I want to take a moment to step to the side of our furious search for clues and symbols for a moment and recognize that this story is much more than a sum of interesting plot points, engaging mystery and artful direction. There are some major themes at work, and some amazing writing and acting. And all of these themes are so inextricably linked together, it is difficult to parse them out. So, I want to dive a little into one which is close to my heart: The nature of Time. This has been an explicit theme from the beginning, and continues to flow through the series.
Last nights episode gave us a beautiful image of Time: The Flat (black) Circle
The song is chosen, the flat circle descends and the song plays again. Well played, True Detective, well played. From the beginning, we’ve been presented, in Rust Cohle, with a man who for all the world sounds like a nihilist. Someone who’s given up on the world, and has determined it is without meaning, and that in fact, it is malevolent. Something it is far better to escape. The nihilist dialog, bordering on poetry, that has come from Cohle has been some of the series best writing (albeit cribbed/homaged from Thomas Ligotti, Nietzsche, etc). What drove Cohle to be like this? Not because he is a psychopath. We know he is not the killer. All those theories are dead thank god (I must admit I never bought into any of that). Instead it is something much more grounded, much more real, and much more in keeping with the themes of the show. We do seem to learn what happened that started Cohle on this descent. He lost a daughter. We even know part of how it happened. She was run over in her own driveway. The loss of a child is devastating, perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a person. I know this from experience, as my wife and I lost a child. She died right at birth. Here is something about that moment that stuck with me, and that I find so resonant with the show. When a child is born, one gets an immediate and joyous/terrifying sense of the infinite tree of possibility which has just manifested into the world. This new little life could become anything, their path is completely open, completely free of the past, of bad choices. It is the beginning of a single consciousnesses journey through the soup of creation. And yet, in that moment, when my daughter was born, and stopped breathing, all of those infinite possibilities and pathways collapsed into a single reality: Death. I felt the weight of that collapse as a physical thing. I felt the weight of time. I feel it still . It is not an idea, it is a hard reality, one that never leaves you. I think all parents who’ve lost children would feel the same thing, even if they didn’t put it into words.
Now, that was a horrible event for me and my wife. But it didn’t end our lives. It didn’t send me into a spiral from which I couldn’t recover, or send me to the depths of a worldview which epitomizes nihism and hopelessness, like it has with Cohle. I suspect the reason for that is fairly straightforward, and one which I know many people have guessed: Rust killed his daughter. Not on purpose of course, not as the Yellow King. He ran her over, in his own driveway. Maybe he was drunk. His own carelessness and inattention ended the infinite pathways of possibility that were represented in that little life. That would be enough to drive a man like Cohle into the pit we find him. That would tear him and his wife apart.
And he isn’t going to escape that pit. He is terrified by the idea that time is a circle he’ll never escape, that he will be doomed to live that same horror again and again and again. He wants to tie it off. He wants to break the circle. He want’s the album to stop playing.
Cohle has already read the second act of the Yellow King. The one that drives you crazy when you read it. There is no coming back, but he might be able to break the circle by bringing justice on the horror at the heart of this cult. But not before Marty gets his second act. I fear he won’t escape this pull to the dark heart of the Secret of All Life. As we’ve been laying out, I think Audrey will either come back into play in the present (I hope not) or he will learn what really happened in the past (abuse at the hands of the father in law through the cult), and that this will drive Marty into the same black despair we have seen in Cohle the whole time.
But maybe together they can break the record and end the cycle. Maybe together by facing their pain, and enacting justice on the heart of the horror of the cult, they can find a little redemption. But it won’t save their souls. Their souls are gone. We can only hope they get some peace when all is said an done.