True Detective, Season 1, Episode 5: “The Secret Fate of All Life”
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO
The climax of episode 4 of True Detective, titled “Who Goes There’” is a feat of technical mastery that would sit proudly along side the work of a master director like Alfonso Cauron. Cary Fukunaga and his DOP Adam Arkapaw have clearly forged an excellent partnership. The big showpiece sequence – a single long tracking shot — which lasts a shade under six minutes – is a masterclass of filmmaking. The ways Fukunaga places, moves, and times his cast and camera to be at the right place at a precise time is brilliant, and a feat accomplished without the aid of post production magic. Every episode of True Detective has so far exceeded its predecessor in terms of quality, and as we pass the half-way mark, we’re given another hour of television that ranks amongst the all time best. “The Secret Fate of All Life” might not have a money shot like the one featured in last week’s stunning third act, but it is without a doubt, one of the best hours of television since David Lynch directed episodes of Twin Peaks. Only this week, it is screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto who walks away the most valuable player.
Anyone who’s listens to our True Detective podcast has already heard me spring up comparisons to Lynch’s cult hit TV series of the 90’s. In “Lonely Souls” a one-armed man repeats his description of a large house, made of wood, surrounded by trees, filled with many rooms, each alike, but occupied by different souls night after night. Agent Cooper sends Hawk to investigate the pages from a diary found near the train tracks. For the unfamiliar; Twin Peaks centers on the investigation into the murder of schoolgirl Laura Palmer in the small rural town in Washington state after which the series is named. In this episode, the murderer is finally revealed – but the bigger mysteries are only starting to be introduced. Not unlike True Detective, Twin Peaks features a Tall Man (The Giant); a diary offering clues which just so happens to belong to a teenage girl who’s fallen victim to a serial killer; a small fictional town inhabited by strange characters and an even stranger detective. As the series progresses, the inner darkness of characters who initially appeared innocent is revealed. There have been many shows that have aimed to be Twin Peaks, but only succeeded in copying either the premise or visual style (The Killing, Bates Motel). True Detective might not look or sound like a David Lynch film; It sure doesn’t consist of the campy, melodramatic portrayals of quirky characters engaged in morally dubious activities, but, it is consistent with Lynch’s work as a whole in that it is not easily placed within an established genre. Its unsettling tone and dark features are consistent with horror films, and like the rest of Lynch’s oeuvre, the show represents an earnest moral inquiry distinguished by a deep vein of surrealism. And like the best episodes of Twin Peaks, “The Secret Fate of All Life” shifts so many pivot points seamlessly.
“The Secret Fate of All Life” is a major turning point in the story of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. Reggie Ledoux and his partner are just a minor pit stop in the Dora Lange investigation. “The Secret Fate of All Life” introduces a new time period into the story, as we jump ahead to 2002, which is when we know that Cohle and Hart’s partnership will end. The interrogations are over and the investigation is suddenly shifting into a different time period. It isn’t too long before Ledoux is dead and Dora Lange’s murder is ostensibly solved. More importantly, it puts to rest any doubt about the veracity in Cohle and Hart’s present day interviews with Gilbough and Papania. Clearly the men aren’t completely honest, and have something to cover up. And as previously mentioned, if Hart and Cohle are lying, from a storytelling perspective, they are unreliable narrators. The gun fight isn’t quite as epic as we were led to believe, but kudos to Alex Hall for his exquisite editing. The juxtaposition in these sequences, as Cohle and Hart provide a play by play commentary for what turns out to be an uneventful shootout is brilliant. When asked about the event, Hart tells the detectives, “I tell it the same way I told the shooting board and every cop bar between Houston and Biloxi. And you know why? Because the story’s always the same, 17 years gone. Because it only went down the one way.”
“This is a world where nothing is solved.” — Rusty Cohle
In the end, Hart and Cohles story, is just another story. And while the story doesn’t necessarily go down the way the detectives would like others to believe, it’s exciting in its own twisted way; particularly the sequence where Cohle reenacts the gunshots fired from the AK, followed by DeWall blowing himself up when accidentally stepping on one of the landmines. Hart’s quick reaction to pull the trigger may rub some viewers the wrong way, but as a father of two children, it makes sense that a hot tempered man like Harte would allow his emotions to get the best of him, given the situation. His need to protect children supersedes any sort of protocol in terms of being a police officer. Cohle’s willingness to cover up Ledoux’s murder explains why Hart remains loyal to him, especially after a falling out seven years back. In that instant, Cohle and Harte’s partnership is solidified. “The Secret Fate of All Life” backs up previous suspicions that Cohle and Hart, at least when interviewed in 2012, are unreliable narrators. And Cohle’s speech about time and the repetition of events certainly doesn’t help. Near the midway point of “Secret Fate,” Cohle lets loose one of his metaphysical monologues (presumably his last). “You ever heard of something called membrane theory, detectives?” Cohle asks.”Someone once told me time is a flat circle,” he says. “Everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”
“All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.”–Neitzche
For all of Cohle’s jibber jabber, it seems like a clever nod to us the viewers, and perhaps nothing more. After all, we are the Gods watching their lives unfold – on a flat surface no less.
True Detective is a story about the art of storytelling. For example: Cohle could have walked out of the interrogation room at anytime, but his sole purpose for sticking around, is so he could get his hands on the full case file. The entire time, Cohle is hoping the two detectives have a lead that will help him solve his ten year investigation; and when he finally gets his hands on the folder, he realizes he just wasted his time. Investigators Papania (Tory Kittles) and Gilbough (Michael Potts) have absolutely no leads, and when Cohle realizes he has no more use for them, he walks never once spilling any of his own secrets. In other words, we shouldn’t put much stock into anything Cohle says while being interviewed since he was just buying time – looking for clues. Cohle’s a master at manipulation as evidenced when he tricks Guy Leonard Francis (Christopher Berry) into giving a confession to double homicide.
“You weren’t getting a read on him. He was getting a read on you.” — Marty Harte
Fukunaga and writer Nic Pizzolatto continue to include reoccurring visual motifs – often, but not always clues, and usually subtle. Pay close attention to Cohle’s arts and crafts project; notice how the tin men made form his empty beer cans are placed in the same possitions as the dolls Harte’s daughters play with back in episode two. Fukunaga and Adam Arkapaw continue to feature circular imagery: Every episode is riddled with symbols and clues laid out right in front of our eyes; from graffiti on a the side of a building to a spiral carved out in the trunk of a tree, black stars and even beer-can figurines. Especially notable this week is the crown that Marty’s daughters fight over, which not only calls back to The Yellow King, but serves to transition the series into a new time period.
Anyone who listens to our True Detective podcast, as already heard us make mention of the obscure literary work behind such references as “The Yellow King” and “Carcosa”. When you really look at the evidence, it’s obvious that the concept of True Detective‘s “Yellow King” is derived from the Robert W. Chalmers’ 1895 short story collection – often cited as a huge influence on many famous writers including H.P. Lovecraft. More recently, Michael Hughes, the author of a IO9 piece, wrote, “Knowing this book is key to understanding the dark mystery at the heart of this series.” So we imagine that C is the domain of the Yellow King, and for viewers it should be taken as a signifier of the larger mythology surrounding this case. “The Secret Fate of All Life,” brings more overt references to Chambers’ work, including Reggie Ledoux telling Cohle, ”I saw you in my dream. You’re a priest too. I know what happens next. You’re in Carcosa now.” It appears as though the show is diving headlong into a realm of cosmic horror.
Put aside Robert W. Chambers for a moment; a more important read would be this fantastic piece featured over at Medium.com about the Jeff Davis 8, an ongoing investigation about the killings of eight women whose bodies were discovered around the swamps and canals of Southern Louisiana. Their killings have gained national notoriety, often portrayed as the work of a serial killer. But police documents obtained by WWL-TV suggest a very different – and potentially more sinister – theory: that police somehow were involved. HBO’s new crime drama is very much true to life, sharing many details as the real life case. A wide range of circumstances have furled the rumours that police have blood on their hands.
Reggie Ledoux is no longer around but we know that there’s a bigger monster lurking in the shadows.
“I can see your soul in the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive,” Dewall tells Cohle. “You got a demon, little man. I don’t like your face. It makes me want to do things to it. … There’s a shadow in you, son.
Beautifully poised, cryptic and sinister: True Detective is riveting – a small screen masterpiece in the making.
– Ricky D
Don’t forget to listen to our True Detective podcast. New episodes are uploaded every Tuesday night.
Other recommended reading: Writer Nic Pizzolatto on Thomas Ligotti and the Weird Secrets of True Detective.