“Seeing Things” was about the search for truth and the avoidance of it. It was about being known, and wanting to remaining unknowable. It was about the occult – not in the supernatural sense of the term, but in the Latin, as in ‘that which is clandestine, hidden, concealed,’ and how our understanding of a person or thing changes when secrets are revealed. So it was about SPOILERS!
The “heroes” of True Detective were illuminated. Marty Hart, sunshiney moral superman, was exposed as a hypocrite, control freak, and garden variety philanderer, and jammed himself up with shame and deception. His circa ‘95 story contained echoes of then-president Bill Clinton, whose weaknesses of character, when exposed, cost him integrity and authority. (FUN FACT! 1995 was the same year Clinton began redefining the word “is” with Monica Lewinsky.) Rust Cohle, dark knight rationalist, confessed to his 2012 interlocutors that he hasn’t always been completely right in the head – trauma, drug addiction, hallucinations – and gave the detectives (and us) reason to worry that even now, he is an unreliable narrator of his own history.
The investigation into the murder of Dora Lang – slain by a psycho who turned her corpse into an outdoor neo-primitive religious art installation – entered a grinding stretch of tedious fishing, trolling for a lead, angling for a break. “It goes on like that,” Hart told Papania and Gilbough. “You know the job. You’re looking for narrative. Interrogate witnesses, parcel evidence, establish a timeline – build a story. Day after day.” The Hart daughters – seen literally fishing on grandpa’s golden pond – may have been coded foreshadowing: They cast their lines, got them tangled and intertwined, caught nothing, wound up fighting. A metaphor for the Cohle/Hart relationship? The Lang case?
An obstacle bolstered itself. The Powers That Be wanted Cohle and Hart to surrender the case to its new, aptly named “occult crimes task force.” Talk about a meddlesome supernatural agency: The task force was an apparent attempt by the governor and his prominent reverend brother to exploit the era’s (waning) moral panic over Satanism for political gain. Do you the Tuttles want their agents to really work the case or keep it from being solved? TBD. Cohle and Hart fought to keep the case and push forward. You got the sense they had personal stake in solving it – their identities as super-detectives and self-determing men; for Cohle, a connection with a deeper truth, a want to see order in the chaos of existence even when his gut tells him there is nome. Or not. I’m just not sure what to think of Cohle’s angry, noisy atheism.
Eventually, old fashioned detective work became an allegory for the nature of epiphany. Epiphanies are not thunderbolt strikes or products of magical thinking. Epiphanies are made. They are the precipitant that is produced when existing knowledge combines and reacts with new information. Dora’s widowed mother pointed them to a friend, who pointed them to a place called Spanish Lake, where Cohle’s keen eye for weakness and application of pressure convinced two dubious dudes to point them in the direction of a hillbilly bordello. A storyline emerged: Dora had found religion. Epiphanies began to pop. The discovery of a clue – a yellow flyer for a church, tucked into the diary that Dora left behind at the trailer trash whorehouse – gave them an address, which took them to a burned-up church on the outskirts of town, a marker of lost meaning out in a weedy, swampy wasteland. Inside, on the wall, hidden by a curtain of hanging moss, was an occult image, something akin to satanic graffiti: a crude sketch of the desecrated Dora Lang, hands-bound, crowned with horns.
It was an unnerving find. The religious locale and Cohle’s vision of swirling birds (bats?) taking flight and forming a shape that resembled the dark mark on Dora’s back – the universe, talking to him, giving him a sign – combined to make it all seem so mythically-mystically important. The soundtrack choice, “Kingdom of Heaven (Is Within You!)” by bluesy prog-rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, embellished the seismic vibe.To borrow from Cohle, it felt like we were “mainlining the secret truth of the universe.” To borrow from Revelation, it felt like apocalypse. To borrow from any reasonable person: Bulls–t. Maybe everything is more random than it seems. Maybe the song choice was ironic. Maybe Cohle was hallucinating, seeing what he wanted to see. Either way, he has a nice future ahead of him writing Lost recaps.
Appropriate for an episode called “Seeing Things,” there were symbolic eyes, and awakening, symbolic activity. We saw the Hart daughters jump on their father in bed and pry open his eyes – appropriate for a dim man living life with eyes wide shut. We saw insomniac Cohle give up on sleep, glorious sleep and look at himself in the mirror – or rather, at his eye, in what was a very-very-very small mirror seemingly made for such peeper-peeping. If eyes are windows into the soul, what does a bleak pessimist convinced of cosmic nihilism see when he peers into the looking-glass? Nietzsche! “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” The symbol reflected a man who liked to think of himself as pure reason – as all eye – but who might in fact be a solipsist governed by confirmation bias; a man who, by his own admission, was dangerously disconnected from the body of mankind. I am a rock; I am an eye-land! The 13th Floor Elevators gives us an implied eye that represents the self-awareness/self-knowledge that both Hart and Cohle need: The name of the band refers to the all-seeing third eye that resides at the top of the pyramid of wisdom. Or it refers to marijuana.*
Like the episode that preceded it, “Seeing Things” was a mesmerizing head trip. The fluidity of time toggling created a dreamy feel, accentuated by a few overly surreal sequences. Specifically: Cohle’s hallucinations. The 2001: A Space Odyssey light-show car ride; The Birds. Another pair of strikingly weird images that demanded freeze-framing and interpretation contributed to this sense that the story was actively messing with us: The faded photograph of little Dora in the woods surrounded by horses and shadowy figures (Klansmen?Bogeymen? Just trees?); and the provocatively posed dolls belonging to the Hart girls. In addition to name-dropping Clinton, “Seeing Things” winked at another ruler, too, albeit a fictional and obscure one, and we should spend a few hundred words talking about him, for his strange story colored and accented Hart and Cohle – mostly in shades of yellow.
NEXT PAGE: The Diary of Dora Lang