The True Detective Week Five Nerd-Out

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The <em>True Detective</em> Week Five Nerd-Out

Happy Friday, and a big thanks to everyone who has read and commented on the True Detective reviews to date, including this week’s recap of episode five. Your comments and rants and theories and thoughtful digressions will make up the bulk of this post, which makes my work easier and gives me more free time to get super deep into True Detective cosplay. I really, really appreciate it. If you have a contribution for next week’s nerd-out, you can either comment on Monday’s review, or drop an email to

So, judging every site on the Internet, our nation is in the midst of a collective True Detective obsession (Note to self: The True Detective Collective should be the name of that cult I was thinking about starting), and Paste had to get in on the action. A lot of this will be pure speculation, but I wanted to start with one of my favorite Facebook comments from Brandon Carbaugh, who wrote about the really beautiful scene from episode five which shows Marty’s daughters growing older in one shot. It’s always fun to speculate about the plot, but we should also keep in mind that this is an incredible artistic achievement. I was planning to write about that scene, but Brandon did such a good job that there’s no need.

(I don’t need to point out that there are going to be hundreds of spoilers in this post, right? Right?! If you haven’t watched True Detective yet, stop reading now.)

“The Aching Passage of Time”

Brandon Carbaugh:

“I think probably my favorite shot of the entire show was that Malick-like sequence of the girls playing in the front yard. There was such a tangible sense of dread in that shot, with Marty’s narration about not paying enough attention to those close to him. I thought for sure one of the girls was going to be abducted, or climb the tree for the crown and fall to her death.

But then, that is what’s happening, in a larger sense. The car pulls in carrying the girls, now 8 years older, and you immediately understand that the tonal sleight-of-hand in that scene was totally intentional; you’re MEANT to feel as though something awful is about to happen to these girls, because IT IS — just in the constricted, time-is-an-illusion sense central to the show’s theme, rather than the immediate moment. It strikes a very dust-in-the-wind chord. You’re made to feel, like Marty, the aching passage of time gone by in the blink of an eye.

What strikes me, too, is that True Detective isn’t breaking new ground here. In fact it’s treading pretty damn-well-worn soil, with the false mystery-wrap-up and whiplash time-jump situated just a little after the midpoint of the entire story. I can’t even count how many other mysteries do the same exact thing. LA Confidential springs readily to mind. Structurally, they’re almost identical. Episode 5 practically had blazing neon letters above it, going, “NOW WE ENTER ACT FOUR, WHEREIN OUR HEROES SPIRAL RAPIDLY AND THE PACE OF THE STORY QUICKENS”.

But where other mysteries use that structure as a tungsten steel spine around which to orient a bunch of ratchet-tight tension, True Detective is simply comfortable enough with that structure to let it simmer in the background, providing a compelling framework for what is otherwise a pretty low-key character study.

But my god, the fucking dread it can conjure up out of thin air, when it wants to.

If Pizzolatto/Fukunaga don’t take home AT LEAST one or two Emmy’s for this show, the fix was in.”

The Second King

Here’s Paste editor Bonnie Stiernberg with some in-depth stuff on how we might have guessed that Ledoux wasn’t the main villain.

Bonnie Stiernberg:

“Sure, it was a little obvious when our main suspect was disposed of with half a season remaining that we’d be in for a big twist. Those “Yellow King” scribblings on Dora Lange’s notebook were there for a reason, as anyone with a good understanding of how TV mysteries work might’ve expected.

But we should have known much, much earlier. We should have known from the very first moment Reggie Ledoux’s name was uttered that he wasn’t working alone. It’s been there this whole time, waiting for us to catch up: Reginald Ledoux. The Second King.

The translation’s a little rough: “Reginald” is derived from the Latin “regina,” meaning “queen,” and the Germanic root “wald,” meaning “ruler.” It’s generally translated by baby-naming sites and the like to mean “powerful ruler.” “Ledoux” seems to be a bastardization of the French “le deux” (“le deuxième” if you want to get grammatically correct about it), meaning “the second.”

There’s also the possibility we’re supposed to go with the more literal “doux,” which means soft, meek, gentle. If that’s the case, and this gas-masked, machete-wielding nightmare is supposed to be the gentle one, I can’t imagine what kind of depraved horrors lie ahead for Hart and Cohle to uncover.

But I do know one thing: no detail on True Detective is there by chance. That’s why I think to get to the Yellow King we’re going to have to slide one spot over on the color wheel to the “green-eared spaghetti monster” mentioned in earlier episodes. It’s one of the few leads that hasn’t been fully pursued yet, and there’s an interesting theory floating around Reddit that said spaghetti monster is actually the landscaper Rust interviewed outside of Dora’s old school. Far-fetched? Maybe, but check out this likeness:


It’s hard to tell if he’s got any scarring going on under that beard, but the folks at Reddit even go on to speculate that those “green ears” could actually be those green noise-blocking earmuffs landscapers often wear when they’re atop those loud riding mowers. Look at that face. This guy’s up to no good.

It’s fitting that all these oddly hued villains—The Yellow King, the green-eared spaghetti monster, even Ginger with his flaming-orange beard—are bringing a little color to sepia-toned small-town Louisiana, only to be chased by Rust, a man weathered and tarnished by life, and as the action on True Detective continues to get ramped up, it does feel a little like Dorothy stepping into Technicolor. But we’re not in Oz. This is Carcosa, and while the former’s shiny emerald towers may have been impervious to the elements, that’s not the case here. These guys have been out there, exposed, for a long time—17 years—and I’ve got a feeling the rust is bound to start setting in.”


This is my favorite theory of all, and one of the few I hadn’t considered, from Matt Kerr in last week’s Facebook comments.

Matt Kerr:

“The one key line that everyone missed from the episode (because it seemingly carried no weight) was that Marty had joined the Promise Keepers. From what we know of Cohle and Hart’s characters and the lengths they will go to solve the crime it is my estimation that everything is pointing towards another deep undercover job by both of them.

Cohle goes vigilante and starts working the case while being able to follow his clues wherever they take him since he will no longer be tied down to the state police job, while Hart works the case from inside the department because of the access that he has to other crimes and the evidence locker. There was no falling out, it was all a ruse to create a purpose for Cohle to leave the force.

Cohle and Hart are still in collaboration, working the case that they knew wasn’t solved. Going undercover for Hart means something else, and has joined the Promise Keepers while still being an open police officer with a life and family (perfect cover) because that is a lead that Cohle will find (next episode?), and for a man like Hart to join that club it wouldn’t raise any flags. Both of these men have different back grounds and different specialties and they harness their own abilities (while sharing information) in order to find and take down the powerful (socially, politically, monetarily) Yellow King and his circle of evil.”

Yes! Yes yes yes! I’m praying deep down that neither Hart nor Cohle (and please, especially Cohle) are involved in the killing, and this idea that they’ve faked the falling out to work together on the case for the past decade is so appealing that it needs to be true. We know from the previews of next week’s episode that they get in a big fight, and I’m already hoping that it’s part of some master plan. But….

The Case Against Hart

If Marty Hart isn’t the killer, Pizzolatto and company are really dropping a lot of red herrings. I mean, take a look at these pictures:



The spiral symbol appearing in his own home? Hart giving himself antlers? There’s a lot going on here.

And along with that visual evidence, you have to consider the possibility that his daughter was abused, the fact that he distracted Cohle away from the church when he was about to go inside, and the interesting moment just before he and Cohle stormed Ledoux’s compound, when Cohle asked him if he ever hunted, and Hart said he’d killed a “ten-point buck” a year ago. The photo of the antlers that had been attached to Dora Lange? Yup, ten points. Finally, something I read on Reddit but which I can’t find now, Maggie says the words, “I’ve missed you the last couple days” in the pilot just after Dora Lange’s murder, implying that Hart has been gone more than just the one day he and Cohle had been investigating. VERY curious.

This Week’s Required Reading

From Yahoo TV – More about Hart being the killer

From Vulture – Speculation about the Yellow King, theories for every character

From i09 – A thorough breakdown of Robert Chambers’ 1895 short story collection The King in Yellow that plays such a large metaphorical role in True Detective.

From Reddit – Disappear down the rabbit hole, baby. This is ground zero for True Detective speculation, and the source of many of the theories you’ll read here and at the links above.

One Final Bit of Intrigue

From Mary Mason, in the comments:

“I am going to be really irked if the Yellow king/cult leader/killer is either Marty or Rust. My money is on Marty’s father-in-law, which would explain, among other things, the daughter, and things being right under Marty’s nose (though I don’t rule out the possibility that Rust commits the last murder to have the case reopened to bring the real killer out…”

Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. And I’m not saying “whoa” because of the father-in-law connection, which is super interesting but which I’ve read before. I’m saying “whoa” because of the possibility that Cohle staged the final murder to turn attention back to the case. Could he have pulled a classic Jimmy McNulty? Maybe getting a body from the morgue, finding some antlers, and setting it all up to shine a glaring spotlight on a case that had been cold for years?

Anything’s possible. As Cohle himself would say, “you never know what the thing’s gonna be, do you?”