This world is a veil – and the face you wear is not your own.
I’ve been watching the HBO series True Detective, and it is hard to believe that we’ve only seen 3 episodes. Last night’s episode was called The Locked Room. The title is intriguing because we will not visit any particular place that has a locked room. The title refers to our own thoughts.
What amazes me about the series is the way we viewers have been drawn in little by little. That quote up above was not said by either Woody Harrelson as Detective Martin Hart or by Detective Rustin Cohle played by Matthew McConaughey. Rather it was made by a bible thumping, evangelical, traveling tent-show minister – but it gives you a strong idea about the series.
At the core is of course a brutal murder, which occurred in 1995. We watch and learn as these two detectives go about solving the crime. It is also set 17 years later as the original two homicide detectives are being questioned by two other police detectives (in 2012) about how they solved the case because a strikingly similar murder has just occurred.
As I said, the core is the murder, but there’s a few other ‘mysteries’ in play.- how was the case solved? Did they get the right man? How and why did these two detectives stop talking to each other 10 years ago. Why have they apparently gone in different directions?
Why does Detective Martin Hart now look older, and a bit heavier, but otherwise no worse for the passage of time whereas Detective Rustin Cohle looks down on his luck, a bit thread worn and tired, and also a bit scuffed up – like the years haven’t been kind to him?
Back at the case, following the lead of the burned out church, Cohle and Hart track down the preacher’s traveling ministry.
What is on Cohle’ mind when he says at the preacher’s tent?
Marty, what do you think the IQ of this group is?
Can you see Texas from up there on your high horse? What do you know of these people?
Cohle: Just observation and deduction. I see a propensity for obesity, poverty, a yen for fairy tales, Folks putting what little few bucks they do have in a wicker basket that’s being passed around. I think it is safe to say that no one here is going to be splitting the atom.
So Cohle doesn’t think all that much of this group. Hart defends them.
Hart … Some folks enjoy community, the common good…
Cohle: If the common good got to make up fairy tales then it’s not good for anybody… if the only thing keeping a person decent is a divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of shit.
Later in the car –
Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritative vessel is a catharsis. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that creates pathways in the brain that dull critical thinking…
It is also apparent that Cohle has no use for religion. whether it be in a brick and mortar church, or a rolling tent show like this one.
Later over lunch Hart says:
I keep things separate. Level and even. I am able to be satisfied with just one beer rather than 20.
People incapable of guilt, usually have a good time.
Martin Hart speaking to the detectives later:
I’m not sayin’ I got a whole lot of room to talk…do you know what it means to be a father? It means you are accountable for other people. You’re responsible for their lives. [But} Past a certain point — there’s a futility in responsibility –
Hart talks the talk, but he can’t quite walk the walk. We know he is inwardly amoral, despite his protestations of being a man who is all about family, and home, and God.
Later , in the midst of trying to figure out why there’s a distance between them, Martin Hart’s wife says to him:
You’ve put a ceiling on your life because you won’t change. You were so much smarter when I met you.
We aren’t surprised that Maggie Hart is feeling a separation and an anxiety about her husband these days. We know what is going on with him, but she doesn’t have all the facts.
Cohle: [pointing and tapping the side of his head] You just got to be honest about what’s going on up here – It’s a locked room .
Marty talking to his wife’s friend about Cohle – he’s not shy. Maggie, Hart’s wife has fixed up a date for Cohle with her friend. The girl complains that the last cop they fixed her up with, over drank, then threw up in her lap.
Cohle: Forget that. Getting him near your lap is going to be the challenge…
Cohle has insomnia. So he stays up all night looking at old cases. In the flash forward to the present day detectives, he tells them what he discovered after studying hundreds of cases, and looking at photos of murdered women for 14 hours straight –
Cohle: You look in to their eyes. You get a picture. Don’t matter if they’re dead or alive – you can still read ’em. [About these murdered women just before they died] They welcomed it. Not at first, but right there in the last instant – an unmistakable relief. Because they were afraid. [Now] They saw [and realized] how easy it was to just let go….
Cohle: To realize that (inside that locked room – pointing at his head] there’s a dream about being a person – like a lot of dreams – there’s a monster at the end of it.
I know these quotes, in many cases, lack a full context. But, if you have been watching the show – I’m sure that you are struggling (albeit pleasantly) like I am . Not about the value of the show, but rather the value of these characters as people. How would we react if we had to know them if they were real. Rustin Cohle is a brilliant detective – but he is so nihilistic and closed off. He remains calm and collected, and yet – as we see in the interviews that are taking place 17 years later that he has paid a price. He is so inwardly turned against what the commonly accepted social norms are and were, that people have always had trouble dealing with him.
Which was/is exactly how Martin Hart felt/feels. He respects Cohle’s abilities as a detective, and yet he can’t absorb or understand most of how Cohle lives his life. Hart fears Cohle especially when it comes to his family. After work he comes home to find Cohle having tea in the Hart kitchen. Cohle has returned the lawn mower he has borrowed, and has cut the Hart’s grass because it needed it.
But Hart can’t handle that. He doesn’t want Cohle in his house when he ‘s not there. Which means he doesn’t trust Cohle near his wife, and that he’s extremely jealous – even though he’s had plenty of mistresses. He says to Cohle outside: I… like… mowing my own lawn. You can see how tense he is and how his anger (and fears), while below the surface, is hardly hidden.
This seemed like an obvious way of Hart telling Cohle to stay away from his wife and family. But Cohle remained cool and collected. And this time the storm passed by.
As Hart said, that he understands the futility of responsibility, but he’s talking about his own kids and his wife. By all rights, after fighting those inner demons of his all these years – he should look like a man who has struggled. But he doesn’t.
This is the dynamic that we viewers are having to deal with or accept. Cohle is not some one you can easily like. 1) because he won’t let you, and 2) because he doesn’t want or need your caring. Hart is smart too, only he’s blind to his own self. How can he understand motives and so forth in others, if he can’t see his own life in its reality.
This show is mesmerizing. The great script and story by Nic Pizzolatto, and the solitary directorial vision by Cary Fukunaga is superb. Readers you’ll have two weeks to either puzzle over Cohle and Hart or you can also try re-watching these first three episodes. Next Sunday is the second of February – and HBO won’t air the 4th episode against the Super Bowl. The show returns on the 9th.