The dark territory of True Detective



True to form the last episode of True Detective called Form and Void features the dark and grisly conclusion to a bleak, dark series about two homicide detectives unraveling a ritual murder in South Louisiana. Errol, the incestuous, Cary-Grant obsessed witch king makes an utterly creepy grindhouse villain. Previous episodes offer up a series of tantalizing possible suspects and co-conspirators, including Cohle himself. The Tuttles come off as redneck Illuminati with a long reach and powerful resources. The story ends with many of these loose ends still flapping, but Cohle and Hart’s journey resolves, and that’s the real heart of the story.

True Detective‘s mysterious King in Yellow references a Robert Chambers story about a play that elicits madness and despair in those who see it. The story Cohle and Hart live as they work their case contains enough bizarre evil to induce similar responses. Cohle’s philosophic nature and nihilistic outlook make him particularly vulnerable to emotional and spiritual damage. Hart’s proclivities run to the more standard tropes TV cops use to cope. He cheats on his wife, drinks too much, and is disconnected from his children. Hart ends up in a place something like despair in which he’s lost his family and left his job after exposure to yet another urban legend horror, the baby in the microwave.

Cohle and Hart’s determination to close the case appears to be part-destiny and part obsession. In spite of a serious rift between them, when Cohle shows Hart the horror inducing videotape of one the victims, he’s in. This tape is used to induce former cop Steve Geraci. While immediate exposure to the tape loosens his tongue, Steve does not seem permanently traumatized by his experience, displaying the same self-interest after they finish with him that he has before. He tells them Sheriff Childress is the one who closed the case. Interviews in previous episodes suggest that Errol might be a Childress and possibly an illegitimate child of one of the Tuttles.

After making arrangements to unveil their evidence should they not come out alive, Cohle and Hart follow their leads to Errol’s house. Earlier the episode treats us to scenes of Errol’s Psycho-Louisiana-style domestic bliss. Cohle and Hart’s journey lead them into the heart of Carcosa where the evil is as thick as hot, humid swamp air.

Cohle’s bleak spiritual journey is revealed in the first episode entitled The Long Bright Dark with his rant about “the ontological fallacy of expecting light at the end of the tunnel.” Everything he encounters seems to confirm that position. 17 years later Cohle walks into Carcosa. Giant representations of the trail of twig-like gris-gris (Lousiana term for talisman) that appear throughout the series fill the tunnel-like space. Errol’s insane taunts to “come die with me little priest.” Cohle follows Errol’s voice to what is supposed to be the altar of Carcosa, where Cohle’s looks up at the circle of light above him and experiences a cosmic moment where the universe seems to open to him.

Cohle battles Errol as Hart follows the voices. Errol sinks a knife into Cohle and an ax into Hart. After Hart, with an ax stuck in his chest manages to head butt Errol, Cohle is the one who shoots and kills him. Both men lie there bleeding until help arrives.

In the hospital Hart journey comes full circle with an implied reconciliation with his family. After emerging from a coma, Cohle tells Hart about his near death experience. The feeling of love he describes is shared by many who have this experience. Cohle breaks down explaining that he doesn’t think he was supposed to survive. To comfort his friend, Hart reminds Cohle about the stories about the stars Cohle used to make up. When Cohle sums up all the star stories as “light versus dark,” for once, it’s Hart who plays the pessimist: “looks like the dark has has a lot more territory.” Cohle responds, “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me the light’s winning.”  Here’s a transcript of Cohle and Hart’s final conversation.

True Detective doesn’t end with catching the bad guy and closing the case, but with a deep philosophical discussion between two men who are emerging from a dark journey. They manage to defeat and kill Errol, but no Tuttle is brought to justice and their connection or guilt is never even fully explained. Cohle can see a hole through the darkness that lets in a glimmer of light, like the light of stars against the dark sky. And just this glimmer changes Cohle’s perspective on the existence of light.

True Detective leaves us to interpret this victory of light over darkness as we will. The way I see it, God spoke “let there be light” into an earth without form and void. Jesus became the Light of the World to defeat the darkness once and for all. From our end we might see only tiny pinpricks in the darkness, but light only comes through the holes because The Light shines in the darkness that has not yet comprehended its defeat.


Comments are closed.