“After You’ve Gone” largely leave behind the structural and chronological devices ( or “gimmicks” if you’re the one person who doesn’t like the show) that have largely defined the series up to this point, in favor of moving the ball on the case methodically forward in the present day. Sure, there is a fair amount of Rust filling in Marty, and by proxy us, on his activities from 2002 to 2010, and that storage unit download is broken up by splicing it with scenes of Marty visiting Maggie. But there are no interrogations, hardly any actual flashbacks, and if Marty withholds some details of the new/old investigation from his ex, he’s not actively lying or massaging the truth to justify himself the way everyone was on camera. The result is arguably a much more straightforward show about rogue cops bringing down a heinous conspiracy that goes ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP, MAN, but I liked it better than most episodes anyway.
Because even if this becomes a more plot-driven cop story, it is one with an uncommonly deep understanding of its characters culled from the hours spent in that more contemplative vein. There is nothing wrong with plot momentum, until the point that it undermines character integrity (as it does with, oh, every single character on Sons Of Anarchy at some point in its run). And for as much as us blogger-types might crow about how the plot is secondary in a series like this, there is still a mystery to solve. The basic contours of the conspiracy have been visible to many on the message boards for weeks now, and there’s no great surprise in the groundskeeper being the spaghetti monster, but seeing the guys actively pursuing leads in the present, with no foregone conclusion to work toward, carries an excitement of its own. Time might be a flat circle when viewed from the outside, but narratively, there are advantages to a less omniscient perspective.
It’s also cool to see the guys interacting with all their cards on the table, like in that great opening scene between McConaughey and Harrelson. Watching the two bounce off each other, without the self-serving narration or shambling nihilistic soliloquies breaking it up, offers a more immediate, visceral look at the show’s most important relationship as well as at its central mystery. Throughout the 1995 and 2002 material, whatever ups and downs the guys had, we were always aware that the case would not be solved and the partnership was coming to an end. While there remains a heavy aura of inevitability over the proceedings (the episodes’ conclusion features the spaghetti monster mowing a flat circle, the show’s preferred symbol for inevitability, muttering about his family having been there a long, long time), there is a degree of uncertainty that has not been present in earlier episodes.
Uncertainty, but not unpredictability exactly. Rust’s always been a half step from suicidal on any given day, but he puts a very fine point on it when he says “my life has been a circle of violence and degradation, long as I can remember. I’m ready to tie it off.” And he’s giving out fucks even less freely than ever before, having invaded Tuttle’s mansion and found some truly chilling evidence. The video of Marie Fountenot’s “sacrifice” is haunting, disgusting shit even for TD, and it’s telling that Marty looks away while Rust refuses too. Rust has built up quite a case for the conspiracy in his storage unit, but he also has things in there, like the video, that would go a long, long way toward confirming the police’s suspicions about him. Something tells me Brother Mouzone will not immediately buy that he found that tape in a secret vault in Tuttle’s house, honest. But then, there is the theory that Cohle’s line in the premiere about allowing your own crucifixion means that he will purposefully take the fall in order to expose the cult. I’m not sure exactly how that would work practically – maybe he claims to have been recruited to replace Tuttle as Yellow King prior to his death? That might make the tape admissible, but as the men in the animal masks are not identifiable, to what end? In any case, such decision would not necessarily be out of character.
Marty, meanwhile, is also taking some extreme steps. He says a fairly explicit goodbye to Maggie before he gives his blessing to kidnapping a local sheriff and hooking jumper cables up to his balls. It’s almost too explicit to even call foreshadowing. We know how this has to go, and so do Hart and Cohle. Their design is to burn down the conspiracy, but it doesn’t appear that either has much of a plan escape the flames.
I suppose there is an unpredictability to that, as it is possible that one, both, or neither will survive next week. But even if they do, there’s no happily ever after in the cards for anyone. Rust says that Marty has to help him because he has a debt, but he also goes along with it in part because he just doesn’t have much else going on in his life. He hasn’t checked in on his grown daughters in months, and apparently he is not a cop anymore either, but a (less than successful) private investigator. Interestingly, he seems to be a better investigator than he ever demonstrated in the 1995 or 2002 parts. Maybe it was just that Rust’s more unorthodox methods stole the spotlight from his effective-but-unimaginative style throughout, but there is also an implication that being a True Detective makes you shit for anything else. Or as Rust puts it “life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing, be careful what you get good at.”
True Detective’s life has been just long enough to get good at character and atmosphere. While I would love for next week’s finale to suddenly get great at plot and bring the mystery to a mind-blowing conclusion, I’m not getting my hopes up on that front. As long as it delivers on the other level, it will take an early lead in the running for best show of 2014*. And if not, well the worst that can happen is they show us a graphic depiction of a baby exploded in a microwave**.
Prior recaps can be found in here.
*though with both Hannibal and The Americans roaring out of the gate with their 2nd season premieres in the last week, and Game Of Thrones lurking just around the corner, I doubt it will hold the title for long. I’ll be once again recapping Thrones, but I really want to stump for Hannibal. I had no interest in the Lecter character going in, but it is fucking great and horrifying and gorgeous, and has much more in common with True Detective than any other serial killer show you might think of.
**I mean, Jesus.