Skip to main content

You’re on Carcosa now with me. He sees you.

True Detective
1.5: The Secret Fate of All Life

This is the first episode I’ve watched all on its lonesome, and I have to agree with those suggesting it’s a series that pays to watch in weekly instalments rather than as a big chunk. Having said that, the last series that I was addicted to in such a manner was Lost (for not dissimilar metaphysically and philosophically speculative reasons). And look how that investment paid off. True Detective at least will reveal itself as a true success or a true failure in a mere few weeks, but the journey (as with 90% of Lost) will have been enormously enjoyable no matter what. It’s clear I’m in the minority for seeing the razzle-dazzle of the last episode, while enthralling, as an unnecessary veer off target. Thankfully, The Secret Fate of All Life rights that, and then some.


There’s a wealth of forward momentum here, even though little of it has the virtuosity of Fukunaga’s climax to Who Goes There. Indeed, in a sly undercutting of the build-up to meeting Ledoux he is disposed of with remarkable ease. It’s the crescendo of bullshit versus what actually happened that really informs the episode, as we discover the tale of grand heroics from Marty and Rust is a grand illusion designed to cover up some less than by-the-book police work.


And these layers push forward into the present. Is Rust’s demeanour and appearance all a veneer, designed to invite misreadings from his interrogators and anyone else who may care to look too closely into what he has in fact been up to? Detectives Gilbough and Papania may think they’ve been getting the lowdown on him, but as Marty says “If you two talked to Rust, you two weren’t getting a read on him, he was getting a read on you”. The “evidence” of photos of Rust at the 2012 crime scene has convinced the detectives he may be implicated in the murders, pushing the earlier case where he wanted it to go. But to us it suggests Rust may never have dropped the case. Maybe he had to take his work underground, to prevent himself from falling into the wrong hands. Did he dispose of Tuttle (who died soon after Rust returned to Louisiana)? Is he deep undercover? Is Marty still in contact with him? Perhaps not, as he scoffs at the suggestion Rust has fallen into disarray (it would be a bit of a leading by the nose to tell them he was up to more than he appeared to be if Marty was in consort with Rust).


And Rust’s exit, (“Thanks for the beer, company men”) opens up the series for a present narrative that I had quite expected not to come to pass. Who knows what will happen outside of the safety of the past? We’ve already jumped seven years in the flashbacks (to 2002), but if Rust’s contributions have ceased there’s still Marty to give the lowdown on just how his relationship with his partner went south (if indeed it did).


And so much uncomfortable energy is pervading Rust’s psyche now, it might be more comforting if he was just a drunk. If he isn’t the bad guy, or a bad guy, most of the actual bad guys seem to be identifying something very untoward about his person. The biker contact (who, predictably, wants none of his business) reveals “I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive, like acid. You’ve got a demon, little man” adding that’s there’s a shadow on him, and if he sees him again he’ll be putting him down (well, that didn’t happen).


Then there’s crazy Ledoux’s return to the theme of Carcosa and The Yellow King. This aspect is so resonant of the half-myths Lost built up around itself, I can quite see how the Internet is abuzz with possible theories, and why Entertainment Weekly has gone crazy for it. Ledoux, before his decisive demise, references “the black star”, and ultra-creepily tells Rust he knows what happens next, he saw him in his dream, tying into Rust’s determinedly morose theory of existence in which we repeat the same lives again and again and again. “You’re on Carcosa now with me. He sees you”. This is a world where nothing is solved, opines Rust to his interrogators. Or is that all a spin? The pronounced anti-religious statements of the first few episodes have given way to an entire cosmology of Lovecraftian proportions, in which fourth dimensional beings can see that space-time does not exist; to them it’s a circle. We’re reborn into the same life we’ve always been born into. Bleak yes, but it all sounds a bit too high falutin’ for the former nihilist.


The seven-year gap finds Rust setting up domestic “bliss” with Laurie (Elizabeth Reaser); we’re told he was happy for a while, and we wonder just how things turned sour. But our attention on this period is mainly held by the encounter with Guy Leonard Francis (Christopher Berry; who also played a character in the first episode? What’s with that?) Francis, who doesn’t last long after spilling some beans, picks up on the idea that others know more about Rust than he knows himself (or maybe that’s what we’re supposed to think, but Rust as some kind of Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart figure would be a major let-down). “I know who you are,” he says; he means the famous crime-solving detective, but it reverberates given Ledoux’s comments. Back in the frame are The Yellow King, and the golden nugget that the guy who really did it is still out there killing. “There’s big people who know about him”.  It looks like it will be this that unravels Rust’s calm. He is instantly suspicious of a conspiracy (he theorises that this is why the taskforce was so keen to wrest control of the case from them).


Rust returns to the site of the first murder and finds more wooden lattices, including one in the shape of a cosmic maw. It’s the kind of symbolic queasiness David Lynch might relish. Another stick figure appears in the abandoned school, where there are more murals on the wall. The pull back framing of Rust through a window is particular ominous, as if he has been caught in a web the scope of which he has no concept.


The other big deal in the episode is the kids. Marty’s the one who goes haywire when he finds a couple of kids at Ledoux’s. That one is a boy is perhaps a surprise, as this seemed hitherto a gender based ritual murder. But we don’t know the extent of Ledoux’s connection to The Yellow King (a procurer?) There’s no shortage of queasiness in this area. Rust’s tin can figurines seem to consciously echo the Barbie gangbang daughter Audrey arranged several episodes ago. 


And Audrey 2002 is well and truly on a wayward path, incurring dad’s wrath when she is arrested having a three-way (something her father copped to in the first episode). Where all Marty’s rage and these family tribulations are at is entirely unclear at this point. His 2002 self has patched things up with Maggie, but we know that the relationship is doomed. And his reflective 2012 incarnation in some respects doesn’t seem all that far from Rust’s doom-saying (“It’s like the future’s behind you… it’s always been behind you”). He also observes, ominously (again) that his true failure was inattention, not infidelity, as the camera pans up on his youngest daughter’s tiara in a tree, where Audrey threw it. Having her ensnared in the cult would be rather silly, I think, but there must be dark connections here. I don’t think Marty is really a psycho; that would be as unimaginative as having Rust revealed as one. But Harrelson is doing a bang up job portraying a man who has no ability to deal with his family (hitting his daughter was about as far from a measured response as he could get).


Three episodes to go, and I like having no real idea what to expect next. In some ways, this is all an exercise in atmosphere and portents of doom, much as Lost was, and I’m fine with that as it’s a great ride. The mark of a show like this is how the threads are weaved together though. Its longevity will be based on how it resolves itself, so I hope it really does have a good answer to the mystery up its sleeve. Dale Cooper laughing into a mirror might be better than anything conclusive, if what’s revealed can’t live up to expectations.




Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

The Krishna died of a broken finger? I mean, is that a homicide?

Miami Blues (1990) (SPOILERS) If the ‘90s crime movie formally set out its stall in 1992 with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs , another movie very quietly got in there first at the beginning of the decade. Miami Blues picked up admiring reviews but went otherwise unnoticed on release, and even now remains under-recognised. The tale of “blithe psychopath” Federick J. Frenger, Jr., the girl whose heart he breaks and the detetive sergeant on his trail, director George Armitage’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s novel wears a pitch black sense of humour and manages the difficult juggling act of being genuinely touching with it. It’s a little gem of a movie, perfectly formed and concisely told, one that more than deserves to rub shoulders with the better-known entries in its genre. One of the defining characteristics of Willeford’s work, it has been suggested , is that it doesn’t really fit into the crime genre; he comes from an angle of character rather than plot or h

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .