[This is a review of True Detective season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
In recent weeks, True Detective has become the Internet's favorite new puzzle, inspiring viewers to pick through every piece of every scene, to fixate on anything yellow or with antlers (or both). But the fervor surrounding the mystery at the heart of the show has only become more extensive since the correlation between Nic Pizzolatto's story and 'The King in Yellow' gave fans reasons to start concocting speculative theories on who (or what) is the Yellow King, what all the devil's traps and circular constructs ultimately mean, and whether or not Marty and Rust circa 2012 are somehow involved in the case Detectives Papiana and Gilbough have been investigating.
True Detective creates that kind of response in its increasingly devoted viewership partly because of the way the series is constructed. Pizzolatto's scripting twists, turns, and gyrates more than the washing machine Marty conspicuously dumps his dirty laundry in before Maggie knows he's home. The show gives the audience cause to scour every scene for 'Easter eggs' and hidden meaning until their eyes burn, but holds out on confirming any of the speculation until it's absolutely necessary. That's certainly true of the larger mystery propelling these characters and fueling their obsessions, but it's also true of the smaller, perhaps more obvious ones defining their characters.
As an episode, 'Haunted Houses' doesn't pack the narrative wallop that 'Who Goes There' or last week's superlative 'The Secret Fate of All Life,' but this is primarily because the purpose of the episode is to take a step back, slip into Marty's shoes for a little while and watch while he gives in to some old habits and ultimately detonates his marriage. When Marty stomps around his family's living room, swilling beer in his recliner, waiting for a plate of re-heated pasta before announcing he's fine with his daughters' aversion toward him, he personifies the "crude men who thought they were clever" that Maggie mentions she's spent too many good years trying to deal with. But in a sense, she's also talking about Rust, who requires as little prodding to have sex with her as Marty did Beth (Lili Simmons), the former prostitute he handed some cash to in episode two that prompted Rust to ask: "Is that a down payment?"
There's a stream of obsessiveness in the episode that's in keeping with some of the philosophizing going on in the last two weeks. In 2002, the Heart/Cohle partnership comes to a brutal end after Marty falls back into his old ways with the woman Rust all but predicted he would and Maggie responds in kind. Meanwhile, Rust's paying a visit to former preacher Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham) and Reverend Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders), obsessing over the possibility the latter is somehow involved in the murders and abuses he's not supposed to be investigating anymore.
Jump forward to 2012 and Rust's taillight is like his relationship with Marty: still broken. It's also a lingering reminder that Rust, Marty, and Maggie are, and forever will be, connected, a fact that's demonstrated in the seemingly coordinated lies they all tell Papiana and Gilbough, despite the apparent acrimonious distance between them. As the camera lingers on that shot of Rust's broken taillight it becomes clear: time may heal some wounds, but there're others that can only be fixed through decisive action.
True Detective continues next Sunday with 'After You've Gone' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: