True Detective "The Locked Room" Review: The Church of Cohle

By Tim Surette

Jan 27, 2014

True Detective S01E03: "The Locked Room"

I'm a bit conflicted about "The Locked Room" in terms of how to rank it among True Detective's first three episodes. And I think that's because the series is undergoing a transformation. On one hand, "The Locked Room" gave us plenty of great Cohle and Hart back-and-forth and continued True Detective's examination of these two broken men and how their philosophies on life bang and clash off each other. But their banter and actions (oh Hart, you bastard) only reinforced what I think we already knew about the pair, as opposed to offering new information, as was the case in "The Long Bright Dark" and "Seeing Things."

Instead, "The Locked Room" made more linear headway on the murder case rather than filling in the blanks of the stories told in both 1995 and 2012. It was the most straightforward that True Detective has been, as Cohle pushed for the idea that Louisiana had a serial killer on its hands while Hart refused to let a hunch dictate the direction of their investigation. That's still fascinating stuff, but it made me reevaluate my approach to watching True Detective. Cohle previously talked about the importance of every little detail in an investigation, because even the most innocuous tidbit can be the "AHA!" moment later. And as the focus switched from Hart and Cohle to the case (in my eyes), I wondered how much I've already missed along, and which important pieces I should be paying attention to. 

That makes True Detective an intense series to follow, even when things might not appear to be relevant. And I'm the poor sap who has to write about it and put himself out there, only to be inevitably wrong. This show is much smarter than I am, so reviewing True Detective might be an act of futility on my part. But man is it fun to watch. The show handles its case work in such a way that it feels real, like, ahem, true detective work, with all the boring parts of the job given as much time, if not more, as the breakthroughs. I LOVE that about this show. Your standard network detective spends most of his time dusting for prints, chasing suspects on foot, and convincing that one lying witness to start telling the truth. True Detective is full of brutal, grinding grunt work, and it asks us to treat watching it in the same way. I understand that it might not be for everyone, but to those willing to commit, it's revelatory television.

So, was the scene with the Friends of Christ Revival Church really relevant to the case, or did it just add some shading to the corners of the big picture? Were the men pulled into interrogation viable suspects, or were they just there to help us realize how little Hart and Cohle know about whoever it is they're chasing? The time that Cohle spent in the library to kill a few hours of insomnia was desperate digging, just like his canvassing of truck stops to get info on Dora Lange. But it proved invaluable. And while all the bits of information that Cohle dug up offered proof that the man they're looking for is a serial killer, this approach of working backwards to link years-old murder cases to Dora Lange is so insane that only the most obsessed or patient investigators could piece everything together into one puzzle. Now they're chasing Dora Lange's killer, Marie Fontenot's killer, and Reanne Olivier's (spelling?) killer, and connecting different details to get an idea of a person who may or may not exist. We're just three episodes in, and watching these guys work has given me plenty of evidence to prove that I never, ever want to be a detective. Part of the job is throwing dynamite into the water to see if anything floats to the surface, and Cohle is the kind of fisherman who could sit there all day until he'd exhausted the world's supply of TNT. Me, I'll just saddle up to the sushi bar and pay for it.

All that grinding only props up the exhilaration that happens when a real breakthrough occurs, and Hart and Cohle finally have a suspect: Reginald Ledoux, Reanne's old boyfriend who also dabbled in LSD and meth and shared a cell with Dora Lange's ex, Charlie. Wham bam, the little details—not one, but a whole sweeping pile of them—clicked together and it was off to the races. It's surprising that it wasn't until the end of Episode 3 that True Detective finally got exciting in the simplest sense of the word, but it's not surprising that the series absolutely nailed it. An APB went out for Reginald, Hart gunned the car and swerved through traffic with his back end sliding out, the music amped up, and 2012 Cohle proudly said, "And finally, we arrive at Reginald Ledoux," letting the "-oux" slide off his tongue like the last drop of a Lone Star. It was thrilling stuff, in part because it moved at 100 miles an hour compared to everything we'd seen so far, and in part because it was the culmination of all the hard work we've seen them trudge through. 

And the capper was director Cary Fukunaga's slow rise over thick Louisiana grass to a dilapidated shack, interrupted by images of dead women and Cohle's bizarre monologue about dreaming of being a person, and, "Like a lot of dreams, there's a monster at the end of it." And then we moved back over that grass to see who I assume was Reginald Ledoux, a man in tighty-whities and a gas mask (!!!) wielding a machete and ambling though the backwoods like a hybrid Bigfoot-elephant beast. And then, as the picture transitioned from monster to credits, the grating pulse of electronic synths set alarms off in our head. Holy shit! These final minutes were perfect. They pushed us to the precipice to look down upon our fate, and left us hanging to think about it until next week. Hart mentioned a shootout, and last week there was talk about a "big throwdown in the woods." It's coming, and it could be the moment that transforms True Detective even further. This show is consuming me.


– Cohle's crafty aluminum can man art: a product of fidgety fingers, or evidence that he's setting up his tale to the 2012 detectives the exact way he wants to? He finished his project exactly as talk turned to their man.

– As soon as they had a trail on Reginald Ledoux, Hart and Cohle finally shared a moment. I think it's the first time they've been excited together. Heck, Hart even smiled at Cohle.

– Cohle's final monologue about all those dead girls ("They welcomed it," "This is what I mean when I talk about time, and death, and futility," "You look at their eyes, even in a picture, doesn't matter if they're dead or alive, you can still read them") is all the same stuff a weirdo serial killer would say, isn't it? But there's no way he's the killer, as much as the show wants to hint at it. Hart either. I think the show just wants us to know that there's a fine line between those who kill indiscriminately and those who actually do it. Man, this show is pitch black. 

– I didn't glean much from the relationship drama in this episode. Hart's business with Maggie, Hart's anger with Lisa, Cohle's date with Maggie's friend, Hart's daughter's porno drawings... maybe another viewing will turn something up.

– Good luck to any woman who's gets set up on a date with Cohle. You'll need it. 

– And c'mon, Hart. Your physical violence against Lisa's new flings is just ruining it for everyone else. You're already married to Maggie, you have enough hottie at home—don't be so selfish. 

– I could honestly watch a full hour of Cohle talking about religion. "If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother that person is a piece of shit."

– I have the fortune of screening True Detective episodes early, but the curse is that they're low-quality DVD copies. Not even regular DVD quality; more like ripped-from-VHS-to-DVD quality. So on Friday night, I re-watched the series' first episode in HD, with proper surround sound, and it made a huge difference. This show is something else.

– Re-watching the first episode also helped me pick up on a lot of things I missed the first time around, and I'll probably be watching each episode two or three times: one on the screener for review, and another to bask in its HD beauty the way it was meant to be seen.

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  • KateSullivan May 28, 2014

    I am currently watching this show for the first time in a marathon style (because there is very little on this week) and I think I am experiencing the highs and lows all at once (I watched the first three last night, but I think I am going to stick to two a night, because I was dragging through the third one and if not for the electro beat at the end, I might not have been paying attention).

    But so far my general thoughts, so when it became apparent to Hart that the new detectives (are we going to learn their names ever?) have Cohle as a suspect, I found it curious how he went into some sort of spin mode. Like it was suddenly more often that he was doing the "he's a great detective" thing.

    I must confess, while I am not as pessimistic as Cohle, my view of religion is not too far off. But, yet, I would have been tempted to join with Hart, but not so much you sound panicked but more, you are arguing awfully hard for people to believe in your point of view. You know kind of the snarky view most agnostics have of athiests - you're pretty certain, huh?

    I seriously have been having a time following the elaborate family connections between the little girl (I think that fisherman guy might have been my favorite dude) and Ray there. I mean, I followed the connection between him and Dora's ex.

    I am weirdly less concerned about Hart's little girl's porno drawings compared to her construction of a crime scene with dolls for her little sister. I am guessing Hart brings files home occasionally.

    I keep having to remind myself they are in 1995 and there aren't any cell phones or anything. I graduated high school that year and some kids had car phones, but my first cell phone was silly looking in 1999 (though I swear sometimes I think my current smart phone is bigger).

  • saraint Mar 14, 2014

    I love this show. I'm sick with loving it. I feel engulfed by it. The cinematography is brutally beautiful. Mac Matty is superb: I just can't peel my eyes off him. I like the dark inevitability of Cohle and Maggie getting together. I also loved the ending. I can't wait to watch the next one, but have to wait to watch it when my partner 'feels like it' (cue sound from Buffy end credits). :(

  • Ankh49 Apr 04, 2014

    You are good to your partner I don't think I'd be able to wait. :-)

  • sangbaran Feb 15, 2014

    This show is..... wow!!!! Depressing , bleak, intense.
    and I thought Hannibal and The killing were dark. Phew!

  • current Feb 01, 2014

    Loving this show for it's daring to challenge all manner of belief systems through, in the main, Cohle.. And to paraphrase one writer, " force humanity to stare back upon itself and puke in it's face..." He's like some untouchable spook and the other cops know it and fear him and his intelligence all the more for it.
    Hart remains much more the 'conventional' flawed cop and human being but, and it's a biggy, a trustworthy sidekick whatever.
    I'm guessing 'tighty-whitey' is either going to be one of the "...have you ever been in a gunfight..." gunned down 'victims' or a drawn out red herring. The serial killer appears to be adept at destroying not only women but churches also, and, leaving only that behind what's intended to be seen.
    So far, as much as I like Hannibal, the acting, writing and sheer levels of audio visuals have this show way above anything Hannibal or Lucy in her sky with diamonds could dream up.

  • Abelak Jan 30, 2014

    I'm astounded and just plain flattened by the quality of the writing in this show -- I guess that's what happens when you stick to one guy. This show should have some serious rewatch value. I don't know that I find the case itself very gripping yet because we're not deep enough into it to really know the stakes, but I appreciate the realistic pace. I find the home/personal relationship stuff to be the most intriguing.

    Also, I keep hearing people yammer about the cinematography, but I think Rectify has ruined slow-burning drama for me as far as being jaw-droppingly gorgeous. By comparison, this looks like a home movie.

  • ShreeyaJayara Jan 30, 2014

    omg! this show is beyond awesome! i love the dynamic between hart and cohle

  • Copioli Jan 30, 2014

    I am so upset as Hart jeaulousie. He is such a jerk! I thought Cohle has problems, but Hart is much worse.

  • SergiDomenge Jan 29, 2014

    I feel ripped off... All that empty boring rambling throughout the episode and near the ending, the cliffhanger: the possible killer. I'd like the relationship parts and the case parts to be distributed more evenly in the episodes. Also, that coming back and forth in time really breaks the pace of the episode for me.

  • geoffmaze Jan 29, 2014

    Really like this show, excellent acting, but I think it's going to take another viewing to pick up what are a lot of missed pieces. Certainly not a show you can do other things while watching. I'm totally fine with the "slow pace" it really does give a much better sense to all the hard work and grinding that goes in to finding pieces to the puzzle.

  • akhimuza Jan 28, 2014

    Well can somebody please explain to me how the detectives figured the Marie Fontenot missing to be linked to this case. I am still not able to understand the Marie Fontenot case. I thought it was just a missing girl report. I will appreciate please if anyone can message me and explain it to me.

  • Uma Jan 28, 2014

    I agree that there could have been a better follow up with this. I don't understand why they don't try to locate the girl's father and mother to confirm. I mean the mother's boyfriend at the time and the girl's father should be considered possible suspects considering they found the twigs in the playhouse. Someone would have to be close to the family to know about the playhouse.

  • borgsblueyes Jan 28, 2014

    When they visited Marie's uncle, Cohle found the same satanic twig things in a shed at the back of the house. The police work on her case was very sloppy and no one knows where the girl is

  • borgsblueyes Jan 28, 2014

    so she could be dead, not just missing. The twigs are the link though.

  • akhimuza Jan 30, 2014

    So we are yet to find out if the death (assuming) of the little girl could be linked to Reggie LeDeoux. That he is the serial killer who has killed Dora Lange, The old sunk girl and Marie as well.
    Great that makes sense. Thank you:)

  • akhimuza Jan 30, 2014

    Can't wait for the next episode. The story and the view of Cohle towards life are amazing.

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