Rust Cohle: "I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."
American television drama series, which had its first season aired on HBO in early 2014. The series was created and written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. It starred Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rustin Cohle, Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart, Michelle Monaghan as Marty's wife Maggie, Michael Potts as Detective Maynard Gilbough, and Tory Kittles as Detective Thomas Papania, along with multiple other actors. McConaughey and Harrelson were also among the show's executive producers. T Bone Burnett composed music for the series, and the opening theme was "Far From Any Road" by the Handsome Family.
The first season tells the story of a Louisiana murder investigation that stretches across two timelines, one in 1995 and the other in 2012. Rust Cohle is a grim, nihilistic philosopher who has severe difficulty making friends, tends to infuriate everyone around him, and is prone to periodic hallucinations, due to years working undercover in drug gangs. He is, however, an absolute genius when it comes to detective work. Marty Hart, on the other hand, is more of an everyman -- less intelligent than Cohle, but more laid-back and personable. He's quick with a smile and a joke, and everyone likes him. He's also cheating on his long-suffering wife, and he's no good at suppressing his libido, his ego, or his temper. Both men are fairly comfortable with violence -- Cohle's undercover work led to close interaction with the most brutal criminals imaginable, and though he doesn't relish violence, he knows when to use it to his advantage, while Hart's temper leads him more than once to administering beatdowns on innocent people who've encroached on what he considers to be his property.
The story begins in 1995, as Rust and Marty investigate a ritualistic murder for the Criminal Investigations Division of the Louisiana State Police. The victim is a young woman who's been stripped naked except for a crown of deer antlers and a symbol painted on her back, and carefully posed bowing before a tree in the middle of a field.
And interspersed with the '95 storyline is a flash-forward to 2012. Marty is fat, complacent, and divorced. The formerly clean-cut Rust is an alcoholic burnout. They were once acclaimed for killing the serial killer in a tremendous shootout -- so who is staging new murders just like the ones in 1995?
Marty Hart: "Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on."
So far, so predictable? Mismatched cop partners hunting a serial killer? A little deep-fried Southern noir, a little sex, a little violence, a little Louisiana poverty porn for the critics to ooh and ahh over?
That seemed to be the case -- up 'til the second episode, when Rust and Marty's investigation starts turning up references to "the Yellow King," "black stars," and "Carcosa." Serious horror fans immediately recognized the nods to the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers, who is best known for his 1895 book "The King in Yellow," which had a direct influence on H.P. Lovecraft and many other horror writers. Chambers' surreal and nihilistic tales have long been considered to be part of Lovecraft's fabled Cthulhu Mythos, and the prominent references to "The King in Yellow" signaled something special to horror fans -- it was very likely the most prominent reference to the Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture. And once everyone else was clued in to the significance of Chambers and his works to the plot of "True Detective," it triggered a surge in sales for "The King in Yellow."
The show had other influences from the horror community, too. Much of Rust's philosophy comes from the bleakly pessimistic fiction of Thomas Ligotti -- so much, in fact, that Nic Pizzolatto was accused of plagiarizing heavily from Ligotti's nonfiction book "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race." Pizzolatto has also cited influences by Karl Edward Wagner, Laird Barron, and other horror writers, and critics have also noted that other influencers likely included comic book writers Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.
And though "True Detective" remains, for the most part, rooted in the police procedural and Southern gothic genres, the undercurrent of horror grows more and more prominent as the series goes on. A burned-out church harbors a secret mural of a girl wearing antlers, just like the first victim of the killer. The ominous nature of the cult behind the killings gets a boost every time someone finds one of the bizarre tree branch totems or mentions Carcosa, and the possibility of a conspiracy protecting the cult is soon followed by a scene where one of Marty's daughters poses her Barbie dolls in a way resembling an occult ceremony. Have the cult's tentacles already reached inside the investigators' lives?
And that doesn't even count the final episode, where we discover the filthy home where the killer lives, and where Cohle pursues the madman through a claustrophobic labyrinth of decayed occult trophies... and finally comes face-to-face with an altar dedicated to the Yellow King and with a cosmic vision of Carcosa itself.
As of this writing, a second season of "True Detective" is planned. Pizzolatto will write the season, but different directors will take control of each episode. The new season will be set somewhere in California, with Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn as the new leads. It isn't known if "The King in Yellow" will feature in the new season at all, or if it will be an overarching theme that will link all seasons of the show together.
The killer, to Rust: "Take off your mask."