True Detective: “Haunted Houses” (Season 1, Episode 6) Recap/Analysis
The End of True Detective's Second Act
Feb 24, 2014
And so, per creator and showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, last night's "Haunted Houses" brings us to the end of True Detective's second act with the fruitless interrogation of Maggie Hart, the only-slightly-less fruitless ongoing investigation of 2002 Rust Cohle, two terribly inappropriate and terribly hot sex scenes, and (drum roll) the meeting of 2012 Cohle and Hart, with a force that feels tidal after nearly six hours of wind-up.
As I predicted in last week's recap, matters turned inward, or interpersonal at least, and Hart (along with his wife) became our focus. The interior life of Hart is the real grist for True Detective's mill, while the fascinating façade of Cohle peels away to reveal an observer, a man too focused on what he seeks to be in conflict. The trigger that fires this episode's pistol is Hart entering an affair with a shockingly young woman named Beth, whom he met when she was shockingly younger (and possibly working as a prostitute) while investigating the Lang murder in 1995.
Maggie's interrogation by the two cops in 2012, interlaced with her coming to grips with Hart's (ongoing) infidelity, is a fool's errand for the interrogators but a trove of revealing details for the viewer. Through her lens—underscored by Hart's own actions in this episode—we realize that Hart's fundamental fault is that of being a man with no moral compass: he grabs a drink because he feels emasculated by carrying a bag of tampons, he enters a new affair with a woman whose age split is substantially wider than the one between his daughter and the two young men with whom she was caught in "various states of undress" (and whose vulnerabilities he's fully aware of), and he fails to advocate on behalf of the partner whose demonstrably precise, if unorthodox investigations have begun to rub their higher-ups the wrong way. That devil he spies in Beth's apartment...
None of this is lost on Maggie and her attraction to Cohle's contrasting integrity leads to her decision to seduce him in his apartment (amidst—ack!—those grisly crime scene photos). That seduction and her firmly calculated revelation of it to Hart at last illuminates the implied rift between the former partners, retroactively planting an "ah-ha!" into every tense scene in which 2012 Hart is asked to revisit anything relating to Cohle. The haunted house of the title would seem to be Hart's house, or rather, Hart himself. The man's a bundle of nerves and the situation hasn't improved with time. His own repression fills in for the repression of the entire state of Louisiana, who don't want to notice something in their history that Cohle is beginning to discover to be perfectly obvious.
Speaking of Cohle, he's beginning to put the pieces together...and unraveling simultaneously. He's still a damn good detective, uncovering Reverend Tuttle's obscured involvement in a school program known as Wellspring. Interrogating a saucing-the-pain-away Preacher Theriot in 2002, it seems that Wellspring, and by extension Tuttle, were covering up evidence of some pretty nasty child sexual abuse. But Cohle has a vibe more than a case—he has no evidence and his boss, Leroy Salter, is thoroughly miffed that Cohle is sweating men of God, based on a hunch and the obscure ramblings of a drug-addled convicts. Meanwhile, Cohle's hero varnish is coming off, he's counseling a young mother who euthanized her infant child to commit suicide "if you get a chance," and his only advocate, Hart, is starting to lose the plot and withdrawing his support of his eccentric partner. Their eventual rift at the end of the episode would seem to be a perfect storm for Tuttle's alleged child sex ring and/or whichever person or persons are part of the cult of the Yellow King—this case is closed from the perspective of anyone else who gives a damn. So, a hypothetical question to folks who thought this episode wasn't weird enough: what obscure mystic might have conjured up that mess o' trouble to keep Cohle's prying eyes away? I have a feeling that Cohle's dismissal from active duty will not deter him from investigating and that he'll soon commit the egregious error that gets his authority revoked once and for all. I also think that the way this whole case undoes both Hart and Cohle, both in their unique ways, will be the only thing left in our hands when the third act closes.
Lastly, let's consider a telling image from the title sequence: a woman's bare ass resting precariously above spikes at the back of her shoes. Its purpose is not titillation; it reminds us every week—"over and over and over again," to quote Cohle—that one of this show's primary themes is the ubiquity of violence against women—sexual, emotional, physical, banal, pronounced, familial, and on and on. That is at least one aspect of the beast that Cohle and Hart must face, with whose machinations Hart finds himself ever more complicit (it's no narrative accident that he's the only man in his home). Perhaps nothing better proves the fact that Yellow King is an intangible entity than an outcome in which he remains beyond reproach, no matter how many living men who've done his bidding Cohle and anyone else manage to round up.
See you next week...
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