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  • Writer's picturecasey

True Detective episode 1.08 "Form and Void"

I love anthologies. I love the endless potential, and the early seasons of American Horror Story really prove the extent of that potential. It’s also so much cleaner than having a bunch of spinoffs (tell me why American Horror Stories is a thing? Anthologies by definition don’t need a spinoff. Just do it next year). But the later seasons of AHS also embody the downfall of anthologies: if they do too good a job, it can be hard to get excited about the next season because you know that everything you liked about it will be different next time around.

I’ve only seen season one of True Detective, and I’m really trying to talk myself into pressing on, not because I didn’t like it, but because I liked it so much. The people behind this show built themselves some massive shoes to fill, and I’m skeptical that it can be done. Everything about this first season was incredibly deliberate; it was gripping and compelling at every turn, and it all served a larger theme. It even managed to come around to an uplifting final message, which I was pleasantly surprised by as this was one of the darkest things I’ve ever watched.

I tend to cover finales, and that’s because endings are so important to me. It absolutely makes or breaks my entire impression of a show (I reminisce sometimes with “remember when I liked Ozark?”), and True Detective’s season one finale drew a powerful underscore on everything I’ve loved throughout this entire journey. This is a story with purpose, that knew exactly what it was about. As a whole, it had the power of its own Rust Cohle who said things like “I know who I am. After all these years, there’s a victory in that.” and “Given how long it’s taken me to reconcile my nature, I don’t think I’ll forego it on your account”.

Matthew McConaughey in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

“Form and Void” finds Rust and Marty on a boat, holding Steve Geraci at gunpoint, a former sheriff who holds key insight into the Marie Fontenot case. Cohle forces Geraci to handle the tape he stole from Tuttle and watch it, eyes glued to the TV. Geraci watches, screaming as he does, reacting even more strongly than Marty. Some people seem to find it cheesy that rather than showing us the tape, they show us these ‘hard, seasoned men’ struggling to watch it, but I think that’s exactly the point.

A crucial thing this show is about is the difference between bad and evil. Marty’s a pretty bad guy I’d say- lies, cheats, beats people up, calls his daughter and wife whores- but he’s also a human being with emotions and limits and can function in our society. The crimes of this case are on the fringes of humanity. This show does a great job displaying the depths of these atrocities without forcing us to look at something unspeakable. Making the characters do it for us not only shows us the nature of the crimes, but the nature of the people. Errol Williams Childress, the man with the face like spaghetti, the undocumented Louisiana man who committed these crimes, is as evil as a person can be while still being a human being (“he’s worse than anybody”). And fighting him with such force makes Marty a ‘good’ man in the biblical sense, despite being so flawed that he’s hard for regular folks like you and me to really get behind.

Marty struggles a lot with his conscience over the course of this story, and Maggie ultimately acknowledges that he “didn’t know who he was, so he didn’t know what to want”. Rust, who, of course, knows exactly who he is, doesn’t have patience for Marty’s hemming and hawing. When Marty asks if Rust ever wonders if he’s a bad man, Rust doesn’t hesitate to say that “the world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door”. The idea that bad men can do good- by protecting the world from worse men- is a major takeaway, and one that I really like.

Woody Harrelson in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

And Rust may have been stewing in a storage unit obsessing over this for years, but it’s ultimately Marty who finds the key clue that brings everything to a head. He recognizes a fresh coat of green paint on a house in Erath, drawing the connection to the green ears in the description of their subject. Adrenaline pumping from the new discovery, Marty and Rust head out to find out who painted the house.

An interview with the old woman who lived in the house in ’95 confirmed that she had her house painted by men who worked for her parish- the Tuttle church community. Rust and Marty were able to track her husband’s payment for the job to Childress and Son Maintenance, which yielded an address to the Childress property. They head over. This is it. This is the place. Rust can tell by the taste of the air.

“That taste. Aluminum, ash. I’ve tasted it before”. Marty, used to his partner saying weird shit, but ever the human being who’s realizing they’re walking into a life-threatening situation, simply says, “you still see things ever?”. Rust replies, “It never stops, not really. What happened to my head, it’s not something that gets better”. Not a reassuring answer to Marty, but Rust’s proximity to insanity is the very thing that keeps him safe amongst actual psychopaths. Similarly, Marty’s ability to read people is a skill the show makes sure we’re aware of despite his gruff, bumbling personality.

That skill is what made Marty feel comfortable calling Papania, one of the two interrogating officers when they arrived on the scene. But alas, there’s no service. That’s typically a frustrating and unnecessary roadblock in suspense stories, but it just feels realistic out here in bumfuck Louisiana. So, Marty forces his way into the home in search of a landline while Rust secures the perimeter. Marty overpowers Childress’s girlfriend (wife?), but not before she can say some truly haunting shit about the man they’re here for.

Ann Dowd and Glenn Fleshler in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Rust, meanwhile, has encountered him face to face. He has his gun pointed squarely at Childress and tells him to get on his knees, but Childress simply says “no” and runs off. Why Rust didn’t just shoot him, like Marty did to LeDeux’s crony 17 years ago, is a valid question. I think at this point in time, Rust has a lot less stamina for bureaucratic coverups, paperwork, and debriefs and a much greater willingness to die. Not to mention, they don’t really have any legal standing to be here in the first place this time around. He’s going to see it through, all the way through, in the beating heart of this operation.

Which turns out to be an absolutely terrifying maze of tunnels lined with stick-work much like those found at the crime scenes. Rust winds his way through, but every corner he rounds with his gun drawn just makes the dire situation all the more evident. He is at every disadvantage, no idea where he’s going, while Childress clearly has eyes on him. His voice carries through the maze, somehow coming from somewhere, taunting Rust, guiding him right where he wants him. “Come on inside, little priest. To your right, little priest. This is Carcosa. You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man? I am not ashamed. Come die with me, little priest.”

Woody Harrelson in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

I’m obsessed with Childress calling Rust little priest. In addition to the obvious irony of this being a church-based cult- and Rust looking down at organized religion altogether- he is super preachy in his way. He says some stuff throughout this whole season that really grinds you to a halt. My favorite is one of his earliest revelations of his personality, one that stuns Marty into regretting having asked him anything at all: “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 to deny our programming, stop reproducing, and walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

It may not be Jesus, but it’s a hell of a response to the simple question of “are you a Christian?”. And when it comes down to it, isn’t sharing your opinion on humanity and what we should do with it all that preaching really is?

Anyway, Rust enters the offshoot of the tunnels that Childress directs him to. It turns out Marty was right to be worried about those hallucinations of Rust’s. He looks up at the sky, visible several feet up into the air, and a spiraling galaxy fills his field of vision. Rust is distracted by it when Childress charges him with a knife. If that hadn’t happened, I think Rust would’ve gotten him in one. But Childress stabs him deep in the stomach and twists, holding him up in the air by the blade.

Matthew McConaughey in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Marty bursts in behind them, prompting Childress to drop the deeply wounded Rust to the ground. Marty doesn’t hesitate to fire three shots into Childress that hit him in the shoulders and chest, seemingly to no effect. Childress charges Marty, hurling an axe head-over-handle until it buries itself in Marty’s chest. Marty dislodges the axe and uses it and all his strength to hold Childress at bay.

When it comes to scary things, I’m usually most affected by the occult. Things like demons, ghosts, possession etc. are terrifying to me. Things you can always see, that die for good in ways we can measure and understand typically don’t bother me as much. But Childress is so fucking scary. The ideology and staging of the killings was eerie every step of the way, but this final confrontation is so well executed. Childress is as powerful and able to withstand as much as I can reasonably believe possible in a human being, and Marty and Rust suffer the most serious of injuries that they can plausibly walk away from. Rust’s managing to get to his gun and shoot Childress in the skull is, in a way, scary in and of itself because it confirms that this really was an actual person who walked among us.

Matthew McConaughey and Glenn Fleshler in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Marty and Rust have had a bond all along, but their recovery together in the hospital is a wholesome confirmation of that. Despite everything that happened between them and the rage Marty felt towards him when they parted ways years ago, Marty and Maggie both refused to entertain the idea that Rust had done something evil. In fact, they took offense to the thought, putting an abrupt end to any conversation that started to go that way.

After Childress is dead, Marty crawls to Rust and puts pressure to his stab wound while they wait for help to arrive. Recounting it later, Marty says he sat there “with his friend’s head in my lap”. Once both of them are lucid in the hospital, Marty, less seriously injured, wheels himself to Rust’s hospital room. Rust is himself, that is to say, not warm and cuddly, instead preoccupied with the fact that he had come across Childress in their original investigation and failed to put the pieces together. But Marty takes him in stride, telling him not to ever change, and he’ll “be back tomorrow, buddy”. They send each other off with a flip of the middle finger.

Marty proves himself the most at the very end. I was impressed with him for understanding his faults and truly giving Maggie the space to move on. And I was impressed with him for staying by Rust’s side even as he continued to heal faster than him. Despite Rust’s resistance to the idea, Marty insists on seeing to Rust having a place to stay when he’s released- that things are “already arranged”.

In the rawest- and most optimistic moment of the whole show- Marty wheels Rust out under the stars for a non-sanctioned smoke break. Rust breaks down, in itself a true sign of his bond with Marty, and opens up through his tears: “There was a moment… I know when I was under in the dark, that something… whatever I’d been reduced to, you know, not even consciousness… it was a vague awareness in the dark, and I could… I could feel my definitions fading. And beneath that darkness, there was another kind. It was deeper, it was warm, you know? Like a substance. I could feel, man, and I knew, I knew my daughter waited for me there. It was so clear. I could feel her. I could feel… I could feel a piece of my pop too. It was like I was a part of everything I ever loved, and we were all… the three of us… just fadin’ out. All I had to do was let go. And I did. I said ‘darkness, yeah, yeah’. And I disappeared. But I could… I could still feel her love there, even more than before. There was nothing but that love. Then I woke up.”

Still from "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

We’ve heard from Marty, from the Tuttle parish, from various believers along the way, that there is more beyond. More after. But hearing Rust say it makes me believe it. He was wrong about there being nothing and us being no one. It’s a beautiful moment. But there’s more.

Rust breaks down after this, and Marty shows a soft side of his own. He tries to bring Rust back by asking him about something he’d mentioned years ago- that he used to make up stories about the stars when he lived in Alaska. Either Rust humors him or the invitation to talk about that really does anchor him, at least enough to ponder some more; either way, he finishes Marty’s prompt.

RUST: I tell you, Marty, I’ve been up in that room looking out those windows every night here and just thinking… It’s just one story. The oldest. Light versus dark.

MARTY: Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but… appears to me the dark has a lot more territory.

RUST: Yeah. You’re right about that.

They ponder the night sky a little longer. Rust asks Marty to take him to the car. He’s had enough of hospitals. Marty knows Rust well enough to look out for him, but not to argue with him. He obliges. As they’re about to part ways:

RUST: You know you’re lookin’ at it all wrong. The sky thing.

MARTY: How’s that?

RUST: Well, once, there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in "Form and Void". Image courtesy of IMDb.

On that honestly beautiful note, we fade out. It’s an incredibly more positive answer to Marty’s question long ago of why Rust hasn’t just killed himself if he sees humanity in this awful way. His answer at the time was that it must just be his programming. But he’s always seen the potential in the light. Never delusional about how much darkness there was, hence his perpetual melancholy, but always aware of the possibility of the good. That’s the real reason he’s kept fighting. Someone like Rust Cohle seeing that potential makes me believe it’s really there.

So, here’s the biggest question: should I watch season two? Will it hold up to the real beauty I found here? Drop me your thoughts on Marty, Rust, and all things True Detective.

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