“Rust knew exactly who he was. And there was no talking him out of it,” says Maggie (Michelle Monaghan).
Episode 6 of True Detective, Haunted House, sees Martin Hart’s wife take the interrogation chair. Time, you might think, for some answers. But True Detective is almost afraid of answers: it takes place in a community of cover-ups, where men are happier to assault people than listen to answers to their questions. And the replies that do get heard? They’re usually lies.
Maggie, it turns out, is no exception.
Last week, detectives Papania and Gilbough began to suggest in 2012 that the bad business at hand is all linked to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). Rust, meanwhile, was in 2002, uncovering another thorny doll in the deserted religious school run by the Wellspring group – led by the slippery Reverend Tuttle. Cory Fukunaga’s final shot zoomed out, framing Cohle with a dirty window. That same frame surrounds Marty and Rust as they sit in the police interrogation room in the modern day, a smaller window (the out of focus LCD screen of the video camera) in the right of the screen, zoomed in on their face. They’re boxed in, blurred, as they come under scrutiny.
Maggie, when she gives her testimony, sits outside of that frame. The camera delivers her account of events from a different perspective.
It’s a big shift for a show so steeped in masculinity. So far, the women who have appeared have been Maggie’s neglected wife or a string of tarts, most of them having sex with Hart behind her back. “Martin never knew himself, so he never knew what he wanted,” Maggie offers politely, as we cut away to him starting up another affair with a mobile phone saleswoman. But it’s that critical perspective that underlies the whole series; Martin, lost, and Rust, found, both men incapable of dealing with the world in front of them.
Harrelson continues to be macho to the point of absurdity, swaggering about town with his gigantic belt buckle like a badge – a big-ass cock strutting his stuff. He takes a sadistic satisfaction in pummelling the boys found with his daughter in a car park; off-the-books justice trumping official punishment. Afterwards, his uniform back on, he vomits, a puddle of his good self spilling onto the ground.
Cohle, on the other hand, is as emaciated and sweaty as ever. He tracks down Kelly, the catatonic surviving child from Ledoux’s farm, in a psychiatric ward and asks her about that day back in 1995. She screams in his face, as if his unstable presence alone is enough to set her off. Rust’s sense of justice is similarly founded on almost-honourable intentions, but is no less warped; boys in American blue gone wrong. After eliciting a confession for child murder from a mother, he whispers to her with a shocking matter-of-factness: “You should kill yourself as soon as you get the chance.”
“Good job,” comes the verdict from their superiors. That is, until Rust continues digging up the skeletons in Louisiana’s backyard. Determined to find the Yellow King and uncover whatever conspiracy is at work, he finds himself kicked off the force for good. “What the fuck is wrong with you two?” yells his boss. “I’m the person least in need of counselling in this entire fucking state,” he spits back before storming out.
Cohle is right, to an extent. He sees through the mess this civilisation has become – he knows himself – but that doesn’t make him sane. Really, the person least in need of counselling is Maggie. Michelle Monaghan shines in her role, bruised and bitter, but fighting to break free of her stereotype. And so she takes control of her situation in 2002, crossing the line in the only way that Marty will understand.
“That’s a cop’s wife alright,” detectives Papania and Gilbough chuckle 10 years later. “Not anymore,” she retorts.
But even that isn’t enough. Remarried to someone else, physically outside of the frame the other men occupy, she finds herself joining in with their lies anyway. Her account is more honest than Rust and Marty’s, but equally ambiguous and untrustworthy.
Did Cohle have anything to do with Tuttle’s death in 2010? Who knows? But it becomes increasingly clear that Dora’s murder, a stab of darkness through Louisiana’s sophisticated, God-fearing society, is something that isn’t isolated. It sucks in everyone, whether they act inside or outside of the law. The haunted house of the title is the entire state.
With only two episodes left after this week, though, not even Maggie’s female perspective can give us the solutions we need to understand what’s behind it all. And it looks increasingly likely that they will never arrive. Instead, Nic Pizzolatto’s script just gives us the promise of another violent confrontation. But rather than be frustrated by the uncertainty, this endless cycle of broken masculinity – carefully assembled and all-encompassing – leaves you desperate to continue riding the downward spiral. Six chapters down and True Detective knows exactly what it is. And there’s no talking it out of that.
True Detective Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it legally on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.
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