1.6: Haunted House
The far-out theorising of the fifth episode (probably my favourite so far) is all but jettisoned as True Detective is brought back down to earth with a thud and a bump and a grind in Haunted House. It’s a definite and intentional pullback from the investigation side (barring a couple of scenes, and one especially memorable one), which tidies the hedgerows and brings the narrative fully up-to-date. And it serves to really cement that this is all about the decaying lives of the detectives at its centre; the solving of the crime needs to pay-off satisfyingly to justify not being a high-class variant on The Mentalist’s progressively less-and-less satisfying Red John arc, but it’s the reverberations in the lives of Rust and Marty that really count. And once it’s over the great scenes filter back into the mind; Rust’s interrogation of the murderous mother, his encounter with Tuttle, the most stunning scene of the episode between him and Maggie (that soundtrack is the most sinister the series has produced outside of a crime scene). And through it all, raging at his loss of control over the women in his life is the emotionally impotent Marty.
This episode, from start to finish, shines a light on Marty’s short fuse temper and turbulent inner world. In any situation he cannot take charge of, he resorts to violence. We kick off with him beating up the Emos who went with Audrey (a scene that surprisingly shows the punches being pulled, unlike the superbly executed later altercation with Rust). The rage inside just will not cease. It isn’t long before he is back to his licentious ways (I wonder how the production meetings go with any high-minded potential show runner; presumably there’s a minimum shag content required), and Rust’s eerily predictive rebuke, when Marty gave Beth (Lili Simmons, no stranger to disrobing in Banshee) money to encourage her to find another line of work back in 1995, comes home to roost; it was indeed a down payment. And one that proves to be the final straw in his marriage when Maggie finds out.
His uncontrollable fury finds him poised to strangle her when she reveals she slept with his partner (“I haven’t been fucked like that since before the girls” she says, going for his emotional jugular). The flying fists when Marty encounters Rust for the last time (at least, as far as we know) until 2012 are predictable; one gets the sense Rust shows up at the police station because he’d rather get the inevitable out of the way. And then there’s the last scene, wherein Marty has clearly been sufficiently unsettled by the hypotheses of Gilbough and Papania that he is going armed to his drinking rendezvous with Rust. At least, that’s my take. It could be he’s still out for pure vengeance after all this time, but he surely would have finished it before this point if that were the case.
Harrelson is a tour de force throughout, utterly convincing as a man afflicted by demons he lacks the facility to recognise. He is unable to exert traditional masculine values because they are unwanted or unneeded. He’s out of his depth with his family and his job, and everything he touches he breaks. Not through single-minded drive the way Rust does, but through bull-headed blindness. He is unable to stop and reflect, and unwilling to adjust and restrain himself. He does more than enough here for us to see why his elder daughter disdains him so (and why his even his younger one seems to have had enough). And, while on one level it’s sad that Maggie should sink to the level of enacting pure revenge, for her it’s a cathartic moment and one he’s had coming for a long time.
After putting up with his shit for five episodes, Maggie serves her dish of revenge with jaw-dropping calculation and precision. She knows, from the time of their iced tea afternoon, that Rust reserves affection for her (even though his rational mind and intellect repeatedly reject her), and she is able to use it to her advantage and his abject recoil. We haven’t seen his abilities usurped like this before, his weakness exposed, and the actors, and Pizzolatto and Fukunga, observe the sequence perfectly. She half apologises (“I’m sorry. This will hurt him”), as he is merely an instrument in her husband’s destruction.
But it’s also evident that she doesn’t have Marty’s facility for attachment-free carnal abandon. She couldn’t go through with her bar pick-up; there was a connection with Rust, making her action so much more thunderous and effective. It’s one of the series’ big gasp moments, and Rust’s response (“Get the fuck out of here!”) is of someone who can’t quite believe how he’s been played, and that she would do such a thing. It only goes to reconfirm all his worst thoughts about human nature.
The Maggie of 2012 is delightfully sure of herself. Careful with her words, and revealing nothing more than she feels necessary, Maggie knows just how to control the detectives who make the mistake of treating her like a cop’s wife (because they have wives and think they know how to use the kid gloves to get what they want). The subtle make-up gives Monaghan a slightly gaunt look; if Harrelson is now playing his age, she needs to be aged-up (but she’s still considerably haggard than McConaughey). She is dutifully complimentary with her comments on Rust (to be honest, the device of bringing her in for a quiz seems a bit off; it’s fully needed in story terms, but it doesn’t stand up to much analysis, as they’re hardly going to prove his guilt in the case from someone so peripheral). “Rust knew exactly what he was, and there was no talking him out of it”. She may feel the need to redress the wrong she has done him, but it’s also as simple as his general outlook looks wholly correct when squared against her ex-husband’s follies. She clearly has a deep respect for him (“He was responsible. There are not a lot of responsible people in the world”; an insight into why the trick she pulls is so wrenching).
In some ways this is Maggie’s episode, and it may be why it hasn’t gone down quite as well with the more True Fandom-orientated desire for further word on Carcosa. That just isn’t really happening now, is it? Apparently, Pizzolatto said all the clues were there in the first episode, so any descent into hell is going to be an interior one for the now ex-detectives rather than a lurid reveal of diabolical occultism. I’d imagine the climax to Seven, without Kevin Spacey (or the colourful killings that preceded his entrance); what’s important in that film is the effect all this has on the detectives. That’s what lingers most in Fincher’s film. But, as I said, if the solving of the mystery is a damp squib it may go to weaken the series’ bid for instant classic status. There’s a balance to be struck.
Rust is also on a path to his low point here. He summarises his sour insight into an empty universe as, following his punch-up with Marty, he resigns; “Yeah, fuck this. Fuck this world”. Even there, his words are punctuated by philosophical analysis (although his acid humour is also present as he compliments Marty on his hook). In fact, there are more than enough moments in this episode to satisfy the detective story side, it’s just that they aren’t so vital.
Shea Whigham’s return as now ex-reverend Theriot is a surprisingly sympathetic one, and rather undercuts the contempt shown by Rust at their last encounter. He’s shown to be a man of integrity but a weakness for the liquor. His nuggets of information add to the mythology of the investigation, as he drops references to a 12th century Franciscan mystic named Telios De Lorca and a folder within the monk’s tome containing pictures of naked children. It’s confirmation to Rust of his suspicions of the Tuttle ministry (Theriot left soon after) but the main event is Rust’s meeting with Tuttle himself. But Tuttle’s full involvement in this dark ring of abuse (“Women, children disappearing” as Rust says) must surely remain debatable right now since, whether Rust offed the reverend or not, it clearly hasn’t stopped the murders.
The encounter is riveting viewing. Set in a bright airy room, watched over by suitably bad taste neon cross, the two square off against each other with equal composure. Tuttle allows no tells to slip when Rust sets out why he’s there and Jay O Sanders ensures he is wonderfully sharp with his insights (“It’s hard to trust a man who can’t trust himself with a beer, don’t you think?”) Maybe Tuttle knows this because Rust is on Carcosa now or, more mundanely, he just has good contacts in the police department. And his goodbye (“Goodbye detective. You’ll be in my thoughts”) suggests Rust may have mis-stepped, especially since he still hasn’t wrapped things up a decade later. All Rust has done is bring the full weight of the police department down on himself (he gets suspended) and shown his hand to Tuttle before it was perhaps opportune to do so.
As Rust says on getting the news that he’s to be disciplined, “I’m the person least in need of counselling in this entire fucking state”. But it’s also evident that by this point his ruthless focus has impaired his ability to pursue his goal. Wilfully inciting his partner’s anger by pointing out his deficiencies as a detective (“You’re nobody without me. There is no you. So type the fucking report, huh?”; in part, it isn’t entirely true, as Marty was a shining star before Rust joined, although there are occasions enough to veer towards agreement with “Goddam, you moron!”), he has as little respect for the chain of command (accusing his bosses of incompetence).
Most illustrative of Rust’s unvarnished honesty is his interrogation of a mother who has killed her children but claimed sudden infant death syndrome. His thoughts on family are consistent with his previous form (“Some people mistake a child as an answer. A way to change their story”). He shows all the tactility necessary to elicit a confession and then, without missing a beat, instructs, “Prison can be very hard on those who hurt kids. If you get a chance, you should kill yourself”. It’s a breath-taking moment, as instructive of Rust’s worldview as his reaction to being used by Maggie.
The other moment to note involving Rust is his visit to the girl he and Marty rescued in 1995, now in a semi-catatonic state. She is roused by his arrival, and confirms the existence of the giant man with the scars (is he the guy on the lawnmower, then? I guess he’d need to stand up for us to be sure. Or maybe Kevin Spacey will enter, on stilts); he was the worst, we learn. And then she starts screaming hysterically. Can she see the demon within Rust?
So is that it for flashbacks? It would certainly appear so. Rust has been driving around with the same busted tail light for ten years, and now he’s going to buy Marty a drink. Scratch that, “Actually, why don’t you buy me a beer”. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to talk about. Nice to hear Marty get in one of his weekly cracks at Rust (they’re rare, but well-judged): “Change your hair?” I namechecked Seven before, and I can only reiterate the feeling that, even if both these guys are left standing in two episodes time, something irreversibly shattering to their lives and minds is yet to transpire.