True Detective: 1.05 “The Secret Fate of All Life” is Circular as a Noose

“I don't like your face. It makes me want to do things to it.” Cohle's attempt to get to LeDoux through his confidential informant fizzles. The man sees “the corrosion of his soul” and says “there is a shadow” on Cohle, and refuses to make the deal. They track the man's truck back to his meth lab, through a field littered with Devil Traps and man-traps alike, including a grenade on a tripwire.

Ou narrators' unreliability is cemented as we cut between the actual shootout at the the lab and the story they've told again and again since that day, playing into the circular repetition that haunts Cohle. “Time is a flat circle.” And the curse of all life is that we repeat our same mistakes again and again, playing the roles of mythical archetypes, the fool, the hunter, walking ghosts seeking a solace that only comes with the brief respite of the grave.

Note: Spoilers after the jump, but you knew that.

I was surprised to learn that episode 4, “Who Goes There,” turned off some viewers who enjoy the show's slow burn.This episode is a return to form. The gunfight and rescue that made Cohle and Martin heroes is a sham. They sneak through the lab and catch LeDoux unawares. Cohle cuffs him while Martin seeks his partner. LeDoux is tattooed all over with arcane markings: a pentangle, a pentagram with Baphomet's head, a swastika, 666, the “swp” of the Supreme White Power movement, and a noose around his neck. Marking him as the Hanged Man. In Tarot this can signify sacrifice; in Norse mythology, Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, to learn its knowledge.

LeDoux rambles about “Black stars,” and if we remember, “Strange is the night where black stars rise” is from the King in Yellow in Dora Lange's diary. ( The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers is free on Kindle at the moment, if you want to read it. ) We also saw those tattoos on the neck of the country madam, so I imagine Cohle will be paying her another visit. “Carcosa sees you,” LeDoux tells Cohle, but he has no chance to turn his interrogative powers on the killer.

The noose symbolism becomes clear after Martin finds LeDoux's next victims and marches back to the scene to execute him with one shot to the head. The other cooker runs and is killed, and Cohle quickly takes charge of the situation, telling Martin to uncuff LeDoux while he finds a weapon, a drum-fed AK47, and empties the magazine into the canebrake. Building the myth that will make their careers.

And the myth serves them well. Martin gets a visit from his children at a roller rink, skating in a circle, and Maggie eventually relents. Martin becomes a Promise Keeper, and his daughters grow older and apart. One fights over a princess tiara (a crown, just not of antlers) and the other dresses like the joker on a playing card. Martin's inner rage over his inability to control women explodes as his teenage daughter's sexual awakening makes her the kind of woman he likes on the side, instead of “the marrying kind.”

Cohle finds love with a doctor, but blows an interrogation when he gets a confession, and the desperate perpetrator tells him that LeDoux wasn't Lange's killer. “Powerful people out there, man.” Cohle flies into a rage and gets dragged out by police. Before he can question him again, the man is dead in his cell.

In the present, the detectives' true motives in interviewing Martin and Cohle about the Lange case become clear. Cohle has inserted himself into investigations of similar murders. The detectives show him photos where he is caught lingering at crime scenes, peering over the yellow tape, without a badge or reason to be there. They frame this to Martin as evidence that Cohle is a bad cop, setting up whoever he wants, or perhaps even the murderer himself.

Cohle goes digging back through the Lange case, to the abandoned schoolhouse. He finds a room full of Devil Traps, and the camera draws back through a broken window, showing hints of another mural, and also making Cohle the centerpiece of another cave painting. He has become myth. He is trapped in the circular eddies, repeating his hunt for a killer, caught in the curse of all life.

What remains to be seen is whether the modern-day detectives digging into Cohle and Martin's past are patsies of the “powerful people” or part of the conspiracy that has begun to emerge. We have three episodes left, which seems to make it unlikely that the H.P. Lovecraft fans who are awaiting the arrival of otherwordly horrors will not be satisfied. We haven't seen more hallucinations through Cohle's eyes, and in my opinion, those were drug-induced. On the other hand, modern-day Cohle looks like someone who's seen something terrible, whether it is from the accumulation of human depravity or something horrid about the nature of our role in the universe, we will soon find out.

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.

Read all posts by Thomas Pluck on Criminal Element.


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