Time is a flat circle. People and situations will come and go, but everything will always repeat itself; the loop will forever be closed one way or another. Rust believes this, and it turns out he was right, at least in terms of the relationship between him and Marty. True Detective is built not intrinsically on the plot, but on the developmental relationship between its two leads. This episode saw the climax of all the character building so far, and the payoff was monumental in a manner as subtle as only True Detective could pull off. Within the space of 60 minutes we see Marty carrying a gun around Rust to trusting him completely, as he never has before. That alone speaks volumes.
One small thing I appreciated about the boys’ coming together was that they didn’t dwell on Maggie and the problems of the past. A lesser writer may have had them shout and scuffle, but Pizzolatto understands that this is 10 years later. Both men have moved on in their own respective ways, and raw wounds have sealed.
After You’ve Gone felt quite different not only tonally, but thematically than episodes previous. The framing device of our two former detectives being interviewed in 2012 has now become the plot going forward, and the transition was seamless, beginning with the conclusion of last week’s Haunted Houses. As previously mentioned, the initial focus of the show was on the characters rather than the plot. Now, with past events wrapped up and no clue whatsoever about what happens going forward, the characters themselves have become the plot, which results in a complete, but exciting, tonal shift. In addition to this (and it was also notable in our brief glimpse into 2002), the entire aesthetic of 2012 as presented to us is clearly distinct from that of ’95. We, the audience, feel that something is different, just as we should. Time has passed, and with it the world, and our characters, have changed. This brings me to my next point.
Before this episode, we had only seen 2012 Marty and Rust in the presence of others, in a very formal setting. We hadn’t been shown anything of their personal lives, or their conduct outside of the interview room. Now, of course, we know that these two men have changed drastically in their ten years apart. In a twist on poetic justice, Marty has atoned for his past vices and sins, but it is too little, too late. In the process, he has fallen as far as he possibly could. Despite the despicable things we have seen him do in the past, we still greatly sympathize with him as he sits alone at home, his frozen dinners a fitting metaphor for his current lifestyle. Rust, on the other hand, has shot to the other end of the spectrum entirely. He has become consumed by his old idiosyncrasies, becoming a more intense and forthcoming version of his older self in the process. Marty has become more introspective, while Rust has regressed and become unhinged, with hints of his Crash persona seeping in. This is wonderfully realized throughout the episode. there is definitely an element of role reversal at play; Marty has become a much more competent detective since he quit the force, readily performing the required legwork and pulling files with a tenacity formerly only displayed by Rust. Rust has become the guide in their current “case”, deciding on their next move and keeping everything on track. It’s obvious now that the two men needed each other, and were slowly whittling their lives away during the last ten years. They have come to define and rely on each other completely. “Without me, there is no you.” Time is a flat circle, indeed.
McConaughey deserves all of the praise he gets, but I feel that in the light of the Oscars and his recent overall career reinvention and success, Harrelson’s performance may have become a bit overshadowed. Woody absolutely nailed it in this episode, and carried much of the emotional side of things all by himself. Forget about past comedic stereotypes – this man can act. The scene in which Rust shows Marty his compiled work of the last two years in the storage locker is the best example of this. We are shown just enough of the videotaped child sacrifice to understand its implications without being beaten over the head, and Woody’s acting carries us the rest of the way. This sequence was impressively shot by Fukunaga – Marty’s deteriorating facial expressions are intercut with shots of the TV screen, climaxing in a drained emotional outburst from him. One of the most effective tools of this show is that we only see the case develop from the perspective of the two leads. This is admirably compelling, and really adds to the horror aspect.
As I mentioned above, After You’ve Gone felt completely different to previous episode. Of course, an element of over-exposition was inevitable, given that Marty and Rust haven’t seen each other for ten years, but I didn’t really have a problem with it. Plot-wise, it churned forward and gave us just enough to anticipate a memorable and fulfilling finale. It was nice to see Steve the Racist from Deadwood get his comeuppance again here (ironically his character’s name in True Detective is also Steve), and I wonder if the car battery will really be necessary in order for Rust to get the information he needs. One of my favorite moments in the episode was Rust’s cold rebuttal of Maggie – it’s just so Rust-ish. In contrast to this, Marty’s goodbye to Maggie was touching in its own way, as it is here that we can see how much he has really grown in the years since they split. I do wonder if his goodbye is a dark foreshadowing of something to come, though. The Tuttles’ former housekeeper’s reaction to Rust’s notebook was, in my opinion, one of the creepiest things we’ve yet seen in the show. In a mixture of glee, terror, ecstasy and nostalgia, with a forlorn look in her eyes, she unintelligibly spouts lore from The Yellow King. hope everyone picked up on the mention of an officer named Childress in the episode. If you recall, one of the prison guards on duty back in ’02 when Rust’s interrogation suspect killed himself was called Childress – definitely no coincidence. Everything links back to the cult, Carcossa, and the Yellow King, who (I might as well mention it now) I don’t believe to be our “lawnmower man”. He is just a rogue cog in the machine. The concept of Carcossa and the Yellow King seemed much bigger going by Rust’s aforementioned interrogation in The Secret Fate of All Life. We don’t have the slightest idea about the overall picture yet, and just how deep its roots go.
Due to rampant discussion on various message boards and forums, a lot of us had already called that the “lawnmower man” from The Locked Room was really the killer/tall man with scars/green-eared spaghetti monster (now Errol). However, Pizzolatto has been very clear since the beginning that with True Detective, his intention is not to deliver inexplicable, “shocking” twists; the clues are always there for us to piece together, and most of the information is readily available should we wish to dedicate ourselves to uncovering it. No doubt some will question how Rust didn’t realize the possibility of this man being involved, given that when he encountered him in ’95, the “scarred man” was very much on his mind. Upon closer inspection, it is clear that Rust’s primary goal at that given time was uncovering information about the Tuttle-funded school. He never gave Errol more than a passing glance, because there was no reason to. Add that to the fact that Errol was sporting some facial hair at the time, which would have obscured his not-too-visible scars anyway, and the scarred side of his face was turned away from Rust, and it makes sense. The fact that his scars aren’t as gruesome as we all expected also makes sense; all of the exaggerated reports of his scarring have come from second-hand accounts, victims, or people involved with the victims – in situations of unease and/or terror, a small detail like facial scarring becomes much more significant and memorable to those who see it. With all of this said, I did feel that the final shot of Errol (hops off mower while camera dramatically pans around him, revealing the scars; speaks line, then inexplicably hops back on the mower before spiraling off) was a bit on the nose and below the norm for the sake of the reveal, but it was in no way a detriment to the episode. In any case, Marty might approve; the man makes sure to mow his own lawn.
In the runup to the finale, I am deliberately going on a full media blackout to avoid the possibility of spoiling myself as to the outcome of the story. While I enjoy speculation, I want to experience the end of Marty and Rust’s story fresh, and without preconceptions. Also, just a small note for those who may have had a problem with this episode for its tonal shift: I personally don’t grade episodes, as I believe it focuses people too much on the positive/negative, and takes away from the interpretation and discussion, which are of much more value in a show like True Detective. For this reason I believe that when seen in conjunction with the season finale, After You’ve Gone will be much more appreciated for what it is.
The first season of True Detective CONCLUDES next Sunday 3/9, and with it, our two detectives’ story. What are your thoughts heading into our final hour with Marty and Rust? Sound off in the comments. Until then, here’s a closer look inside this episode, along with a preview for the grand finale, “Form and Void”: