“Time has its way with us all.” is the Marty Hart line that opens “After You’ve Gone”, True Detective’s penultimate episode. And what a line it is. It says so much about the ride this season has taken us on so far. I can’t really fathom experiencing so much from only seven episodes of this series. The show’s ability to jump back and forth in time is put to shame only by its total control of whether or not it wants those time jumps to confuse the audience. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s really pure magic as screenwriting and even though I know I’ve been sucking up to Mr. Pizzolatto for the last seven weeks I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
The scene that opens this episode has Marty and Rust quickly explaining where they’ve been for the last decade or so since they’ve seen each other. It’s the first time True Detective goes out of its way to explain events that happen off camera in any kind of detail. Generally we just get a cryptic hint. And what we learn from all of this is that Rust travelled to the farthest reaches to escape this case and is brought back because of what he calls a “debt”. We actually get to see a great role reversal in this episode. All season long I’ve found myself 100% on Rust’s side. No matter what ridiculous shit he was spouting I still knew deep down that when it came to police work he was doing what he was doing because he was right. But for the first time all season I really can’t be sure that his “sprawl”, his web of connected clues isn’t just what Marty calls “conjecture”.
The timeline of this episode occurs after all the interviews we’ve grown so familiar with. So it’s very strange to hear Marty and Maggie (who’s seems to have married someone with money) referencing the interviews like they just happened. But what does Pizzolatto do now that his framing vehicle is gone? He creates another one. The bulk of the episode revolves around Marty and Rust sitting in a storage unit that Rust has filled with objects pertaining to his “sprawl”. The episode jumps to and from this scene to fill in other details but the main story lives in this storage unit.
I touched on it in my review of “Who Goes There” but this episode really lays out how these two men operate. They are both defined by their work. They glaze over the last decade because they weren’t working. Their personal lives meant little to them because there wasn’t a work life to offset it. I’m happy to see this side of these two men return since there really isn’t much time left to define these fellas. “After You’ve Gone” breaks the HBO standard of a raucous penultimate episode that leads into a finale where they deal with the fallout. Instead we get a slow but steady episode where we have to play catch up with a large amount of new information tied to this now almost twenty-year-old case. And knowing for sure that next season this story will not continue presents a very new aspect to watching television that really raises the stakes on next week’s finale.
Some of the stuff that let the air out of my balloon last week finally decided to show up with just a few minutes left in the episode. My roving obsession with Carcosa, masks, and the King in Yellow was finally given some payoff this week. First, when Rust and Marty question a suspect’s former employee the former decides to show her some sketches of the stick sculptures that have haunted their investigation all along. Upon seeing them she begins to spout babble about Carcosa and my obsession was immediately reignited. I imagine this sort of break brings on similar feelings in real detectives. At a few points throughout the episode we learn about the Tuttle family’s affinity for mask-wearing ceremonies and once again we return to Robert W. Chambers' writing.
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
—The King in Yellow: Act I, Scene 2
This scene is performed almost exactly when Rust and Marty question a hospitalized witness and having it echo now in the series final hours sends chills up my spine. And in the last shot of “After You’ve Gone”, after the two cops who were interrogating Rust and Marty throughout the season leave a man with a very specific skin condition (the 'green eared spaghetti monster') we see that he’s been mowing a large patch of grass in a circle. A flat circle.
And just like that, almost effortlessly, True Detective has trapped me again in my own obsession with finding an answer to all of this. So finally, with only fifty eight some odd minutes left in this story we’re given two men who no longer have any official ties to the law acting as law enforcers. They owe the dead a debt that they firmly believe and no matter what they’re going to see to see it through. They simply are incapable of anything else.