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Decoding 'True Detective'

Whodunit? And why? As HBO's moody masterpiece steams toward its March 9 finale, EW went looking for some answers.

Image credit: JIm Bridges/HBO

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on True Detective

HBO's much-praised crime anthology True Detective is nearing the climax of its engrossing, narratively trippy eight-episode first season with a head of hard-boiled steam and so many mysteries. Who really killed Dora Lange? Might our enlightenment-challenged heroes — nihilist grump Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and dim Everyman Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) — actually be the villains? Will a Cthulhu-like spaghetti monster rise up from hell and seize control of the godless Louisiana waste? We brought creator Nic Pizzolatto in for questioning.

Should we be suspecting Rust or Marty of these murders?
By episode 7 [airing March 2], it's clear if Cohle or Hart is guilty. I knew some of the audience would suspect Cohle strongly. I knew others would predict a more far-reaching, mind-bending game at work. I hope they are all surprised but feel in hindsight that the outcome was inevitable.

You've cultivated so much palpable dread that some are convinced supernatural forces are at work. Are they?
I hope the audience will be pleasantly surprised by the naturalism of the entire story. If you look at the series so far, what seems supernatural actually has real-world causes, like Cohle's hallucinations or even the nature of the crime. It has occult portents, but there is nothing supernatural about it.

What is the significance of The King in Yellow, an 1895 collection of ''weird fiction'' by Robert W. Chambers that influenced generations of horror and pulp writers?
The King in Yellow is in there because it's a story about a story, one that drives people to madness. Everything in True Detective is composed of questionable narratives — from Cohle's view that identity is just a story we tell ourselves, to the stories about manhood that Hart tells about himself, to the not-always-truthful story they tell the detectives investigating them. So it made sense — to me, at least — to allude to an external narrative that is supposed to create insanity or, as I prefer, deranged enlightenment.

There's been much discussion about Cohle and Hart as examples of TV's fixation on antiheroes. Will True Detective bring us to a final judgment on these archetypes?
What's being deconstructed here, if anything, are archetypes of post-war masculinity. If you look at their swagger and behavior under fire, they are fixated on articulating a specific kind of stoic masculinity that they've picked up from somewhere else. For each man, the final confrontation is the realization that [these constructs] don't work.

In the sixth episode, Maggie — betrayed anew by philandering Marty — ended her marriage and destroyed the Hart-Cohle partnership by seducing Cohle. It was her only significant action on the show. Have you heard the criticism that the show lacks fully realized female characters?
The dilemma with the females in the script is that this is an extremely tight point-of-view show. You're either in Hart's point of view or Cohle's point of view. Any character that is not them runs the risk of being peripheral. But Maggie, for me, is the most emotionally intelligent person in the show. I think of her as an anchor and reality for each man. I blame Hart for her cumulative action more than her. Cohle and Hart have a nice conversation about that in episode 8. It's their last car-ride talk.

Has HBO ordered a second season?
They want to do season 2. I just have to give them scripts and see if they like them! It would be great if we could use some of the same actors, like a repertory company. It would be different characters, different setting. That's part of the fun of the anthology.

What's up with Cohle's Big Hug Mug coffee cup? Is it an anagram for humbug gig? And is Rust Cohle an anagram for...well, something?
Rust Cohle is not an anagram for anything that I know of. As for Big Hug Mug, nobody knew that was an anagram for humbug gig.

Damn! Now you're stripping away our illusions!
I know! See, I don't want to destroy that stuff by copping to it. [Laughs] I'm really grateful it's had that effect on people.

Originally posted Feb 26, 2014 Published in issue #1301 Mar 07, 2014 Order article reprints
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