True Detective is pretty popular around these parts and there’s good reason for it: The show is fantastic. And while I don’t condone calling a show “the greatest” or even ranking shows based on some standard that’s set by the media gods, the high quality of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga’s series is not in question.
But what I do question is the rash of theories that have been flooding the Internet over the past two weeks. Talk of the Yellow King, Carcosa and the depth of the murder investigation represent the controlling dialogue on the series, but I think it all could be missing the biggest “theory” of all. Could True Detective possibly be hiding nothing in its meticulously crafted story?
I point to Pizzolatto’s vision for the series as my main sticking point for why I think that True Detective is a lot more to the point than we are giving it credit. From The LA Times:
“To achieve a personal vision that deeply investigates character, it makes sense to choose as a delivery vehicle a genre where an investigation is already underway…You can probably tell I don’t give a … about serial killers, and I certainly don’t care to engage in some sort of creative cultural competition for who can invent the most disgusting kind of serial killer,” he said. “This is just a vehicle. You could have engaged the same obsessions in a doughnut shop. But the show probably wouldn’t have sold.”
It should be noted that I would watch Hart and Cohle philosophizing in a doughnut shop for an entire series. Give me a web series immediately!
But what I really take from this quote is that while the mystery and theories are fun, the point of the series reaches towards another level. Knowing who The Yellow King is at the end of the series isn’t as important as knowing these characters and how they exist in the world that Pizzolatto has created.
The book is open and the pages are flipping by while everyone is looking for text written in the margins. It isn’t wrong to do so, but it could be seen as misguided.
From the beginning, it’s been about the relationship of Rust and Marty. Their motivations and philosophy. Being able to decode their being is what the story allows us to do, but it is also breeds the illusion that plot is all that matters. It can get you pretty far, sure, but I don’t know if the focus is fully warranted.
And while the references to Carcosa and The King In Yellow are interesting, I don’t feel that any real answers lie within the pages of that story in connection with True Detective. I credit Pizzolatto’s academic background and noted attention to detail with a desire to connect the different works together. It provides a mythology to explore for literary exploits, but it reveals more about the characters than any concrete details in the story.
The madness those who read The King In Yellow experience provides a nice parallel to the experiences of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart during their investigation into the murder of Dora Lange. It has pushed them in all different directions, be it past lives they thought they had left behind in Texas or out from behind a curtain of deceit in their personal lives and within their families.
If the identity of The Yellow King means anything, it means that there is still more to find out about these characters and their relationship. It’s Pizzolatto in that interrogation scene with Rust Cohle, telling him that his investigation isn’t over yet. It’s a creator tempting his creation with something he knows he can’t resist, much like those who read the cursed words of the play.
Of course I say this with the stern belief that Rust Cohle is not the murderer and not The Yellow King. Anyone who theorizes knows they can be wrong and will be wrong a good percentage of the time. If you believe Cohle is the “monster” at the end of this story, I’m not out to disprove you or sway you.
But I think to say that the tag line, “the darkness becomes you” is about the descent of a man into being a murderer is misguided, especially in relation to Cohle.
A man becoming obsessed and surrounded by his obsession is far more reasonable. And I think it shows that True Detective has had nothing to hide from the beginning. From The Daily Beast:
"Let’s start with Matthew McConaughey. As Rust Cohle, McConaughey gives what I consider the best performance of his career.
Matthew just got it—the dialogue especially, as baroque as it is. He was like, “No, no, this is the way this man talks.” And the 2012 Cohle talks differently than the 1995 Cohle. Matthew has this incredibly complicated chart of where Rust Cohle is emotionally and physically at every beat of those 17 years.
A written chart?
A map of his mental and emotional state. That’s why you notice that Cohle’s delivery in 2012 and 1995 is different. And that’s significant. If we’d had a lesser actor than Matthew playing Cohle, I would have had to rewrite the role. Not every actor can handle dialogue of this verbal complexity, and even fewer actors can understand the ideas and intentions hiding behind those verbal complexities.
But if you have thoroughbreds, let ‘em run. You don’t try to make your dialogue more common. You gauge exactly how great their skill is and you try to use that skill. To me, it would have been misuse of actors like Matthew and Woody to do something safer—to not give these guys steak to chew all the time."
In the end I feel this is a series more about the perfection of execution and character as opposed to the mystery behind the actual case. I feel we could be focusing on the appetizer as opposed to the main course, which is fine and makes for a lot of interesting thought. But at the same time, I think it takes bits away from the real genius at work.
I certainly didn’t write this to undermine any ideas or fun being had. At the very base level, I’m just a fan of the show and I’m looking to have my point of view established on a grander stage.
I love theories and fan speculation for the most part, having done quite a bit myself in the past with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But I’ve always tried to keep it to the side in an effort to focus on the greatness in front of me.
I also feel that covering all avenues is important, especially in regards to criticism. So I say treat this like any of the other theories you read out there. It is really no different. Feel free to agree or disagree because that’s where this found its origins and most importantly, continue to enjoy the show how you want to enjoy it.
The bottom line, above all else, is that True Detective has established itself as one of the best shows on television at the moment. That’s no theory, it’s pure fact.