9/2/2014, 9:00 pm (EST), HBO
Near the end of this week’s episode of True Detective, we see Rust board a riverboat that slips silently out into the night, into a darkness we can’t even imagine. It feels almost as if we’re watching a scene from Apocalypse Now, that Rust is Captain Willard traveling deeper and deeper into enemy terrain. But Rust isn’t Willard, not really. Rust is Colonel Kurtz, the broken husk of a man preaching his gospel to a world that won’t ever hear it. And he isn’t journeying into that jungle, searching out his prey. No, he’s the predator, back, finally, on his home turf.
“Who Goes There.” The title of this episode is not a question, because what we discover this week is an answer. It is impossible to talk about this week’s episode without discussing the six-minute tracking shot that serves as it’s conclusion. Director Cary Fukunaga has been doing great work all season, but this may just be the crowning achievement. The shot works because it plunges us completely into Rust’s world. For four episodes, we have watched him spout his bleak philosophy, both in 1995 and in 2012. We have seen him hint at the horrors in his past, but all of that was just talk if not for the haunted look behind his eyes. Tonight, in this sequence, we see the chaos Rust speaks of unleashed, and the horrors he’s witnessed become suddenly, shockingly visceral.
The deeper we get into this season, the deeper we travel into the jungle, the more the lines begin to blur. Rust and Marty were coworkers who didn’t particularly like each other just last week. Now they are roommates, saving each other’s lives. They were cops trying to protect the world from bad men. Now they are working outside the law, causing chaos as much as restraining it. The terrifying weapons that the drug dealers’ wield in that final firefight look a whole lot like the ones Rust keeps in that box in his apartment. These men are getting pushed further into the darkness. Or so it seems.
But just who is really doing the pushing? The Captain wants them off the case, the task force is willing to take it from them, no one seems to miss Dora Lang all that much. It is easy for our heroes to imagine that their quest for justice is just forcing them to cross lines they otherwise neatly administer, but it isn’t. These are men who fancy themselves as policing the line between light and darkness, but increasingly, they are more preoccupied with the darkness. Rust has always found a black romance to his own misanthropy, a dark allure to viewing the world as a cesspool he subsists in until someone snuffs him out. Marty, on the other hand, liked to bury his darkness down deep. He focused on his family, on his job, on what it means to be a husband and a father and a man. He had a finely regimented code that meant keeping himself penned up in the light. But with his wife and children gone, he is increasingly seeing his code as the mask it was, and finding himself pulled further and further away from the light.
Part of Rust is reassuming a role over the course of this episode. But part of him is just finally letting go again, unshackling himself from the bonds of civilized society. There’s a certain tenor of post-apocalypse in the scenes with the Iron Crusaders, who discuss living the “outlaw life” and relish living without rules. Rust sees society decaying all around him, so it isn’t hard to imagine he sympathizes with men who have chosen to fall out of it entirely. Generally, Rust plays by rules he doesn’t even really believe in, but in “Who Goes There,” he gives in to the only thing that makes sense to him: anarchy.
Once that tracking shot is over, we cut to a helicopter shot that ends the episode by showing us what has ben unleashed. It is impossible to tell who to root for; in fact, picking a side in a gunfight like this entirely misses the point. These are predators tearing skin from each other’s bones, carrion picking at the flesh of the fallen. It’s easy to look at the teeming masses as tiny, insignificant bugs playing out a tragedy none of them are wise enough to understand. That’s how Rust sees humanity most of the time. But for us, fresh from braving that hell alongside him, it is impossible to achieve the distance that camera offers us. It is impossible to detach ourselves. The thin veneer that separates the light from the dark, our good intentions from our worst impulses, has ripped. And once we’ve seen the other side, it can be difficult to close ourselves off to it. The darkness seeps in, and somehow, the light never looks quite as bright again.
- -Sorry for the delay this week, guys. But I will be covering True Detective from here on out, and I’ll do my best to make sure everything is timely going into this home stretch.