Your Comprehensive Guide to Re-Watching ‘True Detective’: Episodes 1-4

The grand finale to the marvelous True Detective is on Sunday, and if you’re like me, you’ve spent all week re-watching the first seven episodes, both to admire the excellence of the show thus far, and because you might spot a lot of stuff you missed first time around. Are Marty and Rust going to find the Yellow King? Does it matter? Is time really a flat circle? And what the fuck’s up with those black stars? We’ve worked our way through the whole series again, because shit, why not. First up: episodes 1-4. (Episodes 5-7 coming tomorrow!) Spoilers abound, obviously.

Episode 1: “The Long Bright Dark”

In which we meet our protagonists, bear witness to Dora Lange’s murder, and get a sense that something very nasty is going on.

Things to watch for:
As several others have observed, the dates on the recordings tell us that the two modern-day detectives spoke to Rust first. This is important, because the way the show is set out, you tend to assume that Marty and Rust are relating their narratives concurrently. They’re not. The modern-day cops have already heard all Rust’s philosophizing.

The key piece of Rust’s dialogue in this episode is his oft-cited reflection that “You never know what the thing’s gonna be, do you? That little detail somewhere way down the line that makes you go, oh. Breaks the case.” But it’s also worth noticing just how much Marty talks about family — not his family, mind you — throughout this episode and the series. Having watched all seven episodes, we now know how bitterly ironic this is, both because of the disintegration of Marty and Rust’s families, and because of the atavistic nastiness of the Ledouxs and the Tuttles.

Marty’s observation that “a father’s burden is too much for some men” seems all the more portentous now, too. And then you’re struck by the fact that we really know nothing about Rust — all his old files are classified or redacted, and he’s a very unreliable narrator, prone to acid flashbacks and filtering his memories through his peculiar pseudo-Buddhist philosophy (“We are things,” he tells the bewildered modern-day cops, “who labor under the illusion of having a self.”)

As for clues: there are three whacking great ones that you miss first time around due to not understanding their context. The first comes at about 18:04, where our protagonists drive past this sign:

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On first viewing, it’s a piece of ominous atmospherics. The second time around, it’s a whacking great neon sign that someone is killing women and children.

The second is this:

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Who is this girl? Is it Marie Fontenot, about whom Marty and Rust are told shortly afterward? Is Rust having one of his visions? If so, just how much of the stuff he sees is real, anyway? A little later in the episode, one of the 2012 cops observes that it was “remarkable intuition” to follow up what seemed like an unrelated lead. It is, isn’t it?

Then there’s the green-eared spaghetti man. People have been arguing for weeks that it’s the scar-faced man we first see in Episode 3 and again in Episode 7. They’re right, surely, because those green ears — they’re his earmuffs, aren’t they?

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And finally, on the theory that Marty is somehow involved with the killings: I don’t buy it. If he is, he’s hiding it incredibly well, and also, he has multiple opportunities in this episode to have Rust removed from the case. I don’t doubt his family is involved somehow, but if so, it’s not with his blessing. Not yet, anyway.