True Detective – Haunted Houses
Given its rather straightforward title True Detective has strangely never shied away from using obtuse to nigh-unintelligible names for its episodes; ‘Haunted Houses’ is another example of this. The phrase conjures certain images and expectations that the episode itself never even attempts to deliver on; this is one of the series’ simplest and least haunting episodes to date, one almost entirely grounded in reality, which is in of itself something of a revelation. The two men behind the show – who may or may not share a similar relationship with the two men fronting it – have stated that the first six episodes of the show contain everything that we need to know in order to decipher the mystery and I daresay that episode six may well hold the brunt of that promise. The answer is likely something far more familiar and far more frightening than any of the theorists had predicted.
Haunted houses are, essentially, an illusion and an almost anachronistic term. In almost every haunted house horror story the tale begins with the inhabitants terrorized by the building: by creaking floors, by slamming doors and furniture that moves with a force of its own. Ultimately though they come to realize during the dramatic climax that the house itself is as impotent as any other, that the horror was actually stemming from spirit of some unsettled past resident who stood on those floors, slammed those doors and moved the furniture with a merely invisible hand. Humanity, in the end, is always the monster. That, I think, is where True Detective seems to be heading, if this episode is a clear indication of its ending.
The drama of this episode, like that of much of the season, stemmed from the people that it placed in contest with one another and the pasts that brought them there. If any of the houses featured during the hour – those of the two detectives being the primary two – were haunted then it was by their past actions and not by some paranormal force. Rust’s residence is the most literally haunted, he has hung his walls with the weird markings and mugshots of the case, he’s surrounded himself with two dimensional ghosts whose business he plans to settle. Marty makes his way home after a hard days work and destroys its docile mood through entirely innocent actions; he is an otherwise innocuous piece of furniture perverted by his past. There are too many ruined family dinners and nights in front of the TV in his personal history to forgive or expect anything different from the future.
This idea is perhaps what will leave many thinking that this was the weakest episode since the show took the Superbowl weekend off, the fact that it brings to life Rust’s notion of flat time and its repetitions. 2002, the middle chapter of the story, is the same as the first: the detectives relationship is back to where it began (at each others throats), the people they interview have all appeared before and Marty, well Marty makes the same mistake he’s always made and he fails to spot the crazy pussy that he’s been married to for seventeen years (having sex centimeters away from photos of dead and missing children isn’t ‘sane pussy’ behavior). It’s all happening again, the circle spun and it seemed like we were moving forward but we really just ended up back at the beginning again.
There have been a lot of theories floating around the internet since the show became the big social more that it now is and many of them are compelling. This episode provided a lot of evidence that could help prove a large number of them – the preacher drinks from a John Deere mug, for example. Google their logo for an explanation – but most of the information that it dumped on us was drearily straightforward; a corrupt religious program that accidentally provided a safehouse for perverts seems to be the scene of the crime. Cthullu is a fun mythos to play around with and the more deranged Dagon the fish god theories were entertaining to read but really Christianity is the cult that the show seems to be circling in on as it starts to close its grip. This might be a bit of a letdown to all those who have spent the time digging deep into dark screenshots of the show, but it’s arguably just as brave an answer.
There’s no doubt that the clues are mostly there for some grander conspiracy, there have been too many coherent connections drawn for mere coincidence to explain, but I have a feeling that these have been intentionally set up as distractions. Conspiracies are a confection in narrative, they provide much the same draw as the sex scenes do; they stylize the story, they make it salable and swallowable to the audience. Conspiracies as comforting, isn’t it easier that a spaghetti monster be behind these terrible events than a human being; easier to understand an evil woman manipulating a man than one so sick of her own life that she simply hits self-destruct (there is something to be found in the comparison between Maggie and the ‘Marshland Medea’).
If there is some giant or even a group behind all these murders then they can be stopped, but what if they’re all unconnected? What if they’re all unique demonstrations of humanities devilish tendencies? What if there’s no plan? True Detective has haunted us with its mentions of Yellow King’s, Carcosa and creepy cults but these are simply opiates for the mass audience, the next two episodes will likely bring with them an unveiling of sorts, the sheet torn off the ghost, the mask off the green-eared monster and beneath it will be a human face. This isn’t a new story, its one that’s been told since the present first became the past and one that will continue to spin into the future. That or the fish god theory is true, my money is on either.