True Detective: “The Secret Fate of All Life”

Fox Johnson on Episode 5 of True Detective

I had incorrectly assumed that after last week’s action packed ending sequence we’d tone things down for a while. Instead this week’s episode picks up only a few hours after the last episode. This is sort of reassuring in a series that jumps around so much and plays with time so loosely. And much like the quick pick up from last week we return to a series that has decided it’s time to utilize violence to tell its story. “Who Goes There” was absolutely a turning point for True Detective and “The Secret Fate of All Life” plays more like a sequel to that episode rather than just the next one in sequence. 

True Detective is rapidly becoming a show that has made its business blowing minds. But rather than ending episodes with cliffhangers it instead throws wrenches into every possible gear to throw off its viewers. It has self-appointed itself a series that attempts to emulate the experience of following a twisting turning murder case. Sixteen minutes into this episode we find ourselves in familiar territory. We’ve found Reggie LeDoux and have reached the point where a promised gun battle will commence. And then, just like that, it doesn’t. Hart and Cohle’s present day narration describes an intense and disorienting gunfight. Meanwhile, we watch as the ’95 Hart and Cohle sneak swiftly into LeDoux’s compound and capture him without so much as a punch thrown. But why would these men lie? And not just lying off the cuff. They’ve got a practiced corroborating story of the events that unfolded. So while you watch two men capture the man they’ve been chasing since the series began, we can’t imagine what could cause them to lie about it. Then Hart blows off half of LeDoux’s face. Two children, a dead boy and a live girl, are recovered from LeDoux’s compound and very suddenly the central case of True Detective is over.

Well, not really. The series jumps into the early 2000’s. Hart and Cohle are promoted and decorated and have moved on to other things. Though just as soon as we’re caught up on current events an interrogation of Cohle’s goes south and he begins to think they never caught the real killer. So without really being given a chance to breathe, we’re thrust once again into a now even more terrifying murder case. The Killing tried this same method in all three of its seasons. They’ve answered questions with more questions. Luckily Nic Pizzolatto does a much better job of holding it all together by having almost every event that unfolds call back to lines and twists earlier episodes. And I’m always game anytime anyone wants to nod toward Twin Peaks.

And once more we’re forced to think about True Detective’s characters, though forced isn't the right word. It’s a genuine pleasure to have a break in the action to think about these two men even further. Especially now that we know each one’s own version of justice and that they’re willing to flat out lie to preserve it. The beauty here is that this series has been playing this game all along. True Detective’s tension doesn’t come from nail biting, white knuckled scenes but instead from the knowledge that no matter what we know about someone there is always a distinct and very real possibility that lurking behind the felled monster is an even darker threat.

And that is exactly what this series has been trying to say this entire time. The killer is dispatched yet he never goes away. We hear a couple of characters liken existence to a flat circle. The idea that no matter what happens, no matter how many children’s lives are spared from rape and murder, it will absolutely happen again. This idea is the secret fate of the title and it fills Rust and Marty, not to mention the audience, with a cringe-inducing sense of doubt. Even as this comes on as some kind of stunning revelation it's disturbingly familiar. Of course LeDoux wasn’t the guy. Why should he be? The show isn’t over so of course no one is out of the woods yet. Instead it sounds like we’ve traded up. Now we’ve got a killer with the handle “The Yellow King” to contend with. And even though the episode doesn’t end with another killer long take action sequence it still moves toward its credits with a lot of momentum because now they’ve got us hooked. LeDoux was our focus for four episodes (and sixteen minutes) and now that he’s out of the way, the real chase can begin.

In Twin Peaks David Lynch and Mark Frost revealed their killer in the middle of their series (though not quite the middle of an episode like True). But where these two series differ, apart from the obvious, is that Rust Cohle is not Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper. He’s an easy target because of his nature and this is exactly where police take this outstanding case after over a decade of investigations. Rust becomes the prime suspect. And after what we’ve seen tonight, why not? He restaged a crime scene with thought and precision. And he did it quickly.  With all of True Detective’s references to the circular nature of everything it isn’t out of the question to think that perhaps we’re being given details about these men at different points in their lives because ultimately time isn’t a factor. If they do it once, they’ll do it again. And who knows? Maybe the “first” time we see them do something isn’t truly the first.

Rather than try to jam it into my article I’ll let Michael M. Hughes do more talking about The Yellow King. He wrote a fantastic article on this and it's driven me absolutely mad with questions. Sometimes obsession is a good thing.

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