True Detective Closes in on the Bad Guys … or Does It?

Slate's Culture Blog
March 2 2014 9:58 PM

True Detective Closes in on the Bad Guys … or Does It?

td_7_rust_marty
Do Rust and Marty really see eye to eye again?

LACEY TERRELL/HBO

David Haglund: Let’s start at the end: lawnmower man. Amateur online detectives have been pointing to him for weeks, noting his suspiciously cut-short cameo at the end of Episode 3. In that earlier scene, he was mowing the lawn outside Light of the Way Academy, “one of them Tuttle schools,” one that, as we discovered at the end of episode 5, is a real house of horrors. Rust questioned him a bit, then had to run off when the cops got a lead on Ledoux.

Now, thanks to his ominous, abbreviated soliloquy at the end of Episode 7, “After You’ve Gone,” we can infer that he’s at the very least a creepy guy. Some IMDb-enabled Internet sleuthing suggests he could be much more. Maybe he’s even “the green-eared spaghetti monster,” as everyone suspected. That said, if there were scars on his face, they weren’t as visible as I was expecting (though his face was pretty shiny, which is another adjective we’ve heard). What’d you see?

Willa Paskin: I saw scars, but certainly none as pronounced as I was expecting, either—or enough to be dubbed a spaghetti monster. I suppose there’s a not-very-satisfying reason for that: If they were too noticeable, Rust would have seen them back in Episode 3, and he wouldn’t be working this murder case 17 years later. (Or perhaps lawnmower man is called the spaghetti monster because Pizzolatto loves his off-kilter allusions: The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a pre-existing, poking-fun-at-religion thing.) I did get a lot of satisfaction out the “green-eared” business, though: Lawnmower men sometimes wear large, possibly green, noise-muffling headphones!

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Scars and their size aside, what do you think about this man, seemingly a major bad guy—though not the Yellow King—being revealed at the end of this episode (sounding, by the way, like a menacing Forrest Gump), instead of in the next one? I like it. There’s only one episode left, which hardly feels like enough time, and I suspect the meat of the finale will be figuring out the scope of what now seems to be a very old, large, murder cult, and whether or not Rust or (really) Marty has any direct connection to it. Which is all more interesting to me than tracking down the one guy with scars on his face.

Haglund: I actually have a different take on where this is going. I’m not sure that it is a large murder cult. I still think it might be a few murderous psychopaths who have been protected by evil, powerful men, like Reverend Tuttle. Granted, it’s suspicious that Tuttle’s cousin Eddie—who, we learned, is now a U.S. Senator—has been mentioned multiple times but kept entirely off screen. That would seem to set up a devastating reveal. But there are still some things we don’t know. For starters, who was on that videotape?

Paskin: The guys in the animal masks doing unspeakable things to Marie Fontenot? Doesn’t the fact that there are several men on that video suggest that this is more than just a few murderers—or if there are only a few murderers, that there are still many, many more child rapists?  All of Rust’s historical research suggests this is something old, with long tendrils within the Tuttle family, a group that has been using animal masks and women with antlers to celebrate Mardi Gras for decades.

When Rust and Marty visited Jimmy Ledoux, Reggie’s good cousin, he said that the one time he’d met the man with the scars on his face he was at a hunt with his father, where he was ogled by scar-man; the next morning the men were too hung over to hunt, which suggested to me that “the hunt” was not what they were there for, but a creepy ritual event instead. Then there’s the hooker in New Orleans, Tobey Boulere, who remembers many men with animal faces from nursery school, in addition to the man with scars on his face. And it was hard to tell—because the screen only briefly showed it—but were those not black stars in the painting next to Audrey’s snapshot in Maggie’s house? The number of children who have been abused by this group seems to greatly exceed the number of children who have been killed by this group, and the number of abusers greatly exceeds just the Spaghetti Monster. That’s not a few guys doing bad, that’s a lot of guys doing bad.

One random detail suggesting the vastness—and efficiency—of the conspiracy: Remember the pharmacist-killing-meth head who first told Rust he hadn’t solved the murder, back in Episode 5, by referencing the Yellow King? When he killed himself, one of the cops on duty was named Childress—which is also the scarred man’s family name, according to Sam Tuttle’s former maid.

Haglund: And that name can’t be coincidental, can it? Historically, it is said to derive from Childerhouse, which “may have referred to some form of orphanage perhaps run by a religious order.” At the very least, the echo of children seems deliberate.

Paskin: One question I still have: Why did Dora Lange’s body get found in the first place? Rust said she wasn’t killed there, and all of the other bodies have just disappeared. Why was she found, still posed, when almost all the other bodies have never been disposed of?

Haglund: See, that’s why I think there are a few protected psychopaths at the center of this. Someone didn’t care that Dora Lange would be found—in fact, he wanted her found. Others, like Reverend Tuttle, were presumably distraught about this discovery, and so rushed to the station to suggest that a task force take over the investigation.

As for using animal masks for decades: Rural Mardi Gras celebrations often involve masks and men on horses and pointy hats, but don’t usually involve ritual murder. So this could be a longstanding family whose old-fashioned religious practices have only lately been perverted by a handful of horrifying murderers.

Then again, the retired maid’s haunted reverie about Carcosa does hint at a belief system that somehow got passed down to Reggie Ledoux. What did you make of her ramblings?

Paskin: Reverend Tuttle had horrific child pornography in his house! (And Rust finding it occasioned my favorite line this episode: “My whole life is this expanding circular fuck-up and I’m about to get clipped in a home invasion. What I’m saying is, I was aware that I might have lost my mind.”) Tuttle may have been protecting someone, but he was also protecting himself. I don’t see the distinction between doers and enablers quite as clearly as you do: I think they are all dirty.

As for that scene with the old woman talking Carcosa: That was maybe the creepiest moment of this entire show for me, give or take a guy in a gas-mask and his tighty-whities. Chills. Wonderfully, wonderfully eerie and disturbing, though I did find Rust’s comment afterwards, “Cheer up, that old lady was wrong about death not being the end of it,” a little on the nose.

Moving away from the murders for a second: This was also a really bittersweet installment in the saga of Marty and Rust’s friendship. This is the most the two have ever seemed to be real pals, and its brought on by their complete and total loneliness. They have no one else left, but each other. Those scenes of Marty looking up women on Match.com and eating terrible microwave dinners, working in an office all alone, really made me feel for him.

Haglund: “You know, I just stay busy ... It’s all ... pretty casual.” Those lines from Marty slayed me. He and Rust are such miserable wrecks—Marty, in some ways, the sadder of the two, even though Rust pretty much announced his intention to commit suicide: “My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation long as I can remember,” he says, in his high-flown way. “I’m ready to tie it off.”

At least we got glimpses of their artistic sides: Rust says he could have been a painter (“old scenes, new details”), and Marty pretends to be a writer. A little more evidence for the metafictional reading of this show, perhaps. Did you know that Pizzolatto played the bartender at the strip joint, and in that scene Marty says to him, “Why do you make me say these things?” Clever.

Paskin: That’s funny. I will now assume my weekly role of pointing out things that Marty did that are suspicious, even though I really don’t believe the Yellow King spends his days perusing Match.com. The first: his about-face in deciding to help Rust. “If you were drowning, I’d throw you a fucking barbell” is a pretty far cry from heading to a guy’s creepy storage locker, and Marty made that jump in a couple of sentences (which I think is probably more a script issue than a red flag). You could also construe his chat with Maggie as an apology, should she find something horrible out about him, and not just a goodbye. Also: Did you buy that Marty was such a bad dad that he never saw his kids, even Maisie?

Haglund: I was surprised that he was so out of the family loop. But then his daughters seemed pretty fed up with him by the time Maggie took off. It seems certain, and has for a while, that something happened to Audrey. In addition to those possible black stars, she also seems to have made a copy of the mural that’s in the hospital where Kelly Rita lives. She’s taking meds and making art—perfectly normal things to do, mind you, but on this show, probably warning signs. Nonetheless, Marty’s on Rust’s side for sure: Taking the corrupt sheriff at gun point is a point of no return. He’s in with both feet now.

Before we’re done, I want to salute the show’s use of music again. As the episode opens, the song that closed Episode 6 fades out, signaling that we’ve picked up right where we left off. Then a juxebox spins a flat circle—specifically, “Angel of the Morning,” which sounds innocuous enough, but begins: “There’ll be no strings to bind your hands/ Not if my love can find your heart.” Talk about on the nose. Also, Lucifer was a fallen angel and the morning star. Obviously.

Paskin: As far as random details go, I like that the towns the guys are visiting tend to be colors: White Castle, Vermillion. It’s all nicely in keeping with the Yellow King theme. And, speaking of the Yellow King: Do these walls of crazy that are so prevalent on TV shows actually Help Anyone Do Work? I mean, Rust, I know you have a lot of info, but does writing CARCOSA, SCARS, and YELLOW KING on your storage space and creating an almost-altar to the spaghetti man—not to mention those investigation-themed mobiles—help with your productivity? Or is it just something fun to film? I am impressed with Pizzolatto and Fukunaga’s dedication to avoiding computers no matter what the decade.

Haglund: Rust does not strike me as an Apple or a PC. And yes, of course, the Yellow King: What are you expecting? Will we meet him? The Southern-Fried Pharmacy Firearm Thief said he’d had the pleasure of an introduction, but the royal one has remained plausibly mythical, and I know there are some viewers who think he’ll remain so.

Paskin: Honestly, my only expectation is that the show is not going to end particularly neatly. Either they’ll crack the case, but not be able to prosecute; or they’ll crack the case, but the Yellow King, or his heir, will remain on the loose; or they’ll crack the case at way too painful a personal expense. Maybe all three of those things. I don’t think this ends cleanly for anyone, including us.

Haglund: This is a world where nothing is solved.” That line’s been running through my head lately. There’s also the possibility that Rust will get a chance to do more than merely contemplate his own crucifixion.

Willa: Be Careful What You Get Good At, and all.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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