True Detective "The Secret Fate of All Life" Review: Everyone Is Guilty

By Tim Surette

Feb 17, 2014

True Detective S01E05: "The Secret Fate of All Life"

Is there any other show out there right now that sticks to your brain for hours after you finish watching it like True Detective does? That's a rhetorical question, duh, because those of us who've gotten invested in the series have already set up elaborate set evidence boards with strings spanning our living rooms as we spend more time trying to crack the murder of Dora Lang alongside our buddies Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle when we should be eating, showering, and going to the bathroom. But after "The Secret Fate of All Life," we're going to have to tear everything down, because everything we thought we knew may have been burned to the ground. 

After "The Locked Room" put a face (or at least a gas mask) to the killer, one Mr. Reggie Ledoux, "The Secret Fate of All Life" blew everything up again so that any one of these faces in the rubble left behind could be the murderer. That includes Cohle and Hart, but while we're at it, let's also add present-day detectives Gilbough and Papania, Maggie Hart, Hart's kids Audrey and Maisie, and all the strippers from the previous episode to our list of suspects, because right now, we don't know anything. Normally, crashing into a wall like this would fall under red herring territory for a crime drama. I HATE red herrings in crime shows; it's one of the reasons I think the genre is usually awful and tired. But True Detective escapes the pit of time-wasting associated with most bad leads because this so-called red herring is a huge part of Hart and Cohle's story. 

For the first time in the series (I believe), we definitively saw present-day Hart and Cohle give a false account of what transpired to Gilbough and Papania. You should have already been suspicious of what they were saying as perspective and recollection of events has been one of True Detective's big tricks up its sleeves, and knowing that these two have the capacity to lie makes everything that came before it suspect. There's also the question of whether we can believe everything we're shown in 1995. As Hart and Cohle descended on the Ledoux compound, what we saw didn't match up with what Hart and Cohle were saying. The implication here is that what we saw was what actually happened, and I think we can take that as fact. But is that the case for everything else we've seen before? Probably, but the seed of doubt has been planted. 

The monster at the end of Cohle story–and now it's definitely a story–Reggie Ledoux, was guilty of a lot of things: the manufacture of LSD and meth, child kidnapping, one awesome noose neck tattoo, and from the looks of it, reeking of something awful. But we do not know if he killed Dora Lang. The episode would have us believe that he didn't. In 2002, Cohle is giving Guy Leonard Francis the business in an interrogation room, and Guy says he knows who Cohle is and that Dora's killer is still on the loose. "The Yellow King," he said, the same name mentioned by Dora's ex Charlie Lang and Dora's diary. It's all the evidence Cohle needs to realize this Guy knows something, and that Ledoux might not have been the killer. I say might, because we're trusting that a dude who killed two people on PCP knows what he's talking about. 

Once we were told Dora Lang's killer was still at large, Detectives Gilbough and Papania pressed hard on their suspicion that Cohle was involved in the killings and "The Secret Fate of All Life" elevated to another level. They have eye-witness accounts that Cohle was snooping around their murder scene, they postulate that Cohle made the phone call from the payphone that would convince Guy to commit suicide because Guy had dirt on Cohle (Cohle asked all about Guy's family, so maybe he used their lives as a threat), and they tell Hart that all the evidence gathered in their 1995 investigation was Cohle's work and all the people they pinned murders on were Cohle's doing. And as we see the possibility of this sink into Hart's face, echoing in our mind are two things that Hart has repeated over and over again. That he believed Cohle had a tendency to bend the narrative to the story he saw fit to tell, and that the detective's curse was that the solutions were right under his nose but he was paying attention to the wrong clues. Whoa.

Television audiences today look for clues in even the smallest details, thinking they can anticipate the big twist before it's revealed. But I always took True Detective to be more of a straight shot than a series of surprises and shocks. It's fun to point the finger at Cohle, but I don't think he did it. I think he revisited the Dora Lang crime scene in 2002 to see what he missed. I think he went to the school in 2002 and came upon those Devil's Traps because he wanted to look there before and he didn't get to in Episode 3. I think he showed up at the 2012 crime scene five times because he thinks the killer is still on the loose and it's killing him that he escaped him. I think Cohle believes that if he catches this guy, he can get out of this trap of existing in the same life over and over again, that he'll spin off into the fourth dimension or take off in a UFO or whatever else he thinks is out there. Or he'll at least have a head start on this case in his next existence when he has to do it all over again. 

And we also have to consider the cover up of the Reggie Ledoux situation and how that affects Hart's participation in Gilbough and Papania's investigation of Cohle. Hart and Cohle are bonded by what happened, with Hart more dependent on Cohle because it was Hart who shot Reggie and Cohle who masterminded the coverup. If Hart makes a misstep, he risks exposing his own dark past. Maybe that's exactly what Cohle needed. He needed leverage to keep Hart in his pocket because covering up the murder of Reggie Ledoux also meant covering up the fact that Cohle murdered all these girls! Ahhhh! So many tasty theories, so many intricate possibilities, so much mind fuckery. I LOVE it. 

We'll find out exactly how much Hart knows and what he's willing to say when True Detective returns and Hart tells us what happened between when Cohle "got on the Lang killer to whenever they had their altercation (whatever that was about)." What was the altercation about? How deep into this is Cohle? Is the killer still on the loose? Will my head stay together in one piece? I hope not. 


– I know I didn't talk much about Hart and Cohle capturing Reggie and finding those kids, but OH MY GOD that entire scene was incredible. Pillow-to-the-face tense and realistically scary. True Detective knows how to makes its terrors come alive and feel real.

– Killing Reggie instantly and watching his partner blow up on a grenade trip wire was a moment that made me wonder where the show would go from there. Turns out, even more interesting places.

– That's Lizzie from The Walking Dead playing grown up Maisie Hart! Hopefully she isn't naming all the corpses her daddy finds. 

– If your daughter is drawing pictures of penises and boobies at a young age, she may end up Captain of the Varsity Slut Team by the time she's in high school.

– Cohle would also mention that the task force was eager to take over their case. Could they have known about the killer all along, and did they back off when Cohle and Hart pinned the murders on Ledoux? No one likes the panic that comes with a serial killer on the loose, so it's possible there were more killings and the task force is keeping them quiet.

– When is Weird Al Yankovic going to do a Huey Lewis/True Detective parody song called "Hart and Cohle"? 

– "The story never changed in 17 years because it only went down one way." 

– "This is a world where nothing is solved."

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  • KateSullivan May 29, 2014

    I think you meant Audrey Hart...okay, here in my marathon...Cohle is a totally reasonable suspect. Now, I am not a prosecutor, but its not quite there to get a search warrant for an ex hero police detective even if he is a weirdo. I am stuck on exactly where he has been for ten years. And that the look on Hart's face when one of the detectives mentioned the falling out, I have a sense that is as total bs as the shoot out. Which then in turn gets me worried about Hart. Eek.

  • woz22 Mar 07, 2014

    Great episode this series gets better and better , I see that harts mistakes with his famiy in the past now he paying for it . The older daughter certainly rebelling and his wife can see the mistake of taking him back. I do have a theory that its somebody in the force the fact they are staying step ahead . Making the dealers the suspects kiled two birds with stone dealers get caught for murders and the dea make a good case.

  • sangbaran Feb 23, 2014

    I thought TD could not up the ante after the epic 6 minute single shot chase in Ep 4.
    I was WRONG.
    this episode left me numb and a dry mouth. Cannot wait to see the next episode.

  • krisss212 Feb 22, 2014

    I don't know if you know this but there are only 3 episodes left and then there won't be any more episodes or seasons. OH MAN :(

  • antmorris3511 Feb 22, 2014

    ok. now I think the yellow king is reverend tuttle, the governor. thats just a guess.

  • MightyMad Feb 22, 2014

    Hart and Cohle are still working the case. It's obvious.

    There wasn't any altercation between them - just a reason made up so they could part ways to draw out the killer.

    Yep - this was a 12-years long DEEP undercover. And the fact those two aren't cops anymore doesn't change that fact.

    I know I'm right - I'm surprise most people didn't figure it out yet.

  • antmorris3511 Feb 22, 2014

    well thats an interesting theory. one of the better one I've heard and give gives the name ''true detective" a different kind of meaning. on its own the title is so bland it has to mean something sublime.

  • Mate Feb 21, 2014

    Well it is 0330 here in the UK and I am not sleeping. Since Sam20 suggested this show I have burned through the first 5 episodes, (seriously man, I am never going to get to Breaking Bad if you keep putting things in my cue). I was hesitant to jump on this show for a few reasons 1. I currently have no TV and am trying to reduce my intake. 2. I have never really liked either of Harrleson (other than Zombieland) and have never really enjoyed a McConaughey movie, pretty much ever. 3. I honestly thought it was going to be just another buddy cop show. I have to say I was pleasantly wrong on all counts. 1. I would happily replace this for horrid facsimile that is the current season of Justified 2. Both actors are doing a phenomenal job, particularly McConaughey, to the point where I might have to check out Dallas Buyer Club in the cinema. 3. This isn't a buddy cop show.

    To say this show is atmospheric would be an understatement. I can damn near smell the smoke on Cohle's clothes and feel the rage pulsating just underneath the surface of Hart. But it is more than that, this is a cerebral show. In that respect this might be the most cerebral show since AMC cancelled the fantastic Rubicon and replaced it with the mediocre The Killing and the currently bland TWD. But this is such a palpable show that you can't really look away because A. you don't think you can, B. You are afraid that you are going to miss something, because this is essentially a mystery maybe a conspiracy and this show teases you that you could solve this that it is dropping clues hear and there and it may very well be and that means you simply can not miss a scene. Few shows compel you to feel that way in the present time. We have the pause button now for crying out loud. The characters are well thought out and could potentially be hiding something that will lead to the conclusion.

    Great show all around.

  • geoffmaze Feb 21, 2014

    TD is the best show on television right now and it isn't even close!

  • antmorris3511 Feb 21, 2014

    I like True Detective more, but I don't know how many people would agree with me. It's a 9.5 on IMDB.. :)

    Breaking Bad 9.6.
    Hannibal 8.5
    The Americans 8.2
    The Shield 8.8
    The Wire 9.4
    Oz 9.0
    Justified 8.7
    Southland 8.5
    Game of Thrones 9.5

    True Detective and Breaking Bad are both rated higher than the highest rated movies

    The Shawshank Redemption 9.2
    The Silence of the Lambs
    The Green Mile 8.5
    Gladiator 8.5
    The Godfather 9.2
    Pulp Fiction 8.9
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 8.9
    Django Unchained 8.5

  • geoffmaze Feb 20, 2014

    It's a sign of a thought provoking and intense show that comments are still showing up on Thursday when the review went up on Monday. Most shows you get comments the next day and they trickle and dry up by Wednesday. Very deep this True Detective. Love it.

  • antmorris3511 Feb 21, 2014

    i watched this episode 5 times. mostly because theres nothing else good on right now, but every time i see something i may not have noticed previously.

  • geoffmaze Feb 21, 2014

    I need to go back and rewatch the previous eps. Thus far I've only watched each one once, but coming to these boards, I've read a lot of insight and speculation that has enhanced the viewing experience. Hopefully HBO runs a marathon prior to the last ep. being aired.
    Hope even more so that they finish strong (can't imagine they won't) and next season is of this level of quality.

  • antmorris3511 Feb 21, 2014

    somebody was saying woody and matthew won't star next season.. i don't know if theres any truth to that, but since its being called an anthology, i wonder if they will use the king in yellow motif throughout the anthology.

  • Uncle-Bryn Feb 20, 2014

    Man, this show is so dark. I gotta stop watching before I go to bed. Have to watch Big Bang Theory straight after to bring some joy!

  • antmorris3511 Feb 21, 2014

    i havent watched any of walking dead recently because i been troubled, but TD i can watch and its almost therapeutic, especially when ledoux got dealt with. i can be kind of nihilistic but i dont like ppl doing things to women and children. when hart blasted reggie i was like ok, this is gonna be my show from now on. this episode let me know that hannibal now has some real competition and that hbo is still a force to be reckoned with..

  • DesertWolf Feb 20, 2014

    This show carry its name, it's really true, there is no action like most of the detective shows, the story is very tied and great and the writer knew how to connect things together and make the story interesting.... I can't wait to see what happens to Chole and made him like this from good detective to like this... Great shiw

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