With True Detective‘s 8-episode first season wrapped, we at Psycho Drive-In thought we’d take some time to look back at the series and try to tease out some meanings and explore some creative interpretations of what has been laid before us. Some are deadly serious. Some are inventive and bizarre. Some are straight-up reviews. Here’s your second Post Mortem. By Keith Silva ”… and Marty while he was away doing God knows what, another man mowed his lawn … what am I going to do, admit to jealousy over my lawn?” — Nick Pizzalotto, True Detective, Ep. 3 Inside the Episode ”The grass is only as good as what’s below in the root system. The roots grow in the pores of the soil, not in the soil.” — Dave Mellor, Head Groundskeeper, Boston Red Sox I. FLK / FLS Statement of: SILVA, Keith Philip March 15th, 2014 SILVA: … So, there I am, full-blown case of True Detective DTs, in thrall to the flat circles, the Yellow King, redneck bunny ranches and all the rest. I start mainlinin’ the stuff, watchin’ and rewatchin’, three four eps. at a time. And then, for like the briefest of moments, I wake up from my, you know, ”dream about being a person” and a thought, unbidden, out in the æther [Silva makes whistling noise] POPS into my head like a toolbox to the face: this is an odd (read: funny) scene. [VOICE-OVER FROM OFF-CAMERA: EPISODE 3, THE LOCKED ROOM, THE SCENE OUTSIDE LIGHT OF THE WAY SCHOOL?] SILVA: Yeah. Yeah. First, why would an abandoned school, windows all boarded up, with a ten foot high chain link security fence around it, why would anyone bother to mow the lawn? I suppose, the minimal upkeep of derelict properties would be a tit contract from the parish, easy pickings, right? Anyway, Rust and Marty show up at the school, after talking with Rianne Olivier’s grandfather, the guy with the crab traps. Marty says to Gilbough and Papania — or as Marty later calls them, and the sobriquet I prefer, fuck and suck — he says [Rianne’s grandfather], ”ended up having a little box of her stuff, had her last yearbook, 10th grade […] why’d he keep the box, huh? Did he ask himself?” ‘Little box of her stuff,’ now that’s what you call a locked room. In the sequence where Rust and Marty drive over to the Light of the Way school, Cary Fukunaga, the director, gives the viewer one of his ‘God’s eye’ view shots, not as wide as some in the series, but wide enough to establish the setting: suburbia gone to seed, except, for one brave soul trying to keep nature at bay, shovel shit against the tide, if you will, a guy on a riding lawn mower. In the frame, he’s about at the lower right intersection point of the rule of thirds. The way the telephone pole in the foreground looks like a cross makes for a nice touch; this was a Tuttle School after all. The sequence cuts to a tracking shot that follows Rust as he walks — as Marty says, ”who walks that fucking slow” — with his prescribed gait. The camera moves left to right (so it’s easy to read). Rust hails the custodian and he goes out of view as the camera continues to track across the sign to the school. Now, given what’s on the marquee, this shot, eventually, gets stilled and ends up all over the damn internet as the TDID (True Detective Investigation Division) swings into full force. It would be the clue to break in the case, so to speak, but that comes later. [VO: AND THIS IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT, ABOUT LAWN CARE?] SILVA: No, not quite. I’m getting to that. Be patient. The first thing I notice is, the blade on the mower must be set fairly high because it doesn’t look like anything has been mowed. The guy on the rider is doin’ a shit job, poor technique to be sure. Look at those clumps of weeds in the foreground. Plus, see all those bald patches where the ground is nothing but dirt, he’s either almost finished or he’s going through the motions, point being this isn’t much of a lawn to begin with and it doesn’t need to be mowed. So, now it’s not even about mowing an abandoned lot, it’s about mowing an abandoned lot that doesn’t need to be mowed, something is funny about that, you know, odd. [VO: UNLESS . . .] SILVA: Unless, that’s the point. Rust asks the custodian a few questions before the scene cuts back to Marty in the car as he takes the call from dispatch about Reggie Ledoux. Cut back to Rust who asks the custodian: ”You know anybody who went here or worked here back then?” The custodian answers: ”Hmmmmm, no sir. I’ve only been coming here the last few months. Parish added it to my work order.” The custodian wears green overalls, plastic work goggles he perches on his forehead as he talks to Rust and except for being kind of dirty and having a scraggly beard, he couldn’t look more unremarkable if he tried and yet there’s something about him. He’s what one of my wife’s old counseling professors would call an FLK, a funny looking kid — an FLK in an FLS, a funny looking scene. There’s a beat once the custodian finishes his line before the car horn starts to honk. It’s Marty trying to get Rust’s attention about the lead on Ledoux. The sequence cuts back to Rust, the camera racks focus from Rust in the foreground to Marty in the background as he continues to blow the horn and then racks back to Rust as he thanks the custodian for his time and walks back to the car. As if calling the school ‘Light of the Way’ wasn’t obvious enough, do I, does writer Nick Pizzolatto need to make it any more plain? Marty’s blowing the damn horn! That’s when I wake up, ”in the last instance,” as Rust says later in the episode three, ”right before the end” and I welcome it, the ah-ha moment. Now, at that time, I didn’t know Errol Childress, the custodian, from a masked reveler on a black and white VHS tape. But, call it the ‘viewer’s curse,’ there’s the answer right in front of my face and I overlook it, get distracted and contemplate if life really is a ”jerry-rig of presumption and dumb will.” [VO: ALL OF THIS BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T LIKE THE HALF-ASS WAY A SIDE CHARACTER IN A DETECTIVE SHOW WAS MOWING A VACANT LOT?] SILVA: Yes and no. It was the horn, like the beating of some tell-tale heart, the horn woke me up. It got me to think about why that scene was included and its significance to the rest of the series. It stuck out in my mind, a splinter. It was a signal, a finger alongside Pizzolatto and Fukunga’s collective noses: PAY ATTENTION. See, that’s the point of any mystery, you got to build a narrative. [VO: NARRATIVE, HUH? WHAT ABOUT WHEN MARTY ASKS RUST IN EPISODE ONE ABOUT JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS, HE SAYS, ”YOU ATTACH AN ASSUMPTION TO A PIECE OF EVIDENCE, YOU START TO BEND THE NARRATIVE TO SUPPORT IT.”] SILVA: Was Rust wrong? [VO: …] SILVA: O.K., smart ass, you want me to shore up my argument? Fair enough II. Mow My Yard Another significant sequence set in ‘The Locked Room’ takes place in the much friendlier suburban environs of the Hart home. Rust and Maggie are inside playing house while the Hart kids, Audrey and Maisie, watch a ‘Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf’ cartoon on TV (make what you will out of the significance of that particular cartoon). Like some bayou Odysseus, Marty returns home to find his lawn cut and a possible (or so he thinks) suitor, inside drinking tea with his wife while some étouffée steams on the stove. Maggie says Rust brought the mower back after he borrowed it — apparently Rust’s condo board doesn’t contract out its landscaping needs — and what do you know, Rust saw Marty’s lawn needed mowing so he ”returned the favor,” not a euphemism, not yet anyway. [VO: YOU DON’T THINK RUST WAS LOOKING TO DO SOME LANDSCAPING OF HIS OWN ON ‘MAGGIE’S LAWN’?] SILVA: Now, Rustin Spencer Cohle, that’s a man who knows how to mow a lawn. He even bags (most) of the clippings. There’s an argument to be made about allowing the clippings to mulch back into the ground, it’s more of a personal preference than an imperative to good lawn care so I’ll let it slide. To answer your question, no, I don’t think Rust had any plans to take Marty’s place as head of Hart household (and by the way, don’t think I didn’t miss your oblique Bob Dylan reference). Domestication doesn’t (necessarily) fit a man like Rust. The stability family provides interests him, yes, but it’s not for him. Before we see Marty come home to find Rust has cut his lawn and is in his kitchen with his wife and drinking his tea, Rust and Maggie talk about Rust’s situation i.e. his romantic prospects. She wants to set him up on a date and tells him: ”people get better […] maybe you just think you prefer it this way because it’s what you’re used to. Your life accommodates you. You don’t have to be afraid of loss,” meaning Rust could/should settle down, marry, and maybe even make more babies. He tells her, ”I like it this way, it’s steady, I did all the counseling, all the stuff. This is just the way things are […] I think I am better.” That’s the creed of an ascetic. In other words, ‘no time for love, Dr. Jones.’ Marty and Rust’s partnership, relationship, forms one of the many intractable binaries in True Detective, Rust and Hart, dark and light, good and evil and so on. Rust declines Maggie’s (and Marty’s) offer to stay for dinner because he knows his decision will feed Marty’s guilt about stepping outside of his marriage. With the task force ready to take the case away from them, Rust and Marty’s relationship can’t handle any more distractions. Rust knows Marty well. He knows where to stick it to Marty, if he chooses to, to apply pressure and to make him hurt. Rust is enough of a ‘big dog’ to know how and where he can piss and get Marty’s attention. Dora Lange’s murder and ‘the case’ are all that matter and Rust knows nothing can distract either of them from the steadiness of ‘the way things are.’ [VO: TWO ALPHA MALES GOIN’ AT IT, MARKING THEIR TERRITORY… MEN] SILVA: Rust finds out about Marty’s infidelity in episode two, ‘Seeing Things.’ In the yellowy early morning light of the Louisiana CID locker room, as Marty makes the walk of shame — I’m sure he doesn’t ‘see things’ that way, but it is what it is — Rust picks up the scent and says to his partner, ”wash up, you got some pussy on ya’.” Marty ironically counters: ”Key to a healthy marriage.” Rust calls bullshit, baits Hart and says, ”that’s Maggie, huh?” Marty shoots back and not so politely wants to know what’s up with Rust’s overactive olfactory senses. Rust experiences synesthesia. He gets a bad taste in his mouth which allows him to smell the psychosphere, ”ash, aluminum.” By the time Marty shows up smelling like Lisa (Tragnetti) Rust has been to dinner at Marty’s house. Rust knows and he can smell the difference. ”That’s wife,” Rust says, ”that high tide you’re walking in with.” Rust’s reply ends up in a ‘bro-hug’ or whatever that is Marty puts Rust in in the CID locker room. It’s the first physical showdown between Marty and Rust, the first time they physically put each other in the other one’s hands. It gets echoed in their one-on-one pissing contest in the Hart’s driveway. The trifecta, of course, is completed with the They Live-like smack down in the CID parking lot in episode six. Bros will be bros. There’s an insert shot in the scene when Marty comes home to find Rust and Maggie in the kitchen that calls back to the locker room scene in episode two and foreshadows the (not) lawn mowing happening at the Light of the Way school. As he grimaces his way toward the house, Marty stops and inspects a barrel full of grass clippings. He picks a few up and smells them. Why? Is Marty one of those people who can’t get enough of the smell of fresh cut grass and morning dew? [VO: HE WAS SMELLING HIS FINGERS IN EPISODE TWO TOO! WHEN RUST WENT BACK INTO THE GARAGE AND WHACKED THE MECHANIC WITH THE TOOLBOX!] SILVA: Marty can snort and seethe and say ”I like mowing my lawn” all he wants. Rust knows different. So, he walks away. Point made: don’t distract your partner from the case even when you return his lawn mower and drink tea with his wife. So what? Is lawn mowing supposed to be a link to sexual transgression in True Detective? Some innocuous clue we all should have noticed? Is this another way women are maligned in this series because they’re excluded from the masculine hegemony of the Alpha male’s need to make tall grass short? What, a woman can’t use a lawn mower? Is it (yet) another example of a pet square-peg-theory being forced into a round hole? And what’s with this cutesy VO thing? III. The Straight Story Somewhere along the way, television went from passive entertainment, one of a select few fairly safe topics to hash over with friends and co-workers, to an active all-out blitz to become an armchair Sherlock, solve something, carve out theories and get answers, dammit. I blame David Lynch and Mark Frost. TV has only gotten more twisty, quirky and rainy since viewers first got ‘wrapped up’ in those famous first two sentences from Twin Peaks: ”She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.” Nearly twenty-five years later, viewers can’t help but pick the nits out of any (and every) TV show critics, bloggers and commenters describe by using the word ‘Lynchian.’ You don’t even have to have watched Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive (or hell, The Straight Story) to recognize something as ‘Lynchian.’ Start with dream imagery, sprinkle in surrealism, a heavy dollop (wallop?) of sexual violence in an effort to “disturb, offend or mystify,” set it in a rural backwater and watch the comparisons roll in. This legacy of Lynchian corruption is what every True Detective endures and fights to overcome. In addition to the construction of labyrinthine theories to parse TV shows bearing the Lynchian mark, comes another side-effect: frustration and a weariness which follows the perpetual handwringing that the finale of the latest bauble of must-see TV will disappoint, or worse won’t dovetail with pet theories, answer every question and resolve even the most idiosyncratic speculation; and then, as Rust says, ”[the] inadequacies of reality always set in.” As soon as the camera tilts up to reveal the centuries-long battle between light and dark (that is if you can understand Rust’s final drawl) in the True Detective finale, many viewers felt (or will feel) let down, too busy watching for the True Detective they want instead of watching the True Detective they got. A funny thing occurred to me as I’ve been writing this essay, a detail I missed in my TD reveries and to the best of my knowledge — sorry, I haven’t spent hours combing Reddit threads for True Detective – a fact that’s never addressed in the narrative context of the show itself: when Marty and Rust rescue those ‘kids in the woods’ in 1995, how do they explain who killed Dora Lange to their bosses? It’s convenient, of course, they kill their one suspect, Reggie Ledoux in a ‘gun battle,’ but there’s no follow-up report about the murder weapon being found at the Ledoux cook site to match the wounds on Lange’s body. Any other connections between Lange, Ledoux and Rianne Olivier are circumstantial at best. Rescue a couple of catatonic kids and everyone looks the way. Sounds like a capital ‘C’ conspiracy if you ask me. More unanswered questions, I guess, like that damn Twin Peaks. That was a funny show, wasn’t it? Let’s skip ahead to 2012 and wrap this case up. My training (my programming?) as a critic is to look for a detail in a book, movie or TV show and test it against other similar details to see if it resonates and then analyze those details to see how they fit within the overall narrative. I’m not trying to make the details fit as much as see if they create a dialogue which will allow me to, as we say in the business, interrogate the medium. The instances of lawn care in ‘The Locked Room’ are good examples of the kind of details I try to look for when I watch a movie or TV show or read a book. I believe every story contains sets of instructions for its own interpretation. Criticism teases out those instructions with various approaches or methods of understanding a text. Find clues, build arguments and put the text in a new and slightly different light than others have done prior to my reading; for me, It’s about creating from within rather than building an argument from without. I like the interrogation technique as framing device Pizzolatto uses because it reminds me of what Orson Welles did with the unseen and unnamed reporter character in Citizen Kane. As the audience surrogate, the reporter structures the story itself, both inside and outside of the main narrative. His purpose is to investigate the meaning of ‘rosebud,’ build a narrative, draw conclusions and attach meaning to the meaningless. Like Maggie says to Rust in their kitchen confidential: ”pick up what you keep and you leave the rest behind,” the same principle applies to criticism and to writing. What makes True Detective stand out from the other sons and daughters of Lynch and Frost is the amount of ways it engenders interpretation, the many ways to read True Detective. It’s got ‘good bones’ as the saying goes. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of holes to still to be poked in this story, answers to question and conversations to be had on what True Detective did well and failed to do. I’ll admit when I first came up with the idea of the importance of lawn care in True Detective it was kind of as a joke. The more time I spent thinking about it the more I saw it as a one way to cut down on the noise of rampant speculation I kept hearing, but lacked the personal conviction to ignore. It’s an approach — the lawn care lens — out of which we see a few of the show’s principal themes: the need to maintain appearances, discard distraction, cross boundaries and always look for bad men hiding in plain sight, among the weeds and in between the places where the grass grows tall. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.