TRUE DETECTIVE, S1E5: THE SECRET FATE OF ALL LIFE (Episode Recap)

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A red truck with a white trailer pulls up to a roadside bar. Young Rust and Ginger are waiting inside. A man with shaggy hair and a beard walks in. Ginger and Rust sit at a booth across from this man, who we learn is not Reggie Ledoux but someone who works directly with him (present-day Marty mentioned Duwall in the last episode). Ginger makes up an excuse about the injuries to his face and Rust starts in on his fake drug deal, “coke for crystal”. Duwall seems preternaturally suspicious and turns Rust down. Rust asks why, and the man leans forward to say, “I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive, like acid. You got a demon, little man, and I don’t like your face. It makes me want to do things to it.” Duwall chastises Ginger and then says to Rust, “There’s a shadow on you, son.” He leaves.

  • (pessimism/realism, self-deception; nihilism) As philosopher Paul J. Ennis put it in his Vulture.com interview, “This [anti-natalist, nihilistic] worldview is often correlated with self-destructiveness and I would say Rust’s fascination with murders, drugs, and the criminal lifestyle flower naturally from it.” Rust’s realism/pessimism (as opposed to his nihilistic views) also feed into his characterization. To quote Ennis again:

[Rust] expects people to be mired in self-deception, and that allows him to dig deeper behind the masks they wear to obscure what is really going on. However, there is a price to pay for this and we see that such a bleak understanding of the world can also result in the recklessness that forms part of his character.

It’s usually Rust who has an uncanny read on people, but Duwall (someone very close to the killer’s inner circle, if not a member of that inner circle) immediately picks up on the darkness in Rust. That awareness puts Duwall at the same level of bleak awareness as Rust, albeit on the self-serving and exploitative side of it.

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TRUE DETECTIVE, S1E4: WHO GOES THERE (Episode Recap)

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Young Rust and Marty interrogate Dora Lange’s ex-husband Charlie about his former cellmate, Reggie Ledoux. They accuse Charlie of having Reggie murder Dora on his behalf, which Charlie denies. The notion that Reggie killed Dora greatly upsets him, but Rust isn’t buying his act, which only makes Charlie angrier. Charlie confirms that he talked to Reggie about Dora, and that early in his sentence before she asked for a divorce, Dora gave him explicit Polaroids, which he also showed to Reggie.

Rust asks about Charlie and Reggie getting along as cellmates, and Charlie says they did only out of necessity. He didn’t want to befriend Reggie because the guy was “[a] creep”. Marty wants to know why Reggie’s a creep, and Charlie tells them Reggie’s a “chemist” who cooks down things like kitchen cleansers to get high, which is a “big deal in [prison]“. Charlie then recounts some of the things Reggie said while high with Charlie at night, such a “place down south where all these rich men go to devil-worship” and to sacrifice women and children. Charlie name-drops Carcosa and the Yellow King, and mentions that Reggie has a brand on his back in the shape of a spiral, which Reggie told him was “their sign”. Read more

TRUE DETECTIVE, S1E3: A LOCKED ROOM (Episode Recap)

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Rust and Marty have called in backup to gather photographs and any physical evidence from the abandoned church. Then we find ourselves at a tent revival sermon where Minister Joel Theriot is preaching. He says to the congregation, “You are a stranger to yourself, and yet He knows you.” Theriot talks of God as being both the stars and the wind between. Then he says, “This world is a veil, and the face you wear is not your own.”

  • (pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm; Chambers reference) Already some interesting things being said. Theriot speaks of self-deception. The world as a veil, like Rust’s “secret truth of the universe” line from the last episode, calls to the “forbidden knowledge” theme common to the short stories of Chambers and his contemporaries. When Theriot tells the congregation that the faces they wear are not their own, it’s possibly a reference to the usage of masks in Chambers’ stories. “The Mask” is one of the titles in The King in Yellow compilation, which is introduced by another of the few excerpts from the imaginary The King in Yellow play. I point out this possible reference only because we’ll hear another very clear reference to masks later in the season.

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HOLLYWOOD GIVES ZERO F***S ABOUT MAKING GOOD MOVIES

My ultimate point here is something lots of other people have already said in some way or another. I started a draft of this post many months ago, intending to write out reviews of the 2012/13 films for which I had high hopes but which greatly disappointed me and then to culminate those reviews into a summary of why we’re probably doomed to get more of the same. Sitting down to relive two (or, more often, three) hours of nonsensical plot developments, over-the-top destruction of populated cities, and a litany of the most unlikable and inconsistent characters proved to be a difficult sell when I could watch cat GIFs instead, but I slowly managed to review the worst offenders.

First I went after Star Trek Into Darkness, which was more of a series of disjointed and expensive scenes stitched together with lens flare than a real story. Then I tore into Man of Steel for turning Superman into Jesus Christ. I gave Iron Man 3 a pass, but still feel it made a couple of bad decisions. Then I wept bitter tears at the lost potential of Prometheus, which is a piece of thematically confused shit, but they’re making a sequel anyway.

That all said, there’s one more film that I wanted to revisit. It’s been many months since I saw World War Z in theaters, but I still recall its main faults, the first of which is that the film, as so many people have already said, is nothing like the book. I adore Max Brooks’ tongue-in-cheek Zombie Survival Guide and his far more serious follow-up World War Z, a beautifully dark and varied collection of fictional, story-story accounts from those who survived a zombie apocalypse. I figured that adapting World War Z to the big screen would be rather easy. Bring in someone like Brad Pitt to play a UN reporter who’s collecting all these accounts and use him to introduce a series of vignettes. Choose a variety of chapters, from the quiet to the loud, and maybe finish off the film with the UN reporter’s own story, something new that Brooks himself could write for the film.

But the studio didn’t do that, did they? The only thing the final film had in common with the book was the title.

I was still willing to shell out cash, and though the film I saw had its issues, it was far more competent than Into DarknessMan of Steel, and Prometheus. However, WWZ got trashed way more than those films. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is at 67% whereas Into Darkness is sitting pretty at 87% and Prometheus got away with 73%. As I said in my review of Man of Steel, it did a much worse job of hiding its flaws than Into Darkness, so it didn’t get away with much. Its Rotten score is at 56%.

I’m not advocating that WWZ get an A, but I’m appalled that Into Darkness and Prometheus are rated so highly.

And there you have it. I saw a bunch of “summer blockbusters” one year and don’t understand how people’s tastes can be so inconsistent. If everyone seriously likes the kind of sloppy writing we had in Into Darkness, I don’t understand why they don’t like all of the big-budget, poorly plotted blockbusters that Hollywood puts out every year. Is it witty banter? Is that all it takes to hide all the fridge logic?

That’s my best guess, so write whatever you want, apparently! Just make sure your characters say nothing but zingers and you’ll be fine. Oh, and make sure you reboot a franchise (Star Trek, Alien, Superman) rather than go for something even remotely new (a bestselling book).

TRUE DETECTIVE, S1E2: SEEING THINGS (Episode Recap)

TD2-1 We get right back to present-day Rust, who says he often thought of his wife and daughter when he couldn’t sleep. Then he says, “Something’s got your name on it, like a bullet…or a nail in the road.” Detective Papania asks Rust his opinion about the lattice being found in the Fontenot shed so many years after Marie’s disappearance. Rust agrees that it was strange. He mentions Marie’s school closed down in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew, and asks if that means anything to the detectives.

  • A “nail in the road” could very well be quite literal for Rust. We learn later in the episode that the day his daughter was put into a coma, she was playing on her tricycle in the driveway of their home, which sat on the bend of the road. My best theory, based on the scant details we get, is that a passing vehicle ran over a nail that burst one of the tires, causing the driver to lose control of the car. It careened onto Rust’s driveway and hit his daughter.
  • As we’ve already surmised, Gilbough and Papania suspect Rust is the Lake Charles killer (as well as the killer of Dora Lange), so it’s easy to notice, especially whenever Papania talks, the subtle incredulity of the two detectives’ line of questioning. Last episode, they asked how Rust knew to try to follow up with Danny Fontenot about a seemingly unrelated (and seemingly resolved) five-year-old missing child case. Rust shrugged and called it intuition. This episode, they convey how odd it was for the lattice to show up so many years after Marie Fontenot disappeared. Pay attention to their wording.
  • We’ll learn later why Rust is concerned with a closed school, but it’s not the first time Rust carefully prods for current case details from the two detectives. Pay attention to how he baits them. Again, Rust probably knows exactly what they suspect him of.

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TRUE DETECTIVE, S1E1: THE LONG BRIGHT DARK (Episode Recap)

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The premiere-season opening sequence (long as hell, like all HBO shows) shows silhouettes of our two stars (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson), often superimposed with a landscape or building that an American viewer might associate with a rural area. We also see non-celebrity people an American viewer might associate with the South or a rural area, also superimposed with buildings or objects. Other people seen in the opening credits include a praying man whom we’ll see later, the wife of one of the detectives, and nameless, often half-obscured women or parts of women who are naked, their bodies paired with images like truck stops, playground slides, and spiky heels. Other imagery includes fire, water, churches, and the Christian cross.

Glenn Fleshler as "Errol"

Douglas M. Griffin as “Burt”

  • The opening sequence is rather straightforward. The accompanying song, “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family, is the right blend of American Folk and Gothic to match the show’s tone. The imagery leverages common stereotypes of the rural South—small towns, fiery religiousness, bayous, truckers in baseball caps sitting in bars, female strippers, etc. Much of it implies a sort of otherworldliness. Imagery of women both directly exploits (from an entertainment perspective) and implies exploitation (from a story perspective).

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AM I MISSING SOMETHING WHEN IT COMES TO “THE KILLING”?

The Killing promotional posterI’m writing about the US version of The Killing, which remade a three-season Danish television show of the same name because Americans are shitty about reading subtitles. (OMG you want us to read?!) I live in Seattle, where the remake is set. People compared its plot to Twin Peaks—young, well liked (white) girl is killed and viewers watch as the lives of those whom the murder has affected start to unravel. People clamored for a third season after it was cancelled at the end of its second season, and Netflix was stepping up.

So I thought, sure, this sounds like it’s up my alley. However, having rage-quit this show about half a season in, I do not understand all the five- or even four-star reviews on Netflix. I’d give the show one star for the interactions between Linden and Holder, and maybe one more star for the acting—although damn, did some of the side characters’ actors really bring the show down!

However, never would I give this show more than two stars. Never would I recommend anyone see it, unless I hated that person, I guess. The characters were inconsistent and the writing opened up way too many doors through which the plot just kind of waved rather than stepped.

***I’ll try to avoid big spoilers, but there will be little ones.***

***That said, please don’t worry about spoilers because you shouldn’t watch the show anyway.***

The Initial Plot
The show’s main thread is, obviously, the murder of Rosie Larsen and the subsequent police investigation by Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). Linden is set to leave her job with the Seattle Police Department in order to move down to California with her soon-to-be husband, taking her young teenage son with her. Holder is transferring from Narcotics to Homicide to replace her. We also see the Larsen family’s attempts to cope with their grief as well as some back story regarding Rosie’s life and her father’s former shady work history. The third main thread consists of the ups and downs of city councilman Darren Richmond’s election campaign. Read more

OVER-THINKING “TRUE DETECTIVE”, SEASON 1

Note: I wrote this post before seeing the last two episodes of the premiere season of True Detective.

Season 1 Promotional PosterThe first season of HBO’s True Detective, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, follows two Louisiana State Police Detectives who recount an old and strange homicide case from nearly twenty years ago. Some portion of the increasing interest in the show stems from an io9 article calling attention to dialogue and visuals that reference Chambers’ 1895 short story The King in Yellow, to which horror author H.P. Lovecraft refers in some of his own stories in the 1920s.

A handful of Chambers horror short stories refer to a fictional book in circulation—or outright banned in certain countries—that compels in-story characters to read it as soon as they lay eyes upon it. Act I of the The King in Yellow is the only act ever quoted in Chambers’ stories. Acts II and III supposedly contain epiphanies so enormous and so horrific that characters are driven insane…if they don’t die of some kind of heart attack first.

The eponymous King in Yellow, who holds a power and visage too great for the human mind to endure, is most easily associated with insanity. Decades later, Lovecraft wove this same theme of forbidden knowledge into his own stories.

Perhaps many potential viewers of True Detective were starved for a high-caliber, serious TV series that deftly and compellingly played with such Lovecraftian concepts—a sort of “magical realism”—so the io9 article’s sound of alarm galvanized these viewers into giving the new HBO show a shot, and even put Chambers’ original The King in Yellow on Amazon’s bestseller list, which io9 itself quite happily reported.

I am one of those viewers. I liked a lot of things about David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a replacement for which I had (have) yet to find, and a well-done TV series that messed with your head sounded like something right up my alley. Read more