Category Archives: TV Talk

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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REVIEW

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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.

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

“Haunted Houses”

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 2002

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”.

2012

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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.

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REVIEW

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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1995

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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 2002

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.

 

2012

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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REVIEW

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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1995

 “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.

 2012

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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 REVIEW

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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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1995

 “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.

 2012

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.

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(Spoilers All)

REVIEW

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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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RECAP

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

1995

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.

 2012

 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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REVIEW

(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—

How?

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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True Detective. Season One, Episode One. “The Long Bright Dark” Recap & Review

 

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Season 1, Episode 1: “The Long Bright Dark”

RECAP

1995

 “The Long Bright Dark” opens with the shadow-obscured outline of the series’ killer. The killer affixes the corpse of the victim—who will soon be known as Dora Lange—in a kneeled praying position to a tree, then sets fire to one of the bird traps, before then setting fire to the surrounding brush—allowing for an expansive shot of the fire across the Louisiana horizon. The next morning, Detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) arrive upon the scene to investigate the murder:

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 Dora Lange is shown brutally murdered: her skin discolored, her hands fastened in a gesture of prayer against the tree, a crown of antlers adorned upon her skull, blindfolded, and the mark of the Yellow King tattooed upon the small of her back. Cohle takes meticulous drawings and notes within his ledger—an enormous notebook that earns him the nickname “Taxman”. Meanwhile, Hart and the rest of the state troopers attempt to understand the gruesome scene.

After, Hart invites Cohle to dinner with his wife and the Taxman accepts—despite the fact that it is his (dead) daughter’s birthday and the Dora Lange scene has clearly disturbed him to some degree. On the car ride back to the office, Hart questions Cohle’s philosophic viewpoint on the world to which the latter replies that he considers himself:

“A realist, in philosophical terms: a pessimist…[which] means I’m bad at parties”. The only symbolic significance to the crucifix in Cohle’s otherwise spartan room is in his use of the cross as a means of meditation—he likes to contemplate the moment in the Garden and the idea of blessing your own crucifixion. Cohle further expands upon his philosophy that: “Human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution…we are things that labor under the illusion of having a sense of self”—eliciting more stern glares from Marty.

Later, the detectives take to the street for their investigation: learning about the disappearance of the Fontenot girl years back, the “report made in error” when inquiring to Sheriff Ted Childress about the missing girl, and are given the first drawing of the “green-eared spaghetti monster”, as per the girl’s description. They also meet Dora’s ex-boyfriend Charlie Lange, who sheds little light except to say that she “met a King”.

Back at the office, Hart commends Cohle’s investigative work to Major Ken Quesada (Kevin Dunn), while the rest of the office continues to (facetiously) ponder the symbolic meanings of the Dora Lange scene. Afterward, Cohle takes off to meet with prostitutes that may have known Dora at a local bar. There, he asks one of the hookers for barbiturates—citing his inability to sleep. This line serves as a great transition into the next scene, where we first meet Maggie—Marty’s wife—as she finds her husband asleep in his chair and late for work.

Rust later shows up at Marty’s home for dinner—incredibly drunk. Though Marty tries to get his partner to leave upon arriving, Rust decides to stay after striking a conversation with Maggie: a point of contention that will pay off to devastating effect in later episodes.

The next morning, Rust slaps investigator Steve Geraci (Michael Harney) when he calls Rust a rat. A word that would inspire much hatred from a man who just spent a number of years working undercover and is clearly scarred by the experience. Soon after, the Major introduces Reverend Tuttle to the detectives and announces the creation of a Task Force intended to take over crimes with “Anti-Christian connotations”.

Finally, Rust and Marty investigate the former Fontenot residence of the missing girl. There, they meet the girl’s mother and paralyze uncle. While investigating, Rust finds a bird/devil trap exactly like that left at the crime scene of Dora Lange.

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2012

A close-up of an open camera begins the series of interviews between Detectives Papania and Gilbough and the 2012-versions of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. The former two detectives are questioning the latter about the death of Dora Lange in 1995—citing the destruction of evidence caused by Hurricane Rita. The two are particularly interested in what Marty has to say about Rust, especially since their split in 2002. Hart narrates his initial encounter with the Dora Lange murder and his initial impressions of his partner, Rust Cohle: “Well, you don’t pick your parents and you don’t pick your partner…out of Texas…rawbone…edgy”.

Next, the first interview of 2012 Rust reveals his disheveled appearance in the intervening years. Rust demands to smoke and drink a six-pack “because it’s Thursday and it’s past noon” (whose actual drinking motive will be revealed by the end of the interviews.) As the inquiries drag on, and Rust continues to prod them with questions of his own, Papania and Gilbough finally reveal the true intent of their interrogation: there has been another murder in the Lake Charles area.

The detectives hint at the fact that Rust and Marty had supposedly captured the killer in ’95, so these interviews are meant to better help their efforts toward ascertaining any clues as to the current murder. Which prompts Rust’s final line: “then start askin’ the right fuckin’ question.”

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REVIEW

(Spoilers All)

More than anything else, “The Long Bright Dark”—the first episode of True Detective’s first season—does an exceptional job of subtly hinting toward the show’s final horrors while establishing the thick atmosphere of dread that saturates the series’ every moment. The pilot, especially, performs a remarkable job balancing the multiple timelines, establishing the identities of the detectives, and drawing the viewer in with an a number of questions left hanging for the audience to ponder.

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 Obviously, the identity of the serial killer being the most prominent—but several others are invisibly weaved into the narrative through the ingenious use of the interview device that allows the audience to re-experience the crime through the jaded eyes of the former detectives, where what is left out of their voice-over is often more intriguing than what is said. What caused Marty and Rust’s 2002 split? What led to Rust’s ridiculously disheveled appearance in the intervening years and his quitting the detective career (especially after clearly being such a successful one?) Did they not catch the killer? Why are Papania and Gilbough so interested in Rust?

Most importantly and impressively, these questions are mostly about the characters—not the case itself—that draw the viewer into the series. Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukanaga wisely eschew the expected format of the serial killer drama—one that often indulges in the sadism of the killer—and instead uses the vehicle of the murder to explore the fascinating interior lives of these two very broken men.

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Nonetheless, the actual Dora Lange murder remains amongst one of the most evocative and memorable murders portrayed on television. Despite the brutal and gruesome nature, the scene never wallows in the cruelty of the crime. The entire scene is shot with an aesthetic that favors a poetic quality detached from any tinge of exploitation. Every shot within the scene is composed with a sense of mise-en-scene at its best—one that demonstrates the show’s strongest qualities of atmosphere, tone, and subtlety as embodied in the portrayal of this murder that has evolved into the show’s most iconic visual moment.

The interviews, as well, reward repeated viewings for their hints toward events to be explored in greater depth in upcoming episodes. Marty reiterates that he believes, when discussing Rust, that “past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing”. As is revealed down the road, Marty becomes a shell of himself after his wife’s affair with Rust—making Marty the man without a family that he so defends against in these initial interviews.

Moreover, when Rust joins Marty’s family for dinner in ’95, there are a number of small details interesting in lights of later events. Marty’s daughter voices her complaint of broccoli to which Maggie reprimands her to: “mind your matters”. It’s a tiny, quick moment—but one already hinting that Audrey is going to be the rebellious daughter of Marty’s ire in the near future. Rust and Maggie’s chemistry is also on display. Along with her line about insisting on meeting him: “Your life is in this man’s hands…of course, you should meet the family”.

This line rings with especial resonance in light of the fact that Rust does indeed save Marty’s life in the finale when blowing off the killer’s head while his fingers are wrapped around Marty’s throat—his life literally saved by Rust when it was in the hands of Errol. Simultaneously, however, Marty’s life does end up going down a much darker path after his split with Rust—a split caused by his meeting Marty’s family and the sexual affair with Maggie.

While Rust is undoubtedly the star of the show for his idiosyncratic personality, the show does a clever job mixing in the details of his past, his distinct philosophical viewpoint, his strong sense of ethos, and his haunted personal past to portray this unforgettable character. Much has been made in other critical reviews of Rust’s long-winded, “cynical” monologues expanding on his view of human nature. Though these beliefs are explored to much better great depth in later episodes, they actually serve as great comic relief in this initial episode—with Marty’s “stop saying odd shit” as perhaps the pinnacle of their back-and-forth that injects some much needed humor into the episode.

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 Nonetheless, one also gets a strong and immediate sense of Rust’s unyielding ambition and personal code when called a “rat fuck” by their colleague Steve Geraci—causing Rust to slap him in front of the entire department. Rust’s past working undercover in Texas—as informed by Marty’s voice-over and the tattoo across Rust’s forearm—shed light into why being called a “rat fuck” would remark would elicit such a hostile response. Rust expands upon the horrors that working undercover had upon his psychology in Episode Four, but the fact that his files have been redacted and his disheveled appearance in 2012 help highlight how personally he would take an insult of being called a rat after years working against this identity undercover. The fact that Geraci would be the one to call Rust a rat is especially ironic in considering the fact that Geraci later becomes a rat to the Childress clan in cutting short his investigation of the Fontenot girl—and then a rat to Rust and Marty when they threaten to torture him for details about the Sheriff Childress.

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 Lastly, and least importantly, this first episodes gives the smallest clues as to the sprawling and expansive details linked to the crime. The episode introduces Sheriff Ted Childress and the “report made in error” about the missing Fontenot girl—a fact that will open much more damning ramifications in later investigations. The episode also gives the earliest hints to The Yellow King—with Charlie Lange stating that Dora had mentioned before her death that she was going to become a nun and had “met a king”. Secondly, Childress’ drawing of the “green-eared spaghetti monster” gives the first visual clue into the identity of the killer. And later at the office, Rust and Marty are first introduced to Reverend Tuttle in his conception of the Task Force created to focus on crimes with Anti-Christian connotations: an act that becomes a point of contention for Rust, and a future piece of further evidence in deciphering the Tuttle/Childress connection with the crime.

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 Near the end of the episode, when Rust and Marty visit the Fontenot residence, the lighting paints the scene with a patina of gold from his point-of-view. As Rust hints toward earlier, he is prone to auditory and visual hallucinations as a result of his synesthesia condition and this visual saturation of the Fontenot residence in yellow light might be interpreted as further linking the house with what will eventually become the ultimate evidence for the detectives in uncovering the Yellow King.

A phenomenal debut episode. Not just for the series, but television in general. One that introduces its intentions to reinvent expectations of crime fiction in television as a means of exploring large thematic ideas of violence and as an introspective character study with these two detectives at its center, while also offering the audience just enough expository details to come back next week and engage with the show on a more critical level—following Rust’s advice to start “asking the right fuckin’ questions” for future episodes.

Review of Saturday Night: The James Franco SNL Documentary

 

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“So I’ve got this idea…” interjects a writer in the Monday morning pitch session to Lorne Michaels from a scene in Saturday Night, the James Franco directed-documentary that details the anxious, frenetic, and arduous process of the week leading up to the final live airing of an episode of Saturday Night Live. While the nearly two-hour long documentary indulges in all the behind-the-scenes pleasures sure to satisfy die-hard SNL fans hoping for a glimpse into exactly how the iconic show operates on a day-to-day basis, the dynamics between the cast, and the integration of the host into the show, Saturday Night also examines a creative process between the cast and crew that has allowed the show to evolve into perhaps the premiere comedy institution throughout the decades.

With John Malkovich hosting the episode in question, the documentary opens behind the host’s back and follows his entrance to the main stage. For any dedicated viewer, it’s an disorienting but compelling experience that simulates the host’s point-of-view, especially as the exclamatory “Live form New York, it’s Saturday Night!” is heard as a distant echo through the walls. The structure then jumps back to the previous Monday and follows the agonizing, adrenaline-fueled writing days shared between the cast and writers as they prepare for the Wednesday table read. Some of the writers appear almost overwhelmed by panic, others energized by it, some of the veterans almost annoyed by it, but it becomes quickly clear that the camaraderie of the experience is as fundamental to the cast’s chemistry as the material over which they are funneling their energies within this difficult timeframe.

Immediately, an evident sense of fraternity becomes apparent amongst the writers. At somewhere between three and four in the morning, Mulaney, Hader, and Jorma Taccone are still stationed before their laptops with a beautiful New York skyline limned by a descending moon in the office window behind them. And yet, the three are exchanging ideas, laughs, and impressions as rapid-fire and enthusiastic as a bunch of twelve-year-olds cracking up in a tree house. Other writers almost seem ready to collapse with exhaustion; others (in a scene with Kristen Wiig) are vigorously attempting to calculate whether the farting sound produced by an electronic keyboard “outstays its welcome”.

Next, after intermittent naps between dawn and lunch, the writers send in their preliminary sketch scripts to the producers, who then sort through nearly fifty sketch ideas for the Wednesday table read. Here, the writers present the material to the host and producers for initial review. The performers sit around a large conference table and act out the sketches—some on the last legs of their caffeinated fumes from the night before.

And yet, as soon as they begin reading the scripts, the cast comes to life as effortless as ever. Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Kristen Wiig, Sudekeis, and the like imbuing their idiosyncratic characters with such an astounding level of natural perfection that they risk intimidating those who have recently joined the ranks or need more time to fully prepare. After one sketch between Samberg and Malkovich absolutely electrifies the room, poor Casey Wilson’s not completely yet realized impression of a Liza Minnelli sketch leaves the room bored or cringing. It’s a brutal scene, but yet another fascinating glimpse into how mercifully the cast of this show must be constantly ready to produce the best they have to offer without any chance for artificial acting. More than anything else, a spirit of inevitable competition also becomes discernible amongst those involved. Will Arnett analogizes something similar to cheerleading try-outs, and the metaphor doesn’t seem far off.

After the Wednesday table read, a printed sheet informs the cast whose sketches have been made the cut, in what again feels very analogous to high school students hoping to be selected for the lead role of the school play. And yet, there is no time for heartbreak or regret, as the cast is already quickly on their way to blocking out scenes or rapidly editing each sketch to milk out every single second for the maximum amount of laughter.

In between this round-the-clock rehearsal and preparations for the show, James Franco—serving as director—interrupts with interviews from producers and certain cast members. The most interesting are undoubtedly from producer Steve Higgins and creator/exec producer Lorne Michaels, who shed light on their realizations about the demands of the job from a creative standpoint, as well as how they’re able to cope when the show fails worse than they had expected, to which both more or less reply that next week show’s is already just a few days away.

By actual Saturday, there’s a palpable sense of tension to ensure that there are no small mistakes that may lead to catastrophe. Costumes, set-dressing, final sketch cuts, and constant fine combing over certain dialogue soon consumes every minute of the cast and crew’s lives. In one of Bill Hader’s funniest sketches, he and Fred Armisen are figuring out the best version of screaming out their incoherent Italian dialogue down to the last minute, determining when exactly would be the funniest time to be interrupting one another’s nonsensical Italian language. It’s an incredibly impressive demonstration of how meticulous these performers, even the most naturally gifted, remain under joyful duress to ensure that their output exemplifies the absolute best of their capabilities, for as Lorne Michaels reiterates to Franco: “You’re only as good as your last show”.

And by the actual live airing, we’ve returned to Malkovich’s disorienting entrance to the main stage. At this point, the charge of the audience and knowledge of the live broadcast seems to have revitalized the cast and crew back to their manic Monday enthusiasm. The show carries on successfully, and seemingly without a hitch (despite Hader’s complaint backstage that he and Armisen missed a cue [which no one else, including a head writer, seems to have noticed]). More interestingly, there are other interesting behind-the-scene glimpses like a woman specifically designated to make sure that the host’s path is cleared in between set-ups, as they are frantically whisked from sketch to sketch.

After the show, the doc cuts to black before a final return to the next Monday morning, where Lorne Michaels introduces the next host, before another writer pipes in with the familiar “So I’ve go this idea” line. The cycle continues, and another week of sleepless nights, fruitless perfectionism, and the childlike joy of performing for the laughter of millions begins anew. While Saturday Night is certainly worth seeking out for even the most casual SNL fan as an intimate backstage glance into the machinations that allow for a new show every week, the doc also offers a thought-provoking introspection into how the creative process of these performers has distilled itself into a very unique style of performance art through the decades.

The cast and crew must negotiate between impossible deadlines, a constant demand for innovative, yet broad comedy, and still deliver a quality show that demonstrates professional production values and the natural ease of its gifted performers. By the arrival of the next Monday morning, the doc illustrates how fluid the creative process must remain, and that no matter how successful or abysmal the previous production may have ultimately proved, that the show must go on, and that they truly are only as good as their last show. Nonetheless, if the long and popular history of SNL has proven anything, it’s that their last show—no matter whether it was filled with constant laughter or an assortment of misfires—is populated by skilled creators who are determined to perform with everything they have to offer…live on television…every Saturday night.

TV Review: Black Mirror, Season 1

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As a very dark descendent to shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, the arrival of Black Mirror—an hour-long television series anthology hailing from Britain—delivers three of the most compelling and disturbing episodes to address similar issues of human nature through the prism of the sci-fi genre. While other shows have admirably attempted to replicate the memorable twists and horrors of the most famous Rod Serling episodes, Black Mirror distinguishes itself from such imitators by creating incredibly thought-provoking scenarios that demand the viewer engage with morally ambiguous questions, where no resolution lies without serious consequences, and exceptional writing that further separates the material from its sci-fi siblings.

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The first episode “The National Anthem” announces very loudly exactly how this show will differentiate itself from its predecessors (and most of the current television landscape) with a premise that involves the Prime Minister receiving a call from terrorists demanding that in order for the princess to be released, he need answer only one demand…

A demand that involves him and a pig—intimately—on live television.

While most shows would immediately crumble upon such an ostensibly crude premise, by either winking at the audience or failing to adequately construct a wall of realistic approach around such an absurdity, this is where Black Mirror delivers in spades. As the series successfully steers in exactly the opposite direction: by maintaining a tone as deadly serious as possible. Every conceivable question, short-cut, or excuse as to how the Prime Minister may wiggle his way out of the horrific situation is addressed and then dismantled—and not through plodding, expository scenes—but rapid-fire dialogue amidst the myriad sociological levels detailed in the story: newsrooms, the government, the bars of everyday citizens…

As a result, the episode intensifies with an unyielding sense of urgency and anxiety. Where so many shows would narratively deflate, or undermine such attempts maintaining a serious tone, Black Mirror refuses to let the viewer off the hook until the end of the hour run-time. And even then, the episode is not finished. In true Twilight Zone fashion, the consequences of the Prime Minister’s choice deliver an ambiguous resolution: one that appears to have succeeded on the surface but has irreparably damaged his interior psychology—and most especially, his wife’s. While some have argued that this episode is not indicative of the show’s overall agenda, this episode actually better exemplifies the extreme nature of the plotting created by the writers and remains an episode that—for better or worse—evokes discussion and cannot be forgotten. Moreover, “The National Anthem” addresses our modern attitudes toward certain omnipresent technology (specifically social media/texting) through a very extreme, though altogether believable, depiction of current technological consequences.

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            “Fifteen Million Merits”—episode two of the trio—establishes a more allegorical, futuristic setting than any of the other episodes to discuss a multitude of similar modern-day issues: fame, social media, human connection, and how modern technology has disrupted the most human elements in each. The episode opens with Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) awakening within a small, prison-like cell of four walls that are also video monitors. Day-to-day life in this futuristic setting is presented in similar, suffocating technological parameters: every single decision is made by tapping a wall-sized monitor, exercising on a bike before another monitor which earns one “merits” to purchase whatever they made need, and constant sexual advertisements that intrude through these omnipresent monitors from which citizens cannot escape without being penalized (even placing your hands over your eyes causes the video to freeze until the eyes are freed).

Although the weakest of the three episodes, the production values are incredible. Every single detail of this world of literally inescapable electronics is specifically realized and believably presented. While the writing remains much, much, much smarter than most television would ever have the ambitions to approach, it also addresses its themes and larger ideals more on-the-nose and less subtly than the others (with Bing’s histrionic speech yelling/spelling out these themes above in an apoplectic monologue serving as perhaps the most indicative example).

Moreover, the episode discusses such a multitude of issues: from skewering the hollowness of fame, of the virtual competition of social media, of society’s shaming the obsese, of the unavoidable presence of contemporary technology, of the loss of human connection from technology—not to mention the various echoes of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and similar bleak, dystopian settings—that the more successful aspects of the episode are marred by these less successful executions. Nonetheless, the episode still delivers some very thought-provoking ideas and remains compelling in its continual unfolding of consequences and futuristic setting that undeniably mirrors our modern-day era.

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Finally, the last episode—“The Entire History of You”—offers the best episode of the season and similarly works as a stand-alone scenario that presents a very disturbing portrait of delving into specific scientific advancements. The episode revolves around a future where a technological device allows users to record and replay their memories; and more specifically, the premise revolves a husband who begins to suspect his wife is having an affair after replaying his memories of a dinner party over and over.

The episode succeeds so well in its execution by conjuring a futuristic setting that is not altogether too removed from our own—despite the existence of such a revolutionary technology. Additionally, the plot is not weighed down by tedious explanation and constant overanalyzing over how such a device would filter into the lives of ordinary citizens; but instead, the story plunges into a premise that would not be out of place in a contemporary soap drama centered on themes of mistrust in marriage, while the technology merrily serves as the catalyst of the plot.

Furthermore, as seen in the best of hard sci-fi, “The Entire History of You” uses the feasibility of the technology to illume profound issues of human nature. The episode delves into issues of trust, memory, and time, through a very well-plotted and deceitfully simple premise of a man who believes his wife might be in love with another man. Like the other episodes, the writing allows for a constant escalation of stakes and sense of urgency that—accompanied with the incredible acting between Toby Kebbel and Jodie Whittaker—generates a compelling vision of the ramifications produced by such a technological consequence. And also like the other two, the episode concludes on a very ambiguous note—one that satisfies the reality of such a scenario but also devastates the viewer with the emotional aftermath of abiding by such authentic storytelling—and should be applauded for doing so.

In all three episodes, Black Mirror develops a haunting and thought-provoking tapestry of the consequences that arise from our current forays into technology and ambitions beyond the horizon. As a result, the series stands up to its namesake—reflecting a genuine, creative depiction of how such viable futures may be realized by both the best and worst qualities of human nature. Similarly, such an anthology format allows for numerous issues to be explored: from fame, to an overwhelming technological presence, to the loss of human values in the face of each, and the redistribution of humanity’s connection spurred by such oversight. As a result, the first season concludes as an unforgettable collection of original sci-fi: one that shatters former boundaries found in the television medium and ascends to rank alongside one of the best offerings in the genre.

Boardwalk Empire and the Beginning of the End

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     Although never as successful as its HBO gangster predecessor, the Boardwalk Empire finale is the best concluding television finale since its HBO sibling cut to an ambiguous black in The Sopranos nearly seven years ago. Ascending from the ranks of David Chase’s number two on that previous show to show runner of Boardwalk, Terrence Winter devised a series—exemplified in the finale—that commented not only on the nature of the gangsters populating this specific period in Prohibition, but whose sins would trickle down to later generations of Americans as imbued in Tony Soprano at large. Though shows like Breaking Bad, True Detective, etc., remain masterpieces in their own right, Boardwalk’s ultimate sixty minutes demonstrated to devastating effect its mastery of long-term setups, own contextual history within the genre, and themes that illumine the dark nature of these particular-Prohibition gangsters through a beautiful collusion of storytelling.

As will be seen repeatedly, the opening shot of the finale works on multiple levels of setup and payoff in both narrative and theme. Cleverly eschewing the opening credits segment, Nucky’s clothes are crumpled on the beach—their owner swimming out past the ocean’s surf line— and away from the eponymous Boardwalk in contrast to the opening title bottles that always threatened to drown him toward it.

“What you leave behind. That’s all anyone’s going to remember you for”

The finale then cuts to the series of flashbacks that have been presented all season, where the Commodore delivers the above dialgoue to an eager Nucky hoping to finally achieve his dream of becoming Atlantic City Sheriff—and after having passive-aggressively hinted at the Commodore with his keeping the latter’s relationship with young girls a secret. A moment later, a group of young girls arrive to croon the Commodore with a rendition of Longfellow’s “The Secret of the Sea” to almost nauseating effect–the lyrics foreshadowing Nucky’s doom ahead: “Pleasant visions haunt me/ As I gaze upon the sea/All the old romantic legends/All my dreams come back to me…”

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            The next sequence wraps up Al Capone within an unbelievably poignant, human glimpse into perhaps the most legendary gangsters seen throughout the series. Following a scene of his usual fist-pumping bravado and outward ignorance of his arrest, Capone returns home to confront his son. Unlike almost every other iteration of the man, the real estate of television allows for a heartbreaking look into one of America’s most infamous gangsters. Calling back to an earlier episode teaching his deaf son to fight, Capone shares a final conversation with his disabled son—aided by sign language that he’s clearly been practicing over the years—and begs for Sonny to make something of himself. The veneer of bravado melting, and adding with shades of Walter White logic, that his crimes were for Sonny’s well-being and that “that can’t be for nothin’”. The deaf son then raises his fists in a tragic payoff to that earlier scene; but instead, Capone—a man so far apparently incapable of responding to bad news of any kind without violence—crumbles in his son’s arms for a final hug goodbye.

A bit later on the boardwalk, a beautiful woman proclaiming to be from the future leads Nucky into a dark room to show him an early version of television. The scene drips with tension due the mislead of the New York gangsters announcing minutes earlier that they would murder their “friend” in public, but a more thematic tension arises from the eeriness of the newfound technology represented in the television. As the figurehead in a series depicting the archetypal gangster—the type to wear a pin-striped suit and a red carnation upon his lapel every day—a more haunting dread arises out of watching Nucky watching this revolutionary technology in an America that he will not be a part of moving forward. The television will soon become a mainstay in the American household—one that will eventually lead to a narrative television revolution depicted in The Sopranos built on de-constructing the type of gangsters that were established by Nucky, Capone, and Luciano—those initial godfathers to organized crime, who found their outlet and catalyst to build their empires through Prohibition.

Afterward, Nucky and his brother Eli share their own final farewell. More importantly, Nucky speaks to his swimming out past the surf line in the opening—detailing in more explicit virtue the foreshadowing metaphor of death that will soon meet him:

“Keep going until you can’t turn back. That’s where…there isn’t any choice…you don’t know where that is, you can’t know, until you pass it”.

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     Meanwhile in New York, Luciano, Lansky, and Siegel have assembled the major mob figures that will form the Commission. Earlier in the episode, Luciano reminisces on his time with Nucky and Jim Colosimo—not so subtly reminding viewers of his incredible ascension to the top of the organized crime food chain. Alluding to King Arthur, Luciano notes that their meeting table is round, signifying a new equality amongst the mobsters. Despite his total destruction of Nucky’s Boardwalk empire, Luciano and the Commission are now moving in more ambitious terms—disavowing heritage squabbles (amongst white-looking gangsters at least) and intending to form a true empire of organized crime on a national level. With Capone is heading to jail and Nucky to the grave, the Commission—led by these once young crooks into future criminal kings—signals the end of the Prohibition gangster. Gangsters no longer slaves to the heritage of their ancestors—the Sicilian, Jewish, or Irish gangsters intent on dominating the other—nor the “half-a-gangster” represented by Nucky, Rothstein, and the Commodore in their constant battle between being a powerful public figure yet more powerful gangster behind closed doors—but an American gangster.

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            Yet, Nucky’s ultimate fate returns to where it both began and will soon end—with Gillian. In another unbelievably heartbreaking scene, Nucky visits the source of his original sin and subsequent downfall. While fighting back tears in his speech, Gillian remains distracted by a ladybug. It’s worth noting that Gillian wears a pink dress with black dots, not unlike the insect upon her fingers. The viewer wonders whether she is ignoring him, confused, or waiting for him to finish…until the ladybug finally flies away. She tries to stand, but grips her stomach in pain—meaning that Nucky is too late, as Gillian has already met with Dr. Cotton, effectively sealing both their fates.

In the next scene, Nucky returns to his club for his belonging but is stopped by Luciano’s goons. After gesturing to one of the tassle-clad dancers catcalled on stage, the lead goon remarks: “These dancer look hot to trot. Start talkin’ to ‘em, you realized they’re all fucked up.” After having just come from his farwell talk with Gillian—literally a former dancer with severe mental problems (even before her meeting with Dr. Cotton)—Nucky understandably casts the henchman an incredibly sour look before going to retrieve his possessions. During this endeavor, however, he receives a call from the Ritz…

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            This call revolves around “Joe Harper” becomes beautifully edited in a masterful cross-cut with Nucky’s flashback that echoes something along the lines of the original Godfather. In the flashback, Nucky has returned to the Neptune Parade on the boardwalk. (A mythological legend of note for the series both for his controlling the sea and his rape of Caenis.) Attentive viewers may remember that this parade was set to be Gillian’s goodbye with her first kiss James (who she would later her name her son after) before his family left Atlantic City, but James never showed. On the eve of Nucky’s ultimate sin, both Gillian and the Commodore offer words directly to Nucky’s face evaluating his nature:

“Mrs. Thompsons says you want to be good but you don’t know how”—Gillian

Then between Nucky and the Commodore:

“You think you deserve something…for trying hard…What are you in the end anyway?

“I am what I need to be.”

“How’s that make you anything at all?”

This is almost directly cross-cut in the present with Nucky’s attempt to help out “Joe”, to which he offers a stack of money, only to have Joe respond:

“You’re answer to everything”

“No. Just the best one I’ve got”

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The correlation between these lines is remarkable—an astounding commentary both on Nucky’s nature and that of the American ideology. Paraphrasing much of this as though responsive of one another: “You don’t know how to be good…you think you deserve something for trying hard…I am what I need to be”—all ultimately answered in the form of money explains everything about Nucky’s character—a man believing that through an ethic of hard work and his deserving of money that his destiny can best be answered.

This idea is further cemented through the visual metaphor previously set-up throughout this episode, this season, and the series. In his last stroll along the boardwalk, Nucky notices a Neptune sign advertisement in a nod to the flashback of the intercut Neptune parade. (One might also note that he entices Gillian to meet the Commodore by asking if she would like to see the world—a callback to her reading the novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” earlier within the Thompson home). However, strolling along the boardwalk and being carefully watched by undercover Federal Agents, Nucky is stopped by drunk college kids that sing out Robert W. Service’s poem “The Spell of the Yukon”:

“I wanted the gold/and I sought it;/ I scrabbled and mucked like a slave./Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;/I hurled my youth into a grave./I wanted the gold, and I got it–/ Came out with a fortune last fall,–/yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,/And somehow the gold isn’t all”

“Joe” subsequently reveals his true identity—Tommy Darmondy, son of Jimmy Darmondy, and grandson of Gillian—and fires upon Nucky. As the sound distorts into something incomprehensible and murky—like the sound of drowning—Nucky’s final flashback resorts to his days as a youth and the opening shot of the season. In that shot, Nucky was unable to catch the coin, which motivates his never ending hunger for the “nickel…and then the dime…and the quarter”, as he explained to Margaret earlier in the episode, but the series ends with his finally being able to seize the gold. In doing so, he has done everything described in the above: he has fought for the gold, hurled his youth into the grave, came out with a fortune, and finally—dying beneath the boardwalk that he’s built but that no one will remember his name for leaving behind—realized that the gold was not all.

His death—coupled by Rothstein’s death, Capone’s arrest, and the construction of Luciano’s Commission—signals the end of the early days of organized crime. These were men, who believed that through hard work and the unique opportunity presented by Prohibition, that they deserved the gold. But ultimately, these were men of the past. Men who wanted to be good, but did not know how, their morals guided instead by a nightmare version of the American dream ahead. Though Luciano and the Commission would ultimately usurp them, the seeds of organized crime that flourished Prohibition would be passed down for many generations to come. Nucky’s legacy in the pursuit of gold will only be remembered as a footnote in the grander narrative of organized crime, along with his moral compass in being “what I need to be”, as American marches forward without him. And as Narcisse portentously remarks to his Harlem congregation before his assassination: “One generation passeth away, another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever”.