Last episode, Ruston Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) walked out of the interview with Detectives Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles). They had confronted him with photos placing him at crime scenes, peering over the yellow police tape. Following the sacrifices to the Yellow King. Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) was back with his family, and the episode ended with his teenage daughter fooling around with two boys. Hart said his mistake was inattention toward what was “under his nose,” but it's become clear that his own behavior, however secret he thinks it may be, is how he is teaching his daughter to be a woman.
Note: Spoilers follow.
The next episode, “Haunted Houses,” begins with Hart staring down the two older boys his daughter was “found in a state of undress” with. We will learn what broke Hart and Cohle apart, and perhaps get our first glimpse of The Yellow King…
Hart unlocks the boys' holding cell and gives them a little chat. “You're playing a man's game. It charges a man's price.” They have a choice. They can take a beating and walk, or they can face statutory rape charges and a sentence at The Farm. Given Hart's penchant for younger women, one wonders if he'd ever been on the receiving end of such an offer, or a beating from an older brother or the father of one of his women on the side. If he sees it as hazing, earning one's dues as a man. We see him behave as an outside, malevolent force in his family: picking fights until his daughters leave the room, so he can switch from their show to the game. Is it self-loathing rising to the surface? Does he know he's a bad man, dangerous to young women, who he uses and discards with impunity?
Detectives Gilbough and Papania bring in another subject for questioning, as they hunt Cohle's doings from 2002 to 2012. Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), in a Laura Bush-inspired haircut. They want her opinions for “perspective,” but she holds her cards as close to her chest as Hart and Cohle. “Ruston knew exactly who he was. Marty didn't know himself, and I'm big enough to forgive someone for that.” She says Cohle is “a good man,” a responsible man. A rare thing. And that he told her “there's no such thing as forgiveness. People just have short memories.”
Cohle spends his time immersed in missing persons cases, looking for connections to the Lange murder. A boy who went missing on his pirogue, the body never found. Martin rides his coattails and chases young women. Buying a personal cell phone, by chance, he runs into Beth, the girl he gave his pocket money to at the brothel in 1995. She works at the cell phone store, having used Mrs. Kelly's shelter only as a waypoint. The scene goes down as you'd expect: the girl he felt protective toward seven years ago is now a beautiful young woman ripe for the plucking. If it's not obvious that Hart is easily led into temptation, Beth has a cutesy devil figurine that seems to wink at Hart while she rides him cowgirl.
Cohle continues to circle back through the case. He finds the revivalist preacher that Dora Lange worked for is now a drunk running a shop. Under Cohle's unforgiving eyes, he confesses that he left the ministry because he wanted to get nearer to God, but the only nearness is silence. The organization's past haunts him. He tells Cohle of the Wellspring faith-based schools that were part of Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle's outreach, and how he'd heard rumor of “children being interfered with.” As a seminarian, he found, in a senior minister's library, a folder within a book of 12th century Franciscan mysticism. It contained photos of children “naked… looked like they was sleeping.” When he reported it, it was if he were the accused, and he left the seminary to preach elsewhere when nothing came of it.
Cohle moves on to find the girl they rescued, who is catatonic in an institution. In perhaps the series' most predictable scene, when he asks her if there was a third man at the meth lab, she suddenly awakens, speaking of a Giant who made her watch what he did to Billy, the boy they murdered. When Cohle asks about his face, she mentions the scars, then starts screaming uncontrollably. This nearly took me out of the show, it was so ham-handed. Right up there with when Cohle and Hart argue over the interrogation of a suspect, and Cohle mocks him as a coat-tail riding flunky, and actually says, “Without me there is no you.” Thankfully, the rest of the episode is much stronger.
We learn that Tuttle died in 2010, and there were unreported burglaries at both his homes just prior to his death. Detectives Gilbough and Papania think Cohle was involved. We cut to Cohle talking to Reverend Tuttle in 2002, at his headquarters. Asking about the Wellspring schools, and why they were shut down. Tuttle is a large man, always wearing a collar covering his neck. Where the Scarred Man's scars were supposed to be. He also sports a yellow tie in a fat Windsor knot… a noose, just like LeDoux had. Is this the holy symbol of The Yellow King?
Cohle's meddling earns him a suspension, and Hart doesn't defend his partner. He is along for the ride, at home and work. When Maggie confronts him with Beth's naked photos on his cell phone, he says he can't stop what crazy bitches send him. She gets her revenge as we expect—by going to Cohle's apartment. The tension has been there from episode one, and he doesn't quite mow her lawn, but they learn that even the most cerebral of us are prey to animal appetites. And of course, she tells Hart, which leads to “the altercation” that ended Cohle's police career.
The show ends in the present day with Hart leaving the interview room, and Cohle chasing him down in his pickup truck. The old partners circle like two junkyard dogs, beaten and scarred. They head down the road for a beer. But not before Hart checks the cylinder of his revolver.
This episode has less mystery as they tie up the ends of the plot and point us toward the conclusion, two shows away…
Gilbough and Papania think Cohle is behind the disappearances and murders plaguing the bayou towns, but given the death of Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, it is more likely he is hunting the servants of Carcosa. And with his experience in deep cover, I'm surprised the story hasn't taken a turn toward Boston Teran's God is a Bullet, with Cohle infiltrating a murder cult. Well, they have been renewed for another season.
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.