By the close of the second episode of HBO’s True Detective, it seems like the stinger to each installment will be to remind the audience that there’s an actual overarching case that needs to be solved and not just an almost painfully intimate portrait of two men that are slowly breaking down. Then again, “Seeing Things” tends to suggest that the very case and how it ultimately turns out will ultimately come down to the personalities of the people trying to solve it rather than the particulars. There’s a lot more development this time around in terms of fleshing out the characters, but in terms of actual plot specifics, it might be a step back. It’s of little consequence, though, since director Cary Fukunaga and company have delivered an episode that’s even more satisfying than the astounding pilot. As Marty will suggest in this episode, the show and the detectives within it are “looking for a narrative,” and with a case and a story this complex, it won’t be an easy one to find right away.
This episode begins with Rust (Matthew McConaughey) talking in present day to his interrogators instead of his former partner Marty (Woody Harrelson), picking up where the last episode left off and briefly noting the discovery of the stick sculpture, but then quickly moving back to 1995 as the detectives head off to inform the mother of their current victim, Dora Kelly, about her daughter’s death. While there, Dora’s mother brings up a church that she thought her daughter was attending, but she’s quickly sidetracked by a sudden (and possibly all too convenient) migraine. It’s a thread that will become integral to the investigation, coming up again when the detectives pay a visit to a “bunny ranch” (rural brothel in the middle of nowhere) and discover a flyer for an even more secluded and hard to find church (The Friends of Christ Revival).
Once again, the show’s leanings towards talking about anything remotely religious are kept at arm’s length for the time being, as “Seeing Things” wants to give a lot more back-story to who Rust and Marty are as people, but this time without focusing as much on their actual interactions with each other. Very little is learned about the actual case, but plenty is learned about the frustrations of both men trying to solve it.
Rust in his interrogations comes across as a lot warmer and kinder than he did in the first episode, probably because he has a few beers and half of his flask in him by this point. He also seems a lot more forthcoming about just how damaged of a person he is. He’s very self-effacing about his nature to his interrogators, but in a kinder way than he was towards Marty. He’s a man clearly in touch with his own flaws, but it might be that capacity for self-reflection that might be secretly killing him. He’s someone that’s clearly fallen far in life, but his stories here seem to suggest a man who was lower before he even met Marty and moved to Louisiana.
McConaughey hasn’t had a role this rich in his career and it’s ironic that last week when he won a Golden Globe for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, he was knocking the role of his career out of the park a few channels across the cable TV dial. Rust is a character who deeply wants to be forthcoming and transparent, but the things he can’t talk about or that others have been keeping secret on his behalf are the things that are killing him from the inside.
We learn plenty in this episode about what led Rust on his way to Louisiana. A former deep cover narcotics agent in Texas, Rust spent a great deal of time in a mental institution, presumably due to a combination of job-related drug abuse, burn out, and grief over not being able to cope with the death of his daughter – something Rust still can’t talk about without pausing, going into a daze, and leaving huge gaps out of the story. After his child’s death in an apparent accident while she was on her tricycle, Rust hit the streets hard and was molded into a “wild man” for the Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking unit; someone who could go to extremes to infiltrate as deep as possible. His transfer to Louisiana to work homicide cases was a result of his release instead of taking a psychiatric pension payout.
Then there’s the matter of Rust’s “visions” or hallucinations, which might come to play later in the story and certainly have an interesting effect on the closing moments of this episode. Caused by his old gig’s necessity for drug abuse, it also explains Rust’s inability to sleep, constant sense of alertness, and his generally analytical and overly cautious tone. He’s a man with a problematic past, but it might turn out that he’s the better detective as a result.
His still redacted past comes frightening to light when he snaps on some mechanics with a toolbox and some limb-breaking zeal to get a simple answer to a question. He also makes it known that he has absolutely no problem killing someone and has killed at least four people in the past, including unloading a full clip into a crackhead who was abusing an infant just to get them to stop. It’s very clear now that Rust wants to keep people at a distance because he knows exactly how far he can go and what he’s capable of doing. As he tells the working girl he’s scoring Quaaludes from, he’s the police. He can do terrible things to people with complete impunity. And that seems to terrify and haunt him every day.
On the other hand, we learn that Marty might be a bit too passionate to be as objective of an officer as Rust. Then again, his passion might be frustration at this point, exemplified by a scene where their boss (Kevin Dunn, who has a quite bit more to do in one scene in this episode than he did in the entirety of the pilot) chides the two cops for not having any leads as a state appointed “occult task force” moves in to take over the case. Harrelson gets to be the standout here instead of McConaughey, showing a man who shares Rust’s almost complete lack of patience for fools. He also shows that he’s probably just as flawed and cruddy of a human being despite his “family guy” persona.
We get a closer look into the circa 1995 home life of Marty and his wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), when the couple pay a visit to her parents’ house. While Maggie refuses to vent her marital frustrations to her mother (Patricia French), Marty walks around the family’s lakeside property drinking beers with his father-in-law (Thomas Francis Murphy) and barely containing his contempt for the guy. Maggie’s dad keeps spouting off about how things used to be back in his day and blaming everything on the damned kids today, causing Marty to not-so-tactfully say that eventually all old men will die and that the world will keep on spinning without them. And then he tries to make for a fast getaway that annoys his wife even further.
This wouldn’t be too major of a character development on its own, but going hand in hand with the fact that Marty is an unapologetic womanizer and cheat, it’s a revelation. Alexandra Daddario returns from her very brief appearance in the first episode as a paralegal (with admittedly a lot less clothing on this time), and this time turns out to be the person Marty booty calls while out drinking with his buddies on the force. Showing up at her door with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s and a pair of handcuffs they quickly get to hooking up, and it looks like the only moment when Marty allows his guard to be down. He seems to care for this young woman (telling her to watch out because he thinks there’s a killer on the loose), but maybe he only cares as much as it means he can keep hooking up with her whenever he wishes (probably the latter). Harrelson displays a great amount of chemistry with Daddario, especially when he plays the fool when she obviously throws it back in his face that eventually she will leave his ass to seek some form of actual stability.
Equally good is Harrelson’s chemistry with Monaghan, who has a much bigger and better chance to shine here than she did in the last episode. She knows Marty has been screwing around or at the very least isn’t being very forthcoming. She doesn’t need to know that Marty ludicrously and behind her back proclaims that his cheating is “for the wife and kids” and “for the good of the family.” She just throws back all of his unsaid hypocrisy back in his face by calling him “a chicken shit,” and he has absolutely no way to respond. She’s a lot stronger than he is, and that will definitely come into play in the long run.
And still, Harrelson shows Marty’s ability to still have a heart quite nicely when the detectives happen upon the backwoods brothel and discover there are underage women working there. Maybe it’s being the father of two young girls, but the sight of a young woman being exploited triggers something in him that briefly makes him lose sight of the case even when Rust tries to bring him back to Earth. In opposition to Rust’s internal struggle and redacted past, all of Marty’s foibles are painfully external and easy for the world to see.
In the end, the second episode isn’t so much about the relationship between Rust and Marty, but their relationships with those around them. There’s only one really major scene involving Rust and Marty together that focuses expressly on their partnership. They get in each other’s face when Rust can actually smell that Marty was out having sex the night before with someone that wasn’t his wife, and it ends in a shoving match where Rust almost breaks Marty’s hands. It firmly establishes Marty as the more emotional and spontaneous of the two, and Rust as the silent, but caustic badass that’s not to be fucked with. The more interesting moments involve how they deal with others rather than their internal dynamic.
But in the only other big Marty and Rust scene, it’s also interesting to note that clearly no one in the department wants Rust around. When called into their superior’s office, their boss continually lambastes Rust for not playing by county rules and scoffing at the special task force that’s just waiting to swoop in and take the case because the governor (a religious nut, apparently) is demanding a connection to the occult and is looking for “a public, high profile response.” Both men play it cool, but neither exactly defends the other person’s work while they are getting yelled at.
The result of the chewing out is that Marty and Rust basically only have one month to close the case, which is hopefully enough time considering that the actual mystery here doesn’t get forwarded very much. There were some clues and hints along the way: The finding of Dora’s journal that speaks of “The Yellow King in Carcosa,” Marty’s kids arranging their dolls in the creepiest possible way, and the final reveal of the burnt out church the pair had been searching for that’s been defunct for quite some time, but still houses some pretty creepy paintings on the walls. Marty also makes reference to a “big throwdown in the woods” that’s coming, so hopefully the case will progress nicely now that all of the cards for both men are seemingly out on the table. Something tells me in the near future we’ll find out something else about Marty that we don’t yet know (the interrogators are pressing Marty a lot harder than Rust in this episode), but the beauty of this show is that I still have absolutely no clue where any of it is headed and even fewer theories that I could concoct about where it all might lead.