True Detective : “Form and Void” (Season 1, Episode 8) Recap/Analysis
The Light's Winning
Mar 11, 2014
By far the most chilling set of images in tonight's season finale (and close to the first story in the True Detective anthology series) wasn't the revelation of a terrestrial Carcosa, the preserved body of Billy Childress, or the superhuman murderous antics of his son Errol. No, the really disturbing stuff hit far after all of the above had met with the blinding glare of justice, a fleet of polished white police SUVs and clean yellow tape at the behest of Papania and Gilbrough (who knew it'd be such a RELIEF to see them?) and well after we were sure of the survival of our two favorite "bad" cops gone rogue, Hart and Cohle, still shit-talking each other while recovering from disemboweling knife wounds. About nine minutes prior to the episode's close, we were treated to a creepy aerial montage of the coast that our heroes had been policing, interspersed with the charged locales of interest from throughout their investigation: Childress' shack, Ledoux's compound, and lastly, the gnarled old tree where they first found Dora Lange 17 years ago. What's the purpose of this montage? Simple review? Nah, this show is too smart for that. It's a reminder. We're going to do the same thing over and over and over again. Time is a flat circle. And these places, all this time later, still hold the fear.
In hindsight, it's surprising how relatively simple True Detective's narrative ended up being. Watching the show lazily, as decades of visual parsley in the television and film worlds have conditioned us to do, is what makes it seem like a ruse, like a hundred and ten disparate facts and a half-dozen ominous bogeymen thrown your way, all of it screaming, "Haha, dummy! Betcha can't guess whodunit?!" No, not at all. The truth is that pinning down Childress, a 17-year Herculean effort that nearly broke Cohle, was beside the point, as are all endeavors upon which we pin some kind of crack in the order of things. Even with the man dead and his operation revealed, those locales along the coast still hold the fear. Why? Because we know they're bigger than one man, or five men for that matter. That montage is precisely what precedes Cohle's ecstatic monologue (one which many figured as religious in nature) and what makes it the most complex and knotty kind of happy ending. For while those places still hold the fear, Cohle's personal revelation suggests that our perceptions are complicit with the generation of that fear, if not outright creating it.
Let's back up a bit. Cohle and Hart's interrogation of Geraci on the boat is useless in terms of accruing facts for their case, but the sequence is an important vehicle for three things: 1) a representation of The King in Yellow, that is, Robert Chambers' book-within-a-book which his stories sparsely quote and which a complete reading of drives its readers frothing mad, in the form of the sparsely viewed snuff video that drives Geraci frothing mad; 2) some truly funny dialogue—"L'chaim, fatass" being the first time I laughed out loud while watching this show—and the frankly amusing fact that the "sniper" to which Cohle alludes is his literally silent partner at the bar; but most importantly we have 3) the blubbering, barely coherent, loss of innocence of Geraci, fearfully spouting that he was "just doing what the big man says" and citing "the chain of command" and his colleagues' inability/disinterest in following up on him or the case itself as his reasoning for turning a blind eye to the custodial fate of Marie Fontenot. At the very last of it, he asks Cohle, somewhat desperately, "That's the way this all works...right?"
The answer, of course, is yes...for everyone but Rust Cohle. Geraci's monologue is the Q.E.D. of Cohle's entire endeavor these past 17 years. And if the price for intellectual laziness as a viewer is missing out on a few key themes, the price for it as a Louisiana detective is finding yourself with blood on your hands. As we've established, Cohle goes through great pains to be the true detective and not lose the plot, no matter how many distractions are thrown his way. To his horror, he discovers that he was never contending with anything as complex as corruption or conspiracy. The concentration of darkness in this world is so profound, we are at all times tempted to lean into it, finding ourselves complicit with it not through effort or intention but a lack of it.
That's why it's so powerful to find Cohle rewarded spiritually not for solving the case (which he doesn't believe he has), but for having faith in truth for as long as he had. Staring in the face of madness and murder all those years, seeking what was really there and not what he wanted to be there, he had been building, brick by brick, a metaphysical bridge to a meaning he never thought he'd find.
And Hart? Shit...Hart is in the happiest possible ending he can imagine. He still doesn't get what's up Cohle's ass (and only barely, for the briefest instant, manages to, after Cohle's monologue at the end) but hey, Hart's not on that path. Hart is utterly terrestrial, and that's what made him such a good partner for the cosmically-inclined soothsayer Cohle. Remember: that's not Hart's vision of the haunted coast. Those are Cohle's eyes guiding us across that charged landscape. And therein lie the two endings of True Detective: Hart's narrative in which the bad guys were found out and the darkness dies, at least for a day, and Cohle's, where the ignorance and blind eyes of men like Hart who need happy endings keep places like that coast haunted until the end of time. No wonder he needed a hug from his daughter.
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