In “Who Goes There,” the fourth episode of True Detective, we reach the halfway point and begin our descent into the underworld. The title could be a reference to a famous science fiction story by John W. Campbell, Jr. (the inspiration for the 1981 film The Thing by John Carpenter) about an alien that can mimic any creature perfectly, on a cellular level.The ultimate undercover agent. Who ran a deep cover operation for an unprecedented four years? Rust Cohle. But more on that later…
Hart and Cohle—which rings of “heart and soul,” the animal and the spirit—have battled each other since episode one, but begin to work as a team. They link meth cook Reggie LeDoux to the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange, and learn that the victim's ex, Charlie, had LeDoux for a cellmate. We meet them in a Locked Room—the name of the previous episode—where they interrogate Lang in prison. Cohle hangs back and lets Hart play bad cop. Lange is hyper with fear, and obviously saw something in LeDoux that shook him. He compares him to a child molester, the kind of freak who believes in what he does, and never shuts up about it.
Only proceed if you're spoiler-proofed.
“It's gotta be tough being with someone spouting insane shit in your ear all day long,” Hart jokes.
When they tell Lange that LeDoux is the suspect in his sister's murder, he breaks down and tells them the crazy stuff that LeDoux talked about, late nights in their cell.
That there's a devil cult of rich Louisiana folk who talk of the Yellow King, Carcosa, and sacrifice women and children in his name. And LeDoux has a spiral tattoo like the one found on Dora Lange's shoulder.
So the “insane shit” may just be true. Cohle sticks the knife in before they leave Lange, telling him that Dora might be alive if he hadn't shown LeDoux photos of her. Hart chastises him for it, once again showing his odd sense of sentimentality, protecting the idea of family bonds while betraying his own wife and daughters with not only his infidelity, but by refusing to share his true self with them. He lacks the basic empathy he demands from Cohle—when he sees Lisa, the court reporter he's been cheating with, he breaks off their relationship with ice cold finality, reveling in his power over her.
He can't control his wife, she is older and wiser, but he knows how to hurt a young woman in love with an older, more powerful man, and he does so. And just as Charlie Lange lost his family to his transgressions, his coldness blows up in his face. Hart goes home to an empty house and a note. Lisa has told his wife everything.
Martin Hart excused his infidelity as a barrier that protected his family and kept him from lashing out at them, but we quickly see that his wife and daughters were what kept him strong. Last time, Cohle said the two of them were “bad men who keep the other bad men from the door.” This episode, he sees Maggie on Hart's behalf, and tells her “it's about the kids. They're the only reason for all this man/woman drama.” The deep inner fear of many men is that they are unnecessary; the need to be needed. To protect and provide for women, even if most of the time, we protect women from other men. And Maggie is strong and independent, unafraid of a raging Martin as he confronts her at the hospital where she works. We watch him devolve into a hurt little boy, holing up at Cohle's empty apartment, dead-eyed and weak for what he knows he has lost.
He is only himself when he works. He braces a pimp who knows LeDoux and learns that LeDoux only cooks for a biker gang called the Iron Crusaders. A name that resonates with Cohle, and brings a light to his steel ball-bearing eyes. A gang he worked with, when he was in deep cover. Cohle slips into his former persona with all too much ease, and concocts a plan to get back in with the Crusaders, off the radar, with only Hart for backup.
Cohle is roped into playing shooter on a stash house robbery in the Desire projects, a “Mogadishu” of row houses with drug gangs armed to the teeth. The last fifteen minutes are as tense as a garrote around our throats as the bikers, gangbangers, police, neighbors, and lone Hart converge in a labyrinth of identical houses primed to become a localized war zone. They get a taste of the wild hunt on their first raid into Carcosa, and it leaves Hart dazed and Cohle buzzed.
As we hit the halfway mark leading to the legendary gunfight where the two men take down Dora Lang's alleged killer, all complaints of languor go out the window. We get a brief glimpse of the flames that scorched these men, but the re-investigation into the Lang killing remains a mystery. Now that we know what Cohle and Hart are capable of, that mystery becomes all the more alluring.
Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. He is the author of Blade of Dishonor, an action thriller spanning Shogun-era Japan to WWII, and the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, an anthology of crime fiction for charity. You can find him on Twitter as @thomaspluck.
Nah. I beg to disagree. Me, I thought it just blew. Another review praised the episode’s “tonal shift” but I’m far less convinced.
The carefully scripted slow burn characterizations and nuaced writing & direction of the first three episodes which seemed to promise this would be more than just another cop show is replaced by a loud, bad Miami Vice impersonation, with a little extra grit (Blood! Cursing!) to justify the HBO price tag.
Cohle goes native, risking his life and his carefully (almost) maintained addictions for what seems like (at this point) a flimsy lead? I’m not saying the sharks are jumping, but they’re certainly picking up speed.
I’m hooked on this show, and I’ll follow it to the bitter end, but I can’t help thinking about the fact that the writer also worked on the first season of THE KILLING, the conclusion of which angered so many viewers. It attempted a similar “tonal shift,” turning from a tightly scripted story with a promised conclusion into an open-ended ratings whore.