As we approach the final two hours of HBO’s grim, gripping mini-series that has already become one of 2014’s cultural staples, it is fascinating to see how much True Detective has played around with the viewer’s expectations. From the pilot episode until last week, Harrelson’s Hart and McConaughey’s Cohle were testifying in front of two other detectives, but not all of what they were saying was true. Pizzolatto’s series has teased us that Cohle may be the murderer himself, and brought in some red herrings to populate the putrid Louisiana landscape that turned out to be, well, red herrings. A mini-series filled with pulp and philosophy, True Detective’s run is now winding down and we’re getting closer to finding the root of at least some of the evil that is peering out from behind the torn, tattered trees and within these tortured detectives.
Early in “After You’ve Gone,” Cohle and Hart reconvene at a bar and catch up. Cohle tells his old partner that they left something undone with Dora Lange’s murder case. There is a terrific build-up in this opening scene, as director of photography Adam Arkapaw keeps moving in closer to the two men, from a long two-shot to close-ups of the cops tensely studying each other’s motives. “I don’t dwell on the past,” Hart tells him. “It must be nice,” Cohle replies. So, what has Cohle, an enigmatic drifter with a horseshoe moustache, been hiding in storage? An office filled with maps, photographs and a grisly videotape. Cohle showed up at the recent crime scenes because he is still investigating the Lange case, which he says is tied to a collective of missing women from around the area in places where a religious initiative, Wellspring, propped up schools in the early 1990s.
The new main suspect in this case is a “spaghetti monster,” a man with a scarred lower face who was one of the masked men taking the grisly photographs Cohle has in his office. As Hart and Cohle speak in Hart’s barer working space, Fukunaga frames the two men behind glass, with vertically open blinds that look like prison bars. The visual metaphor is obvious: they are still imprisoned by not making due with this crime 17 years prior. As Cohle says, “I won’t avert my eyes. Not again.” The cops left something undone and now they must return to the same swamp-filled sadism they left behind after Hart shot LeDoux back in 1995. Although Cohle works best as a one-man operation, he tells Hart that he needs access to old files to help him put the pieces of this labyrinthine puzzle together. Harrelson and McConaughey’s share a stunning chemistry in every moment in the episode, which makes us wish they shared more screen time in the previous hours.
Time has clearly caught up to Cohle and Hart, who do not have anybody worthwhile in their lives and are intensely focused on their work. Neither man is in a happy place. They wake up, go to work and go back home, day after day. Hart watches some TV and has dinner but seems rather uninvested in doing anything of worth. Cohle works at a bar and we see him take out the trash, but it is just routine. This isolation and lack of meaning disintegrates these two men from the firecrackers they were in 1995. Therefore, their decision to work together and commit to solving something gives them a sense of power and purpose. They did not quite grow up to be cowboys but neither wants to be a loser.