True Detective: A Case for the Weird

“This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with its beautiful stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth–a world which now trembles before the King In Yellow.”― Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories



Spoilers for True Detective

I don’t usually watch television. It does not engage me as a medium — I need to something a little more active to hold my attention. Perhaps this is because my three favourite past-times, reading/writing, tabletop gaming, and computer gaming all have a greater sense of involvement. Reading is surprisingly active — I must paint the scenes of the work using only the words the author gives me, directly engaging my imagination and often deeper thought processes. Gaming is by nature very active, requiring different types of input. My favourite games are, of course, those that I can think and dream while at work — making up a new army list, wondering what move to make next in building my virtual empire and so on.

Television, at least the television I grew up with, struck me as a fairly passive medium. Very few shows provoked thought — I might enjoy the emotional response, entertainment, or information I got from some TV shows, but little else.

True Detective reeled me back in.  Even before the weird became obvious, when they referenced the Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow and Ambrose Bierce’s Carcosa, strangeness was bubbling beneath the surface. In truth the wierd was present from that first full scene when Rust and Marty came to examine the body of Dora Lange. Subtle references to Lovecraft and other strangeness abounded, along with the symbols and ideas that ranged from ancient pagan to Nietzsche. Figuring out how these strange pieces figured in to a police procedural and imagining where they might lead engaged the part of my imagination that normally only gets a workout in my favoured activities.

In the end True Detective provided far more pieces than needed to finish the puzzle and it seemed that the finale ruled out any serious supernatural involvement. People that were hoping for the reveal of a full blown Lovecraftian monstrosity crawling out of the Louisiana swamp were crestfallen. I can understand. However, I found the ending satisfying enough, despite being there for the wierd. The growth of Rust and Marty, and their dogged pursuit of the case that changed their lives for worse and then for better was the real centerpiece of the show. Errol Childress was a horrific villain, even if you discount the supernatural, and the King in Yellow could be seen as an excellent metaphor for discouraging truth about the system of family connections that created and then hid and supported his villainy.

Still the wierd elements, from Rust’s philosophies to the references to eldritch horror, were what caught my attention with True Detective. These esoteric references caught my attention and I found myself wondering about the show in quiet moment and discussing theories with my girlfriend and workmates.

In the spirit of those enjoyable moments I will offer a case for elements of the supernatural in the final episode and how I hope the next season will play out.

  • The Father: At the beginning of the episode Errol is standing over what we later learn is the body of his father, tied down in a little cabin covered in names and other things. Given how long the Elder Childress has been dead, one wonders at the state of preservation of the body. Also, while we are safe to assume that Errol is crazy, we never really know why he is chatting with daddy and keeping his body. Just because dude is a crazy hillbilly psychopath, does not mean that he can’t speak to the dead.
  • The Son: Errol Childress is a wierd, perverse, and crazy villain. I love the writing here: Childress is a victim of his father and presumably the same cult that is pictured in the tape and yet transcends that victimization into a kind of supreme evil that defies pity or compassion. However there may be more to Childress than his just being a dangerous, well-connected killer. His strength seems verging on superhuman when he confronts Rust and Marty. He is able to lift a struggling Rust (who up until that point is the deadliest man in the series) with one hand. He is able to throw an axe with impressive accuracy and force even after being shot at close range. He is also pretty damned swift and sneaky inside of Carcosa. His almost inhuman strength and toughness lend credence to his claims of being on the verge of ascension.
  • That damned tape: The tape is creepy. We never get to see what is on the tape, but we know it is very very bad. An astute friend of mine compared the tape to the play talked about in Chamber’s the Yellow King, which drives men insane if they get to the second act.
  • The Cosmic Hallucination: Throughout the pursuit through Carcosa, Childress taunts Rust with the epithet ‘little priest’. This could be insanity or some sort of reference to Errol’s cult background. On the other hand Rust is a holy man in the purest sense of the word — he is a man who has visions. It is significant that his last vision is impressive and apocalyptic, and I am led to wonder if this is not a red herring but something else. It is significant that Marty is not around to discount this particular vision, which is far more impressive than the previous ones (and also not drug induced). Was Rust actually seeing something here? Another friend claimed that what Rust was witnessing was the power of the beginnings of Errol’s ascension, of which he was to be the last sacrifice.
  • The survival of Rust Cohle: So if you get a gut wound like that and spend a fair bit of time bleeding out in a hole, and are far away from any hospital you are likely going to die from blood loss. Rust said it himself “I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE,” — he did not even have the will to live, having been preparing himself to die since the previous episode at least. And yet he lived. It seems like a good case for the supernatural as well, and one that the writer takes care to underscore several times during the ending, with Marty even pronouncing Rust unkillable.

There certainly is a case for the wierd and supernatural left after the final episode of true detective. Errol Childress seemed to be a little more than a man in some ways, as did Rust Cohle when you think about it. It is subtle and open ended, which makes me think about it and keeps me interested. I would love to see more of the wierd in season two and to have some of my hunches confirmed. If one of the detectives has visions or something subtly similar, I will be really impressed.

Creepy, even if not Cthullu...

Creepy, even if not Cthullu…


One comment on “True Detective: A Case for the Weird

  1. […] Season 1, trumpeting the writing, the acting, and the cinematography to everyone who would listen (here is a link to my review). I was far from alone in this, and many people that I know eagerly anticipated this season of the […]

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