied body bags behind him: body bags which clearly contain Ryu’s dismembered corpse. However, the anarchist group of Ryu’s girlfriend suddenly appears. The group savagely stabs and kills Dong-jin—leaving him as dead as the disembodied corpse of Ryu not but a few feet ahead of him.

The final shot of the film—with Ryu’s bloodied body bags overlooking the lake of Dong-jin’s daughter’s death, coupled with Ryu’s sister buried just beyond, and Dong-jin himself lying stabbed just behind him—serves as a clear testament to the thesis of Park’s wild story at the heart of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Despite the intentions of both parties, either to save his sister’s life, or to punish a criminal for the death of a young girl, both men and their loved ones lie dead as a result of their choice to pursue a path of revenge.



Park’s follow up to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance remains his most famous, evocative, and haunting of the trilogy in the form of 2003’s Oldboy. Perhaps the most intriguing premise of the three, Oldboy follows the quest for vengeance led by Oh Dae-su—a man imprisoned for fifteen years and suddenly released with the single motive of revenge on his mind. Undeniably the most cinematic and stylish of the three, Oldboy features a number of scenes that have cemented the film’s instant, iconic status. These include a scene of Oh Dae-su consuming a live octopus upon his release, and an extraordinary, single-take hallway fight scene that pits the protagonist with a hammer against a narrow corridor filled with fighters ready to stop him. While the initial set-up of Oh Dae-su being imprisoned for so long, framed for his wife’s murder and separated from his daughter for fifteen years without cause seems like the obvious premise, the more interesting and underlying question of his release proves to be the catalytic event for the narrative’s true examination of revenge for both Oh Dae-Su and his captor.

As Oh Dae-su seizes upon the few clues made available to him during his imprisonment to find those responsible, he also falls in love with the young woman Mi-do, who reciprocates his feelings of love and attraction. However, Oh Dae-su also begins to unravel the mystery of his imprisonment that imbues another layer of moral ambiguity. Oh Dae-su discovers that a man named Woo-jin is responsible for his fifteen-year-imprisonment. A man that once attended the same high school as Oh Dae-su, and a man to whom Oh Dae-su caught having an incestuous affair with his sister that he then retold to the entire school—causing feelings of shame for Woo-jin and his sister that ended up in the latter’s committing suicide. In the climactic confrontation between the two men, Woo-jin finally exposes the truth of his elaborate plan against Oh Dae-su. The recent attraction between him and Mi-do is revealed to be a calculated manipulation in order to bring the two together and fall in love—as Mi-do is actually Oh Dae-su’s daughter.


For exposing his own incestuous affair, Woo-jin has dedicated his own plan of revenge toward replicating the experience upon Oh Dae-su—to catastrophic and horrifying results. Woo-jin offers Oh Dae-su the chance to kill him by offering the remote to a pacemaker in his heart. Nonetheless, when Oh Dae-su presses the button, Woo-jin offers a final mocking attack by revealing that the pacemaker remote is actually a remote to a speaker system—one that replays the audio of Oh Dae-su and Mi-do having sex. Having achieved his coup de grace, Woo-jin commits suicide with a bullet to the head. Cutting to some unknown time later, Oh Dae-su consults a hypnotist for help in ridding his memory of the entire affair. The final shot concludes on an ambiguous smile—one that allows the audience to arrive at their own meaning of whether or not the hypnotism was successful as Oh Dae-su walks away with Mi-do toward an unknown future.

The ambiguity of this ending, however, again underlines Park’s thesis that connects this trilogy from a thematic level. Both of these men have completed their revenge against the other, and one has killed himself, while the other walks away as a shell of a human being. Though Oh Dae-su’s journey—as a man who starts as a drunken imbecile missing his daughter’s birthday only to be transformed into a vehicle for revenge—serves as a compelling character for the audience to attach their sympathies, Park subverts expectations of the revenge-thriller by digging deep past those surface layer emotions evoked by revenge to demonstrate its uncertain purpose when brought to the extremes of its conclusion.

The many notable plot points responsible for these instantly-iconic scenes—from Oh Dae-su wish to eat something alive after his imprisonment, to his defeating a hallway of men with a knife stuck in his back, to cutting out his tongue and acting like a dog—are made so effective not for hollow shock value, but by virtue of the fact that they are indicative of the extremes of human nature when consumed by such a singular emotion as revenge. Park uses varied methods of the same motivation to again display the various ways that revenge may infest the mind and change a person’s psychology—whether through Woo-jin ridiculously complicated plan conceived over decades or through Oh Dae-su’s almost animalistic, instinctual drive toward revenge—that both men are only capable of satisfying this base emotion at the cost of sacrificing all those other emotions that compose their humanity. Ultimately, this helps give some context to the ambiguous ending of Oh Dae-su’s future, which proves that no matter what happens to this character moving forward, it is a fate that has come at the compromise of his former identity.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance


With a title clearly echoing Park’s first venture into the trilogy, and yet that also distinguishes how far the filmmaker has refined his focus since that initial output, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance tells another complicated story of revenge through the first true female protagonist of the series: Lee Geum-ja. Wrongfully accused for the murder of a child that she did not commit, Geum-ja spends her time befriending other inmates and exacting her plan for revenge against Mr. Baek—the man that blackmailed her into accepting the arrest in order to spare the life of her own child.

Lady Vengeance contains the most atypical structure of the three—to surprising and compelling results. Park crosscuts between Guem-ja’s time in prison, where she befriended inmates and cultivates a kindly appearance, while also tracking her story in the present timeline as she puts her prison experiences to use in cultivating a new identity. Park has always possessed a tremendous visual eye for character design—from Ryu’s green hair in Mr. Vengeance, to Oh Dae-su’s frazzled hair and bold black suit in Oldboy—but Guem-ja’s represents possibly the most striking and sensational of all three. With red-eye shadow upon a pale face, black pumps, and an almost ninja-like trenchcoat, Geum-ja transforms herself into a manifestation of revenge—yet one that distinctly maintains her femininity and flashes of her former identity. That former identity is also found through her daughter, Jenny, now estranged after being given over to foster parents in the wake of Geum-ja’s prison sentence.

Nonetheless, Geum-ja eventually manages to track down the odious Mr. Baek for whom she has targeted as the object of her vengeance. Yet, upon finding him, she also finds the tokens of other children—connecting the dots that Baek’s modus operandi involved stealing small objects that would belong to his victims—all of whom were children. Consequently, she reaches out to the former detective involved with the case, who then helps her confirm the fact that Mr. Baek was indeed responsible for a number of other child murders.

Most intriguingly, and in stark contrast to the former two films in the trilogy, this causes Geum-ja to choose not to be the sole executor of revenge for the crime. Instead, she reaches out to the other bereaved family members of the murdered children and asks them to collude in punishing Mr. Baek. By leaving photo evidence of acting as a unit so that they may not turn on one another, the various family members take turns individually torturing and punishing Mr. Baek—until a lonely grandmother delivers the fatal blow with the scissors that belonged to her granddaughter. Afterward, the group seals their fate together by eating a dessert and reflecting on their deed. But after the group has left, Geum-ja remains haunted by a ghost of the victim for which she was initially blamed. The film ends on a somewhat ambiguous final shot, where Geum-ja plunges her face in a pure white cake—sobbing uncontrollably—while her reunited daughter hugs her in comfort.

Despite the masterful storytelling exhibited in the former two films, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance contains possibly the most compelling issues of moral ambiguity so far addressed in this specific examination of revenge. While the prior stories focused on their protagonist’s own personal vendettas, Lady Vengeance expands and filters her revenge through the prism of others. There is a scene in the last half of the film, where Geum-ja and the bereaved family members debate the ethics of their actions—weighing the pros and cons of how the legal court system would deal with this matter while also hoping to justifying their own personal blood thirsts—that plays out like the most perverted form of courtroom drama to ever grace the screen. And indeed, as shocking as the final twenty minutes of Oldboy stand for the utter depravity and brutality on screen, there is something as equally compelling and unbelievable as the final half of Lady Vengeance. Watching these seemingly normal members of society decide to execute various forms of punishment with a variety of weapons upon this guilty killer, plays out as a fascinating study of vengeance in group from—one that can be extrapolated as a moral study held by larger legal bodies like the courts, government, etc—and how revenge can come to be justified not only by those with personal vendettas but by a collective association of that same feeling when looking for an outlet for catharsis.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance wallpaper 06

By the conclusion, Park leaves his character with another ambiguous, possibly worse fate than that seen before the start of their quest for vengeance. Now responsible for helping serve the fates of a group, as well as her own personal bloodlust, Geum-ja still looks for absolution in the form of the boy for whom she was originally accused. She receives a strange vision, wherein the boy (now at the age that he would have grown to) gags her. Afterward, apparently reunited with her daughter, Geum-ja plunges her face in a pure white cake—the stark blackness of her character clashing against the pure white snow of her surroundings.

Despite helping those still grieving the loss of their child achieve some form of collective catharsis, Geum-ja is also faced with the fact that her child still survives. Unlike the others at the dinner table, now able to move forward with their lives without their child, Geum-ja remains faced with the fact that her entire life had been motivated by this single desire. And now, with blood on her hands but with her daughter by her side, and still unable to be granted that true resolution from the victim of her past, Geum-ja can do nothing but weep—and again destroy that symbol of purity with her tears of shame.

Like with the prior two films, his conclusion to the trilogy ends on a note of contending emotions. Park uses themes of revenge as an exploration into deeper, darker aspects of humanity that expose this extreme emotion for all its triumph and ultimate futility. In resorting this animalistic, vengeful aspect of their persona, each character ends up dead or left to a fate arguably worse than death—one in which all their identity has vanished or at the cost of corrupting every corner of their soul. Though each character begins with the best of intentions to justify their unlawful acts as something for the greater good, they are ultimately exposed to be attempting to fulfill nothing more than their own personal satisfaction.

Moreover, Park proves himself an innovator in the genre. One that impressively subverts typical expectations and tropes of the revenge film, and one that demands for audiences to question their own motives in so readily attaching themselves to these characters that are often as guilty as they are empathetic. While often proving this thesis through some of the most extreme, intense, and brutal scenes to be portrayed on the silver screen, Park demonstrates the ultimate conclusion for this extreme form of behavior—for all the triumphs and futilities offered through the choice of revenge.


Mad Max: Fury Road – The Next Entry in the Best Action Series


In a crowded landscape of action movies attempting to dazzle audiences through an abundance of special effects and increasing scope of story, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road manages to subvert both tropes in the service of the two most important aspects of storytelling that make the action matter: characters and theme. Though the fourth film in the series still offers jaw-dropping spectacles and astonishing set-pieces that allow for its ranking as the current benchmark for pure action filmmaking, one can easily miss how remarkably well this story also manages to weave ideas of character and theme (through mostly visual means) in order to raise the emotional stakes that allow for these action sequences to obtain their remarkable power.

Much to the frustration of more literal-minded audiences that desperately cling for continuity, Miller has again opted to basically uphold only the titular character of the franchise and his strange setting somewhere in a post-apocalyptic future. The first film—Mad Max—works effectively to present Max’s transformation as a figure of authority in the MFP to his new identity as a lone gun working outside traditional society. Mad Max is a great, mean film—one that helped launch the career of both Miller and Mel Gibson, while also helping to explode the Ozploitation movement on a national level. Nonetheless, the film also misses the true sense of minimalist storytelling, streamlined action, and unprecedented set pieces that would ultimately define the franchise to come.


Yes, admittedly, this is still low budget filmmaking at its best. Miller works wonders with a budget in the thousands to produce a movie that launched his career and innovative car chases that are still imitated by lesser films to this day. Moreover, the first Mad Max imbues a sense of raw, mean, rough-around-the-edges quality that is part of its lasting charm. The scene of Toecutter taunting Max’s wife for her “pretty face”—threatening to kill her and her baby while Max is out of sight—is brutal. Miller applies a sense of atmosphere, palpable tension, and escalating sense of uneasiness to magnificent effect. Afterward, with his wife and family taken from him, Max Rockatansky transforms into Mad Max—donning his iconic costume and hunting down the violent gang until the creative, final conclusion that would be reused to launch the Saw franchise decades later.


Nonetheless, like all great sequels, Miller uses his follow-up film to expand and intensify those pieces of story established in the original entry in order to indulge his sensibilities to their most ambitious effect. The Road Warrior—titled so for those unaware of the first Mad Max (and thereby indicative of the very loose connective tissue between the films)—elevates the unique mythology of Miller’s imagination to its fullest extent. Max now resembles something closer to the Leone western hero. A mythic, more archetypal figure of the lone wanderer that wiggles his way into moral conflicts of good and evil between the underdog and the domineering faction which he will help defeat.

Most importantly, The Road Warrior presents those hallmarks of Miller’s creative inclinations that would define the franchise as a whole: inventive, visual character designs, a streamlined plot, and set pieces that would raise the bar for action filmmaking across the spectrum. Specifically, in terms of the latter, the semi-truck chase between Max, the villagers, and Humungus’ gang, stands as one of the best chase sequences in film history. Often-cited as inspiration for those chase sequences that would later attempt to rival it—Speed, Terminator 2, Matrix Reloaded—no film has still yet been able to cater to those assortment of inventive and extraordinary inclusions that make that chase so unique: the gyro-copter, the bizarre vehicles, the outrageous character designs, the multitude of weapons that Max must defend against while attempting to steer the truck to safety. Additionally, the film displays the pulse-pounding editing and furious sense of pacing—coupled with a clear sense of action geography—that would ascend this chase toward its ranking as the peak of action filmmaking for its time.


Lastly, though a film marred by bizarre storytelling choices in craft its second half, the first half of Max Mad: Beyond Thunderdome presents further evidence for cementing the franchise’s legacy as the most inventive in its class. Though co-directed by George Ogilivie due to Miller’s difficulty in following through with the production in the wake of his producing partner’s death (Byron Kennedy), Beyond Thunderdome contains creative choices that simply don’t work in the latter half. The sound effects in particular, during the children’s takeover of the underworld, are almost comically out-of-place for a franchise whose strongest connective tissue can be found in its tone. Despite the memorable, idiosyncratic, and bizarrely lovable qualities of the feral child in Road Warrior, the entire inclusion of the tribal children in Thunderdome feels out of place. Tonally, they resemble something closer to The Goonies (released only a month earlier), the Lost Boys, or a watered-down Lord of the Flies. While this is not a criticism in of itself, it’s the fact that they are so conventionally identifiable from a visual standpoint that marks them as so out of place from a franchise where almost every other imaginable trope has been so utterly reinvented and distinctly tailored for this series.

Still, the first-half—and in particular, the Thunderdome sequence of the title—are Miller and the world of Mad Max at their best. Bartertown feels like an expansion of Humungus’ gang into an entire population of bizarre characters each with their own unique histories and identifies instantly recognizably from their visual design—none more so than the infamous Master and Blaster. Though Tina Turner’s Aunty is undeniably the weakest villain entry the series, she does lend a further sense of eccentric distinction that must be commended.

Max’s fight with Blaster within the gladiatorial Thunderdome itself—a wirework gladiatorial arena where the warriors fight one another while suspended by bungee chords and must seize whatever weapons are proffered by the spectators—stands as one of the most influential and gloriously inventive action set pieces ever conceived. One that has been imitated countless times since. Between Miller’s instant subverting of expectations when Max is able to find Blaster’s weakness, or the embracing of every conceivable creative weapon (chainsaws, swords, spikes), the Thunderdome set piece remains an ingenious playground for Miller’s imagination to filter his action fetishes in the apparently conclusion of Mad Max Trilogy. Though thankfully, this was not to be the case. As thirty years, Fury Road finally returned Miller to the fourth entry in his Mad Max series.


The Max of Fury Road is a mad animal. With sparse news reports and vague voice-overs for those unfamiliar to the series, he is now a shaggy-haired beast of a human being—feeding himself from (two-headed) rodents and only living to survive. He is immediately captured, his vehicle stolen from him, and destined for life as a blood-bag for the Warboys—servants of Immortan Joe, the leader of the Citadel. However, on this particular day, Imperator Furiosa—tasked with driving a War Rig to retrieve gasoline—has stolen his five wives and intends to deliver them safely to the mysterious Green Place.

Despite the change from Gibson to Hardy, and a higher budget that truly allows for Miller’s imagination to flourish, Miller wisely ensures that the narrative never inflates disproportionately to the simple story at the center of the chase. Similar to how Bartertown felt like Humungus’ gang expanded into a city, Fury Road feels like the chase sequence of Road Warrior expanded into an entire narrative. Most interesting, and different for the series, is that this film is domineered more by Furiosa than by Max. While Max is again the lone warrior now tangled up in helping the others, he also comes to learn the value of companionship in a manner very much in line, though still starkly different, than what has previously been seen of his character throughout the series.

As a blood-bag, the idea of Max as a primal, animalistic being is emphasized more than ever. He is literally muzzled like a dog for most of the beginning, and the few sounds he initially makes when meeting Furiosa are mere grunts. When he first meets Furiosa and the wives, he needs their help in cutting off the chain upholding his muzzle, essentially cutting loose his leash. Still, even when Furiosa asks his name, Max maintains his animalistic nature by refusing to offer one, asking instead: “Does it even matter?”

But unlike the villagers of Road Warrior or the Tribal Children of Thunderdome, Furiosa and the wives are as important to Max’s survival and capable of carrying their own thematic weight as to elevate the action scenes more than ever before. When Immortan Joe and his followers first see that Furiosa has veered from the course, and the warlord moves to investigate, the audience quickly understands their horrifying prison—and glimpses of their backstory—in a matter of seconds. “We are Not Things” is scrawled within their sanctum, along with “Who Killed The World”, brief but powerful visual lines that sum up a backstory more than any long, expository monologue could ever entail.


Furthermore, and easy to miss because it is so quickly glimpsed: various green plants decorate the interior of the sanctum when Joe is rushing inside to find his five wives—a detail with important implications for the plot’s latter half. Later, freed from their prison, Furiosa cuts a vagina dentata-esque chain clearly used by Joe further enslave the wives. This idea of the women as property—beings incapable of serving their own agency—works tremendously well in the context of not only a Mad Mad movie, but a chase movie in particular, where the characters are literally driving to free themselves from the confines of a city of men that enslaved them.

As the major storyline revolves around this one major chase between Immortan Joe and Max/Furiosa/the five wives, Miller retains his eye for clear, choreographed actions and fast-paced editing that keeps the audience on edge, but he also escalates the tension through character and theme as has never been so strongly seen within the series. While the two characters start out as uneasy combatants, only agreeing to work with one another in agreement of their mutual destruction, Max quickly begins to help these women.

His help, of course, arrives in the form of a series of jaw-dropping chase sequences—each of which builds and manages to top that which came before it. After a chase from creatively inventive “spiky” cars, Miller catapults the chase into an epic sandstorm where the environment is as much an antagonist for Max/Furiosa as their pursuers. He switches from the awesome, grand scale of the sand storm to the close, hand-to-hand combat fight between Max and Furiosa. This is followed by a chase from grenade-throwing cyclists, then a chase in the stark blue night of the Wasteland…so on.

In each scenario, Miller utilizes every premise imaginable for yet another reinvention of a common chase sequence. From fending off grenade-throwing bikers, to being stuck in the mud, to the pole-swaying kidnappers that populate the ineffably amazing final chase, Max and Furiosa realize that there only chance of survival is to trust in one another. Though the first half is clearly designed as a non-stop thrill ride based purely on survival and escape from Immortan Joe, the War Rig’s arrival at the “Green Place” alters the narrative trajectory toward themes of grander purpose. After now finding that this utopia of women and vegetation has long gone to the ravages of the Wasteland, Max, Furiosa, and the Vulvani women resolve to venture back the way they came: back toward the Citadel.

Additionally, Miller introduces the character of Nux—a warboy convert to whom Max previously served as the blood-bag but has now turned to help their cause. No supporting character has ever had as transitional an arc within the Mad Max realm as Nux, who further highlights themes of cooperation seen throughout the piece. As he later risks sacrificing himself toward the cause for which he was previously fighting against, his addition to the gang in their return across the canyon injects yet another layer of tension toward the finale and Miller’s ability to use the arcs of the protagonist to elevate the depth of the action.

While most filmmakers believe that raising the stakes can only be found through the introduction of new effects, new plot lines, bigger villains, etc., Miller proves that by continually increasing the emotional stakes and the dangers of what is already known—in additional to the pulse-pounding and innovative final chase sequence back through the canyon—how Fury Road manages to make such an action scene so compelling beyond just its action scenes. These are sequences where the stakes of more than just their mere survival are at stake—but in toppling oppressive ideologies that have haunted this region—not to mention their only individual hopes of redemption at stake. From Max’s hope to help save someone, as he does with Furiosa in donating his blood (as his flashbacks repeatedly show his failure to save a child), to Furiosa’s hope for redemption in toppling Joe where she failed before (as demonstrated by the Immortan Joe brand on her neck), to Nux’s hope for salvation in death, all of Miller’s protagonists are given satisfying resolutions to their individual problems—while in the midst of a death-defying chase across the desert canyon.

As Max helps complete his own arc toward becoming a man again, removed from the bestial animal at the start of the film, he finally confesses that his name is Max—having learned that it does matter—before he disappears back into the Wasteland. A man who has found some form of redemption through helping others achieve their redemption, as well. Though these themes are there beneath the surface, Miller never sacrifices storytelling or entertaining action sequences to spell them out for the viewer. Instead, as he always done, Miller uses all his tricks at his disposable to push the boundaries of action filmmaking to their furthest extent. Mad Max: Fury Road—though littered with grand spectacle and special effects—never forgets its tradition of using a simple premise to indulge in the most spectacular array of action sequences possible. Moreover, like Max, George Miller proves why this all matters. He shows how powerfully well-constructed action set pieces propelled by emotionally thematic ideals only enhances the destruction on screen—demonstrating why this character, franchise, and its director—why the world of Mad Max at large…has mattered to so many fans for so many years…and how Fury Road upholds this tradition for the legacy of the series.


Review: Montage of Heck


 “Kurt’s brain was just constantly going, he was always thinking about something, I mean, there was always something goin’ on, you could just see it…it was awe-inspiring…but then as I grew up, I’m like…I’m so glad that I never got that genius brain” – Kim Cobain

The above quote from Kurt Cobain’s sister—played over a clip of Kurt about to perform for thousands of fans while also goofing around in a wheelchair and quoting Wayne’s World—could not serve as a better opening encapsulation of the film’s exploration of its subject in a microcosm: a study of a man caught between being a legend at the forefront of American music, a man in his twenties caught in the crosswind of the nineties, and being a man so undeniably different from everyone around him. Still, this talking-head opening is actually quite deceptive in introducing the form, style, and approach of the documentary. For rather than being an exhaustive historical study, or some cold and detached autopsy of his life, Montage of Heck instead opts for a much more cinematic and often painfully personal approach—one that offers a more emotional, insightful, and creative look into the life of such an incredibly complex icon.

Opening with poignant home-videos from Kurt’s childhood—Christmases, birthdays, and family get-togethers—these flashes into his early, happy beginnings are essential in painting a complete portrait of Kurt’s life, while also working to immediately situate the viewer into Cobain’s psychology to powerful, intimate effect. These formative years with his family as a cohesive unit, with Kurt at the center, lay the foundation for the turbulent relationship with his family in subsequent years engendered by his parent’s divorce. A divorce that led to feelings of misplacement, shame, and abnormality that would color his mood and personalities for the rest of his years and be filtered through the prism of his creative output.

Director Brett Morgen expresses all this, however, not through repetitive talking-heads or news footage, but predominantly through Kurt’s own modes of expression: his childhood drawings, his audio recordings, his journals, his writings—while familiar Nirvana songs (or covers) are played beneath these haunting pieces of youth that recreate the feeling of reliving a distant memory or dream.


In the transition to Kurt’s teenage and young adults years, however, Morgen adopts another—and even more effective—method of imbuing Kurt’s interior life through scenes of animation. These are, undoubtedly, the most creative pieces within the doc. Again, rather than the standard fare of attempting to illuminate a subject’s history through some dry distilling of information, these scenes force the viewer to feel what life may have been like under Kurt’s skin. The first of two particular highlights depicts his first suicide attempt, and brutally translates this emotional episode to devastating and memorable effect.

The next animated sequence depicts his time before making it big: living off his girlfriend’s wages while perfecting his artistic craft. This scene manages to make a compelling sequence out of the most mundane times of an artist’s life: Kurt learns to practice his guitar and vocal skills, write songs, figure out the band’s next step—as he spends his days and nights on the living room couch. But rather than casting a light on these days as a genius in the making, they instead depict the “10,000” hours of his genius in terms of mood—Kurt perpetually alone throughout the day, experimenting and failing, drinking, and following his muses wherever they may lead him.


Navigating out the days of burgeoning fame, the doc swiftly transitions into the heyday of Nirvana. Clearly, the film has made itself abundantly clear that it is not interested in devoting valuable screentime toward information that can be readily gleaned elsewhere. Instead, these major transitional moments—the band’s signing to Sub-Pop, their finding Dave Grohl—are understood through the context of Kurt’s trajectory. As a result, despite the variegated narrative paths that the doc follows through his art, journals, and the like, the storytelling always feels focused—as it is remains centered on making sure the audience experiences these periods through the prism of its subject own mindset. The pinnacle of this entire experience perhaps found in the latter third of the piece: when Kurt meets Courtney. Using home videos between the two during Love’s pregnancy and then the birth of their daughter, these sequences negotiate between both voyeurism and unbelievingly compelling glimpses into the couple’s point-of-view.

More than anything else, as well, they help elevate the documentary into achieving a truly cinematic feel—one that gives the impression that this character study into the life of Kurt Cobain is nearing its climax, as he journeys deeper down those darker aspects of his personality that have strained his psyche since youth. Now amplified by the pressures of both fame and family, these obstacles present challenges that are made even more sympathetic by viewing Kurt separated from decades of news report and articles that cemented his legacy as a rock icon. Instead, these home videos delineate a portrait of a flawed man grappling with those very issues of his nature that the audience has come to relate and identify with over the preceding two-hours—with the knowledge of the tragic destiny that awaits him making these videos all the more excruciating to watch.

While some may be disappointed that the film doesn’t revel in the aftermath of his suicide and the reactions of those closest to him, Montage of Heck finishes on exactly the right note. For the end of Kurt’s story is the end of Montage of Heck’s story. Just as it has so perfectly offered the viewer an opportunity into the interior psychology of its subject, so it ends at the tragic conclusion of Kurt’s life in abrupt, devastating fashion. Still, the success of the documentary lies in its ability to so beautifully saturate the audience in his life—leaving the viewer feeling like they learned more about the experience of the Nirvana frontman rather than just the facts of his biography. Accordingly, Montage of Heck shines as a truly unique piece of documentary filmmaking: one as complicated, creative and different as the man at its center. One that allows a profoundly powerful—and personal—look into the life and mind of Kurt Cobain.


True Detective. Season One, Episode Eight. “Form and Void” Recap & Review

“Form and Void”

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Calling to mind the very first shot of episode one, “Form and Void”—True Detective’s series finale—opens in similar fashion: with the killer. This time, however, his identity is now fully revealed to be that of Errol Childress—the man with the scars identified at the conclusion of Episode Seven. Within the shed of their abandoned Childress property, Errol is in the midst of horribly torturing a man lying bloody in a room surrounded by bloody, scrawled writing. That man is revealed to be his father, when Errol remarks “Bye, daddy” before stepping out to join his sister in the big house.

Within the decrepit mansion deep in the Bayou backwoods, Errol and this possibly mentally-retarded sister are living in absolute squalor: childish toys are strewn about, dishes are stacked like skyscrapers, and old VHS tapes are piled throughout the space. As an old Cary Grant movie plays upon the TV, Errol begins imitating the voice—almost as though practicing. He later remarks to his sister, “it’s been weeks since I left my mark”. As the two begin to fondle each other, the camera retreats far out the deep bayou wilderness and arrives…

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Back with Marty, Rust, and Geraci on the boat. The two former detectives force Geraci to watch the Marie Fontenot tape at gunpoint, then interrogate him for further answers. Geraci, however, can only honestly say that the Childress report was “filed in error” and that he was following a “chain of command”. When leaving Geraci, Cohle warns him about any harm coming their way with the fact that their story is ready to be shipped to all the major newspapers, along with warning sniper-gunfire from the bar owner.

At a nearby school, Errol is shown painting a schoolyard wall (yellow), while eyeing the children during recess. Meanwhile, Marty and Cohle return to their work at the former’s office to look at their old clues with fresh eyes, “like we’re totally green” as per Cohle. This prompts Marty to stare upon the former drawing of the “green-eared spaghetti-monster”, where he questions the detail of the green ears. This incites his investigation into pictures of a green house, where he notices an undeniably new set of fresh green paint, and puts forth his theory that the “spaghetti-monster” may have been the one responsible for painting the house.

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In the car on the way over to the residence, the two discuss: their former fight, Marty cheating and Rust’s tryst with Maggie, and more philosophical ideas of values and identity. When arriving at the home with a now faded-green exterior, they are then able to track down the former owner, which then leads them to finding the business—Childress & Sons—by tracking down tax records.

Knowing that they may be facing death, the two instruct the former sniper-wielding bar owner with sending the story and necessary evidence to the papers and authorities. Afterward, Marty secretly meets with Papania. The detective formerly interviewing Marty and suspicious of Rust can tell that the two have been up to something, and though reticent to be involved in their pursuit, agrees that he will take the call.

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The two then begin their drive out to the Childress residence, where Marty asks Rust about his visions, to which Rust explains: “What I have in my head, it’s not something that gets better”. Nearing the isolated home, Rust’s synesthesia reminds him of the aluminum taste experienced in Episode One, and upon finding the Childress residence—Rust immediately knows that this is the place. He tells Marty to call Papania, and due to poor cell reception, the former is forced to invade the house. Though the sister plays coy, Marty charges his way inside; wherein, he finds the house to be in an even worse state of squalor than previously thought: mutilated dolls and toys litter the upstairs, while dirt and filth seems to cover everything else.Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 11.25.33 PM

Rust, however, chases after Errol. He follows him into the numerous tunnels found in the back of the property, where he must wend his way around enormous versions of the twig-figure totems found earlier. Errol taunts Cohle throughout the ordeal, leading him onwards, calling him the “little priest”, and even referencing DeWall and Reggie.

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Finally, Rust finds the ceremonial chamber at the heart of Carcosa, where a bizarre looking collection of skeletons draped in yellow sit at a throne in center—the Yellow King. Rust’s gaze ascends toward the oval opening above, where he experiences a “vision” of the void—a dark blue, nebulous vortex—until he is stabbed by Errol. He lifts Rust above him, and the latter is able to head-butt his way into temporary safety, though writhes in the ground in bloodied pain. Marty arrives just in time, only to also be attacked by Errol. Just as he prepares to slam down on Marty’s head, Rust fires into Errol’s skull—blowing off his head and finally killing the killer of Dora Lange.

Papania, Gilbough, and a team of responders finally arrive—firing a flare that Marty manages to see—and screams for rescue. Cutting to the hospital afterward, Marty is found slowly recovering. Papania and Gilbough report further details of the Childress clan, though Marty waves them away from informing him of more gruesome horrors. Moments after, Maggie and his children arrive to comfort him. As Audrey, Macie, and Maggie ask how he’s doing, Marty feigns his usual level of masculinity and invincibility, only to slow break down in true tears of devastation.

As news clips give further report toward the uncovering of the Childress clan, Rust is found alive—but badly wounded. Soon after, Marty arrives to comfort him, but Rust finds himself almost incapable of believing in his recovery, reiterating “I shouldn’t be here” and his devastation that they weren’t able to catch “all of them”. To which Marty counters, “We ain’t gonna get ‘em all, but we got ours”.

Outside the hospital, Marty hands Rust a pack of smokes as a gift, then wheels him a bit farther out in the parking lot so that he may be allowed to smoke them. While there, Rust finally breaks down: retelling Marty his experience in the void of darkness, of finding his daughter, his father, and experiencing nothing but love…until he woke up. Possibly trying to cheer him up, Marty points to the stars above him—reminding Rust of his youth in Alaska, wherein Marty points out that the darkness covers a lot more territory than the light. While Marty tries to sneak Rust out of the hospital, he counters Marty’s observation about the stars, telling him: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning”.



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With the setting now completely within the present, and the interviews similarly finished, the finale begins in very atypical fashion for the series by presenting an extended scene not from the point-of-view of either of our two detectives. Even more intriguing, it’s from the perspective of the one character of whom the two have been chasing over the previous seven hours—Errol Childress, the Man with the Scars, sporting a sign of the Yellow King symbol just below his neck (like with Dora Lange). His farewell to his father, whose mouth has been sewn shut and torso horribly mutilated, announces with both style and horror that this long, drawn-out confrontation is finally coming to an end.

As Errol moves into the abandoned manor shared with his slow sister, further evidence of the squalor inhabiting the lives of the Childress Clan is shown. Peeling wallpaper and mildewed portraits of their mother decorate the walls, while an enormous collection of child-like objects litter the floor. Most importantly, there are numerous VHS tapes of old movies that seem to be on a loop within the home. Though this could only be gleaned from interviews with Pizzolatto, the creator explains that Errol used these videos to learn to talk, due to the deformities of his scarred mouth. Moreover, the familial bond between these two—as further demonstrated by their surroundings—gives off the impression that these two are and live like overgrown children. In the way they interact, by their messy home, and fostered by their isolation from society, these two Childress children have matured into adults that retain childlike sensibilities both psychologically and in their relationship to the world.

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Nonetheless, Errol’s remark that it’s been “weeks since I left my mark” along with his sudden articulation that: “I have very important work to do. My ascension removes me from the disc in the loop, I’m near final stage…some mornings, I can see the infernal plane” allows for some deeper insight into this killer’s modus operandi. As will be further evidenced near the climax, Errol appears to be baiting the authorities for a confrontation—one who believes that his death (and those of his “acolytes”) will allow for his transcendence into a higher state of being—and a sense that this final confrontation will be happening sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the two detectives remain where they left off with Geraci on the boat at the end of Episode Seven. Though this scheme of interrogating him ultimately proves somewhat pointless, as he can only confirm what they already know (that Sheriff Ted Childress is responsible for the Fontenot report error), it does offer a nice sense of conclusion to Rust’s rivalry with his former coworker. Both in showing him the true horror of his actions when forcing him to watch the Fontenot tape, and when threatening him with the sniper rifle of the bar owner (and the destruction of his new car).

Back at the offices, Rust’s phrasing of looking over old evidence files like “we’re totally green” reminds Marty of their strongest piece of evidence yet—the image of the Spaghetti Monster with his green-tipped ears. In a moment of Sherlock-ian inspiration, Marty reconnects the green-tipped ears with the green painted-house—finally earning the highest possible compliment from Rust when he also realizes the connection and utters a “fuck you” to Marty.

On their way over to the green house, Marty attempts to bring closure to his feelings toward Rust, Maggie, and the fight. Though Rust replies with a typically complex philosophical response that leaves Marty befuddled—and elicits one of Marty’s most hilarious malapropisms with “what’s scented meat”—his argument that “everybody’s got a choice” argument actually represents a vastly different moral philosophy than that of Rust in his interview with the detectives, who argued more in line with the Nietzchian ideas of the eternal return (time is a flat circle), which would argue that people are not in control of their choices. Though he is talking more in terms of the formation of our identities in this context, it does raise questions as to his which he actually believes, though perhaps in both talking to Marty and the interrogating detectives, he does not feel the need to give an honest response either way. And instead, will tell them what they need to hear. Nonetheless, a bit later, their tracking down Childress & Sons due to Rust’s asking the former resident Ms Hill, about her husband, the “did he pay his taxes” question—with his ledger in hand—also serves as a nice remembrance to his original “tax man” nickname mentioned (and somewhat forgotten) throughout the rest of the series.

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Preparing to finally confront Childress, the two make their preparations in case of death. Rust once again employs the help of the sniper-wielding bar owner to send out their story to various outlets (One to FED, CID, the papers…), while Marty meets with Papania alone to ensure that he will take the call if they need it. Two short scenes that set-up payoffs for after the climax, while also helping to further escalate the tension before the ultimate confrontation.

On the car ride over, Rust’s comments nearing the Childress residence that his synesthesia is picking up elements of “aluminum…ash…I tasted it before” recall his earlier statements in Episode One, where he also experiences similar sensations following their stint in Erath after finding Dora Lange—serving as both a nice reminder to that earlier episode and further confirming that Childress is no doubt the killer of that woman whose death engendered so much of the shape of Rust’s life in its aftermath.

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Moreover, almost immediately upon arriving, the two are aware that they have found the place. Rust’s synesthesia kicks into high gear, with a spectacular sweeping camera motion of his absorbing the dreaded surroundings, and his ordering Marty to call Papania. While Marty comes up with an obviously fake story about his and Rust being property surveyors, Errol’s sister can instantly detect the truth. In a moment of almost meta-humor, Marty mentions that they “got lost like a couple of greenhorns”—perhaps a pun on the green ears used to track down Errol. Nonetheless, she begins spouting philosophical dialogue not unlike Errol or his housekeeper when answering: “Where is he …all around us, before you were born, and after you die”—again returning to the idea of eternal recurrence.

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Meanwhile, Rust has taken off for Errol within the dense property found in back of the estate. Gun drawn, he finds pictorial depictions of the black stars and all the other hallmarks of the Yellow King as he pursues Errol into the abandoned Fort in the rear of the property. There, walking within the catacombs, Rust wends his way amongst life-sized version of stick totems found amongst his victims in Episodes One and Two—along with the pieces of evidence left behind from the victims of the cult. As Errol taunts Rust with cryptic and menacing lines like: “You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man…You blessed, Reggie, DeWall—acolytes, witnesses to my journey…Lovers, I am not ashamed. Come die with me, little priest” he displays further signs of a man in full belief of his warped psychosis: a man as ready for this moment as Rust.

As the two men who have equally awaited this confrontation with one another over the decades finally near their clash, Errol’s echoing voice directs Rust throughout the catacombs (and calling to mind Miss Dolores’ description of Carcosa as a “wind of invisible voice” in Episode Seven) until Rust finally behold the Yellow King: a putrid stack of skulls and bones draped by yellow cloth. But then, Rust sees the void. Made possible through his synesthesia, Rust glimpses a swirling mass of blue/black clouds that serve as a portal into a netherworld of nothingness—the abyss—a suggestion of horror made even more unfathomable by its mere hinting than full reveal and calling to mind the best works of Lovecraft and other weird fiction writers.

Until Errol attacks—lifting Rust up with near Herculean strength and choking him to death. Luckily, Marty has managed to navigate the labyrinth of catacombs and shoots Rust free. Still, Errol subdues him, as well, until Rust finally seizes his moment—and blows off Errol’s head. As Rust lies gutted and dying to death, Marty sees the flare signaling the arrival of Papania/Gilbough: both men having saved his partner’s life in their own distinct way.

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Awaking in the hospital, it’s interesting to note that Marty’s last memory before going unconscious is “sayin’ my friend’s name”. Not two episodes ago, Marty still despised Rust for his affair with Maggie—not to mention their contentious relationship as co-workers a decade before—and he now not only thinks of him as a partner, but as a friend. And as Papania and Gilbough begin to rattle off the gruesome details of their findings in the Childress house (“There’s a group of guys—pedophiles and so forth, voodoo worship, man Cohle shot dead was the old man’s son…) all Marty can do is wave them away. In effect, he embodies the series’ motto this entire time: that the details of the crime aren’t important or worthy of valuable screen time—it’s the characters.

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This is further solidified by the arrival of Maggie and the girls seconds later. As Maggie grips her hand bearing a new wedding ring over Marty’s, and his two girls come to comfort him, Marty initially feigns being OK—upholding his image of traditional masculinity as best he is able—until finally breaking down and crying in front of his girls, muttering “I’m fine…I’m fine”. After years of attempting to shrug of his feelings and telling himself that he is OK, Marty crumbles in the midst of his family—the one thing he lost most over the years due to no one’s fault but his own.

Meanwhile, Rust remains in slow recovery after recovering from out his coma. He listens to news reports of the reveals of the Childress Mansion—repots which mention that Edwin Tuttle (the Governor) is distancing himself from any familial relation while dozens more victims continue to be exhumed from the property. Rust, however, can only lie paralyzed in his bed—awaiting whatever comes next with this chapter of his obsession finally closed.

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A bit later, when Marty wheelchairs in to check on him, Rust’s remains disillusioned as ever—repeating that he’s “not supposed to be here”—while further commiserating over the fact that there are still men connected to the cult out there yet to be caught (even remembering that he had already encountered Errol once before at the Light of the Way School). Marty counters that they caught “their guy” however—reinforcing a central theme at the heart of the case since the beginning: solving the case of Dora Lange. Though the two have encountered about every kind of evil imaginable throughout this case—corruption, torture, murder, narcotics, kidnapping—their job was to find Dora Lange’s murderer: and in that they were successful. This idea is given greater weight and description in the following—and final—scene.

In the hospital parking lot a few days later, Marty wheels out Rust for a talk in the fresh air. The two discuss their feelings in the wake of all that has happened. Specifically, Rust opens to Marty about his experience in the coma. Here, McConaughey delivers the best piece of acting in his career and the series, as he details a transcendental experience of feeling love with his daughter and father beyond the void of death that reduces him to unashamed tears. After eight hours of relentless nihilism and anti-natalist philosophy, Rust doesn’t exactly undergo a complete reversal of ideologies, but he is undeniably transformed by this otherworldly experience made possibly by the afterlife and those who loved him during his life.

Attempting to comfort him, Marty comments on the stars in the bright sky that call to mind Rust’s childhood in Alaska. Once again, Rust relates that the stars told stories to him as a lonely child—further cementing the idea of storytelling that lies at the heart of the series. Nonetheless, as Marty comments that the dark clearly holds far more territory than the light, Rust reconfigures the story of light versus dark as relates to their work in the fight against evil as a whole. In a glimpse of insight both surprising for the normally pessimistic Rust, yet also logical, Rust remarks: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning”.

As Marty remarked in more literal words to Rust in the hospital room, they accomplished their job—to catch Dora Lange’s killer. Though there will always be more crime than can be caught, more corruption than goodwill, more dark than light—they did their jobs. Despite being fired, mistrusted, working outside the legal limits of those around them, these two men stayed true to their word and paid their debt. As a series about stories and storytelling at its core—from the interviews, to the use of the King in Yellow mythology, to the stories we tell ourselves—this is the simplest story at the center of the show and of the nature of man explored throughout the series. As Rust describes it, “the oldest story”. A story beautifully told through these characters, and the crime at its ugly center, that composes the first season of True Detective.


True Detective. Season One, Episode 7. “After You’ve Gone” Recap & Review

“After You’ve Gone”

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Sharing the beer promised at the conclusion of episode six, Marty and Rust engage in a very awkward reunion at a nearby bar. The two play a subtle game of verbal cat-and-mouse, lobbying occasional jabs at one another, until getting down to brass tacks. Rust has returned from eight years in Alaska to finish the job, and he needs Marty’s help. Though Marty is extremely reluctant to rejoin him, Rust insists that they have a debt to pay in solving this crime (not to mention Marty’s killing of Ledoux that robbed them of potentially crucial evidence). Though still not completely committed, Marty accompanies Rust to his storage locker to continue the discussion…

Arriving at the storage locker, Marty straps himself with a gun—perhaps still suspicious of Papania and Gilbough’s suspicions that Rust is the killer. Upon walking inside, however, Marty quickly comes to understand the truth: that Rust is as committed and obsessed as ever in finding the true killer. Clues, leads, and all forms of evidence adorn every corner of the small shed—a literal manifestation of the locked room that is Rust’s mind.

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While absorbing the unnerving display of evidence, Rust further updates Marty on his progress with the case. After following a trail of charges around the Tuttle Wellspring schools, he tracked down a former student/current transvestite—Johnny Joanie. During the interview, Joanie admits that the faculty would induce the children into a “ghost sleep”—where the students would think they would be asleep—but feel awake—and still be unable to move. He further explains that the men would have animal faces, so he felt it had to be a dream. Back in the shed, Rust explains how this cult responsible for the cirmes mixes traditions of courir de Mardi Gras, Santeria, and voudon in their strange rituals accosting women and children. Despite this barrage of evidence, Marty remains convinced…until Rust shows him the tape.

Rust obtained this videotape by robbing Tuttle’s Baton Rouge residence—putting to use his skills as a former B&E man—and also acquiring incriminating photos of a young girl whose eyes have been enshrouded by a cloth. Rust finally plays the videotape for Marty, where the cult leads a young girl into their ceremony. Marty screams and shouts in witnessing the off-screen crimes of pedophilia until Rust finally turns it off. When questioned whether he killed Billy Lee, Rust denies it—believing that it was other men who found out about the robbery and killed Billy Lee before he may be blackmailed. After witnessing the horrors, Marty tacitly agrees to reform their partnership to solve the case.

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He then visits Maggie at her new palatial home, where pictures of an older Audrey and Macie are similarly found. He questions her about the Papania/Gilbough interview, and the status of his daughters, and to which she demurs mostly passive answers in reference to Rust. Nonetheless, sharp as ever, she also asks Marty if after all these years gone by, he has only come to say goodbye before finishing whatever it is he has agreed to help Rust finish. Later, Maggie visits Rust at the bar, though he remains similarly reluctant to promise that harm will not come to Marty when finishing the task at hand.

Marty and Rust set up headquarters at the former’s new P.I. offices, where Rust semi-insultingly asks if they need to worry about a lot of people coming in and out, to which Marty hilariously responds: “What do you think, Rust?”. After redecorating the office with much of the evidence found in Rust’s storage unit, the two then bond over their time in the intervening years. A moving montage plays out depicting Marty’s now very lonely life—a failed relationship, dinners and movies alone—a life much more quiet and removed for the formerly social and motivated family man who instilled so much of his identity vis-a-vis his career. Rust describes a similarly quiet and removed lifestyle—his days filled with tending bar, drinking, and working in isolation. The two share a moment of bonding in equally regretting their career choices: Marty having wanted to be a baseball player or bull rider; Rust, a painter or historian.

The next day, Marty investigates the old police department to retrieve missing persons reports from their archives under the guise of writing a book.* The two are able to track down a Jimmy Ledoux—distant relative to Reggie—at his automotive repair shop. He confesses to know very little of that side of the family which his father described as “too white for white trash”, except confessing that they always shot him with disturbing looks. The reunited detectives are also able to track down a former Tuttle housekeeper—Miss Dolores. She reveals that Sam Tuttle had a number of illegitimate children, and after some prodding from Rust, believes that the scarred man was actually a Tuttle with the surname Childress. She’s then seized by a hypnotizing spell of sorts at the memory, as her voice and speech transforms at the mention of Carcosa.

*(And in a moment of apparent meta-humor, Marty’s fake book is titled “True Crime”—“the genre not the title”, he explains).

Afterward, Marty further tracks down the fact that the Marie Fontenot missing person report “filed in error” was made by Sheriff Ted Childress in ’95—his last name now causing obvious implications as to why it was made in error. Marty also realizes that their former colleague Steve Geraci was the Deputy reporting to Childress. Moreover, they find that Geraci now serves as Sheriff of Vermillion Parish. While Rust is ready to interrogate him with jumper cables, Marty attempts to first reach out to him for a game of golf.

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On the course, Marty tries to slyly wedge out information from his former colleague, but the man remains reticent to divulge more information about handling the report to Sheriff Childress. When saying goodbye, Marty can immediately spot that Geraci is lying and calls Rust to “ready those jumper cables”. On a boat not too soon after, Geraci and Marty are enjoying their morning of fishing and beers, when the latter again begins prodding for answers. Geraci finally decides that he has had enough and refuses to say anymore, until Rust finally reveals himself with a handgun—prepared to torture him for answers.

Meanwhile, Papania and Gilbough are found wandering the bayou backwoods in search of the Church described by Rust during his interview. Without any luck, they pull over to ask a man on a lawnmower for directions. The lawnmower man informs them that the Church burned down, and then directs them toward the freeway. The two detectives drive off before the latter has even finished his sentence. Nonetheless, the lawnmower man finally stands to reveal himself to be the same lawnmower man from Episode Three—now with his beard shaved to reveal scars across the bottom of his face.

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With the interviews now gone, and the storyline now more or less rooted in the present, “After You’ve Gone” uses the reunion of the former partners within this penultimate episode to explore the lost history between Rust and Marty while rapidly advancing toward their finally uncovering the case of the Yellow King. Despite their checkered past, the two bond as only they know how—lobbying passive-aggressive insults at one another between important bits of information. Rust has been in Alaska for the past eight years, while Marty professes to have quit his drinking and become a better man. Though the two exchange insults toward one another’s physical appearances against the ravages of time, the two also seem share to share a tacit understanding of finally being led to this point—as though inevitably so. While Marty protests that he would ever help Rust again (“if you were drowning, I’d toss you a barbell”), Rust’s very simple and pointed explanation that Marty owes a debt is enough to convince him to visit Rust’s storage shed.

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Following Papania and Gilbough’s accusations that Rust may be the serial killer, Fukanaga uses the reveal of Rust’s shed to indulge in possibilities of these suspicions. Marty even withdraws a gun when entering the shed—only to stumble upon the truth of his former’s partner’s devolution over the years. The production design on this space is superb—giving the impression of a man obsessed by his job and now unhinged by social norms in a manner that seems so far removed from typical portrays of such psychology previously seen on film and television. Moreover, six previous hours of establishing this aspect of Rust’s character only help sell and lay the firm groundwork into the reveal of the shed as a space that serves as a physical embodiment of Rust’s mind–his “Locked Room” to borrow the title from Episode Three.

The intricacies of the shed help disguise the deluge of exposition that covers much of this scene recounting Rust’s retrieval of numerous, vital pieces of evidence. Rust’s breaking and entering into Tuttle’s Baton Rougere residence uses some interesting dissolves to heighten the intrigue of the moment along with his admittance that “I was aware that I might have lost my mind”. As the show has always done so well, despite the extremely dark nature of the story, the hinting as to the horror of what is on that videotape and Marty’s reaction of terror actually works so much better for allowing the viewer to imagine the crimes of these men—crimes so terrible that they compel Marty to work with Rust again despite their torrid past.

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But first, Marty must make peace with Maggie. Starting with pictures of Audrey and Macie now grown up: the former on psychiatric meds but also working as an artist; the latter teaching in Chicago for Americorps, Marty seems able to reconcile the fact that this job may end with his death. Maggie, similarly, suspects so, when she asks “Did you come to say goodbye?” And the two are able to share a peaceful goodbye of sorts, after all they’ve been though and accomplished.

Now working within Marty’s quiet P.I. office, the two former partners ask each other a bit more intimately about their lives. These sequences depicting the mens’ lonely lifestyles wrecked with regret and failure are poignant to the point of being heartbreaking. After a string of unsuccessful relationships—online or affairs—Marty has merely resigned to an existence of microwaveable dinners and John Wayne movies alone in his apartment. Rust, meanwhile, remains in a similarly depressing cycle—his entire life now resolved to either bartending, drinking, or obsessive over the case.

There’s an especially moving exchange between the two wherein they reminiscence how neither ever even wanted this career—only to find themselves decades down the line and more than competent at it. Prompting Rust’s line: “Be careful what you get good at”. Nonetheless, it’s also interesting which chosen profession either detective would have liked. Marty, of course, chose the two most traditionally masculine ideals possible: an athlete or a cowboy; while Rust, however, admits that he would have liked to be a painter or historian: “old scenes, new details”. This is interesting in light of the fact of his carrying around his “taxman” book, wherein he illustrates all the details of the scene to provide new context to what others may have missed—somewhat of an amalgamation of these alternatively desired careers.

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Marty return to the old office under the guise of writing a book offers what appears to be one of the show’s few moments of meta-humor with Marty insisting: “It’s the genre, not the title” before then investigating the numerous, archived case files. Meanwhile, the two are indeed able to find two key people that allow their progress into the case. The first is Jimmy Ledoux—a relative of Reggie and DeWall. Though embarrassed of Reggie’s name, the man nonetheless further reiterates his abhorrence toward the “Man with the Scars” that seems to unnerve everyone.

It is their second find, however, Miss Dolores—a former Tuttle housekeeper—that provides their most important lead yet. Despite their false excuse for being there, they are able to confirm their suspicions that the man with the scarred face is an illegitimate child of Sam Tuttle—one with the surname of Childress. Her sudden, startled turn and extreme change voice errs dangerously close to hammy, and it’s the one moment of the series that seems to lean on the supernatural unnecessarily and jarringly. Still, her statements that Carcosa is “a wind of invisible voice” holds some resonance for what happens in the finale—wherein the detectives hear Errol’s voice taunting them from within “Carcosa”.

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Afterward, sharing another late-night drink, the two probe deeper into the devolution of their lives. Rust (as he has always been so capable of when eliciting confessions) asks Marty again why he quit the force, and Marty finally relents in explaining. After a meth raid, wherein the criminal attempted to microwave a baby, he decided to call it quits—never wanting to see something like that again. The scene is shot with a sense of foreboding dread within those few seconds that—like with the videotape—is never marred by flooding the viewer with the dreaded imagery. Again, it’s the look on Marty’s face—keeping the corpse out of focus—that makes the visual all the more powerful. And afterward, Rust’s actual confession as to why he had to return from Louisiana to finish the job turns out to be a more sorrowful reason than even Marty’s. As Rust explains: “This [was] something I had to see to—before getting’ on with something else…My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation…I’m ready to tie it off”. The idea that Rust is ready to commit suicide after finishing the task at hand is at once both heartbreaking and a perfect set-up for his fate within the finale.

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And finally, the man with the scarred face—almost comically revealed through the arrogance of Papania and Gilbough—at last arrives within this penultimate episode. Accompanied by eerie toybox music, bathed in the golden light of a dying sunset, Errol Childress is revealed to be the lawnmower man that Rust first met in Episode Three outside the Light of the Way Academy. Removing the who-done-it at this point in time turns out to be an incredibly wise move on the part of Pizzolatto, for as the series has done excellently throughout, it both eschews traditional expectations of the crime genre in television and allows a stronger focus on character.

Characters whose fates will all finally converge in the next and final episode.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode 6. “Haunted Houses” Recap & Review

“Haunted Houses”

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Haunted Houses” opens with Marty finishing his unfinished business with Audrey from Episode Five—that is, beating up the older boys arrested with her. The guarding officer takes his leave, while the boys beg and plead for mercy, only for Marty to don black gloves and pulverize both boys—then vomit afterwards. Meanwhile, Rust continues his isolated investigation into the Tuttle Schools—interviewing another parent whose child was enrolled in a school funded by the Tuttle Wellspring program who then disappeared.

Later, amidst shopping errands at a mall, Marty looks into buying a new phone and having an afternoon beer. While at the bar, a clerk from the cell phone stores introduces herself as Beth—the same Beth that the detectives encountered at the Ranch for runaway prostitutes of which Dora Lange formerly belonged in ’95. She praises Marty for being a hero, and the two end up having sex in her apartment later that night.

Rust, however, remains focused on the case as always. He tracks down Joel Thierot—the minister from the traveling Church encountered in “The Locked Room”—and questions the now drunken and disbanded minister about his dealings with Tuttle. The former religious man feigns bureaucratic issues at first, only to crumble under Rust’s questioning. He confesses that after questioning the administration with incriminating photos of underage children found hidden within a book that he knew that his days working for Tuttle administration were over.

Back a the office, Rust is in the midst of drawing out a confession from a woman who unplugged her baby from a breathing machine. Rust also makes special note of the fact that her previous two children had also died of “SIDS”. After receiving her confession, Rust offers her the “advice” that: “The newspapers…they’re gonna be tough on you…and prison is very, very hard on prisoners who hurt kids…if you get the opportunity you should kill yourself”.

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A bit later, Rust demands Marty type up the report of the incident—citing the latter to finally confront Rust for his abnormally strange behavior of late (even by Rust standards). Rust becomes particularly aggressive, citing his successes and any of Marty’s due to him, causing a clear rift to begin to emerge between the two partners. Nonetheless, Rust questions Kelly—the girl he rescued from the Reggie LeDoux Compound—where she reluctantly reveals the presence of a third man: The Man With the Scars. The memory of his presence causes her eruption into an uncontrollable anxiety attack that incites Rust to leave and the doctors to sedate her.

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At the office, Rust explains to the new Major—Leroy (played by Spiros Vondas himself, Paul Ben-Victor)—about his theory of more missing children connected with the Tuttle Wellspring program—only to be dismissed by both the Major and Marty. Despite a warning not to pursue this, Rust interview Billy Lee Tuttle himself. Under the guise of investigating tax records, he asks Tuttle about tracking down any files, personnel, or faculty—to which the Reverend blames a flood or dodges his way around questions. Unsurprisingly, the Major quickly learns of Rust’s clandestine interview and suspends him without pay.

Back in the Hart residence, Maggie suspects that Marty is still cheating on her while doing his laundry and checks his phone to find a number of nude texts from Beth. Hoping to turn the tables on him, she goes to a bar to pick up a date—only to find herself unable to follow through. Still, after, she meets Rust at his lonely apartment and speaks about her troubles with Marty. Seconds later, the two are making love—when immediately after, Rust screams at her to get “the fuck out”. Maggie later tells Marty about her stand with Rust, flying Marty into a typical volatile rage.

The next day, Rust returns to the office for his files but Marty quickly attacks him in the parking lot. The two engage in an all-out brawl with the equal damage to both sides. In the Major’s office later, the two remain quiet about the source of the fight—prompting Rust to quit the job but not before complimenting Marty on his “nice hook”.


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The 2012 events are most interesting for their introduction to present day Maggie—remarried and more confident than ever. Perceptive to the detective’s prodding of her, Rust, and Marty, she offers answers that toe the line between truth and lying by omission—but enough to apparently satisfying Papania and Gilbough.

Marty, meanwhile, grows increasingly annoyed by the detective’s questioning of him, Rust, the implication of Tuttle’s overdose after Rust’s return, and the split between the two former partners. Marty finally decides that he has had enough and leaves the room—telling the detectives that if they call again he will not help. Driving back home, Marty realizes that Rust is the one repeatedly honking for him to pull over. He reluctantly does so, and after a decade long gap between the two, agrees to meet Rust for a beer.



Now firmly moving toward its final endgame, “Haunted Houses” is the first episode to set the stage for the series’ finale. With Rust’s interviews now over, present-day Maggie is brought forward to replace him—offering few actual answers but providing further support for the series overarching themes of false narratives. Moreover, the episode works to fill in the gaps for several major narrative elements—finally revealing the (somewhat predictable) cause for the split between the two detectives and further solidifying Rust’s strong suspicions toward Tuttle and his connection with the missing kids, Dora Lange, and the Yellow King.

The episode opens with Marty in quite disturbing fashion, as, yet again; he uses his police powers to fulfill personal impulses of exacting revenge on the boys caught with Audrey. Marty’s quote, as well, in justifying his behavior to the boys in saying: “a man’s game charges a man’s price…take that way from this if nothing else” only underscores the bizarre code of masculinity that composes so much of his sense of identity. This idea is further highlighted during Marty’s shopping expedition, when after purchasing and walking around with a bag of tampons, he feels the attraction of the nearby bar—an area that may help reaffirm his sense of masculinity.

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Moreover, he succumbs to seduction from Beth after her inflating his ego with a barrage of compliments and flirtatious remarks that leads to their having sex. This act helps bring to mind Rust’s remark from their initial meeting with Beth at the ranch in Episode Two, where after Marty handed Beth a sum of money to do something else with her life, Rust commented: “Is that a down payment?” Though Marty rebuked his partner’s remark as “shitting on anything decent”, he has come to fulfill the remark nearly seven years later. It’s also interesting to note that Fukunagu repeatedly trains the camera on the angel/devil figurines with her bedroom—the latter bearing horns that call to mind the antlers imposed on Dora Lange and the former posed with hands bound in prayer that further echo the image of Dora’s death.

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Most importantly, this episode finally brings about the climax for the most prominent relationships in Marty’s personal and professional life—the dissolution of both his marriage and his partnership with Rust. As Maggie astutely notes in her interview with Papania and Gilbough, “Rust knew exactly who he was and there was no talking him out of it…Marty’s single big problem was that he never really knew himself, so he never really knew what to want”. Marty’s conflict over his view of himself as a good man finally comes to a head within this statement. As Maggie has repeatedly told him that he used to be a good man, after his murdering Ledoux, after holding affairs and thinking that he may have failed as a father with his daughter Audrey, when Beth feeds him lines like: “You’re a good man, anybody can see that. I saw it the first time I met you. God gave us these flaws, that’s something I learned…he doesn’t see them as flaws, it’s how he made us, the universe forgives all”—his mistress helps further solidify Marty’s self-delusions of his identity that are broken by the end of the episode.

And after Maggie scrolls through his phone to find texts of Beth, she sits beside him in the living room—only to find Marty being his same old self. He goads his daughter, Audrey, and when she flees the room in a huff—he’s more interested in the game than confronting his daughter’s emotions. Exactly like in ’95. When rather than addressing his daughter’s disturbing drawings, Marty would keep his eyes on the TV—rather than on his daughter just below him—the detective’s curse mentioned previously. When Maggie finally confesses about her affair with Rust, his first reaction is—of course—to threaten her with violence, which she counteracts by urging him to do so: literally pushing her throat into his hands. When Marty fails to follow through with the act, Maggie calls him a “coward”.

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Nonetheless, he carries this rage over to Rust the following day, where he engages in a full-blown boxing match with his former partner. There’s an elliptical sense of structure to ending on this after the opening of him beating up the boys in the opening—boys who engaged with another of Marty’s family members in illicit sexual activity. Though Rust almost appears to be dodging Marty’s blows and letting him have it out, the former finally slams Marty’s head into the taillight to stop the fight—breaking Marty’s self-delusion of physical power that the opening fight with the boys may have instilled.

Despite their torrid past, Marty feels reluctant to believe that Rust may be the killer responsible in the present. Juxtaposed with Maggie’s interview, this episode serves as almost a companion piece to the idea of Marty (and now Maggie) presenting falsified versions of the stories of their past while the viewer watches the “real” version play out in ’02. For despite their individual histories and problems with Rust, both seem to demonstrate a sense of complicity in Rust’s quitting the job—though neither seems willing to acknowledge that he may responsible for any crimes.

Meanwhile, Rust’s own drive to solve the crimes by looking into pieces from the past helps confirm his suspicions about the Tuttle organization’s involvement. When first meeting with the bereaved father, then former minister Joel Thierot—Rust hardly needs any more credence to his theory regarding the Wellspring program. * Like he’s able to do with so many suspects, Rust is able to draw out a confession for the minister’s real reason for leaving the organization after finding incriminating evidence damning Tuttle only for the matter to be handled “internally”.

*(At this point, it’s also worth noting that the exterior of the Tuttle office is completely surrounded by children and his wearing a Yellow Tie sends an all-too symbolic signal. Also, Tuttle’s remark regarding Thierot that: “It’s hard to trust a man who can’t trust himself with a beer…don’t you think?” has an especially ironic tinge to it knowing that Tuttle will later die of a supposed drug overdose.)

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Moreover, we’re offered a more abrasive and confrontational Rust than ever before—a Rust who has reached his breaking point with Marty, with the bureaucracy of the police institution, and with the hypocrisy of the religious institution. His meeting with both the woman who killed her daughter and blamed SIDS, then with his meeting the still horribly traumatized Kelly from the Ledoux Compound—all seem to incite that fire that Rust has managed to keep somewhat in check before. Nonetheless, as Maggie tells the detectives, “Rust knew exactly who he was”. His chastising Marty for just needing “something to salute”, his passive-aggressive dialogue with Tuttle, and his decision to ultimately quit the force after his fight with Marty and refusal to obey the Major—all these factors help Rust to ultimately shed even that thin veneer of traditional social appearance that he had upheld for these years in favoring of becoming the man that we see in the present—an alcoholic, disheveled, shadow of himself—yet one still uncompromising and resolute in his determination to finish his job as a detective.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode 5. “The Secret Fate of All Life” Recap & Review

“The Secret Fate of All Life”

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The fifth episode of the series and last to depict the events of ’95 begins with Rust and Ginger meeting Reggie’s cousin and cook partner—DeWall. The latter declines to do business with Cohle (“I don’t like your face, it makes me want to do things to it.”), but with Marty trailing his vehicle in the aftermath of the meeting, unknowingly leads the two detectives back to his and Reggie’s drug compound found deep in the bayou. Rust and Marty avoid the various traps and hidden explosives before confronting and arresting Reggie in his bathrobe. The supposed killer of Dora Lange mutters a number of cryptic comments to Rust regarding Carcosa and Black Stars, though his ramblings are quickly stopped when Marty reappears from the home and shoots Reggie in the head upon seeing something of horror within the compound. DeWall flees the scene in a panic and kills himself after tripping upon what Cohle later describes as his “homemade cracker-ass security system”.

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Rust then investigates the Ledoux Compound that drove Marty into such a rage to find two imprisoned children. The two detectives then stage the scene to hide Marty’s murder and leave behind evidence that would point to a shootout between the two parties. Afterward, the two carry away the children from the compound and are awarded as heroes for their actions. Maggie even forgives Marty for his infidelities, and Rust seems to find a connection with a nurse named Lisa that Maggie set him up with in the intervening years that transition into…

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Despite Marty’s somewhat solid footing back in the good graces of Maggie, his relationship with his daughter Audrey has dissolved over the subsequent years. She now sports a rebellious attitude that does not bode well with her traditional father—culminating in a night wherein she is arrested and Marty ultimately slaps his daughter across the face. Meanwhile, Rust’s reputation as the best “assist man” in the state has led to his being called in to interrogate nearly any suspect that the Louisiana PD can’t crack on their own. One of these interrogations leads to Guy Francis—a robber who attempts a plea deal by mentioning the name of The Yellow King.

This sends Rust into a fury, and he slaps the criminal for more evidence in a move that ultimately makes the confession inadmissible. When Rust later demands for Marty to join him in questioning Guy, they find the suspect dead—having committed suicide after a phone call with his “lawyer”. Rust investigates further to find that the phone call was made at an anonymous phone booth way out in the middle of nowhere and that Guy had family who were no doubt threatened by whatever conversation occurred over the phone call in the aftermath of his mentioning the Yellow King name. In the midst of this investigation, Rust finds that one of the two officers guarding Guy’s cell had the last name Childress. Unnerved by Guy’s revelation, Rust begins looking into old case files and examining other reports “made in error” before again investigating the Tuttle Light of the Way School—wherein he finds a collection of eerie angelic drawings and bird/devil trap totems like those left at the crime scene of Dora Lange.



Marty and Rust recount their version of the events in the Ledoux compound to Papina and Gilbough with a drastically different account than the one depicted on screen. Instead, their version favors a wild shootout that led to Marty being able to find a clean shot and murder Ledoux in the back of the head. Marty then further discusses his belief in the detective’s curse over the intervening years after the arrest, when he realizes that so many of the clues to his current state of life were right under his nose the whole time. Moreover, he ponders the idea of letting the good years of life slip through your fingers. At last, he threatens to walk away unless the inquiring detectives reveal their motive—to which Papina and Gilbough admit their suspecting Rust for the most recent murder and pushing the narrative of the Dora Lange case how he sought fit—citing the discovery of Rianne Olivier as their biggest piece of evidence. All this, however, is quickly dismissed by Marty, who believes Rust was reading into them and their materials—rather than the other way around.

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Rust, meanwhile, finally concludes his previous philosophical ramblings—but not before the grand finale of detailing the m-brane theory and incorporating some of Nietzsche’s teachings to the two detectives. Rust similarly explains the arrest in a falsified version of the story before launching into a thought-provoking monologue into ideas of time, death, and existence that leave Papina and Gilbough befuddled yet also help succinctly explain for so much of enduring cynicism and hopelessness seen in Cohle’s character throughout previous episodes. More importantly, these ideas illuminate ideas of narrative that have been at the heart of his prior confessions and which ultimately epitomize many of the show’s most prominent themes. Lastly, the detectives finally lay their cards on the table—showing Rust surveillance shots of him captured at the latest Lake Charles crime scene and believing that he may be with holding evidence in his storage shed out near Church Point. They cite the inconsistencies in his story, the death of Billy Lee Tuttle upon his “return” from Alaska, and their ultimate theory that he may have been pushing the agenda of the case. All of this is more or less laughed away by Cohle, as he finally leaves the interrogation room refusing to give them access to his shed—thanking them for the beer, but “beyond that, you wasted my fuckin’ day, company man”.



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While the previous episode contains the show’s most memorable action sequence through the tracking shot of Rust’s escape from the housing project, “The Secret Fate of All Life” contains what is perhaps the show’s most memorable writing from a storytelling standpoint. From Rust’s philosophical expansion of Ledoux’s “time is a flat circle” comment, to the false narrative employed by 2012 Rust and Marty against the incredible set-piece of their raid on the compound, to the excellent transition out of ’95 and into ’02, “The Secret Fate of All Life” demonstrates exactly why the episode deserves the many writing accolades for which it achieved.

The conclusion of the ’95 storyline and the hunt for Ledoux marks a major turning point for both the larger story and characters. Using the Louisiana backwoods and bayou setting to incredible atmospheric effect and building up the detectives’ raid upon the compound with an excellent escalation of suspense—from their spotting the bird traps, the trip wire explosives, their refusal to call in back up, their slow stalking of Ledoux—the raid itself starts off this riveting episode with a bang.

Ledoux’s cryptic and haunting comments to Cohle—mentioning all the series’ mythological touchstones from Carcosa, to the Black Stars, and culminating in his “time is a flat circle” comment—offer further tension in the midst of Marty’s own investigation into the compound’s contents, where he finds two kidnapped and traumatized children. After now multiple moments depicting Marty’s immediate response to conflict as explosive violence, he exits the compound and shoots Ledoux in the head in cold-blooded murder. Though Cohle justifies Marty’s murder in stating that Ledoux deserved to die and that he’s glad to see Marty “commit to something”, the two must immediately clean up the crime scene to leave evidence for a different story. Within this incredible sequence, Marty and Cohle’s testimonials from 2012 are expertly weaved through the editing to be simultaneously juxtaposed against the real events of ’95 that are as cinematic and compelling as they are thematically relevant.

With so much of the series’ main thematic focus on being on the idea of narrative—the stories Marty and Rust tell themselves about their own identity, their story to Papania and Gilbough about the story of ’95, the mythological touchstone of the Yellow King being a reference to Chambers’ “The King in Yellow” (a story about a story that drives people insane)—this sequence which so expertly marries the editing, dialogue, and character demonstrates all of these ideas to unifying and compelling effect.

Moreover, the “time is a flat circle” comment that has grown to become one of the show’s most memorable and quoted phrases serves as a perfect transition and expansion of this theme from the ’95 storyline, to 2002, and the present. For despite catching whom they believe to be Dora Lange’s killers, and being rewarded as such, so many of the same struggles previously seen still remain. Maggie reluctantly accepts Marty back into their familial life, only for him to remain as hypocritical and confused as ever. For after having his own affairs and sexual deviances, Marty finds himself belittling his thirteen-year-old daughter and eventually slapping her in the face for her behavior and refusal to adhere toward how he wants a woman to behave.

Like murdering Ledoux upon seeing his crimes, Marty’s slaps his daughter in the face in yet another demonstration of his explosive, violent response to conflict. Likewise, when his daughter protests that Marty can’t press charges against the older boys, he responds, “I can do whatever I goddamn want to those boys”—yet again demonstrating his abuse of authoritarian and police power as a detective with a badge. Like with his terrorizing Lisa for having an affair, like his shooting Ledoux in the face, and now like slapping his daughter in the face—the detective’s repetitive response exemplifies the “time is a flat circle” idea that he is doomed to live out these horrible choices within himself time and time again—despite whatever small victories he may have. Though he does admit in the 2012 interviews that “infidelity is one kind of sin, but my one true failure was inattention, I realize that now”, Marty appears destined to repeat his same mistakes time and time again.

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Likewise, despite Rust’s apparent victory against Ledoux, he learns that the events of the Yellow King have returned in 2002 during his interrogation of Guy Francis. The mention of the Yellow King returns him back to the tree in Erath where he once found Dora Lange (and finds a flat circle of knots within the trunk), along with the missing picture of Stacy Gerhart, and his return to the Light of the Way school from Episode Three. And upon further investigation into the school, he finds disturbing pictures of angels (mentioned in Dora’s diary) and an array of twig totems like those found at the Ledoux compound and numerous other locations connected with the King. When the detectives ask Marty what happened to Rust and his girlfriend, he responds: “What always happens between men and women: reality”. Again, there’s meaning to be interpreted here with the false narrative of Rust being able to live like a normal, married man only for the reality of his job and personality to supersede any chance of making that a reality.

Much of this philosophy incorporating elements of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence helps give some insight into Rust’s unstable psychology and cynical attitude toward resolution that has been peppered into prior episodes. It’s worth noting that in the shot of the detectives rescuing the kids from the Ledoux compound, with each carrying one of the two children, Rust is carrying the dead boy in his arms rather than the afflicted girl that is in Marty’s–perhaps representing Rust’s own dead child–and his continual failure to save the child’s life. Rust repeats this idea in his interview with Papina and Gilbough that those kids will always be there in that compound, that his interview with the detectives may have happened or will have happened again, and these evils that have haunted his life so far (like the death of his daughter and inability to maintain a stable marriage) will only continue to recur in endless cycles of time. As further outlined in more abstract concepts regarding eternity’s creation of time in order to have something kill, this horribly unnerving idea is what lends the episode its title as being the secret fate to all life.

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Nonetheless, this episode does mark the turning point for the typical structure of the series’ episodes by having Papina and Gilbough finally lay out their cards on the table that they do indeed believe Rust may responsible for the most recent Lake Charles murder and may be withholding evidence within his storage shed near Church Point. Rust insults them for the accusation and leaves the confession room—disappointed in not being able to glean any new information about the murder. (It’s worth noting at this point that Rust’s drinking throughout the interviews will make his interrogation inadmissible.) Still, with the ’95 storyline more or less wrapped up and much hinting toward the break between Marty and Rust in ‘02, the episode’s conclusion leaves the viewer with more questions than ever toward finding the true identity of the killer and wrapping up the case of Dora Lange.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode Four. “Who Goes There” Recap & Review

Season 1, Episode 4: “WHO GOES THERE”

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 “Who Goes There” opens with the return of Charlie Lange—Dora’s ex-husband—locked up in prison. Rust and Marty are irate with the man for apparently concealing information on his cellmate—Reginald LeDeoux—who the detectives have fingered as the most likely suspect in Dora’s murder. Charlie adamantly protests the accusations—growing more and more irate himself that Reggie could be responsible for Dora’s death. When further questioned, Charlie insists that Reggie is crazy in a very real and dangerous way—that he would often speak of devil worship and violence to women and children in a manner that even caused his fellow prison inmates to avoid him. Nonetheless, he gives up a known associate between them—Tyrone Weems—that may help the detectives track down Charlie’s whereabouts.

The next morning, Lisa confronts Marty about his drunken trespassing the other night—to which the latter basically shoves his mistress aside. This leads to Marty coming home to find his family absent…and a left note by Maggie. Marty immediately calls Lisa to confirm that she told Maggie about the affair. In an angry and drunken stupor, Marty then takes to the streets to find Tyrone. He tracks him to a nightclub, where he then pulls a gun on Weems for information on Ledoux. Weems confesses that he has fallen out of contact with him, but there are rumors that he only supplies his brand in bulk to one group: The Iron Crusaders. Marty passes along the information to Rust, who explains that he is familiar with the bikers from his days working undercover.

Marty drunkenly confronts Maggie during her hospital nightshift, until Rust manages to corral him with the news that he has a line on the Crusaders. Marty takes up temporary resident with Rust in the midst of this separation, where the latter decides that the two will have to go “off the books” in order to find Ledoux. Rust uses the excuse of having to visit his father in Alaska in order to reinstate himself in his undercover identity—stealing cocaine from the evidence room, injecting ink and cayenne to pass as a drug addict—while Marty adapts to his new life as a bachelor living in Rust’s apartment. Rust also reaches out to Maggie about the possibility of getting back with Marty, though she seems reluctant to do and insults Rust’s suggestions for rationalizing the situation.

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A few days later, the big night has finally arrived. Rust makes contact with his former Iron Crusaders contact—Ginger—under the guise that he was formerly working security for a Mexican Cartel and is now breaking off to do his own thing. He wants to make a deal exchanging his cocaine (stolen rom the police evidence room) for the Crusaders’ meth dealer. Ginger agrees to connect the two under the condition that Rust helps rob a stash house in a housing project that night, which the undercover detective reluctantly agrees to. The Crusaders invade the stash house disguised as cops, and the robbery quickly turns awry. One of the residents is murdered, and a riot breaks out amongst the entire project. Rust quickly drops his undercover façade, coercing Ginger at gunpoint to cooperate, and manages to flee the chaotic scene with Marty acting as their getaway driver.


Since most of the ’95 storyline involves Rust’s off-the-book behavior and “leave of absence”, the 2012 interviews are pretty much a moot point. Papania and Gilbough question inconsistencies in Rust’s story—most notably the fact that there are no records of his father’s leukemia—but these are small additions to their already strong suspicions surrounding Rust’s story.



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Despite being one of the most riveting episodes of the season, “Who Goes There” is also an episode that spends the most time on what seems like almost a complete diversion from the main case. Though the two detectives are obviously in search of Ledoux—the episode’s main narrative focus with Ginger allows for sequences of incredible tension and a long-take that stands as one of the best in television and filmmaking canon at large. Nonetheless, it’s also a storyline so completely removed from the laser-focus goals of normal episodes that it’s truly an anomaly of an episode on second rewatch. This isn’t so much a criticism, as a curious observation, as a great deal of material remains to be discussed in this noteworthy episode.

Starting with Charlie Lange, Dora’s former husband gives further subtle hints in identifying the unifying mythology of the Yellow King and Carcosa in his cell—remarking: “He [Charlie] said that there’s this place down south, where all these rich men go to…uh, devil worship…he said they sacrifice kids and whatnot…women and children…all got murdered there…and something about some place about Carcosa and the Yellow King…He said there’s just so much good killing there…Reggie got this brand on his back like in a spiral…he says that’s their sign.”

Past that, much of the Yellow King storyline is pushed to the side in favor of tracking down leads to Charlie LeDoux largely removed from the Yellow King. Likewise, the 2012 interviews are rendered a mostly moot point past further Cohle suspicions since his dying father excuse doesn’t match police records. Instead, the story pushes important character plot points forward—namely, Marty’s divorce. After a great scene of Marty giving his disposition toward justifying his breaking into a home—with Lisa glaring daggers at him as the court reporter and remembering his similar behavior (similarly unjustified) from the night prior—she confronts him about his abrasive and inappropriate behavior, which Marty more or less shrugs aside.

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Marty’s problematic morals are underlined by Rust in the episode’s opening after the former criticizes Rust for reminding Charlie that it was “his fault…Guy was already low”. To which Rust respond, “…You’re funny, Marty. The shit you get soft about.” Though the prior episodes have routinely established Marty’s moral hypocrisy on multiple occasions—juxtaposing his sense of righteousness and values as a family man in his Papania and Gilbough interviews with ’95 scene of his infidelities—this episode finally sets the stage for the separation between Marty and his family that will result in his stark change of character in future episodes.

During Marty’s intense tracking and interrogations of Weems, as well, Marty finally exposes cracks in his psychology between his instinct for explosive violence and following the proper code expected of an officer. (There’s also a hilarious Easter Egg during Marty’s investigation wherein he must question a bartender—who is played by the show’s writer and exec producer Nic Pizzolatto—asking him “Why you make me say this, man?”)

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Moreover, his and Rust’s decision to go completely off the books in the pursuit of their goal reveals a sense of moral similarity between the two and understanding when they believe it is appropriate to engage in more unlawful activities in the pursuit of a greater good. This unlawful activity, of course, is given the majority of the episode’s running time through Rust’s going undercover as an Iron Crusader. From his horrifying story about a Cartel’s routine for catching an undercover agent, to his stealing cocaine from the evidence room, to injecting ink and cayenne into his arm to pass for a heroin user, the sequence takes on a palpable level of dread and tension about this rendezvous with the bikers. Though Rust adapts to his undercover appearance with ease, there’s always an atmosphere of suspense hanging over every moment as the viewer waits for things to take a turn for the worst. And when Rust is seeing being driven away to Ginger’s headquarters to prepare for the heist, Marty’s sinking feeling of anxiety translates directly upon the audience. Then, watching Rust snort copious amounts of heroin while in a room with a gang of dangerous bikers and a hostage, this mood of heightened anticipation never abates.

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Instead, Fukunaga amplifies and intensifies the suspense through a six-minute-plus uninterrupted single tracking shot of the robbery. With a soundtrack that perfectly mixes an unwavering and unsettling beat mixed with the chaotic noise of robbery gone awry, this unbroken shot elevates the tension of this moment into full-blown pandemonium. However, it is a controlled pandemonium—one that nearly overloads the viewer’s sensory expectations for how such a scene can unfold by refusing to break the rising suspense of the moment against the aggressively expanding wave of dread and confusion surrounding it.

Despite knowing that both detectives will obviously remain unharmed in their future 2012 interviews, this sequence just demonstrates with extraordinary aplomb—like the series itself—its incredible control of craft and ability to transcend typical production values as previously seen in television. A sequence easily able to stand against the Henry Hill’s Copacabana entrance of Goodfellas, anything by Paul Thomas Anderson, the Oldboy hallway fight…this is a tracking shot that imbues every element of emotion and narrative necessary to rank amongst the best and deserves to be applauded and remembered for doing so. Though no other moment in the series may rival this sequence from a technical standpoint, it’s one of the show’s most memorable and riveting—one that serves as an excellent endpoint to the series’ halfway mark.

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True Detective. Season One, Episode Three. “The Locked Room” Recap & Review

Season 1, Episode 3: “THE LOCKED ROOM”

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 “The Locked Room” picks up right where “Seeing Things” left off…with Rust, Cohle, and a team of criminologists investigating the mural upon the Church wall. This transitions to the two detectives listening to preacher Joel Thierot in the midst of a rousing speech to his congregation. Upon observing this crowd, Rust makes a series of critical remarks toward religion and its followers that prompts a number of small arguments back from Marty. Afterward, the two question the churchgoers to find that Dora was often seen accompanied by a tall man. During a quick meal break following the Church scene, Marty further accuses Rust of being too obsessive, which prompts Rust’s own derisive remarks toward Marty’s work ethic.

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On a day off, Rust is found talking with Maggie in Marty’s living room. The latter arrives home to find his lawn cut and Rust alone with his family—causing a tense confrontation between the two partners afterwards. That night, Marty questions his daughter Audrey about her sexually explicit drawings—though Maggie can tell that Marty is more interested in the game on the television than his daughter’s mental well-being. In their bedroom afterward, the couple remains at odds: with Maggie question everything about Marty’s attitude as of late.

Soon after, Rust’s incredible skill with suspects inside “the box” is demonstrated. The detective is able to deftly probe possibly witnesses for guilt—eliciting impressed remarks all around from Marty and the 2012 detectives when reviewing his assist records. Moreover, Rust’s insomnia and obsessive nature is given further presentation as he combs over countless boxes of dead bodies looking for some clue as to link the Dora Lange murder with a previous body.

However, his meticulous investigating is cut-short by needing to attend to a date arranged by Marty and Maggie. At this dinner, Marty spots Lisa on a date with another man and signals for her to meet him at the bar. There, the two discuss their relationship status—with Lisa vowing that it is over. Meanwhile, Rust explains his synesthesia to his date.

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Afterward, Marty drunkenly drives to Lisa’s apartment and beats the living hell out of her date—Marty flashing his badge and threatening his police power throughout the ordeal. That same night, Rust remains alone in his solitary room—studying evidence and chain-smoking cigarettes until he receives a call from Maggie. Marty’s wife remains suspicious of her husband’s whereabouts, though Rust pleads ignorance.

The next morning, Rust uncovers a break in the case in the death of Rianne Olivier. What was previously thought to be a case of a flood-drowning victim reveals the mark of the King on the small of her neck—just like Dora Lange. On the ride to question Rianne’s grandfather, Marty expresses doubts as to his morals as a “good man”—prompting Rust’s “the world needs bad men…we keep the other bad men from the door” line. Upon meeting the grandfather, they learn of Rianne’s boyfriend—Reginald Ledoux. They also learn of her attendance at Light of the Way School—a Tuttle Family Foundation School—while also acquiring her box of personal effects.

When the detectives move to investigate the school, they encounter “the lawnmower man” and learn of the school’s closing down in ’92. They then soon learn of Reggie Ledoux’s statuary rape complaints and his bust in connection with a meth lab, where, during prison, he was learned to be cellmates with Charlie Lange. The episode’s final shot includes a haunting last shot of Ledoux—clad in a gas mask, underwear, and wielding a machete.


Marty’s interview mostly concerns further support toward Rust’s skills as an investigator—his success as a “box man” and his eye for detail. However, his compliments about Rust’s skills are juxtaposed against his excuse that the other detectives had “families”, “boundaries”, and “responsibilities” that kept them occupied instead—these explanations often cut against Marty’s infidelities with Lisa or his disinterest in parenting his troubled daughter.

Meanwhile, Rust’s interviews shed further light on how much his obsessive detective work warped his viewpoint of human life. Hours and hours of staring at dead bodies being xeroxed at late-night hours in the police department have seemingly removed Rust’s sense of empathy for any hope of individual meaning. He speaks in great lengths about the fallacies of religion, of hope, of individual identity, of memories, of dreams—all of these various philosophical points embodied within the idea of the dream within a “locked room” that is the human mind and gives the episode its title.


(Spoilers All)


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Though “Locked Room” still contains some of the show’s most memorable characters bits, it is also a “chess piece” episode—in that it’s mostly focused on shifting certain plot elements to move the story forward more than anything else. Nonetheless, like the show does best, even these small bits are mostly disguised through further character treatment and greater glimpses into the interior of the two detectives’ lives.

The early scene with Joel Thierot’s church allows for some of Rust’s most famous lines in his criticism of religion and its churchgoers. Though Marty predictably bites back at many of these jibes (Rust: “What do you think the average IQ of this group is, huh?” Marty: “can you see Texas up there on your high horse?”), the former’s does speak toward aspects of human nature and religion that allow insight into his view on religion’s role as it relates to storytelling:

“Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel—it’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative, because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project”. And morals: “if the only thing keep a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of shit…”

As those religious leaders of the police and state (Billy Lee Tuttle, his Light of the Way Schools) are found to be responsible for the crimes against the children, Rust’s judgments actually contain more narrative relevance than many reviewers were quick to point out in the episode’s initial debut. There’s even a very quick line from Joel Thierot when questioned on his background, where he states: “I came up under Billy Lee Tuttle and went to his college up in Baton Rouge a couple years.”

These ’95 discussions of religion transition to Rust’s interview with Papania and Gilbough, where Rust’s ramblings focus on much larger existential ideas of purpose and meaning. Though his monologues remain adamant about the futility of expecting any sense of closure, one particular line deserves especial attention for its eventual comeuppance in the finale:

“The ontological fallacy of expecting a light at the end of the tunnel, well, that’s what the preacher sells…and then he tells you it’s a fuckin’ virtue…and it’s such a desperate sense of entitlement, isn’t it…surely this is all for me.” During Rust’s glimpse into the void—a literal light at the end of the tunnel when battling Errol Childress in Carcosa—he experiences a feeling of fulfillment and personal meaning that is indeed specific to him when feeling the love and presence of his daughter.

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 The rest of Rust’s storyline further demonstrates his detective skills for all its positives and negatives. His late-night hours spent combing through old case files looking for a previous corpse that may attributed to the Yellow King lead to his finding Rianne Olivier—a fellow Light of the Way Student and boyfriend of Reggie Ledoux—a huge crack in the case that comes at the cost of his insomnia and a numbness toward life and death that he credits in part to the hundreds of hours spent staring at dead bodies and considering their ultimate fate.

“I have seen the finale of thousands of lives man…young, old…each one is so sure of their realness…that their sensory experience constituted a unique individual with purpose, meaning…so certain that they were more than a biological puppet…the truth wills out and everybody sees, once the strings are cut, all fall down.”

Moreover, his skills as a “box man”—a detective able to ascertain a suspect’s guilt or confession in a crime is given demonstration. When interviewing various suspects with facial scarring, Rust is able to perform a very theatric form of questioning and coercion to allow for the subject to finally open up after Rust is able to tear down the barrier holding them back. When questioned by Papania and Gilbough, Rust states: “I never been in the room more than ten minutes, I didn’t know whether the guy did it or not…how long does it take you?”

A clear jab at the fact that Rust has clearly been in the room with the two detectives for longer than ten minutes, as they continue to consider whether Rust may responsible for the new Lake Charles murder with possible ties to Dora Lange. This is further solidified when Rust remarks: “But then again I’m terrible with cards” in talking about being able to call a suspect’s bluff. The remark deserves attention for the fact that Rust is bluffing his way through this interview with Papania and Gilbough now—both in using the interview to find out information on the Lake Charles murder that he’s not able to ascertain from the inside—and in this whole drunken/drinking charade that will make anything said during his interview inadmissible.

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 Meanwhile, Marty’s storyline mostly focuses on his hypocritical nature that led to his downfall more than anything else. Repeatedly, he criticizes Rust’s methodology and obsessive nature only to contradict his values in favor of his more impulsive pursuits. A scene after their visiting the Church states this more explicitly when Marty tells Rust: “You have a tendency toward myopia…tunnel vision…your obsessive.” To which Rust replies: “You’re obsessive too, just not about the job.

This is perhaps best demonstrated through Marty’s hypocritical failures as a “family man”. When he and Maggie confront Audrey about her sexually explicit drawings, Marty does so while keeping his eyes trained on the basketball game on the TV, rather than focusing on his daughter’s words and emotions. Maggie notices and calls him out on his recent nature of continuing to separate himself from the family. She tells Marty that Audrey is continually withdrawn and asking why her father is working so much, to which Marty blames his working on the case, when, as the audience has seen, it is more due to his time spent with his mistress or drinking with fellow policeman.

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 Marty’s interview with Papania and Gilbough further highlights this hypocritical nature within him (especially in relation to Rust). Marty tells the two interrogating detectives such lines as: “You know what it means to be a father? It means you are accountable for other people. You are responsible for their lives…People give you rules. Rules describe the shape of things”. These lines from 2012 often transition to his actions in ’95, when he is intimidating his mistress at the same family function that he has brought his wife. Or later, during the “people give you rules” line, when he trespasses into Lisa’s apartment and beats up her date—abusing his power as a detective and reminding Lisa and her date about his status as a detective throughout the ordeal.

Marty later expresses some moral compunction about his actions with lines like: “I really wouldn’t have done something like that…I’m not a psycho”. Or when he later asks Rust: “do you wonder ever…if you’re a bad man?” More than anything else, these are statements that exemplify Marty’s absolute doubt in himself: as a man and as a detective. When Maggie is talking with Rust on the phone later, asking why he (and men) don’t give things chances, Rust explains: “Because we know we want. And don’t mind being alone”. This is cleary the opposite of Marty—someone unsure of who we wants and incapable of being alone—as will be later demonstrated following his separation from Maggie in future episodes.

Lastly, as always, a few more clues toward the identity of the Yellow King are revealed. In truth, as those who have seen the season are aware, the Lawnmower Man that Rust meet in this episode will be revealed to be the killer of their pursuit. There’s a great Easter Egg that hints toward this fact seen in the following shot, where the words “NOTICE KING” are visible upon the board on the right hand side of the dividing post.

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The ominous connection between Tuttle, the Light of the Way School, and the murders/disappearances in between are startingly obvious in hindsight—from Tuttle’s creation of the Task Force, to Rianne having gone to the Light of the Way school under Tuttle’s foundation, to Joel Thierot’s mentioning that he went to Tuttle’s college—but these are all pieces of evidences to be linked at a later date…after Rust and Marty have first dealt with Charlie Ledoux—the gas-mask wearing and machete wielding monster—who is first glimpsed at the end of the episode.

True Detective. Season One, Episode Two. “Seeing Things” Recap & Review

Season 1, Episode 2: “SEEING THINGS”

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“She articulated a personal vision. Vision is meaning. Meaning is historical.”


Upon finding the bird trap from the Fontenot house at the end of episode one, Rust and Marty continue to ponder the significance of the murderer’s totem. The two then meet with Dora Lange’s mother, where Rust takes note of certain items in the house: an angel statue, an empty medical bottle, and a very curious picture of Dora as a child surrounded by masked men on horses. Her mother and Dora’s friend also mention a Church that Dora had mentioned joining prior to her disappearance. In the car afterward, Marty asks Rust if his mother is still alive, to which he replies “maybe”. Rust also explains about his daughter’s death to Marty, and the dissolution of his marriage that came soon after.

That night, Marty gets drunk with the other cops at a bar called The Elks and calls up his mistress for a late night rendezvous—Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario). Afterward, Marty warns her about the fact that the Erath killer may be responsible for more murders and asks her to stay at home, to which she replies “but I can’t meet a nice man at home”. That same night, Rust experiences further visual hallucinations vis-à-vis his synesthesia while driving down the highway. He later meets with the hooker from episode one, who supplies him with further barbiturates. She also offers him sex, though Rust declines. Instead, he prods her for further information about Dora and the hooker offers up the name of “The Ranch”—a rural and isolated brothel for young runaways.

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 The next morning, Rust makes veiled references to Marty’s scent—prompting a violent confrontation wherein Rust threatens to break Marty’s hands for further aggression. In order to find the hidden brothel, the two question a pair of local mechanics reticent to offer the location—prompting Rust to use more violent methods to find the location.

The detectives then drive deep into the woods to find the ranch harboring young runaways turned prostitutes. The madam of this “bunny ranch” bickers with the two, and they also meet Beth—a young runaway staying on the ranch. Before leaving, Marty gives Beth a wad of cash—prompting a “that a downpayment?” from Rust—while the latter departs with Dora’s diary. Inside, he finds the murdered woman’s scribbled ramblings, specifically: talk of “The Yellow King”, Carcosa, and angels. Rust also contemplates the chance that the killer was feeding Dora drugs and slowly upping the dosage without her knowing. They also find an advertisement for a Church folded up in the diary—resolving to seek it out next.

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 At Maggie’s parents house, Marty argues with his father-in-law about the current state of world affairs while Maggie similarly argues with her mother. At home, the bickering continues amongst the couple. When Marty announces dinner to the girls in their room, he notices that the girls have posed their dolls in a clear sexual fashion.

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 At the office, Rust insults the newly appointed members of the occult task force and is reprimanded by the Major for his disobedience. Marty pleads for more time, and the Major relents. The episode concludes with the detectives stumbling upon the demolished remains of Dorothy’s church. But before entering, Rust’s synesthesia gives way to another vision—a peculiar circling of crows that outlines the mark of the Yellow King across the sky. And as the episode ends, the detectives uncover a painting upon the Church’s wall depicting a blindfolded woman posed in the exact same position as Dora Lange was found murdered against the tree.


 Marty’s interview mostly concerns further prodding from Papania and Gilbough as to Cohle’s methods and interviews within the investigation, along with thinly veiled references as to his needing to “get his head right”—cheat on his wife—for the good of the family. They also question him about the Task Force, to which Marty admits he likewise detested from the start.

Meanwhile, Cohle’s interview offers a great deal more information as to his backstory: his three-year-marriage, the death of his daughter, and his subsequent career transfer from robbery to narcotics, where he unloaded a bullet into a junkie shooting up his infant daughter with crystal meth. This resulted in his transfer to undercover, where in the aftermath of a deadly shootout and extended drug use, Rust landed in a psychiatric hospital in Lubbock, Texas. He is further questioned about his hallucinations, and though he admits to not experiencing them anymore, he does explain that back then: “Most of the time I was convinced, yeah, shit, I’d lost it…there were other times, I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe”.

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(Spoilers All)

Perhaps more than any other episode, “Seeing Things” offers the most comprehensive glimpse into Rust’s backstory and most linear explanation for his current psychological state. Rust’s tragic life history—starting with his absent mother, progressing to the death of his daughter, to the dissolution of his marriage, to his interment at a psychiatric hospital—all allow for the first true insight into how this man came to view to the view the world in such dark, cynical terms.

The ’95 storyline opens in interesting juxtaposition with their meeting Dora’s mother, and the sad state of affairs left in this very broken home. Rust’s keen eye spots the mother’s empty prescription pill bottles, Pieta statue, and most suspiciously—the framed picture of Dora as a little girl surrounded by masked men on horses.

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Meanwhile, the episode also helps sketch an interesting portrait of the psychology that composes the normally “straight” detective of Marty Hart. While episode one sets Marty up as the straight man to Rust’s idiosyncratic personality, Marty is revealed to hold a moral compass far different from Rust—one who justifies cheating on his wife and reprimanding his wife as she makes dinner in the name of the job. (In another case of reading far too into things but interesting in hindsight, Marty is at a bar called Elks—Elks being an animal equipped with antlers not unlike those crowning Dora Lange’s skull—before he drunkenly calls his mistress.)

However, after their sexual rendezvous, Lisa’s very loaded line to Marty in responding that she “can’t meet a nice man at home” works on multiple levels to excellent effect—both answering Marty’s question and addressing his infidelity as being not “good guy” in a single swift line. This aspect of Marty’s very ambiguous morality is highlighted further by the introduction of the “ranch”—a deplorable runaway for young girls turned to prostitutes of which the murdered Dora Lange was a former resident. Despite the horrendous nurture of the setting, The Ranch remains amongst one of the best demonstrations of the show’s superb production design—a faraway shot of the ranch limned by bright lights far deep in the woods standing as one of the show’s best shots. There’s an eerie atmospheric quality that saturates the ranch’s setting—imbuing a feeling of reality so far removed from most fictional portrayals of prostitution that is utilized to memorable effect this otherwise short sequence.

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 More to the point, the madam calls out Marty’s hypocritical nature when confronting such sexuality (and while he is sober with a badge on), when stating: “Why is it you add business to the mix boys like you can’t stand the thought. I’ll tell you why: it’s ‘cus suddenly you don’t own I the way you thought you did”. As revealed in later episodes, it becomes quickly clear that Marty does view women with a possessive sense of nature that continually leads to violence: he beats up Rust after the affair with Maggie, he beats up the boys arrested with Audrey, he beats up the next man having an affair with Lisa instead of him. And of course, Rust’s “is that a down payment” line ends being disturbingly accurate when Marty and Beth meet again after the latter has come of age.

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 Moreover, the episode highlights what a façade Marty’s familial life serves as the classical, masculine male detective. Much to Marty’s chagrin, his father-in-law reminiscences on his era in stating: “People said ma’am and sir. Families stayed together”. This classic view of the American lifestyle comes to odds both against Marty’s current predilection for cheating on his wife, and the fact that he and Maggie do indeed separate following the affair with Rust. It’s also interesting that Marty more or less echoes his father-in-law’s statements during his interview in stating: “There was a time when men didn’t air their bullshit to the world. You know, just wasn’t part of their job.” Of course, the irony in this line being delivered is the fact that Marty is doing exactly that with the detectives in his current interview.

These interviews serve an interesting narrative function in both allowing the audience to understand the methodology of a detective and of the show’s storytelling at large—a story within a story as invisibly and expertly woven by Pizzolatto’s decision to juxtapose these parallel timeline against each other. Marty explains the job to Papania and Gilbough as: “ You know the job, you’re looking for narrative…interrogate witnesses…parcel evidence…establish a timeline…build a story…day after day…” which also perfectly describes the actual narrative and structural foundation of the show itself. The audience is looking for the larger narrative as left unanswered by the clues of the case, Marty and Rust are serving as witnesses, the audience is parceling pieces of evidences established vis-à-vis clues like the bird trap, a timeline is being established, etc…

But again, it is Rust’s insights into his backstory that are most important for this episode. The former detective admits that he believes “it’s not good for people to be around me” when discussing the collapse of his marriage in the wake of his daughter’s death. A sentiment that helps explain a lot of Rust’s curt replies to those in the ’95 timeline. Nonetheless, he also expresses the interesting line: “I know who I am, after all these years, there’s a victory in that”. Though Rust does appear to be all-too-confident in his image of himself and his thoughts on his world, especially as solidified in this line, his seeing “the void” in the finale upends this broken version of himself that has so drastically warped his identity. As will also become relevant in the finale, he explains to Papina and Gilbough as to his daughter’s death that she: “went straight into a coma, then somewhere in the blackness, she slipped off into another, deeper kind. Isn’t that a beautiful way to go out?” Rust glimpses this blackness, then the “deeper kind” when confronted with the void while battling Errol, that offers a striking visual as to this sentiment that’s interesting to keep in mind.

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This episode also gives further examples as to the former detective’s exceptional skills as an investigator. As Marty explains in his interview, “Rust had as sharp an eye for weakness as I’ve ever seen”. This is most memorably demonstrated first on Marty, when Rust begins making passive-aggressive comments in the locker room in the morning after the former’s late night affair with Lisa. Though Marty attempts to again use physical violence against Rust, the latter is able to calmly explain: “you got some self-loathin’ to do this mornin’, that’s fine, but it aint’ worth losin’ your hands over”, as he slowly twists his hands over Marty’s with clear expertise. Later, when searching for the ranch, Rust’s able to ascertain its exact location by exerting incredible athleticism and physical control over the two mechanics holding back information when he’s able to immediately sense that the two are withholding details because of their badges.

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Lastly, Rust’s visions are given a bit further explanation. He explains that he could always tell “what was real and what wasn’t”, but it becomes quickly obvious that sometimes this reality is often a blurred line. The crows that swirl to create the mark of the Yellow King perhaps serving as the best demonstration, as they signal that Rust is close to finding another important clue in the case through the image of the bound woman painted upon the demolished wall of the Church.

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 Though this episode is even more character heavy than most episodes, a few other very important clues of the case begin to emerge. The masked men on horses standing over a young Dora offers the first clue toward an image that will become integral moving forward. Somewhat related, this episode also gives its first glimpse into Audrey’s psychological troubles that will become a more prominent problem later on. Before Marty walks in to the girls’ room to announce dinner, their dialogue can be heard as: “You don’t have a mommy or daddy anymore. Yours died in an accident—


A car accident.”

This one plot thread remains the show’s biggest red herring and disappointingly unanswered question, as this dialogue reflects the death of Rust’s daughter before Marty stumbles upon the image of the dolls posed in the same sexual fashion as the men on horses above a little girl seen in Dora Lange’s house. This is both dialogue and image far, far too important symbolic that sadly remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the detectives do find Dora’s diary within the ranch that offers perhaps their biggest clues as to giving the killer an identity—The Yellow King—along with the first mention of Carcosa. The diary also offers the advertisement for the Church that concludes the episode—a painting of a bound woman posed in eerily similar fashion as the two found Dora Lange.

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