True Detective - Inner Demons

We really haven't plumbed the true depths of the mystery behind the crimes in True Detective but after the second installment we have learned a lot more about the detectives investigating it.

I'm fascinated with the acting of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.  As Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart respectively, the personalities of the lawmen they portray seem just as frightening as any criminal or crime they may be investigating.

We learned a little more about Harrelson's Hart this past entry and as much as Hart was portrayed as a straight arrow in the first episode with deep religious convictions and a solid sense of family.  We found that only to be skin deep by the second.

Despite his moral and religious outrage over Cohle's philosophy of mankind, Hart doesn't seem to have any conviction in his own morality judging from his extra marital affair.  If he does then he's reached the depths of self deception.

Hart has rationalized his affair as a way of burning off steam and safeguarding his family from the malicious nature of his job.  This hasn't fooled his wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) who is sure he is hiding something and is not afraid of calling him out on it.  Hart retreats from the accusations by falsely claiming his is protecting his family and her suspicions are unfounded and irrational.

She's not buying it and basically calls him a coward for hiding behind his job and his family obligations.  Hart steadfastly refutes her revealing himself to just as two faced as she suspects.

His partner isn't buying it either.  It only took a few moments for Cohle to deduce Hart has been fooling around by his "smell" and the fact he is wearing the same clothes as the day before were a dead giveaway.  Once again, Hart retreats behind the moral outrage that Cohle is somehow intruding on his personal life and his relationship with his wife.  Just like Maggie, Cohle is unconvinced and reveals he even a tougher cookie than Hart realizes.  The tables are turned on Hart when Cohle displays a physical prowess Hart did not count on plus the fortitude to reject Hart's weak accusations.

As far as shielding his family from the heinous acts of men, Hart has a cruel lesson to learn.  For his young daughters have made a plaything of his fears and have incorporated it into their fun and games.  Hart didn't look overtly shocked at the sight of the dolls set up to represent a gang rape scene.  But his jaw did drop a little and it must be obvious even to him he has failed to shield his family and probably brought  the evil that men do into his own home himself.

You're probably thankful you didn't learn anymore about Rust Cohle by the end of the first episode.  He is obviously damaged and deeply disturbed.  Yet he functions and he carries out at least his job with the proficiency and expertise of a modern day Sherlock Holmes.  (And we all know Holmes had his demons.)

We also learned some valuable information this past episode. Specifically, how he got his job with Homicide.  We had discovered earlier Cohle has a problem with substance abuse.  Now we've learned Cohle had spent fours years with "Narco" and one doesn't take on that job unless you're willing to swim with the bottom feeders that habituate that world.  He came out of that experience so mentally and physically impaired that he had to be institutionalized.  When he came out, there was virtually no where else to go but to investigate murder. 

We also got a first hand look at his "powers of persuasion" when he "convinced" the two men at the garage to reveal the location of the bunny ranch where Dora Lange once plied her trade.  Cohle has an amazing facility towards outward calm that belies the roiling acrimony that rests in his soul.  This is truly a dangerous man.  To himself and to others.

Yet it was Cohle's expertise that brought them to the abandoned church by the end of the episode.   One marvels at his capacity to function despite the whirlwind that exists not far from the surface.

In one amazing sequence as Cohle and Hart near the arrival to their first major break in the case.  Cohle is shown hallucinating a gathering storm of clouds.  We see them form along the reflection of the car window and build as they draw closer.  Cohle looks somewhat overwhelmed yet he follws their progress knowing they ar a figment of his imagination.  As the clouds pass he drops his head in such sadness that it was keenly felt on this side of the TV.  This works metaphorically also as the two detectives inch closer to resolving the crime.  Things are bound to get worse.  McConaughey pulls of this little scence with such conviction that I found it a marvel of his acting skill.

When the two finally arrive at the abandoned church Cohle's visions haven't necessarily left him.  He becomes transfixed at the Starlings as they swirls before him.  Both he and viewing audience don't know whether this is for real or not and this just adds to the deeper pain experienced by both.

Additionally, from a metaphorical point of view, an owl sits atop the rafters of the burned out church as if embodying the wisdom that brought the detectives to this destination.  

Their perseverance has paid off despite the doubt of all that surround them and the doubt they have in themselves.

Beneath the Cross that still sits atop the church and beside the Gospel according to Mark lies the sickening avatar of a perverted religion that preys on women.  Finally progress.  It's a chilling reveal but it is followed by the end scene as the camera pans back and acknowledges there is a road ahead.  It leads into a vast and foreboding swampland where evil resides and our two damaged detectives must go.


  1. Hi Dave,

    Great post! This show is just mesmorizing, bravo to Matthew and Woody. Both Cohle and Hart are so dark in different ways. Cohle seems so self aware while Hart is in denial.

    Ha! The birds! Of course I noticed them given our discussions of Sleepy Hollow. The murmuring birds take the shape of the spiral tattoo on Dora's back for an instant, a sign that Cohle is on the right track? (Murmuring birds are so cool by the way, did you see that post on i09 recently that had several videos?) The sound of bird wings flapping as they enter the abandoned church (where have we heard that before...) I noticed the huge owl in the church too and was kind of startled by the fact that neither man appeared to notice it and that it didn't just fly off. Odd. There are some flying birds in the opening credits, not much to make of that. However, Cohle has a large tattoo of a bird on his right arm (eagle? phoenix?) that is not the actor's. I was hoping maybe he got it between the two timelines, but it was there in 1995 in the lockeroom scene.

    Another parallel with Sleepy Hollow, abandoned crumbling churches. Lost faith?

    How long until Spring Training? Lynne

    1. Hi Lynne,

      Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Meyers February 15th! Right around the corner. I've been to spring training twice but not since they've won the World Series. I've heard it's a zoo.

      There's been criticism of the show that the mystery and or the crime has been too formulaic. I hadn't noticed. Much like yourself I've been wrapped up in the performances of Harrelson and McConaughey. It was those two and the mood of the show that attracted me in the first place.

      Yikes! I didn't see the spiral tattoo on Dora's back! Or if I did I didn't make the connection to the birds swirling as Cohle got out of the car. Thanks for making the connection. I haven't seen the video on io9, I'll have to check it out. I'm glad you go to that site also. Are you a member?

      Yeah, that was weird the men didn't notice the Owl or that it didn't fly off. We've seen them around here where we live but it is pretty rare since they are mostly crepuscular in nature. (One almost pooped on Stanley as it flew off. Close call!)

      I see the abandoned church as rife with meaning also. Burned out, abandoned, forsaken. Now corrupted by evil. If you think about the Owl also you could say it also represents a turn of faith as the owl was a symbol of the ancient Greek god, Athena. Here is what Wikipedia says....

      "In Greek mythology, a Little Owl (Athene noctua) traditionally represents or accompanies Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, or Minerva, her syncretic incarnation in Roman mythology.[1] Because of such association, the bird — often referred to as the "owl of Athena" or the "owl of Minerva" — has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world.[2][3]

      The reasons behind the association of Athena and the owl are lost in time. Some mythographers, such as David Kinsley and Martin P. Nilsson suggest that she may descend from a Minoan palace goddess associated with birds[4][5] and Marija Gimbutas claim to trace Athena's origins as an Old European bird and snake goddess.[6][7]

      On the other hand, Cynthia Berger theorizes about the appeal of some characteristics of owls —such as their ability to see in the dark— to be used as symbol of wisdom[2] while others, such as William Geoffrey Arnott, propose a simple association between founding myths of Athens and the significant number of Little Owls in the region (a fact noted since antiquity by Aristophanes in The Birds and Lysistrata)."

      I was initially drawn to the wisdom of the owl as some sort of reward for their investigative prowess or success. I wonder if we'll see it again?

  2. Hi Dave,

    Nice research on the owl. Here is the link to that i09 post on murmuring birds
    I'm not a member over there, but I do read whatever I find interesting.

    I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about last night's episode re the church. Now we have an abandoned church school, and a transient travelling church.



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