16/2/2014, 9:00 pm (EST), HBO
When we’re in it, time feels almost impossible to perceive. Even if you’re staring at your clock, literally watching the seconds tick away, it can be difficult to perceive anything beyond a permanent now. But the past recedes from us, like tide from the shore. Years seem to have gone by in the blink of an eye. Eras of our life slip away into the past. When you look back, time is a sea you are sailing on, and the distance you’ve traveled feels unimaginable, even if you can almost grasp at every second. The future is unknowable, to the point that it is nothing, at least nothing concrete; but the past, the past can drown you, if you let it.
“The Secret Fate of All Life” takes places over more than seven years for our characters, but that time passes in an unimaginably beautiful instant, as we watch a crown Marty’s young daughters feud over get lodged in a tree, and find our way back to Earth to see those girls have grown into teenagers. The world has changed around us, and we barely had the time to notice. Marty admits, from his vantage point in 2012, that his sin was inattention, but ultimately, that is our collective sin, that is the thing that drags down our species, or the thing that, could we defeat it, might let us soar. How many minutes have you spent on the Internet, how many hours procrastinating, how many days have just slipped by you? This is the way we live our lives, letting the moments fall away from us like sand in an hourglass, only noticing the pile that has accumulated once there’s enough sand to make us feel the pangs of regret. That is the passage of time.
This episode is, fittingly, obsessed with the way we experience time, and with the way we might experience it. Rust, spouts off about the idea that time is a sphere for us, but a circle from a higher dimensional perspective. He theorizes that, while we experience time in a linear fashion, from outside out perspective time loops back in on itself. We are always born, we always die. To Rust, of course, this has to be a nightmare, a constant, unchanging loop that forces us to relive our traumas unto eternity. Leave it to our boy to find the dark cloud behind any silver lining.
That theory fits in very well with the lie that becomes central to this season, the story Rust and Marty tell about what went down at the Ledoux cabin. In a brilliant sequence, their narrative of a warzone they stepped into is interspersed with the actual raid on the compound, which is quiet, simple, and goes off without a hitch, that is until Marty paints the landscape with the brain matter of one Reggie Ledoux. “You’ll do this again,” Reggie tells Rust in his last moments. “Time is a flat circle.” Rust dismisses him with a curt, “What is that, Nietzsche? Shut the fuck up.” But what happens at that compound seeps into his brain. It changes the way he thinks about the world. It means he might have to go back to that place, yes. But it also mean he might have to go back to places that are far worse. All the demons that haunt him cannot be killed. They’ll rise, again and again. They’ll destroy him, render him unto nothing. But not even that will stop his suffering. He will endure it again and again for eternity.
Rust takes it further when he says “Why should I live in history? Fuck, I don’t want to know anymore. This is a world where nothing is solved.” No murder can be truly solved if it is destined to happen ad nauseum throughout all of time. Rust’s theory is unimaginably bleak, and yet even if he is completely wrong, he is living in a world where nothing is solved. The lengths he went to, the things he covered up to find Ledoux were all for naught. The years he spent wondering, the things he lost about himself. It isn’t hard to imagine how Rust devolved into the man we see telling this story in 2012. The traumas pile up, just like the bodies do. He sacrifices and he muddles through while pieces of him are chipped away. Nothing is solved, and he just keeps losing.
The real horror that lurks at the core of “The Secret Fate of All Life” isn’t Rust’s theory, which is abstractly terrifying but not necessary to buy into. No, what will really keep me up tonight, and in the future, is the way this episode reflects the cycles we all fall into in our lives, the patterns we form and find it difficult to break. The cycles are individual, but they are also societal. You drink too much, then you try to cut back for a while. You cheat on your spouse and promise it was only this once. You try to overcome the darkness, only to find it nipping at your heels, getting bolder until it’s devouring you one massive bite at a time. Similarly, patterns recur in society. For every murderer that is brought down, another will rise to take his place. Even if the crime is solved, another will step in to take its place. These cycles don’t have to be negative, and they can be broken. But it’s easy to see how Rust entered into a downward spiral and couldn’t ever find his way out.
This episode moves us into a new act in True Detective, both in the past and in the present. We have shifted our narrative to 2002, where more muck has accumulated around Rust, whose name becomes more apt by the episode. Yet he still hasn’t learned he is about to be ensnared in a trap of his own making, caught in a loop he can describe but can’t quite see as it becomes a noose around his own neck. Just as “The Secret Fate of All Life” plants the seeds of doubts in our minds about the way we live our own lives, it plants those seeds about how much we can trust our narrators. We know they have lied in the past, and we know they aren’t above restaging a crime scene for their own benefit. But lying, too, is a cycle. And if True Detective is to be believed, cycles can be very difficult to break out of. If time is a flat circle, those lies will just keep coming back around.
- -“I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive. Like acid. Like a demon, little man.”
- -“What do we do, Rust?” “Fuck him. Good to see you commit to something.”
- -“Who told you you had to understand? Why would you?”
- -“You know what happened there between them?” “What always happens between men and women: Reality.”
- -“Death created time to grow the things that it would kill.”
- -“You’re trapped. A nightmare you keep waking up into.”