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True Detective Review: “The Secret Fate of All Life” (Season 1, Episode 5)

All of the slow, brooding build-up pays off in brilliant, unexpected ways in True Detective's masterfully cunning fifth episode.

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Even though Cohle is not a by-the-book cop, we get a further realization at how little we may actually know about him when he stages the shootout at LeDoux’s and how shifty his personality is. Last week, we saw his terrific portrayal as a greasy drug dealer. This week, he approaches LeDoux’s cookhouse with caution through the mangled woods, telling his partner that he hunted game with his dad when he was little, giving him an advantage in avoiding forest traps. We can only take his word at these life details, although we soon begin to suspect his knowledge comes from another domain.

Think back to the books in the detective’s room, the case filled with guns, the disturbed and almost demonic despair for everything, the obsession over getting his work right. Cohle also has a stunning gift to make murderers confess – does he have the capacity to get these results because he also thinks like a killer? True Detective laid the clues to his madness out very well. Even the slow-motion shot where Cohle fires his machine gun into the field outside of LeDoux’s place has the same eerie elegance as the closing moments of episode three, when LeDoux saunters out toward the camera in a gas mask and underwear. Cohle is some kind of monster too, and we are just starting to realize it.

The title for episode five, “The Secret Fate of All Life,” comes from Cohle’s philosophy about how things do not change. After Hart and Cohle kill LeDoux and capture the spotlight, their lives are still full of malice and corruption. As he sits in consultation making tin figurines out of beer cans, Cohle tells the officers in 2012 how there is nothing to gain with time. “You are trapped in a nightmare you keep waking up into,” he says. “Nothing can grow, nothing can become and nothing changes.”

True Detective has used the ruse of a murder-mystery plot to get to the core of uncovering that bare essence of man at his most heroic and most vindictive. Like that double-sided lighting cue, which the show has embellished from time to time, Hart and Cohle are terrific subjects to confront the paradox how men who strive to be so good also have hearts of coal, ensuring they can never live up to their potential. Beyond Cohle’s potential dark side, Hart also feels like a failure, a man who never regained his hope to be a good, decent family man. T Bone Burnett’s simmering score only heightens the feelings of desperation and regret that the detectives feel.

Everybody wants a cathartic narrative, but everybody’s also guilty. Pizzolatto’s script wisely jumps between three years (1995, 2002, 2012) to further prove how these men, at their heart, do not change. Being a true detective will lead to both heroism and scars. It never changes.

For a series with such a leisurely start, True Detective has built up a gripping momentum. It was a thriller leading as a character study, but now the thriller moves even quicker because of what we have learned about these men in the past four weeks. Pizzolatto and Fukunaga’s eight hour mini-series needed the time to build a world of dehumanized, disintegrated detail. Now that it has, every scene matters.

About the author

Jordan Adler

Jordan Adler is a film buff who consumes so much popcorn, he expects that a coroner's report will one day confirm that butter runs through his veins. A recent graduate of Carleton's School of Journalism, where he also majored in film studies, Jordan's writing has been featured in Tribute Magazine, the Canadian Jewish News, Marketing Magazine, Toronto Film Scene, ANDPOP and SamaritanMag.com. He is also working on a feature-length screenplay.