True Detective, S1E3: A Locked Room (Episode Recap)

Theme and plot analysis are contained in blockquotes throughout the recap.


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 (Shea Whigham) 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 the faces they wear are not their own, it’s likely 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. We’ll see literal masks later in the season, and “mask” will also be used in a line of dialogue.


Present-day Marty explains that the church, once occupied by “Friends of Christ”, burned down four months prior to when they first discovered it. An APB led them to one of the ministry’s sermons in Franklin.

Young Rust and Marty stand among those at the back of the tent. Rust wonders what the average IQ of the group might be, having observed a “propensity for obesity, poverty, [and] a yen for fairy tales”. Marty defends the congregation as simply promoting “the common good”. He challenges Rust to imagine what would happen “if people didn’t believe”, saying “it’d be a fucking freak show of murder and debauchery”. Rust replies, “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of shit.” Marty denounces Rust’s judgmental attitude and insists that Rust sounds panicked.

Papania asks present-day Rust if he thinks all those people were wrong and Rust doesn’t hesitate to say yes, that people are so frail, “they’d rather put a coin in a wishing well than buy dinner”. Of the revival preacher, young Rust tells Marty,

“Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain, dulls critical thinking.”

In his response, Marty derogates Rust’s language as a bunch of “ten-dollar words” and wonders why a guy like Rust, who sees no point in existence, frets about it so much. Present-day Rust ruminates that everyone has a “life trap”. He argues there’s no such thing as fulfillment or closure: “Nothing is ever over.”

(pessimism, suspicion toward institutions; self-deception) A lot to unpack here, but it unpacks very neatly. Rust’s pessimistic realism lies in direct contrast to faith, which is why he says things like “fairy tales”, “stories”, and “wishing well” during this scene. He sees a group of people actively engaged in self-deception, from which the preacher benefits financially based on how well he “absorbs their dread”. The sermon as monetized self-deception ties into Rust’s suspicion toward institutions like organized religion. Of religion as a linguistic virus, Paul J. Ennis in that same interview says, “[T]he idea was popularized by Richard Dawkins (the theory of memes). […] I suspect in many ways Rust is often reading other people through the lenses of this anthropological and evolutionary perspective. It allows him distance to analyze others according to their specific delusion.”

When Rust says religion rewrites pathways in the brain, he implies that religion encourages people’s “capacity for illusion” rather than the practice of critical thinking, leading to self-deception and ontological fallacies. As for Marty, one of his two defenses amounts to toothless ad hominem attacks against Rust. He calls Rust judgmental in the same way a religious person might insist that only God is the true judge, using words like “infallible” and “stone tablet”. Rather than engage with Rust’s argument, Marty uses anti-intellectualism to dismiss Rust’s views. He calls Rust “panicked”. Rust counters Marty’s only other defense, that religion keeps some people in line, by calling attention to the moral hypocrisy of such a notion. As for present-day Rust and his comments about a “life trap”, Rust is basically talking about hope, any discourse of which a nihilist inherently mistrusts.

While Rust’s “nothing is ever over” line of course smacks of nihilism, it’s likely also a clue to the story overall. We already have doubts in our minds that Rust and Marty caught their man back in ’95 because a new victim was found in Lake Charles.


After the sermon, Marty and Rust talk to the minister. Theriot recognizes a picture of Dora and says she attended when the ministry was in Eunice. Of the church fire, he says the police categorized it as “criminal mischief” and can only guess who did it.

We learn Theriot has preached for twenty years. He attended Reverend Tuttle’s college in Baton Rouge for a couple of years before preaching with an independent evangelical church. He’s had Friends of Christ for the last eight years. Rust asks to see the staff members’ identifications. To Marty separately, a white female staff member says she once saw Dora with a tall man who had a strange face, his “skin shiny around his jaw”. Marty deduces it may have been a burn scar.

A few more clues I want to point out. Rust and Marty’s newest lead on a suspect is a tall man with facial scarring, likely a burn. Recall the fire set at the Dora Lange crime scene as well as the arson responsible for the destruction of the church. We also hear Reverend Tuttle’s name again.

Rust has run the IDs of Theriot’s staff through R&I (Records and Identification). In Theriot’s presence, he asks a staffer named Burt (Douglas M. Griffin) about his criminal record. Burt attributes his previous crime to being prescribed the wrong medication. Rust asks about Burt’s whereabouts during a certain time period, and Theriot thinks back to where the ministry was, certain that Burt would have a solid alibi. Theriot says a brief prayer when Rust reveals what happened to Dora Lange. He discreetly tells Rust that speaking to Burt alone would convince Rust that Burt is innocent.

It’s been suggested that Theriot is a reference to a deity named Therion from a mystical pantheon established by occultist Aleister Crowley, both due to the name similarity and to a show of Theriot supposedly crossing himself backwards when he prays (touching his right shoulder first rather than his left). However, both ways of crossing oneself are used. It just depends on the branch of Christianity, whether they’re blessing themselves or someone/something in front of them, and what they’ve decided the movement symbolizes. Crowley’s Therion evolved from The Beast, and we know Theriot attended Tuttle’s college, which might suggest Tuttle is The Beast. Therefore, I’ll grant that the reference may bear some weight based on Theriot’s name, the connotations common to Aleister Crowley, and Theriot’s connection to Tuttle, but the crossing-himself-backwards thing is too much of a stretch—and also wrong. There is no “backwards."

In voice-over, present-day Rust says, “The ontological fallacy of expecting a light at the end of the tunnel, well, that’s what the preacher sells, same as a shrink.” He calls religion a “desperate sense of entitlement” and then gets worked up impersonating someone declaring how “important” they are based on such a fallacy. Gilbough and Papania suddenly leave the interview room.

An ontological argument is one that starts with false assumptions and ends with the dubious conclusion that because one can imagine something, it must exist.

Rust slips in “same as a shrink.” We know he’s seen a therapist or psychologist at least once in his life and can safely deduce his therapist failed to counter his realism.

Back with young Rust, he is briefly alone with Burt in an RV, where he sees for himself that Burt’s genitals were mutilated while he was in prison. Rust leaves the RV and Theriot calls to him, “Compassion is ethics, detective,” with which Rust agrees. Rust tells Marty that only Burt had a record, and Marty surmises how the murder could have been a “retard job” (UGH, MARTY). Rust informs Marty of what happened to Burt at Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary). Rust wants to follow their new “tall man” lead, but Marty doesn’t put a lot of stock into the witnesses’ memories. That’s when Rust confirms that Burt also saw the tall man.


Rust and Marty continue discussing their options and their dead ends. Rust suggests looking for other possible victims in the state in the last five years. Marty tells Rust that he tends to be “myopic” and “obsessive”. Rust says Marty is also obsessive, “just not about the job”, but Marty claims he keeps things “even, separate”. To that, Rust says, “People incapable of guilt usually do have a good time.” Marty thinks the difference between them is he knows “the difference between an idea and a fact”, but Rust says the difference between them is simply “denial”. They decide to put out an APB on someone matching a description of their new lead.

(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm) Again, as Paul J. Ennis said, Rust “often seems to test Marty at a very base, evolutionary level.” In this conversation, it’s not so much a test anymore because Rust already has an assessment of Marty. Rust knows he’s obsessive about his job. Marty’s obsession, which Rust names, is avoiding guilt through self-delusion—denial. Marty senses what will happen if he faces the things he has done, so he tries “not to be too hard on [himself]”, to which Rust replies sarcastically, “That’s real big of you”. It’s interesting that Marty claims to know the difference between an idea (fantasy/fiction) from a fact (reality) when he can’t even face his own reality.

To present-day Marty, Papania infers (for the wrong reason) that Rust was trying to keep the Lange case from the task force. Gilbough asks if, in hindsight, Marty thinks Rust was pushing the case where he wanted it go, but Marty insists they went where the case led them.

Papania and Gilbough are finally nearing their point.


Young Rust sits in Maggie’s kitchen while Marty’s daughters watch TV in the other room. Maggie encourages Rust to seek out companionship, but Rust insists he’s best the way he is. Marty comes home and sees that his lawn has been mowed. Inside, Rust tells Marty he mowed the lawn to repay Marty for letting him borrow the lawnmower.

Marty agrees that Rust should stay for dinner, but Rust (and the audience) can tell Marty doesn’t really want that, so Rust leaves. Outside, Marty chastises Rust for being at his home when he’s not there and for “mowing [his] lawn”. Rust wants to know what Marty’s deal is (he wants Marty to admit what his deal is), but Marty says he just likes mowing his own lawn. (Uh-huh.)

(misogyny) This scene is straightforward. Even though Marty barely puts in the effort to be with his family, he chases away an apparent “threat” to his dominance, which includes the traditionally “manly” household chores. In the next scene, we’ll see a more direct portrayal of Marty pulling away from his family.

The Hart family is in the living room. Marty and his daughter Audrey are sitting together, watching a sports game. Maggie nonverbally indicates to Marty that it’s time for a pre-planned talk with Audrey over some sexual drawings she did at school, but Marty balks that it has to happen during the game. They send their younger daughter to her room. Maggie tells Audrey that she drew “something that should be nice” but made it “ugly”, apparently for her friends’ amusement after they dared her to do it. Audrey starts crying and turns her head into her dad’s shoulder. Marty comforts her, but then turns his attention back to the sports game. Maggie notices.

Present-day Marty talks of “what it means to be a father”, how one is “accountable” and “responsible” for other people. Then he says, “Past a certain point, there’s a futility in responsibility.” In their bedroom, young Marty and Maggie discuss Audrey’s drawings, of which we see a sample. Marty supposes Audrey is trying to get attention in her group of friends and wonders how she even knows about “that stuff”. Maggie insists that “girls always know before boys”. Marty asks why and Maggie says, “Because they have to.”

Audrey’s subplot in the show starts off weak. Of the samples of Audrey’s drawings that we see, I honestly don’t notice anything particularly troubling. The drawings depict a naked man and woman touching each other or having (anatomically incorrect) sex, but both of them are often smiling and I don’t see any force or violence. Audrey’s at the age where she and her peers are becoming aware of sex. To tell Audrey she took something that should be nice and made it ugly is cruel. I would see the drawings as an opportunity to ask Audrey if she has any questions about sex, not to suggest her burgeoning interest is ugly and to make her cry.

Also, did Marty tell Maggie about the dolls (the several male ones standing around one unclothed female doll)? Maggie doesn’t seem to know about it, and we haven’t witnessed any other clear signs of Audrey’s emotional health besides Maggie’s assertion that Audrey is “withdrawn”, of which we haven’t seen a direct portrayal; it’s merely an informed attribute. Moreover, if Marty and Maggie don’t encourage communication and tell Audrey her interest in sex is “ugly”, then yeah, of course Audrey's withdrawn.

Of present-day Marty’s comments about fatherhood and responsibility, I find it interesting that he doesn’t say “what it means to be a parent”, but rather “what it means to be a father”, especially when he admits that “past a certain point, there’s a futility in responsibility”. I don’t think he’s incorrect when he says Audrey is trying to get attention, but then he doesn’t give her any attention. I don’t think a prepubescent child is “past a certain point”, though perhaps his comments refer to an older, teenage Audrey. In either case, though, it sounds like Marty only wants to be a parent when it’s easy.

Marty assures Maggie that his case will likely be taken from them by the task force, which will lessen his workload and let him be home more to help deal with Audrey’s emerging issue. Maggie mentions some incident “last week” to which Marty says he “should’ve begged off”. My best guess is the night Marty didn’t come home at all because he was at Lisa’s, but it could refer to cutting off their time with Maggie’s parents. Maggie asks about the “space” between them, of which Marty feigns ignorance. Maggie insists he does know what she’s talking about, that he’s been like a “sulky teenager” the past year.


Marty talks about how people change, “sometimes not for long”, but Maggie doesn’t agree. She accuses him of wanting “low expectations” (of him, from her, I guess). Then, bizarrely, she tells Marty that he puts a ceiling on his life “because [he] won’t change”. (Wait, didn’t she say earlier that she thinks people don’t really change, not in their hearts?)

Marty apologizes for not being at home and for taking “all this for granted”. Maggie asks straight-out, “What’ve you been doing, Marty?” Marty has an opportunity to be completely honest, but he doesn’t take it. Instead, he says he can “see 40″, that he feels like the coyote from the cartoon, running off a cliff—”and if I don’t look down and keep running, I might be fine”. Maggie goes to comfort him and they have sex.

Again, when it comes to the rest of Marty and Maggie’s argument, the writing is too subtle. The audience can get the gist—Maggie is frustrated with Marty’s midlife crisis—but I want the meat of the context, not a whiff of it. Maybe I’m just a fan of stronger, more on-the-nose dialogue. Anyway, one thing is clear: Marty is still unwilling to face his reality. He doesn’t come clean with Maggie about his affair and even admits that he’s trying not to “look down.”

Present-day Marty starts in on the case again and how he and Rust looked for suspects based on hospital and police records. He admits that Rust was better at soliciting confessions than he was. We watch young Rust talk to a potential suspect with facial scarring, but Rust realizes it’s not the man they’re looking for.


Gilbough and Papania re-enter the interview room where present-day Rust has been waiting. They ask his advice on talking to suspects and Rust admits he never found it that hard. “Everybody wears their hunger and their haunt, y’know? You just gotta be honest about what can go on up here,” he says and touches his head. “A locked room.” He then tells the detectives that he put his “insomnia to good use” by spending hours looking through old police records like he had suggested to Marty earlier. We see a montage of young Rust digging through files while present-day Rust makes comments in voice-over:

“I’ve seen the finale of thousands of lives, man—young, old, each one so sure of their realness, that their sensory experience constituted a unique individual with purpose, meaning…so certain that they were more than a biological puppet. Well, the truth wills out, and everybody sees once the strings are cut, all fall down.”

(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm; nihilism) Paul J. Ennis tells us Rust is “so good at soliciting confessions” because he is “attuned to delusion as the natural state of the human mind”. He can quickly discern the particular narrative a person has built around themselves in order to hide from their guilt. Rust’s comments on the “finale of thousands of lives” as well as his later comments about the eyes of murder victims both speak of his pessimistic view that, as Ennis says, “we are puppets at the mercy of wider forces” and that “death is to be welcomed”.

Young Rust arrives at a bar-restaurant (The Longhorn) where Maggie and Marty are trying to set him up with a friend of theirs named Jennifer. Later into their night, Rust tells the table about synesthesia wherein “one sense triggers another sense”, meaning he tastes colors. (This ties into his “aluminum, ash” comment from the first episode.)

While Rust describes other examples, Marty sees Lisa across the restaurant, talking with a young white man. He makes eye contact with her as he passes her to get more drinks from the bar. Lisa approaches the bar and confirms she’s on a date, like him. Marty asks if she’s going home with her date, which she says is none of his business. Marty thinks she’s asking him to divorce Maggie, but Lisa doesn’t want him at all anymore.

(misogyny) I generally like how Lisa is written. Yes, she’s sleeping with a married man, but she never promised monogamy whereas Marty, who did promise monogamy to Maggie, is displeased that Lisa isn’t faithful to him. Rather than accept that she doesn’t have to stay in a relationship with him (because she’s her own person and can withdraw consent and affection at any time), his ego concludes she must be trying to make him jealous and get him to divorce his wife.

We return to Rust talking about the murder files he has seen. Of interrogations, he tells Papania, “I never been in a room more than ten minutes, I didn’t know whether the guy did it or not.” He pointedly asks them, “How long does it take you?”

Another hint that Rust knows exactly what they suspect him of.

Present-day Marty confirms Rust spent many off-the-clock hours looking at other DBs (dead bodies) and says of him, “Coonhound in another life.” Papania thinks Marty is using “coon” as a racial slur and Marty clarifies, “I meant raccoon hound. Everybody is a fucking drama queen nowadays.”

Marty says Rust was like that because the job was everything to him whereas the rest of the squad “had families, people in our lives”. He says, “People give you rules. Rules describe the shape of things.”

I glean from Marty’s interaction with Papania over the use of coonhound that we’re supposed to wonder if Marty indeed turned into Maggie’s father, who said something similar to Marty’s “drama queen” comment when he complained about people in the streets “yelling about their rights”.

Also, I’m really sure Papania knows coonhound is a dog breed. Papania and Gilbough suspect Rust of murdering the Lake Charles victim, not Marty, so I don’t know why Papania would bait Marty, if indeed baiting him was the writer’s intention. Maybe Papania doesn’t like Marty, but we never see Papania and Gilbough discussing anything on their own, so we can’t know for sure. In fact, I really wish Papania and Gilbough weren’t just cardboard cutouts asking plot questions. I want to know a little of what’s going on inside their heads and how they see the situation, but the writers failed to give them any opportunities to be more than the bare minimum of a character.

(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm) Marty’s “wisdom” about families giving people rules and boundaries is utterly refuted by how he behaved despite having a family.


Marty finishes in voice-over as his young self recklessly pulls into a parking spot outside Lisa’s apartment. Lisa tells him to go away, but Marty breaks in, goes to her bedroom, and assaults the man there. Marty waves his badge at the man while threatening him and demanding he admit whether or not Lisa performed oral sex on him. When the man says she did, Marty backs off. Hilariously, it’s at this point that Marty insists he’s “not a psycho”. He leaves Lisa’s place, and present-day Marty says in voice-over, “That’s why I always said I think Rust needed a family. It’s boundaries. Boundaries are good.”

(misogyny) Despite how much he seems to have mellowed, present-day Marty is still deluding himself. He’s still trying to make the same point about people behaving when they have boundaries, whether family or faith. As young Rust said back at the tent revival sermon, people who don’t have faith (boundaries) will still get up to the same things they always do, “just out in the open”. Young Marty went into a rage when he couldn’t police Lisa’s fidelity and maintain a sexual monopoly over her. He only backed off after he terrorized her and physically assaulted her date.

(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm; abuse of power) Prior to busting in Lisa’s door, he suggests that the police she threatens to call won’t help her (because they’ll be loyal to him), to which Lisa replies, “I know other cops.” His threat (that cops won’t help her) as well as waving his badge around are both clear abuses of power.

Young Rust is contemplating some files in his apartment when Maggie calls. She tells Rust that Detective Geraci called Marty for help, which is what Marty must have told Maggie as an excuse to go beat up Lisa’s date. Maggie asks Rust for confirmation of Marty’s excuse, but Rust can’t say whether or not it’s true since Geraci hates him and wouldn’t “pull” him. She changes the subject to Jennifer and tells Rust they’d be good together if he gave them a chance. She says she doesn’t know why “you guys don’t give things chances”. Rust says, “That’s because we know what we want and we don’t mind being alone.”

A very hung over Marty arrives at CID headquarters. Rust pulls him into another room to tell him about a possible earlier victim, a woman named Rianne Olivier pulled from a river after a flood. He convinces Marty to look into it, but they’re nearly out of time with their boss.

In the car on their way to Pelican Island, where Rianne’s grandfather lives, Marty asks Rust, “Think a man can love two women at once?” Rust replies, “I don’t think that man can love, at least not the way he means. Inadequacies of reality always set in.” Marty asks, “You wonder ever if you’re a bad man?” Rust says he doesn’t wonder (implying he knows he’s a bad man) and that the world needs bad men. “We keep the other bad men from the door.”

(nihilism, undermining those with power) Man, do people love to quote this as if it’s somehow positive or “bad-ass”. I find it disturbing in that it rationalizes unethical behavior, especially violence. When Rust says he knows he’s a bad man, one keeping the other bad men at bay, he means that he is ready and willing to use violence against those who abuse power—and he knows full well that doing so does not make him a good person. His comments reinforce his stark self-awareness.


In Pelican Island, they talk to Rianne’s grandfather. We learn she left four years ago with a man named Reggie Ledoux. Rust asks where she went to school, and the grandfather mentions Light Of The Way. He also happens to have a small box of Rianne’s things, including her tenth-grade yearbook. We learn from the yearbook that Light Of The Way was part of “The Tuttle Ministries Wellsprings Program”, Reverend Tuttle’s foundation.

We hear Reverend Tuttle’s name yet again. More clues to add to our ledger.


Remember this guy for later in the season.

Young Rust and Marty go to the closed school. Rust speaks to a man mowing the property. The man works for the parish, which only added the schoolyard’s care to his work order a few months ago, so he doesn’t know anyone who worked at or attended the school. In the car, Marty hears back from R&I about Reggie. He honks the horn to get Rust’s attention, and Rust ends his conversation. In the car, Marty summarizes Reggie’s rap sheet, which includes many details concurrent with the deaths of their two victims (Dora and Rianne). Moreover, Reggie’s most recent cellmate for four months was Charlie Lange, Dora’s ex-husband. Marty and Rust put out an APB on Reggie.

Present-day Rust, who has been cutting up his empty beer cans this whole time and fashioning the aluminum into little people, says that talking about Reggie Ledoux (and the “hero shot”/”throwdown in the woods”) won’t help Gilbough and Papania. Rust points at the photo of the Lake Charles victim and returns to his thoughts about “time and death and futility”. Papania wants to interrupt Rust, but Gilbough holds him off. Rust describes what staring at DBs for fourteen straight hours makes you think of. He says,

“You look in their eyes, even in a picture. […] You can still read them, and you know what you see? They welcomed it, not at first, but right there in the last instant is an unmistakable relief, see, because they were afraid and now they saw for the very first time how easy it was to just let go. […] To realize that all your life—you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain—it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person.”

(pessimism; nihilism) Rust’s comments feed right back into his argument that, as Ennis states, “there is no self and there is no free will”, “life is a trap, a dream, or a program”, and that “death is to be welcomed”. Of course, his dark and creepy comments also reinforce Papania and Gilbough’s suspicion that Rust is the Lake Charles killer.

Rust sets down one of his aluminum people and says, “And like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.” We see a brief, ominous shot of a man in nothing but a gas mask and a jock strap. In one hand, he holds a machete. In the foreground of the shot is one of the lattices.

The site of the “throwdown in the woods”.

The site of the “throwdown in the woods”.

See you again for Episode 4: Who Goes There.