Wednesday, May 6, 2015

True Detective episode 3: "The Locked Room"


The following is a viewing diary I wrote as I watched the show for the first time, pausing after each episode to collect my thoughts. As such, it is spoiler-free for upcoming episodes (although the comments section may not be).

We don't hear much about the Yellow King this time. For that matter, we don't hear much about Dora Lange. The mystery is getting bigger and the case goes from checking up on local dives and flophouses to investigating organizations (beginning with the traveling ministry inhabiting that burnt-out church). Meanwhile the detectives pull all-nighters to sift through endless files, hoping to stumble across a corpse whose dead eyes will tell them what they need to know.

Cohle spends much of the episode ranting: nothing adds up, there's no "closure" or "fulfillment" and dreams of religious salvation are a hoax. Yet it is Cohle who most obsessively attempts to see the bigger picture at play in the Dora Lange murder, who refuses to let the case go, who seems intensely invested in determining not only what the answers are but establishing that there are answers, period. His general pessimism is belied by his faith in the hunt and its destination.

Hart's words are also contradicted by his actions, albeit in more obvious fashion - perhaps too obvious. If the previous episode began to unveil his hypocrisy, this episode revels in it, even juxtaposing his assault on his mistress' lover (in her own home) with his pontification about a man establishing "boundaries" through his family. Not too subtle. Elsewhere, Maggie Hart (Michelle Monaghan) is offered the usual "thankless spouse" dialogue/behavior but surprisingly the characterization actually works this time.

We do know that Hart's marriage suffers from much more than the demands of his work, a key difference from the usual depiction of frayed relationships in films like Heat or Donnie Brasco. The scenes are also helped by the sensitive writing and performance. Monaghan avoids the shrewish cliches and more importantly, so does the script, allowing us to realize that Hart is the one who is falling to pieces, unsure of what he wants.

Hart becomes both more and less sympathetic in "The Locked Room." His boorish behavior escalates as his mistress spurns him, his wife openly recognizes what's going on, and he stays out all night, getting drunk and wandering into work with a hangover (ludicrously, Hart boasts to Cohle that, unlike him, he can have "just one drink"). But as his irritating facade of self-satisfied smugness crumbles, Hart tells his wife that he thinks maybe he won't fall if he doesn't look down, like Wile E. Coyote. In reality, he admits, he's "really fucked-up."

It's an excuse, of course (she's on the cusp of unveiling his infidelities before he detours the conversation) but the confusion and vulnerability are real. Meanwhile, Cohle forms a bond with Hart's wife. In a hilariously unsuble double entendre (Cohle visited the house to return a lawn mower) Hart warns his partner, "Don't mow my lawn! I like to mow my own lawn!" Later it is Maggie who reaches out to Cohle - suggesting that Hart can bluster all he wants, but it is his own destruction of the marriage that can be blamed for any betrayal.

I've written quite a lot about the characters but the episode does not skimp on the investigation. Dora's murderer is more or less confirmed as a serial killer, after Cohle stumbles across similar wounds (and drugs) on/in a supposed "drowning victim" from a few years back. And we even get a name attached to the killer, supposedly: Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford), ex-boyfriend of the "drowned" girl. Is he the one, in the most memorable closing image yet, stalking his dilapidated property in a gas mask and undies?

I doubt it. We've yet to meet the Yellow King and a high school yearbook reveals that Ryanne (the drowned girl) attended one of the Tuttle foundation's schools. Clearly that detail is planted for a reason and if it's a red herring we won't find out until we've done some more fishing. I'm not sure if we will revisit the memorable preacher (Shea Whigham) who opens this episode, but I hope so. He's an interesting character, flamboyant and charismatic onstage - as much a rapper as a reverend - but nuanced and fairly convincing while talking to the police. We still haven't discovered the link between Reggie Ledoux & the traveling ministry.

Will all roads lead to Rome? Knowing that True Detective is a self-enclosed mystery rather than an ongoing show like Twin Peaks or Lost inspires confidence that this will be the case. But with only a third of the series underway, these roads will surely contain some more twists and turns. With a single writer and single director throughout, True Detective is able to combine the strengths of feature filmmaking with the strengths of television - at once enclosed and open-ended. We're headed somewhere and I'm enjoying not knowing the destination.


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