This week’s installment of True Detective certainly saves its two biggest developments for the end (including one heck of a cliffhanger) and does a great job of casting doubt upon Marty and Rust’s abilities to do their jobs effectively. If anything, the end of the episode solidifies that both men are such natural opposites that they can only help to balance each other out, but that they could have both very easily blown a case that back in 1995 was rapidly slipping through their fingers.
“The world is a veil and the face you wear is not your own.”
Those are the words of a preacher conducting a tent revival in the middle of nowhere at the start of episode three, “The Locked Room,” a title that late in the episode Rust (Matthew McConaughey) will bring up as a reference to the capability of the human brain to deal with great amounts of denial, willful blindness, and guilt; three themes that will continually come up throughout the episode, especially where it pertains to their general outlooks on life.
Now with only days left before Rust and Marty (Woody Harrelson) have to hand over the murder case of Dora Lang to the governor appointed task force that’s been designed to look into crimes with connections to the Occult, both men start to show their stresses in different ways, and for once Marty’s unhealthiness is eclipsing Rust’s.
Right from the outset when the partners happen upon the new, temporary location of The Friends of Christ Revival (the owners of the burned down church discovered at the end of the previous episode and the publishers of a flyer that Dora had left behind), Marty seems fed up with Rust’s pessimistic bullshit. During a very lengthy discussion within earshot of a lot of parishioners (one that Rust provides further clarification for to the detectives interrogating him in the present day), Rust goes off on organized religion, openly looking down upon the IQs of everyone around them and chastising worship of holy beings as being akin to wishing and throwing oneself deeper and deeper into denial. Marty, seemingly running out of ways to tell Rust to shut the hell up, tells him that his myopic nature might blow more cases that it could solve. Rust retorts later by saying that people with the capacity for denial that Marty has generally “always have a good time.”
While McConaughey certainly has some more absolutely killer moments in this episode (every second of Rust being in the interrogation room while fashioning a doll out of one of his empty beer cans is positively riveting), this might be the first episode where Harrelson gets to equal the work of his partner. Marty is under immense pressure here. He doesn’t want to lose the case, he’s on the verge of his wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) finding out about his cheating, there’s growing concern about his daughter Audrey (Madison Wolfe) drawing some crude, sexually explicit drawings in school, and everything can come crashing down around him at any given moment. Rust is always on edge, but Marty has only recently been pushed to it.
At one point, Maggie says to her husband’s face that he “used to be smarter” and that he’s exactly the same person he was as a teenager, but in all the negative ways that show a man stubbornly refusing to grow old. He proceeds to break down and stammer about how terrified he is about looking at turning 40 head on, but the way Harrelson portrays the breakdown is if he were actually a teenager trying desperately to get out of being scolded by changing the subject entirely and seeming like he’s on the verge of full on crocodile tears. It works – Maggie and Marty make love for what seems like the first time in a long time – but it certainly isn’t endearing to Marty as a character, and the way he’s portrayed will only get worse from that point onward.
Even before Maggie confronts Marty about never being around and being a lot more aloof than usual, its shown that she has begun a friendly rapport with Rust, something that Marty doesn’t like at all. Rust, in return for borrowing Marty’s lawnmower, mows the family’s lawn and stays to chat with Maggie before Marty returns home and loses his shit. Taking Rust outside, Marty proceeds to yell at his partner for visiting when he wasn’t home and for cutting his grass without permission. That’s clearly not what this fight is about, and even though Rust never responds with a single word in his defense, both men know what the problem is despite Marty’s deeply ingrained denial. Marty is deathly afraid that Rust will let it slip that he’s been out cheating on his wife, a topic that nearly led to blows in the previous episode when Rust dared to bring it up in the locker room.
What’s great about Harrelson in this episode is that much like Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Denis Villneuve’s big screen thriller Prisoners earlier this year (playing a different kind of assured, secretive detective), Marty has started to develop personality quirks and defense mechanisms. Marty can’t simply tell someone to shut up without creating a passive aggressive speech around it that often has no bearing or insight into a situation. When asked to recall things in the interrogations, his eyes start to roll like he’s remembering something he’s been quizzed on so many times that he’s pissed at having to answer to the facts at all. When someone tells him off to his face or calls him out on a lie and they happen to be right about it, Marty doesn’t rage and continue the lie or even act up an offer of contrition, he regresses fully and starts to cry about it.
The only real exception is how Marty deals with the dissolution of his adulterous relationship with Lisa (Alexandra Daddario). In one of those “wrong place at the wrong time” scenarios where Marty and Maggie try to fix Rust up on a blind date, Marty sees Lisa on a date with another man at the very same bar. When he discreetly meets her at the bar away from everyone else at his table, Lisa pretty much refers back to her stance in the previous episode: that Marty was nothing more than a fling since he won’t leave his wife to settle down. She leaves Marty alone at the bar by saying that what they had together had run its course.
Instead of crying this one out, however, Marty gets even more loaded and goes to Lisa’s house, kicking in the door and throwing her date through a closet door and threatening him with his badge. Ultimately, Marty will leave just as heartbroken as he came in, but it’s another backhanded way that director Cary Fukunaga and creator Nic Pizzolatto show how Marty is flat out incapable of dealing with stress or personal responsibility (which makes his talk of the importance of being a father to his interrogators even more of a laugh). He acts incredibly tough for a few moments and then the second he realizes that his actions have consequences, he looks like he’s on the verge of tears again.
Then again, it’s hard to tell anymore if this will have more of a negative impact on the overall investigation, or if Rust’s continued obstinacy will be their downfall. While Marty has his hands full with everything AND the case, Rust has “put his insomnia” too good use to try and find a link between their murder and any other ritualized killings that could be seen as the work of a serial killer. After interviewing the pastor, a pair of girls who saw Dora run off with “a tall man” with some scars, a talk to a potential suspect and one time sex offender, and several interrogations of people brought in based on past transgressions and fitting the profile, they aren’t any closer to finding their killer. To compensate for Marty essentially going off on a three day drunk, Rust spends most of his hours blowing through files, and he happens upon a new connection, one that’s poised to break the case wide open.
Rust happens upon an apparent drowning victim from an island community two hours away. Initially labelled as an accidental death associated with Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the body bore many of the same abdominal lacerations and the same squiggly rune on the victim’s back. A search for answers reveals that the young woman had last been seen with a man by the name of Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford), who is about to become the prime suspect in the case thanks to his recent skipping out on his parole following convictions for sex offenses and meth cooking.
It’s not necessarily this bombshell of a man fitting their profile that provides the episode’s biggest punch (although knowing that a firefight will likely ensue in the next episode and the sight of a dirty man in his underwear with a machete and a gas mask as the final shot sure do provide for a lot of tension), but the way that Rust has seemingly once again found himself in the zone in the present day interrogation room.
Aside from his ranting against religion to investigating detectives Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles), Rust starts hinting that his own zealousness to catch a killer by the most logical means of deduction might be the duo’s ultimate downfall. Rust knows exactly what the detectives want to talk about now, especially since at one point they leave Rust alone with the file on the table to talk among themselves. After glancing at the file, master interrogator in his own right Rust starts turning the proceedings into a kind of reverse interrogation, giving off the air of a man who has nothing to hide, but who has seemingly given into the same kind of guilt and denial that his partner suffers from. It’s the first time that Rust has ever actively gone on the defensive over the course of the show instead of just being standoffish or obtuse. Maybe the beers are helping to loosen something up, but it might not be what the interrogating officers were looking for.