True Detective: Episode Two

Mason Cross, author of The Killing Season, discusses the second episode of HBO’s True Detective.


True Detective 2


On its surface, episode two of True Detective, ‘Seeing Things’, doesn’t appear to bring us much closer to a suspect in the killing of Dora Lange, but it does tell us a lot more about our two protagonists.

The episode follows Hart and Cohle as they roam from one melancholy Louisiana location to another, speaking to relatives and known associates of the ritually murdered victim. The gradual pace at which the story unfolds is matched by series director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s slow pans over swamps and post-industrial landscapes. In this, the show is a little reminiscent of another contemporary Deep South drama, although so far True Detective‘s corpses are less lively than those of The Walking Dead.

Hart and Cohle’s characters are fleshed out in opposing ways in ‘Seeing Things’: one by his actions, the other in his own words. Hart’s short tenure as the ‘good’ cop comes to an abrupt end ten minutes into the episode when we find him dropping in on his mistress for some extracurricular fun times. Hart has an inventive excuse for his infidelity: apparently it helps him to keep a buffer between his job and his home life, so he’s really doing this for the good of his family. Which makes it all right, then.

It’s another nice touch to differentiate the characters of the two leads: whereas Hart is happy to come up with self-serving justifications for his behaviour until the cows come home, Cohle is honest to the point of self-destruction.

It’s Cohle himself who reveals more about his past, both personally and professionally. Interestingly, the present-day interview segments are where we really begin to get to know him; back in 1995, he is his usual reserved, mysterious self.

In conversation with the two present-day detectives, we find out more about the death of Cohle’s daughter in a road accident and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage, and discover that he was a deep cover narc for the years immediately preceding his reassignment to Homicide and to Louisiana.

All of this helps to explain Cohle’s creepy, withdrawn demeanour, not to mention the druggy flashbacks we see him experience a few times in the episode. But are the birds that briefly flock into a symbol matching the one painted on Dora Lange’s back really drug-induced? Cohle doesn’t seem to think so, even seventeen years later.

Already we’re getting a sense that this investigation is going to stray out of the comfort zone of the standard police procedural. An encounter with some of Lange’s fellow prostitutes at what Cohle terms a ‘hillbilly bunny ranch’ throws up a journal kept by the victim, in which she refers to a ‘King in Yellow’ and scrawls lines from the book of the same name by Robert W. Chambers.

At the end of the hour, the detectives travel to a church Dora has been connected to: a burnt-out husk with some hauntingly familiar graffiti on one wall. Even without the police department’s new taskforce investigating anti-Christian crimes, it’s looking like the mystery will take us into some strange and dark territory. As someone who likes his thrillers with a side of horror, that’s a good sign in my book.


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.