Ha, these two guys. So great. The above two images just about sum up "Haunted Houses," an episode that was light on all the heavy case work that Hart and Cohle have been doing, and heavy on all the interpersonal drama that Hart and Cohle have been brewing. And you know what? I think it came at a good time, because I lost about 15 years of my life between watching the last two intense and dark episodes, so "Haunted House" gave us some time to catch our breath and served as the beginning of the season's final act.
But True Detective's idea of cooling it was infidelity, trust issues erupting into revenge sex, convincing someone to kill themself, and a brutal fistfight in a parking lot. "Haunted Houses" may not have had the twists that would snap "The Secret Fate of All Life" into pieces or the visceral grit that would break "Who Goes There?" into a nightmarish sweat, but it featured the defining moment of Hart and Cohle's relationship and the awesome (SO awesome!) possibility that their relationship isn't as over as we all thought.
I have the following written in my notes of the episode: "Maybe Cohle is the Devil." And I mean that in the nicest and least literal way possible. I typed that out right after Cohle uttered my favorite line of his so far in the series, which is saying a lot, and the one that shook my bones. While talking to Charmaine Budroux (spelling?), a woman in police custody for the mysterious death of her third child, Cohle reached down into her throat and pulled a confession out of her. Munchausen by proxy, he said, and got her to confess to the murder of her child using that soothing voice that told her everything would be alright. His job as the box man done, he got serious and gave her personal advice. "The newspapers are going to be tough on you," he admitted to her. "And prison is very, very hard on people who hurt kids." And without a skipping a beat and in the most sincere way, he said, "If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself." Oof. And then he walked out the door.
Cohle loves to ramble on about time being a flat circle, with all of our multiple lives doomed to repeat our actions, especially the bad ones. But maybe, as we've seen in Hart, repetition is not limited to these different planes of existence, and a bad man once in this lifetime will be a bad man forever in this lifetime. Hart was beating up young men who encroached on his territory and he strayed from his marriage with another young woman again. And after finishing the physical treason of Maggie with Beth–who I believe was the same underage young girl he tried to save seven years ago at the prostitution ranch–he peered over to see three figurines: a crystal see-through angel, a cartoonish devil, and the other half of the set in a cartoonish angel. But the way the camera lingers on them, it's the devil that stands out as it's the only one in clear focus. Cohle might not be the Devil, but he could be in cahoots with him.
Finding proof of Hart's infidelity with some new hot young ass (What is it with Hart and these young women? What do they see in him?), Maggie tried but couldn't exact revenge with a stranger, so instead she went straight to the person who would hurt Hart the most: Cohle. It's undeniable marriage sabotage by Maggie who admits it as such, and, if we're being honest, well within her bounds given what she's endured from that hypocrite Hart. But it's bringing carnage to Cohle's life, too, as he's Hart's partner. And then Maggie had her "I fucked Ted" Breaking Bad moment when she happily told Hart that she revenge-banged Cohle, and she was right, Hart was not happy about that at all.
It erupted in that excellent parking-lot brawl between Hart and Cohle that has been a long time coming, and answered the question of what the incident was that ripped these two hotheads apart in 2002. Cohle mowed another man's lawn after the lawn conned him into doing it because Hart took his mower to other lawns. It probably wasn't too difficult to figure out that this would be the undoing of Hart and Cohle, especially since Cohle came by to Maggie's all hot and sweaty and drinking lemonade that time a ways back. But watching it unfold was rough.
And the timing of the whole punchy powwow in the series couldn't be more perfect. True Detective is playing with time in the best way possible. Important details are being trumped by new important details so the series never slumps. All these flashbacks never felt like flashbacks; they felt like real time. We've always watched the events of 2012–the interviews with detectives Gilbough and Papania–as if they were the end, and the story moving forward were the events of 1995. But now the 1995 story is over, only to be replaced by the events of 2002. And now it looks like we're done with 2002, and suddenly 2012 is moving forward. Hart, sick of the line of questioning from Gilbough and Papania, took his receding hairline and bare left ring finger out of the police department in a huff and was stopped by Cohle, and now we have a brand-new ball game. It seems obvious now that 2012 Hart and Cohle might meet up again, but lost in the details of 1995 and 2002 and with the two as far apart as they ever have been, my expectations were minimal while my hopes were highest.
There are only two episodes left of True Detective's close-ended first season and the final bookend has been knocked over with the possibilities wide open. The two could go on to solve the case of the Yellow King. They could both be suspects. They could just have that beer Cohle wants. We gleefully and willingly know nothing except what came before. We know they had bad times, then good times, then worst times, and all of a sudden, Cohle materializes out of the horizon after a decade, his truck still wearing the scars of their parking lot disagreement. Hart spoke of Cohle with respect and near-reverance with Gilbough and Papania, as though what was in the past was in the past. And we've seen them work together and put aside their differences. But after all they've been through, especially after Cohle's brief affair with Maggie, how much does Hart really respect Cohle now? Enough to make sure his gun is loaded for that drink they're getting. Another outstanding episode of True Detective.
– Maybe I missed something, but I don't know if we got any big clues into the case. Signs appear to point to Billy Lee Tuttle as the Yellow King, or at least as a man involved in everything. And Kelly, who was the girl who Hart and Cohle rescued from Reggie Ledoux's den of death, would only say that a third man was tall and had scars on his face. Then she wigged out.
– I guess I should also add that I don't care that the case didn't move forward that much in the episode.
– Cohle: "I'm the person least in need of counseling in this entire fucking state." This is a statement that is both very true and very false.
– Cohle: "I quit. Fuck this. Fuck this world. Nice hook, Marty." HAHA. I love this guy.
– Cohle: "WE're in a muddy swamp here, man, the alligators are swimming around us and we don't even know they're there, you know why? We don't see 'em." Hart: "I caught zero logic in all that that, and that last big? Gibberish." HAHAHA I love these guys.
– Marty the human tampon. Several ways to interpret that, I guess.
– I haven't gotten into the literary significance of Robert W. Chambers' "The King in Yellow" because a) I haven't read it and me talking about it would be like me talking about the mathematics of quantum neutrino fields, and b) I don't think it's required reading to enjoy True Detective. But if you are interested in the relationship between the book and True Detective, this is the article you should read.