True Detective 1.7 – “After You’ve Gone”

This review appeared shortly after the initial premiere of True Detective in early 2014 — slight edits have been made since the original posting.

Matthew McConaughey took home a well-deserved Oscar last night for his work in Dallas Buyers Club, beating out stiff competition in the likes of Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio. While his acceptance speech was, as you would expect, very positive and un-Rustin Cohle, the usual drawling fatalism we’ve come to expect from Sunday Night McConaughey was going down on another channel. True Detective followed the slow-paced “Haunted Houses” with an even slower penultimate episode, and yet it still provided enough story progression that waiting a week to find out what the finale has up its sleeve will be torturous. Spoilers follow for the seventh episode “After You’ve Gone”.

At the end of “Haunted Houses” Cohle and Hart met in 2012 for the first time, having not seen each other for a decade and both looking a little worse for wear. Speculations as to what their ultimate meeting would entail were fueled by the shot of Hart checking his loaded gun, guesses ranging from standoff to a revelation that Cohle or Hart or both or whoever is indeed The Yellow King.

We got something a lot more straightforward than what we’ve come to expect from True Detective. Cohle and Hart each leaving the interrogation room and the presence of the endlessly inquisitive Detectives Gilbough and Papania was exciting when it happened, Cohle doing so with to-hell-with-you swagger in “The Secret Fate of All Life” and Hart storming out in last week’s “Haunted Houses”. It was exciting because the structure, the very skeleton of the show that seemed to make it so unique in the first place, was changing, and looking ahead to what the rearranged bones might look like offered a host of possibilities. One of those possibilities was always that the show would lose something, and I fear that may be the case following “After You’ve Gone”. Sacrificing that flashback structure had to happen, as there’s story to tell in the 2012 timeline (quite a bit, really) — but it’s undeniable that a lot of the tension and drive of the show came from the narratives Cohle and Hart spun in those chairs.

And so, while there are some brief flashbacks to 2010 as Rust and Marty fill each other in on the last decade, their meeting in a bar in 2012 is unadorned by structural trickery. Cohle wants Hart to help him “seal the debt” and solve the Dora Lange case once and for all, Hart wants nothing to do with it, and the relationship between the two doesn’t seem to have lost much at all. Both men are alone now, and quite painfully so; Rust was always a loner, but seeing Marty sit at home and eat his TV dinner like a cow chewing cud was pretty sad. Eventually, he comes around to Rust’s proposition to reopen their investigation from 1995, and part of Marty’s reasoning may just be that he wants to feel powerful again.

For all their differences, the two former detectives have ended up back at square one together. In the framing interrogation scenes of the first half of the season the difference between them was clear just in their appearances: Hart was older and fatter but still successful, and meanwhile Cohle “looked like he pissed off Father Time”, as Hart says. But we see glimpses of their lives outside that room in “After You’ve Gone” – Hart eats a TV dinner, Cohle drinks; Hart starts the immediate flop “Hart Investigative Solutions”, Cohle drinks; Hart clicks through Match.com and doesn’t really do much of anything else, and Cohle drinks and takes his massive bag of empties out to the trash and drinks some more.

If there’s anything driving Cohle — and perhaps keeping him alive at all — it’s the Yellow King case, and though Hart took convincing I think the situation is the same for him. Hart expects the worst as he’s led into Cohle’s dark storage unit (as do we) and when it turns out to be a messy collection of casefiles and obsessive mappings and scrawlings Hart almost seems disappointed (as do we). But now TV dinners and Match.com are behind him, and the present involves infiltrating a county sheriff on his own boat with the intention of torturing him for vital, decades-old information. Hart speaks about the future and inevitability in “Haunted Houses”, sounding like Cohle when describing “the future behind you…like everything has slipped through your fingers”. The scene in last night’s episode where he says goodbye to Maggie shows a man with a future before him; it’s ill-advised, it’s rash, it’s definitely dangerous and it’s possibly going to be brutally short — but it’s a future.

The case itself seems stalled for a major part of this episode, if only because of the passage of time. We see Cohle’s one-man SEAL team raid on the homes of Billy Lee Tuttle and see the fruits of his efforts in some pilfered photos and a videotape. These are incriminating enough, Cohle postulates, that Tuttle either killed himself or was killed by his conspirators upon discovery of the break-in — but that was in 2010, two years ago in the timeline of the show. Cohle’s obsession isn’t the kind that will slip backstage while he drinks lakeside, so what’s really been happening all of this time? Has there really been two years of solo investigation following the Tuttle incrimination before Cohle needs some basic files from Hart? I expect something may still be unrevealed where Cohle is concerned, and I hope it’s something of “scope”, a “sprawl” of consequence, especially given the emphasis placed on the death of his daughter and the ambiguity surrounding the circumstances of that death…

Anything could happen next week. Rust’s fatalism seems to have reached a peak and Marty has bid adieu to his former wife. The case is being dragged into the light, with Reggie Ledoux and Billy Lee Tuttle out of the way and the scarred man revealed to be the landscaper at the Tuttle school we saw in the third episode. Cohle’s angle is that the scarred man is the green-eared spaghetti monster from the Fontenot case, but this is very clearly a cult-like group that could be a lot larger than anyone expects. “My family’s been around for a long time,” says the scarred landscaper. How big is that family? Could some of the minor characters we’ve seen be involved? One such possibility that seems simultaneously ridiculous and likely is that Maggie’s father is somehow involved, explaining young Audrey’s creepy doll setup way back in 1995.

Regardless, expectations are high for the finale of this electric series. Though it seems we’ve jettisoned the flashback structure completely at this point, there’s still a possibility that the past will come back in a big way. Circle imagery abounds in this latest installment, and I hope Nic Pizzolatto is able to create an ending that circles back to the incredible opening episodes of the show.

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