1.5: The Secret Fate of All Life
This is the first episode I’ve watched all on its lonesome, and I have to agree with those suggesting it’s a series that pays to watch in weekly instalments rather than as a big chunk. Having said that, the last series that I was addicted to in such a manner was Lost (for not dissimilar metaphysically and philosophically speculative reasons). And look how that investment paid off. True Detective at least will reveal itself as a true success or a true failure in a mere few weeks, but the journey (as with ninety percent of Lost) will have been enormously enjoyable no matter what. It’s clear I’m in the minority for seeing the razzle-dazzle of the last episode, while enthralling, as an unnecessary veer off target. Thankfully, The Secret Fate of All Life rights that, and then some.
There’s a wealth of forward momentum here, even though little of it has the virtuosity of Fukunaga’s climax to Who Goes There. Indeed, in a sly undercutting of the build-up to meeting Ledoux he is disposed of with remarkable ease. It’s the crescendo of bullshit versus what actually happened that really informs the episode, as we discover the tale of grand heroics from Marty and Rust is a grand illusion designed to cover up some less than by-the-book police work.
And these layers push forward into the present. Is Rust’s demeanour and appearance all a veneer, designed to invite misreading from his interrogators and anyone else who may care to look too closely into what he has in fact been up to? Detectives Gilbough and Papania may think they’ve been getting the lowdown on him, but as Marty says “If you two talked to Rust, you two weren’t getting a read on him, he was getting a read on you”. The “evidence” of photos of Rust at the 2012 crime scene has convinced the detectives he may be implicated in the murders, pushing the earlier case where he wanted it to go. But to us it suggests Rust may never have dropped the case. Maybe he had to take his work underground, to prevent himself from falling into the wrong hands. Did he dispose of Tuttle (who died soon after Rust returned to Louisiana)? Is he deep undercover? Is Marty still in contact with him? Perhaps not, as he scoffs at the suggestion Rust has fallen into disarray (it would be a bit of a leading by the nose to tell them he was up to more than he appeared to be if Marty was in consort with Rust).
And Rust’s exit, (“Thanks for the beer, company men”) opens up the series for a present narrative that I had quite expected not to come to pass. Who knows what will happen outside of the safety of the past? We’ve already jumped seven years in the flashbacks (to 2002), but if Rust’s contributions have ceased there’s still Marty to give the lowdown on just how his relationship with his partner went south (if indeed it did).
And so much uncomfortable energy is pervading Rust’s psyche now, it might be more comforting if he was just a drunk. If he isn’t the bad guy, or a bad guy, most of the actual bad guys seem to be identifying something very untoward about his person. The biker contact (who, predictably, wants none of his business) reveals “I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive, like acid. You’ve got a demon, little man” adding that’s there’s a shadow on him, and if he sees him again he’ll be putting him down (well, that didn’t happen).
Then there’s crazy Ledoux’s return to the theme of Carcosa and The Yellow King. This aspect is so resonant of the half-myths Lost built up around itself, I can quite see how the Internet is abuzz with possible theories, and why Entertainment Weekly has gone crazy for it. Ledoux, before his decisive demise, references “the black star”, and ultra-creepily tells Rust he knows what happens next, he saw him in his dream, tying into Rust’s determinedly morose theory of existence in which we repeat the same lives again and again and again. “You’re on Carcosa now with me. He sees you”. This is a world where nothing is solved, opines Rust to his interrogators. Or is that all a spin? The pronounced anti-religious statements of the first few episodes have given way to an entire cosmology of Lovecraftian proportions, in which fourth dimensional beings can see that space-time does not exist; to them it’s a circle. We’re reborn into the same life we’ve always been born into. Bleak yes, but it all sounds a bit too high falutin’ for the former nihilist.
The seven-year gap finds Rust setting up domestic “bliss” with Laurie (Elizabeth Reaser); we’re told he was happy for a while, and we wonder just how things turned sour. But our attention on this period is mainly held by the encounter with Guy Leonard Francis (Christopher Berry; who also played a character in the first episode? What’s with that?) Francis, who doesn’t last long after spilling some beans, picks up on the idea that others know more about Rust than he knows himself (or maybe that’s what we’re supposed to think, but Rust as some kind of Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart figure would be a major let-down). “I know who you are,” he says; he means the famous crime-solving detective, but it reverberates given Ledoux’s comments. Back in the frame are The Yellow King, and the golden nugget that the guy who really did it is still out there killing. “There’s big people who know about him”. It looks like it will be this that unravels Rust’s calm. He is instantly suspicious of a conspiracy (he theorises that this is why the taskforce was so keen to wrest control of the case from them).
Rust returns to the site of the first murder and finds more wooden lattices, including one in the shape of a cosmic maw. It’s the kind of symbolic queasiness David Lynch might relish. Another stick figure appears in the abandoned school, where there are more murals on the wall. The pullback framing of Rust through a window is particular ominous, as if he has been caught in a web the scope of which he has no concept.
The other big deal in the episode is the kids. Marty’s the one who goes haywire when he finds a couple of kids at Ledoux’s. That one is a boy is perhaps a surprise, as this seemed hitherto a gender based ritual murder. But we don’t know the extent of Ledoux’s connection to The Yellow King (a procurer?) There’s no shortage of queasiness in this area. Rust’s tin can figurines seem to consciously echo the Barbie gangbang daughter Audrey arranged several episodes ago.
And Audrey 2002 is well and truly on a wayward path, incurring dad’s wrath when she is arrested having a three-way (something her father copped to in the first episode). Where all Marty’s rage and these family tribulations are at is entirely unclear at this point. His 2002 self has patched things up with Maggie, but we know that the relationship is doomed. And his reflective 2012 incarnation in some respects doesn’t seem all that far from Rust’s doom-saying (“It’s like the future’s behind you… it’s always been behind you”). He also observes, ominously (again) that his true failure was inattention, not infidelity, as the camera pans up on his youngest daughter’s tiara in a tree, where Audrey threw it. Having her ensnared in the cult would be rather silly, I think, but there must be dark connections here. I don’t think Marty is really a psycho; that would be as unimaginative as having Rust revealed as one. But Harrelson is doing a bang-up job portraying a man who has no ability to deal with his family (hitting his daughter was about as far from a measured response as he could get).
Three episodes to go, and I like having no real idea what to expect next. In some ways, this is all an exercise in atmosphere and portents of doom, much as Lost was, and I’m fine with that as it’s a great ride. The mark of a show like this is how the threads are weaved together though. Its longevity will be based on how it resolves itself, so I hope it really does have a good answer to the mystery up its sleeve. Dale Cooper laughing into a mirror might be better than anything conclusive, if what’s revealed can’t live up to expectations.