True Detective Episode Five: The Secret Fate of All Life

Mason Cross, author of The Killing Season, reviews episode five, and the midway point, of HBO’s top crime drama True Detective. WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS

We’re just past the halfway point in True Detective’s eight-week run, and The Secret Fate of All Life marks a distinct break from what has gone before. In fact, events move on to such an extent that this feels almost like a season finale and next-season premiere rolled into one.

The 1995 case comes to an apparent end, one that manages to be bloody and anticlimactic at the same time.

Hart and Cohle finally track down Reggie Ledoux’s meth lab, and make the arrest with very little drama, in stark contrast to the tale they relay in the 2012 segments of a chaotic firefight from which they were lucky to escape with their lives. We find out the reason for the disparity between their story and the truth a few moments later when Hart, after discovering two abused children held prisoner, puts a bullet in the head of his handcuffed suspect.

Shortly thereafter, Ledoux’s accomplice trips one of his own booby traps and takes himself out of the picture in spectacular style. It’s an impressively gory outburst of violence in a show that had shied away from action sequences until the end of last week’s episode.

Cohle, of course, shrugs off his partner’s execution of an unarmed suspect and immediately gets to work on setting the scene for their cover story.


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Naturally, he’s successful. The two cops are hailed as heroes and a line is drawn under the Lange investigation.

At this point, the show makes another break by advancing the ‘historical’ sections seven years to 2002: the year when we’re told that Cohle and Hart’s partnership ended. It’s also the point where clues begin to emerge that the Yellow King may still be active.

Marty Hart’s personal story moves on too, as he’s uneasily reunited with his family. His daughter’s teenage rebellion (following on from those creepy childhood drawings) had me wondering if Hart, or perhaps even Maggie, is somehow involved with Carcosa. If that’s the case, perhaps Hart’s execution of Ledoux wasn’t as impulsive as it appeared.

The modern-day sequences take a step forward, too. Up until now, these interludes have been pointedly static, a distanced commentary on the past events depicted in the bulk of the show’s airtime. That changes this week, as both detectives in their separate interviews start to lose their patience with the questions, independently pushing the modern-day detectives into admitting what we’ve known all along: that they suspect Cohle is the killer.

When Cohle walks out of the interview, tantalising us with his refusal to allow anyone inside his storage unit, it’s jarring. Cohle’s 2012 sequences have been so confined to a single room (and two camera shots), that when he opens the door and strides out into the open office, it feels like a transgression.


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Of course, Cohle hasn’t exactly been going out of his way to make the idea of him being the Yellow King seem like a ridiculous idea, with his creepy philosophising and habit of crafting little statues from sliced-up beer cans while he talks. In fact, everything about the way Cohle’s character is written, directed and performed seems to scream ‘serial killer’ at us. Which of course means he’s pretty much the only person we can rule out entirely.

But then again, Cohle also says, ‘Everybody’s guilty.’ And, perhaps more worryingly for those who appreciate dramatic closure: ‘This is a world where nothing is solved.’

Mason Cross is the author of The Killing Season, published by Orion. The King in Yellow, one of the inspirations behind True Detective, is published by Gollancz and available in ebook now.