Last episode, we saw the true detectives' fiery breakup. Maggie dealt Martin a dose of his own unfaithful medicine, we met founder of the Wellspring schools Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, and modern-day Rust and Martin met after leaving the interviews with Gilbough and Papania. Rust talks Martin into a discussion over beer, and Martin follows Rust's truck… but only after checking the cylinder of his revolver.
The episode's title, “After You've Gone,” plays on the break-up angle. We meet the former detectives in a roadhouse. “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton plays on the juke, a bittersweet love song that references freedom and bondage:
There'll be no strings to bind your hands/not if my love can't bind your heart
Cohle is now a bartender and Martin is a private dick, rather fitting, since that's what he thinks with. They verbally spar like exes. “I don't dwell in the past,” Martin says. Rust counters. He goes on to give his old partner a hint of what he's found about the Dora Lange case, and Martin is about to walk away when he lays it on the line: “A man pays his debts. We left something undone.”
Beware: spoilers and the spoiled will follow.
That debt is, of course, how Cohle masterfully covered up Hart's execution of Reggie Ledoux after finding one of his dead child victims. Cohle leads him to a storage locker he uses as a base of operations. The walls are pinned with photographs and painted with the same symbols they found at the deserted churches and crime scenes.
Cohle followed the lead he got from the preacher, that there were accusations of child molestation at the Wellspring schools in 1988, and then found a male prostitute in the Quarters who tells him he remembers “men with animal faces” during naptime, but thought it was a dream. It's clear that the children were drugged, and he recalls “a giant… with burns around his mouth.” The same man whose memory made Kelly, the girl they rescued from Ledoux, scream uncontrollably.
Cohle's investigation led him to the hometown of the Tuttles, a small Cajun town where they celebrated Courir de Mardi Gras, a more rural and aged interpretation where the paraders are led by a Capitaine on horseback, and perform pranks at homes along the route… all kept in check by the captain's whip. The masks from the parade resemble animal masks, though none are a “spaghetti man with green ears,” a face recalled by the victims. Now “spaghetti” may make you think of tentacles and hope for Cthulhu, but the classic horned Green Man also fits the bill. And as a symbol of spring rebirth, would fit with the Mardi Gras theme.
Martin's meeting with Rust mirrors his chastened behavior with his ex-wife. She lives in a richer home, with no man to be seen. Their daughters no longer speak to Martin, but are doing well. They were clearly better off without him. She asks if Martin is saying goodbye, that she hasn't seen him in two years. And he does behave like a man making his peace. Perhaps because he knows that following Cohle on his mission can only lead to tragedy.
Cohle tells how he broke into Tuttle's mansions, where he found incriminating photos in his safe. Children, including some blindfolded and antlered like Dora Lange. And for the convincer, he shows Hart the video of the fate of one of the victims. A little girl blindfolded and antler-crowned, who endures something so terrible that we only see it through Hart's violent reaction. Hart is in; he is an instrument of vengeance. The deaths of women and children offend his manhood.
They interview one of Ledoux's cousins, and he said he saw a creepy, scarred man at their hunting camp. That leads them to Tuttle's retired housekeeper, an elderly woman who fades in and out. She tells that the Tuttle and Childress families are intertwined, and old Sam Tuttle's grandson was scarred real bad. And that the elder Tuttle left a lot of children, for “once she had it done to her, he didn't like a woman but the one time.” Deflowering virgins befits a man leading a sacrificial cult…and then Cohle shows her sketches of the Devil Traps.
“You know Carcosa? Him who eats time. Rejoice, for death is not the end!”
That's our Carcosa niblet for this episode. The old woman's granddaughter tells them to leave, and outside we get another Rust Cohle-ism, “I sure hope she was wrong.”
Hart uses his old connections to get case files, and after some digging, they learn that their old pal Steve Geraci had the Fontenot case back in Erath. Cohle wants to question him with a battery and some jumper cables, but Hart settles on a game of golf. Geraci is now sheriff of Iberia parish, and drives a Maserati. He tells Hart he let the case drop when a local cop named Ted Childress told him the girl was with “her father.” Hart knows he is lying.
He invites Geraci fishing, and we get a feeling those jumper cables will come out for the finale. And if we'd forgotten Gilbough and Papania, they circle back through the Lange case on their own. They go looking for the old church, and ask a hulking man on a riding mower for directions. A man we've seen before, doing the same job seventeen years ago.
They drive into the bayou, and the unnamed man stands for the camera. His lower face is scarred, and his family has been here for a long, long time. We know his name: Childress. And his Daddy gave him those scars. He goes back to mowing in circles, and the camera pulls back to see a tugboat drifting through the canals. At first I wondered if it was Martin's fishing boat. We are left with the beautiful sprawl of Louisiana, the Sportsman's Paradise, and as the predator spins out his timeless spirals to Townes Van Zandt's “Lungs,” which ends: We'll tell the world we tried.
The show is leading us in for a hard landing, but I wonder if anything they can write will return us to the promise of the first five episodes. The last two have been predictable as story threads are woven toward the center of the web, and we've lost the tense, slow burn of the first act. And yet the character development hasn't expanded, either. We knew Marty was a hypocrite from episode one; Cohle's dialogue has begun to lose power as we become numb to the nihilism. Maggie is stronger now but never really got her own arc; the show is purely Rust and Martin's, leaving strands undone all over the place. All stories must have an end, but is this one that can be told in only 8 episodes?
What I'd like to see? Cohle and Hart are at the end of their ropes. The case that made their careers was a sham, and two fresh-faced detectives are on a collision course with them. My prediction would be that Gilbough and Papania find them elbow deep in the cult of Carcosa, perhaps with the tortured corpse of parish Sheriff Geraci nearby. One or both of our old friends goes down, and the new detectives spin themselves into heroes, while the scar-faced giant keeps on mowing, for all flesh is grass. After all, what is a riding mower but a modern-day scythe?*
*Hat tip: Josh Bazell and his insane thriller, Beat the Reaper
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.