True Detective Review: “The Secret Fate of All Life” (Season 1, Episode 5)
It all began with a slow set-up focused on two very different detectives teaming up to solve a murder. It built through a crescendo of elevating darkness, with despair and deceit at the centre of each episode. It blew us away with an astonishing six-minute tracking shot at the end of episode four that shifted the drama into something urgent and alive. Now, it beckons our attention with every scene, lest we miss a subtle nuance or line of dialogue to reveal more about the broken hearts and battered psyches of Detectives Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. Few series have busted out of the gate with such brooding brilliance, only to sweep that from underneath us – and in the process, become even bolder by the minute. “The Secret Fate of All Life” is a disarming hour of television that flips everything we thought we might have known about True Detective in the most satisfying way.
After murdering LeDoux and an anonymous cook partner while also catching two young children he may have held captive – one dead, one alive and her disappearance unreported – Hart and Cohle become the darlings of the Louisiana police force. Even in 2012, both men gloat about the hail of gunfire they faced, a story we soon realize does fit the actual events. (Also noticed: a Jesus-like tattoo emblazoned into LeDoux’s upper left bicep looks suspiciously like Cohle.)
Their decision to go in alone after getting tipped off to the cookhouse location is unchallenged. Hart reaps the reward of becoming a local hero, using it to help mend the wounds of his marriage with Maggie and re-connecting with his kids. Through a dazzling transition – Hart’s young daughters separate hands as a black pick-up truck comes up behind him and an older, inked up Audrey Hart steps out – we move into 2002. Both men are now married – Elizabeth Reaser pops up in a blink-or-miss-it cameo as Cohle’s police chief belle, likely meaning she will have more to do in future episodes – but the scars of their past are still burning and their careers still on a long road to ruin.
Cohle is front and centre in this episode, his face often shown in a split lighting arrangement that keeps part of it shrouded in darkness. It is a fitting visual motif, considering how little we actually know about the enigma that is Rust Cohle. The unhinged cop, so attentive to getting all of the details right and so adept at playing the part to capture Dora Lange’s murderer, may have been the bad guy this whole time.
This is an incredibly shocking plot development, but it is actually not too far-fetched. The series had lingered away from capturing Cohle’s demonic-like cynicism to focus on Hart’s hypocrisy and infidelity. However, now that officers Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles) reveal that the character is a potential suspect in 2012, we are not too doubtful that he has both the psychological trauma and the intelligence to pull off an incendiary double life.
When True Detective started, what made Cohle stand out from the beats of other television cops was his unrelentingly dour outlook on life. In his dialogue with Hart, Cohle expressed disgust toward the order of the world and explained that beneath everything, whether it is social order, organized religion or marriage, there were lies. Meanwhile, as the revelations in episode five suggest, that deception oozing underneath the tattered Louisiana landscape could also extend to the cop trying to make sense of it.