True Detective - Rust Never Sleeps

 "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

Can anyone imagine the character of Rust Cohle fading away?  He's already seemed to reach burn out status, or at least, that's how he wants to be perceived.  Judging by the broken brake light as seen in the picture above, he never seems to stop either.

I was thinking of Neil Young and Crazy Horses magnum opus album from1979, "Rust Never Sleeps" in the context of Detective Cohle's dogged pursuit of the Dora Lange case.  Young wrote the concept album about avoiding artistic complacency.   By the end of the last episode, Haunted Houses, I marveled at the tenacity of Rust Cohle and how he's progressive just like Neil Young was in his day, fighting the good fight for artistic integrity and preserving his own sense of theatricality in order to keep things real and new.  Or in Cohle's case, to keep people off balance.  I shook my head as the credits rolled and said to myself, "this guy never sleeps, he's tireless!"

Rust never sleeps.

I'd like to think that True Detective writer and creator, Nic Pizzolatto, is familiar with Neil Young's work.  His character, Rust, is something that has corroded over time.  Something that was once made of finer steel.  How long can he endure?  Where is his breaking point?

It's become apparent, at least to me, that this season of True Detective has increasingly become the story of Rust Cohle.  It's certainly not your classic "whodunit."  And as much as Martin Hart's character was central in the whole cover up and web of lies following the end of LeDoux and his wife's Maggie's act of revenge.  It's Cohle that has this story at it's center.  As Cohle said to his partner, "Without me, there is no you."

You have to ask yourself how much of Cohle's story is calculated by him.  Did he deliberately get himself fired by confronting Tuttle in his ministry?  Did he pour salt in his own wound by going back to the barracks allowing Marty to brawl with him out in the parking lot?  Has the corrosion reached such a level that he can't think straight anymore culminating with is assignation with Maggie?  Or, by doing all of the aforementioned did he give himself the freedom to act on his own much as he did when he pursued the leads that led him to the Iron Crusaders and he went "off reservation."

Will the rust corrode to such an extent that Cohle will crumble before the weight of his objective?  If his behavior isn't calculated then what was his breaking point?  Was it the interview where he learned the case wasn't closed?  Was it seeing Kelly, the girl he rescued many years before, break down in the sanatorium that is now her home?

No, the breaking point came many, many years before.  It was the death of his daughter and the dissolution of his marriage.  Cohle has been burning out ever since.

Marty Hart told the investigators he thought Cohle had reached his breaking point with the confession of the "Marshland Madea."   I don't think that was it but it was a turning point and it revealed to me what was Cohle's end game.

After revealing the enormity of what "Madea" had done and it's consequences, he left her with little choice in what to do.

In researching, "Rust Never Sleeps" I came across the fact that Neil Young was horrified to find his line, "it's better to burn out than to fade away" was contained in the suicide note of Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain.  Young made it a point to emphasize the end of "Hey, Hey, My, My" by singing out, "Once you're gone you can't come back."  Finality is forever.

What is Rust Cohle to do when the case is finally closed?

He's aware of the enormity of all his acts.  The self abuse, performing outside the law, betraying his partner and the web of lies.  He was never one to burn out and after all this he can't just fade away. When all is said and done Rusten Cohle will find his peace and he will take his own advice. 

And once he's gone, he'll never come back.


  1. Hi Dave,

    Something clicked in my head when I saw that photo of the broken tail light. I rewatched the final fight between Marty and Rust and the tail light gets broken when Marty crashes into it lunging at Rust. Poetic that he's never fixed it, or their relationship, yet.

    I think you are on the right track, this episode was about Rust cutting all ties in 2002 and going to ground. He had been an undercover narc for 4 years and this was him going deep again, in 2012 he's still there. I think the desheveled demeanor, drunk, burnout persona is all a low profile act so he can continue investigating without drawing task force (govt. conspiracy blah blah) attention. Only he clearly has from the 2012 questioning, the result of his conspicuous sighting at several crime scenes. He wanted to be seen, but why now, is he close to exposing the killer? Marty is right, Rust was the one gleaning information in those interviews. He's the best in the box. Perhaps he's drawing police attention in his direction so the killer doesn't go to ground himself?

    Here's my crackpot theory: Rust's dad is the Yellow King. He has made some cryptic comments about his dad having "interesting" ideas and how the stars in the Alaskan sky look, how he's a survivalist. Then there is the way Reggie and his meth lab buddy both reacted to Rust, like he was familiar. Like they had seen his face before. The girl in the hospital starts freaking out when she's describing the scarred man's face and looks at Rust in terror with what could be recognition. His dad was a war veteran, scars would certainly be possible.

    The interrogation with the Marshland Madea, if there is one thing Rust abhors above all else it is a child killer. As you point out, the death of his own child was what sent him on this dark spiral. Whether his is literally responsible for her death or not, he is consumed by the guilt. Perhaps this last interrogation is what steels his resolve to cut ties and devote himself 100% to bringing down the Yellow King.

    Your Neil Young tie in sounds spot-on.

    Sorry I've been away awhile, Lynne

  2. Your theory about Rust's dad being the killer sent a chill through me. Have you heard the theories that it's Marty's father in law? I like your theory better.

    What did Rust's dad say about him? That he is a traitor or something? Disloyal? There is definitely some unfinished business there.

    I need to send you some tweets about the "meta" aspects of this series. Mind blowing.

  3. Hi Dave,

    I thought I was seeing things, but I guess other people think Reggie's tattoo looks like Rust. I hope it's his dad rather than A) a long lost twin, B) split personality. I think Rust looks enough like the Yellow King to be familiar, but not exactly like him, his dad would fit. I don't recall the stuff he said early on about his dad. I think I will probably wait until the end and then rewatch the whole series. The meta stuff is pretty cool. It didn't occur to me at the time, but now WOW. All the story telling references and this unreliable narrative yarn they are spinning. Rather "Usual Suspects". I just hope we get some sort of closure rather than a loop back to the start as some commenters suggest. Or maybe it just ends at the tree in the field in 2012. Great show!

  4. I had some further thoughts on your theory. So if Rust's dad is the Yellow King then that we fit the whole circular/repetitive nature of things. Like father like son. Only Rust ended up having a daughter. The cycle was broken.

    So, and this is a little disturbing, does that mean Rust's father is one that ran over his own granddaughter to punish his son for not having a son?

    The only thing that sticks in my craw is that Rust never said anything about his father being scarred. You'd think he'd put the pieces together. Then again, maybe not. Too close.

    1. Oh that's dark, I like it! I suppose it's possible that Rust's dad could have acquired scars after they became estranged. Maybe they are some sort of adornment like the spiral tattoos, instead of accidental wounds? Then again maybe their purpose is to obscure the Yellow King's identity, make it harder to track down his past? Wouldn't be surprised if the Yellow King had tried to oblitherate his own fingerprints for example.

    2. I was worried the Yellow King was just going to be a McGuffan but I think I read where they intend on revealing his identity. Will it be anti-climatic?

  5. Hi, I just found this page because I was freaking out to myself with the same epiphany. And....I just really wanted to share it with someone but none of my friends know Neil Young enough to understand. So here I am.

    Thanks for making this post.


    1. You are quite welcome then. Always good to hear from a kindred spirit.

  6. To add to what I just posted...

    Rust is the worst thing in the universe. It consumes, and observes and destroys. Yet it can't change what it is. It is destruction itself just created by time and elements. It doesn't mean to be malicious or destructive. And it's stubborn...and is just there....


Post a Comment

Popular Posts