After the non-stop, high octane tension of the past few episodes, it was inevitable that True Detective would have to dial it down a notch somewhat to take stock before moving into its final act, and that’s just what Pizzolatto and Fukunaga have done. The more subdued tone of Haunted Houses is not to its detriment however. Rather, it sets the stakes for what the ending teases to be a conclusive final act. While not all threads may be cleared up, we as an audience will be satisfied by the eight hour journey we have travelled with Marty and Rust.
This episode concerned itself mainly with showing us just what happened in 2002 to fracture the relationship between Marty and Rust, creating the men we see in 2012. It has always been obvious that something happened between them; indeed I’m pretty sure most of us guessed correctly that it would have something to do with Maggie and Rust, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how it would unfold. The scene in which Maggie uses Rust in the most horrible way is an astounding piece of television – it shows us Rust as emotional as we have ever seen him, and gives us another side to Maggie, already a strong female character in quite a testosterone-fuelled show. We may point the finger at Maggie for her actions, but we must also sympathise. She has been used so much by Marty thus far, in despicable ways, and now in a stroke of sick genius, her agency is revealed. So far, True Detective has not been a show that relies on cheaply withholding crucial plot elements or information in order to maintain suspense and viewership. Instead, by the end of the season premiere we already knew the basics of what happened in the two men’s lives. In the five hours since then, we have been delving down into the dark details, and with the two remaining hours bearing down, it looks as though everything will finally come full circle.
I didn’t focus on Marty in this review for a reason, and that’s because while he featured a lot, the general drive of the episode was showing us how events conspired to remove Rust from the force and turn him into the man we see in 2012. With that said, Marty does show admirable loyalty towards Rust in the interview room, which in itself is ironic for a variety of reasons. But back to Rust.
The general consensus of most of the viewership is that 2012 Rust is still “on the case”, and if true, what this entails fits his character as established so far perfectly. We already know that Rust revels in the thrill of the chase – he seemed to genuinely enjoy his brief undercover excursion with Ginger and co. in Who Goes There. I would even go so far as to say that the Rust we saw there was as real as we have ever seen him. Whether his various monologues have any bearing on his truest world beliefs is a bit of a gray area, but if nothing else, we know him to be a deeply wounded, cynical pessimist-cum-misanthropist. This is still reflected in 2012 Rust, albeit with less fatalistic undertones. Allow me to speculate for a moment: despite what Gilbough and Papania believe, Rust never left the state for an extended period of time. Rather, he laid low and dedicated himself to furthering the case. This episode gave more evidence to this theory, in that the only way he could possibly continue his work was to quit the force and become a quasi-vigilante. He is on the brink of a breakthrough, and chooses to reveal himself under his current alcoholic persona to Gilbough and Papania, not so that he can assist them, but rather to get a read on them and where they are in their own investigation. Notice that Rust spent the whole time in the interview room spouting out his monologues, and dancing around the detectives’ questions. All he was concerned with was seeing the file. As soon as he did, his work was finished.
The storage locker he mentioned contains his casework built up so far, and this is where he is leading Marty. I for one don’t believe that Rust himself is the Yellow King, or in any way involved with or related to the murders apart from investigating them. Where the Tuttles fit into all of this remains to be determined, but I and others are of the opinion that the man mowing the lawn outside the school in The Locked Room (Glenn Fleshler, Boardwalk Empire’s George Remus!) is involved. From our extended viewings of Rust post-quitting the force, and our brief glimpse of him undercover, one thing becomes clear. When he is given a bit of legitimate freedom in order to work towards his goal, his personality intensifies and the real Rust comes to the fore. Paradoxically, he seems more comfortable being himself when adopting a façade than when he just goes about his day to day.
Here’s a preview for this Sunday’s episode: