“Haunted Houses” is by necessity a filling-in-the-blanks episode. It is focused mostly on the 2002 interval that we know will not advance the primary mystery in any huge ways. And even on a character level, it’s mostly filling in the blanks that most of us have guessed at already regarding Maggie’s role in the dissolution of the Hart/Cohle partnership. An episode featuring the implosion of Marty’s two most important relationships should probably feel more seismic than this, except that we’ve known it was coming since the beginning. That focus on Maggie in the “present” also adds to the feeling that this episode, while doing some interesting things on a character level, is deflating some of the momentum that had started to build around the main storyline.
Maggie is brought in for questioning, but the detectives aren’t recording her and act a lot chummier than they do with their fellow officers. Even in the early going, it’s clear that she is more defensive of Rust than her ex, which all but confirms what happened between them even before she seduces him into a thoroughly unsexy 45 seconds of coitus. Of course, she’s not doing it because McConaughey is so dreamy, but as a drastic bridge-burning measure to ensure that the flat circle of Marty begging forgiveness, shaping up a little, then going back to old ways, slipping home unannounced and secretly washing only the clothes he’s wearing. I’ve never been married and had an affair going on the side, but even I can recognize that this is some sloppy work on his part.
Marty’s latest side dish is the (formerly) underage prostitute they interviewed in the Lange case, who he coincidentally runs into at the same time Rust is looking up the Reverend they spoke to around the same time. While the Rev has fallen away from the Lord and off the wagon, she’s straightened out a bit, and has even picked up a bit of the metaphysical bayou philosophizing bug that seems to be infecting pretty much everyone in TD’s Louisiana. This was kind of eye-rolling to be honest (I don’t mind when it comes from Rust, because that’s an established, dominant aspect of his character and McConaughey sells the soul-weariness behind it so well), but I don’t think it’s the stuff about God creating us as perfect in our imperfections that seals the deal with Marty. It’s when she tells him exactly what he has not been hearing of late – that he is a good man. He desperately wants to believe that, not that it’s particularly true. He was even desperate enough to try to solicit it from Rust at one point, which could not possibly be a wrong-er tree up which to be barking.
But we know him well enough, and have seen so much of these events through his point of view that it’s easy enough to view his bad behavior as, in Rust’s words, “an expression of weakness.” I’ve been talking about Marty almost exclusively in terms of his faults, but I don’t loathe him the way I sometimes did proper TV antiheroes like Tony Soprano, Walter White or Vic Macky. I don’t really have to strain myself to relate to issues with alcohol and a tendency for self-sabotage, so I actually still find Marty generally sympathetic, even when he’s doing bad. He doesn’t operate out of malice, vicious beating on the frat boys that took advantage of his daughter aside – that’s not exactly a noble moment, but no father is going to handle that situation with an enormous deal of grace. His failings stem from issues with women and life in general (eloquently summed up by Maggie as “never knowing what he should want”) that cause him to lash out in destructive ways. And he eats pasta like a slob.
But other than the pasta thing, we knew all that about Marty already. The most revealing moment for him this episode was probably how he turns sullen and evasive when the interviewers start talking about Reverend Tuttle’s overdose and the break-ins at his house in 2010. While Marty has not been in contact with Cohle since their dust-up in the parking lot, I would not be surprised to learn that Rust isn’t the only one who had trouble forgetting this case in the interim. In any case there’s clearly more to that part of the story that we’ll learn shortly.
Rust, meanwhile, is at his Rust-iest throughout “Haunted Houses”. It’s the second week in a row that someone mentions wanting to hurt him just….well, just because he’s him. He doesn’t seem put out by it either time, so he must just get it constantly, which makes sense really. It’s hard to say which is the more thoroughly self-parodic exchange; the “pure gibberish” of the alligator in muddy waters metaphor, or calmly telling the homicidal mother that “if you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself.” That poor nutjob, she probably doesn’t realize that he offers the same advice to high schoolers, relatives at thanksgiving, parking lot attendants and the doctor who gives him prostate exams.
But subtlety is not necessarily True Detective’s forte. It’s crazy dense, which makes it easy to miss a ton of things with a relatively quick look like this, but lines like “without me, there is no you” and shots like the final, lingering look at the taillight still broken from the fight a decade earlier aren’t trying to obfuscate their message about the duality of the main characters or lingering of unhealed wounds. Okay, some of the metafictional aspects that folks have been talking up on the message boards recently are not particularly foregrounded, but in truth those are some of the least interesting aspects of the show to me. Metafiction doesn’t fit well in such a deadly serious setting in my opinion, so for the most part, I’d prefer it if Pizzolatto kept the focus on delivering the murder mystery and character aspects of the show.
Which “Haunted Houses” continues to do quite well, to be fair, even if it’s not as jaw-dropping as the last couple weeks have been. The brawl between Hart and Cohle is not going to supplant the projects raid as the show’s signature action scene, but it is rough and really well shot without being too showy. Hopefully we’re just about through with the 2002 section and next week will focus mainly on the present, where we can ramp up to a proper conclusion. Although maybe I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up too far for a conventionally satisfying resolution to the mystery. Another none-too-subtle statement from Rust has told us that “this is a world where nothing gets solved,” after all. I don’t know that Cohle can live with that, but I think I can. As long as they don’t pull some bullshit twist where Maggie or Marty has been working with the cult all along or something. If that happens, you can expect the finale recap to consist solely of that picture of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera.
Prior recaps can be found in here.