Theme and plot analysis are contained in blockquotes throughout the recap.
Young Rust and Marty interrogate Dora Lange’s ex-husband Charlie (Brad Carter) 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 recounts some of the things Reggie talked about while high, such as 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”.
(Chambers reference) Carcosa, you’ll recall, was written in Dora’s diary. Robert W. Chambers’ use of this fictional city is a reference to a short story by Ambrose Bierce called “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” in which a man wakes somewhere unfamiliar. The man comes to realize that he is dead and wandering the ruins of the city where he once lived. We’ve already gotten a sense of the themes associated with The King in Yellow figure, but not so much The Yellow Sign, which is the fourth of the ten short stories in The King in Yellow collection.
(via Wikipedia) “The King in Yellow never fully describes the shape and purpose of the Yellow Sign. Nonetheless, “The Repairer of Reputations“, one of the stories in the collection, suggests that anyone who possesses, even by accident, a copy of the sign is susceptible to some form of insidious mind control, or possession, by the King in Yellow or one of his heirs. The stories also suggest that the original creator of the sign was not human and possibly came from a strange alternate dimension that contains an ominous and ancient city known as Carcosa.”
Rust asks Charlie about any of Reggie’s friends. Charlie says a mutual associate, Tyrone Weems, would likely know where Reggie is. Marty sits next to Charlie and, while pointedly looking at Rust, says, “Had to be tough, living with somebody spouting insane shit in your ear, all day long.” They agree to give Charlie a “parole board nod” in exchange for his information. As Rust and Marty are leaving, Charlie asks if telling Reggie about Dora got her killed. Rust bluntly tells him, “You probably had something to do with it. I don’t think you should have shown him those pictures. Do you?”
Later in the car, Marty admonishes Rust for making Charlie feel even worse about Dora’s death. Rust points out that Charlie “asked about his end first”, i.e., what they’d give him for talking about Reggie. “You’re funny, Marty. The shit you get soft about.”
(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm) Charlie’s moral hypocrisy—showing guilt only after asking about his reward—garners zero sympathy from Rust. He’s fair when it comes to the parole board nod in exchange for Charlie’s information, but isn’t willing to be a part of Charlie’s self-deception (not blaming himself for Dora’s death). When Rust expresses incredulity at Marty’s sympathy, it just reinforces the key difference between them: self-deception and Marty’s denial of it. We see Marty share a little camaraderie with Charlie over being stuck with someone “spouting insane shit in your ear”, which is funny to me because Rust is characterized as the least self-deceptive character in the show, thus in a way, the sanest person Marty will ever meet, which makes you wonder if Reggie also wasn’t spouting “insane shit” as Marty and Charlie claim.
Present-day Marty says that he wanted to find every member of the Ledoux family he could, but there weren’t any. The existence of a cousin with the last name Duwall was only found on a trucker’s license, and Reggie himself had dropped off the grid after skipping his last parole check.
Young Marty sits in the witness stand of a courtroom, testifying for an unrelated case, and we see Lisa performing her duty as the court stenographer. Afterward, Lisa catches up to Marty, who says they “don’t have to talk”. Lisa says, “The hell we don’t. You don’t get to do what you did to me last week.”
Without looking at her, Marty throws out an apology and attributes his behavior to being “hurt and real drunk”. Lisa insists he talk to her now, but all Marty says is that he wishes her a great life. She calls him a “philandering fucking asshole”, which gets the brief attention of some people around them, and Marty says, “There’s no pageant to perform, okay, and your disappointment is irrelevant.” Lisa insists, “You don’t get to act like that, Marty, or like this. […] You need to respect me, Marty.” To that, Marty says, “This is respect.”
(misogyny) Marty only talks with Lisa because she insists on it. He never acknowledges the harm he caused her, only that he “was hurt”. He shifts blame onto being drunk. He says her feelings, which he calls “disappointment” because that’s a balm to his bruised ego, are irrelevant. He didn’t like that Lisa was ending their relationship on her (reasonable) terms, so he ended it on his terms, and now he’s done with her. He’s condescending, self-concerned, not at all remorseful, and anything but respectful.
Rust and Marty brief the rest of the detectives about Reggie Ledoux and his connection to Dora Lange and Tyrone Weems. We see Rust and Marty question Tyrone’s mother, Theresa, who hasn’t seen him in a few months. She forwards them to a woman named Kelsey, whom Tyrone dated recently.
Marty talks to Kelsey in the dressing room of the strip club where she works. She also hasn’t seen Tyrone in months. Out in the bar area, Marty asks the bartender about Kelsey’s “old man”. The bartender doesn’t know Marty is a cop at first and isn’t forthcoming. Once Marty convinces him, the bartender says that about a month ago, Kelsey’s “man”, who would come in to collect money from her, got kicked out for trying to sell “Christie” (crystal meth) to the women that work there. The bartender recognizes a mug shot of Reggie.
Present-day Marty mentions that their boss Quesada gave them more slack since they had a suspect. Then he goes quiet, and we see young Marty come home to a pair of packed suitcases along with a note from Maggie, who has learned of Marty’s affair. Marty calls Lisa first to ask her what she told his wife. Lisa angrily says,
“How’s it feel? I told you you can’t treat people like this. […] You think it’s okay what you do? All of you think it’s okay to treat your wives the way you do, to treat women the way—fucking liars and bullies, and this is what you get!”
Marty tells her he has children, and she has ruined his life. He calls her a “fucking whore”. She deals back some insults and Marty yells, “I will skull-fuck you, you bitch!” Then Marty calls Maggie’s parents and asks to talk to Maggie. Maggie’s father Jake refuses to put Maggie on the phone and tells Marty to leave her alone.
(misogyny) Marty claims that Lisa has “blown up [his] life”, but Marty is the one who blew up his own life—yet more of that self-deception. He had an affair and lied about it. He risked the stability of his children’s home life. He terrorized his mistress despite her trying to end things amicably and then didn’t feel remorse. These are all decisions he made. He calls Lisa a whore only after she has been “disloyal” and no longer pleases him. He threatens her with more harm. He is completely blind to the one actor in all of this that’s most at fault: himself. Unfortunately, Marty will not learn his lesson. We’ll see several more examples of his misogyny as the show continues.
Present-day Marty asks Papania and Gilbough, “How many exes you guys have?” Papania shakes his head and Gilbough lifts one finger. Marty immediately seeks camaraderie. “See, that’s what I’m talking about. Did I make some mistakes? Yes.”
Without further comment, he goes into the “detective’s curse”, where an answer is obvious but remains unnoticed. Young Marty, while drinking and driving, tails Kelsey after she leaves work to some sort of rave in a warehouse outside of town. He goes inside, eventually spots Kelsey, and follows her right to Tyrone Weems.
Tyrone goes somewhere private to answer nature’s call, and Marty violently confronts him to demand information about Reggie. Tyrone readily gives up what he knows: that Reggie only “cooks for one client now”, a biker gang named Iron Crusaders. Rust later recognizes the name when Marty gives him an update over the phone. Present-day Rust mentions he took some personal time around then to see his father, but it’s not yet clear why he tells Papania and Gilbough that information.
Besides the obvious, Marty’s comments about making mistakes simply informs the audience that Marty told Papania and Gilbough about the fallout of his affair (meaning he didn’t skip over that part). Quite helpfully, telling them that is a good way to explain why he wasn’t living with his wife for some time and why she therefore couldn’t easily recount where he was. That makes finding holes in his and Rust’s stories even more difficult.
Those of you who have seen Breaking Bad may have made the connection already, but the creepy man at the end of episode 3 is Reggie, who was in his underwear and wearing a gas mask because he cooks meth. As for the machete? No fucking clue. That’s terrifying.
Marty immediately resorts to violence with Tyrone Weems, and I was reminded of Rust using violence to get information about the bunny ranch from the two mechanics. Rust asks first and then resorts to violence when he doesn’t get the information he wants, but Marty goes straight to pointing a gun at Tyrone, who, judging from his responses and behavior, would’ve told Marty about Reggie without violent coercion.
Young Marty goes to the hospital where Maggie works. She doesn’t want to talk, but Marty is persistent, saying he “meant everything [he] said the other night, every word.” He asserts that he “stopped” seeing Lisa, which Maggie says doesn’t lessen his betrayal. He attributes his infidelity to being “rattled” about his father dying (over a year ago). Maggie says she doesn’t give a shit about his feelings and that he needs to get out of their lives.
She tries to walk away, but Marty grabs her elbow and angrily says, “You are not gonna break up my fuckin’ family, okay?” One of Maggie’s co-workers tries to intervene and asks Marty to leave, and Marty’s answer is to flash his State Police badge. The doctor asks if Marty’s at the hospital in that capacity, which of course he isn’t.
(misogyny) This conversation is similar to the one Marty had with Lisa earlier. One party wants to talk, but the other doesn’t. One party tells the other they don’t care about their feelings. In both, however, Marty doesn’t accept any accountability for his actions. He shifts blame onto the death of his father. He claims he did something redemptive when he stopped seeing Lisa (a lie since it was Lisa who ended their relationship), but Marty never came clean with Maggie, and he became violent when Lisa dared to end their relationship. He says Maggie isn’t going to break up his family, but he’s the one whose actions have destroyed his family.
(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm) Here’s another example of Marty abusing his power as a police officer.
Before we can find out what happens next, we’re back in Rust’s apartment. He opens a large, red toolbox. Inside are various supplies, but the most eye-opening ones are the guns and even a couple of grenades. Rust picks up a bottle of Jameson and drinks straight from the bottle. His telephone rings. We cut back to Marty at the hospital, where security are trying to eject him. Rust shows up, tells Marty that he’s “got a line on Ledoux”, and successfully lures Marty away.
Rust and Marty go to bar where Rust explains that getting to Ledoux will be “dirty”, but Marty is still hung up on his personal problems. Rust doesn’t want to hear it. Marty apologizes at first, but then calls Rust a “total shit” and tries to put some of the blame on Rust for “creating tensions [and] judging [him]”.
Rust wonders how he has anything to do with Marty having an affair with a “young Maggie”. We learn Rust noticed Marty looking at Lisa the night they were at The Longhorn. Rust says Lisa “looked crazy enough to have followed [Marty] there”. Marty tries to explain how he has always liked “something wild” that “smooths out the other parts of [his] life”, but Rust reiterates that he doesn’t want to hear it.
(pessimism, hypocrisy as the norm) I’m perturbed Rust would call Lisa crazy, twice. It seems out of character for him, especially since he doesn’t practically any context, such as Lisa trying to end the relationship and Marty assaulting her date. Rust objectifies Lisa when he says Marty can’t tell “crazy pussy”, as if revealing the affair after being terrorized is a “crazy” reaction rather than some much-needed comeuppance. It’d be more in character for Rust to call out Marty’s self-deception and then end it at that. My best guess is that Rust finds fault with Lisa for sleeping with a married man.
Notice also that Marty is still trying to shift blame (onto Rust). When that doesn’t work, he tries to get Rust of all people to make him feel less guilty, and just like with Charlie, Rust refuses to participate in Marty’s self-deception and blame-dodging.
Rust turns the subject back to Ledoux. He knows the biker gang from his time in Narcotics and is certain the only play is to do it “off-book”. Later in Rust’s apartment, Rust shows his gun stash to Marty. He already asked his old handler if his cover with the biker gang was blown, but as far as anyone on the inside knows, “Crash” died in a DEA shootout in Port Houston.
Once Rust lays out his plan for getting closer to Ledoux, which would take one or two weeks’ groundwork and end with them going in on their own, Marty says he doesn’t like the sound of that, but Rust insists that he can’t do what he needs to if they have “watchdogs”. He tells Marty the stakes (getting a bullet in the head) “aren’t that high” and describes the truly horrific way in which a particular border cartel tortures and kills people.
(realism) Rust’s acceptance of possibly getting killed, as well as his acknowledgement that getting shot in the head is not nearly as bad as getting tortured to death, fits his characterization. His understanding of the world is very grim, but we’ve already heard him admit he doesn’t have the kind of constitution it takes to commit suicide. Someone else putting a bullet in his head sounds like it’ll do Rust just fine.
Marty temporarily stays in Rust’s apartment, and we see Rust using a concoction of ink and cayenne to give his inner arm some fresh track marks. Marty asks how long Rust was undercover (four years, which we already knew) and is surprised because “UCs” (undercover officers) usually only do up to eleven months. Rust says being in so long was punishment for having “fucked up on the job”. He says he’s got a good story to “move fast”, and all he needs is some high-quality cocaine.
Papania asks present-day Rust about taking a leave of absence right when he had a suspect, and Rust says again that he had to see his father, who was supposedly sick with leukemia. We watch a montage of two interspersed scenes. Rust references some photos in order to make a fake brick of cocaine using flour, which he switches with a real brick from the evidence room at work. Marty comes downstairs for coffee, sees Rust staring into a very small mirror stuck to the wall above his thermostat, and is later seen looking into it himself. Marty asks, “You supposed to see both eyes in this one?”
Now we know why present-day Rust mentioned his leave of absence to Papania and Gilbough as well as why young Rust ended up taking one in ’95. That was his excuse so he could go undercover without any “watchdogs”.
I have no idea what’s going on with the tiny mirror, and neither does Marty, but I’m guessing it’s another way for Rust to meditate. If anyone has a better explanation, I’d love to understand.
(pessimism, suspicion toward institutions) As Rust is leaving the evidence room with the cocaine, he says aloud, “They really need a better system for this.” As Rust has said, as a police officer, he can do terrible things “with impunity” because a morally hypocritical institution like the police department is bad at regulating itself. Note that swiping cocaine is an abuse of his power, but he’s doing it to solve a case. Marty, on the other hand, abuses his power only to benefit himself.
Gilbough and Papania tell present-day Marty that coincidences keep emerging, such as zero evidence that Rust’s father had leukemia or that he was even seen in the last thirty years. Marty asks if that’s all they have. They ask present-day Rust if he’s still mad at his father. Rust says, “We didn’t really like each other. There’s a difference.”
We learn Rust’s father met Rust’s mother while on leave (he served in Vietnam) and returned when Rust was two, at which point Rust’s mother “dumped” him on Rust’s father and left. Rust describes his father as a “survivalist” with some “very fucking strange ideas”. He praises the beauty of the night sky in Alaska, but says he moved down to Texas because he couldn’t handle the cold.
Papania and Gilbough continue to believe that Rust is the Lake Charles killer and possibly the murderer of Dora Lange. Unfortunately for them, Marty is not the person to help them ferret out the truth.
A theme common to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, one of Robert W. Chambers’ contemporaries, was the idea of “inherited guilt” or an inescapable “genetic destiny”. Rust’s father being a loner and survivalist (likely a reaction to his service in Vietnam) is an interesting parallel to how Rust turned out. A lot of people think Rust has some “very fucking strange ideas”. Rust’s father’s displeasure at Rust leaving, saying he had “no loyalty”, props up this idea. We see something similar happen with Marty. I don’t disbelieve that Marty’s father’s death had an impact on him, or perhaps even triggered Marty’s midlife crisis (still doesn’t excuse infidelity), but when present-day Marty talked of his father a little in episode 2, we got the sense that Marty wants to get away from his dad’s bottle-it-up attitude, but can’t, which young Marty conveyed to Maggie during their argument in episode 3. Similarly, present-day Marty makes a comment in episode 3 that sounds like the kind of prejudiced things Maggie’s father said to young Marty in episode 2, and which young Marty condemned.
Young Rust sits across from Maggie in a diner. Rust makes it clear that he’s brokering for some concessions from Maggie on Marty’s behalf solely to ensure that Marty will concentrate on their upcoming undercover operation. Maggie says shortchanging “the wrong things” is how “you all get warped”. Rust says he’ll skip Marty’s “tide of apologies” to say that Marty wants to see his daughters. He says, “Kids are the only thing that matter, Maggie. They’re the only reason for this whole man-woman drama.” Maggie asks what Rust means, and Rust explains, “…people fuck up. We age. Men, women—it’s not supposed to work except to make kids.” Maggie accuses him of “ducking under rationalization, same as any of them”. She drives it home when she says, “You must have been a great husband.” Rust leaves without a word.
(anti-natalist nihilism) Rust’s comments might make children and procreation sound sacred in a way, but when he says,”Kids are the only thing that matter,” he’s not saying “children are our future”. As he’s said before, Rust believes “human consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution”. We’re nothing more than programming and that programming is for nothing but procreation. Therefore, procreation is “the only reason for this whole man-woman drama”, which is driven by flawed programming. Interestingly, Maggie says that Rust’s personal philosophies are no different from the self-deceptions of other men. That comparison, coupled with her sarcastic implication that Rust was therefore as bad a husband as Marty, drives Rust away.
It’s time for Rust to go undercover. He’s got his look on and explains what’s going to happen to Marty. He gives Marty a mobile phone, explains briefly how it works (remember, it’s 1995), and says he’ll be the only one calling. Marty asks after Maggie, and Rust says she’s “softening”. He gives Marty other assurances, betting that Marty and Maggie will be back together in a couple of months. Rust and Marty arrive separately at a biker bar two miles outside of Beaumont. Marty sits in a parked car outside the bar.
Rust walks to a door at the back of the bar and tells the doorman he’s there to see Ginger (Joseph Sikora). After he’s frisked, we see him sitting fireside with a white, red-bearded biker. Rust gives Ginger his story about laying low in Mexico for a couple of years after the DEA shootout. He brings up a potential, lucrative deal with his Mexico group.
Meanwhile, Marty has grown anxious and approaches the bar to check on Rust. Inside, Rust expounds on the deal his Mexico group wants, and Ginger offers him a hit of what I’m guessing is meth. Rust accepts the hit and sticks to his story about the fake deal. He butters Ginger up by giving him a large sample of the cocaine his fictional Mexico group would be trading for meth. Ginger is almost sold and mentions the biker gang’s one cook. (That’s Reggie, if you’ll recall.) If Rust agrees to be the fourth man in a team for a “big grab” that’s going down that night, Ginger will think seriously about putting Rust into contact with that cook. Rust agrees to Ginger’s terms.
Marty finds the door in the back of the bar, but the doorman doesn’t let him through. Rust leaves with Ginger in a boat to go to Ginger’s place “down the bayou”. Marty slips by someone coming in the back door, and the doorman grabs him. Marty pretends he’s someone’s sponsor in AA and he’s worried his friend is drinking again. (Great excuse, Marty!) He spots Rust leaving and is thrown out of the bar.
At Ginger’s place, Rust, Ginger, and Ginger’s men are gearing up to do this big grab. We hear someone making noise in another room and learn that Ginger is holding a black man named Tiger Thomas, a dealer from the Hoston Projects. They plan to go in as police officers and rob a stash house there. Rust asks about their exit plan, but one of Ginger’s men basically says they’ll just shoot their way out if there’s trouble. Rust dryly says, “So you have thought it out. My bad.” Marty, having no idea where Rust went, drives into Beaumont, parks in the lot of a closed supermarket, and listens to the local police chatter.
Rust and Ginger’s group head into the Hoston Projects. They drop Rust off separately in order to flank the stash house, and he checks his pulse. Seconds later, Rust and Ginger’s group get into the stash house and has everyone at gunpoint. Rust searches the house and finds a young black boy watching TV. He checks outside and sees that other Hoston residents have already figured out that Ginger’s group isn’t the police, so more of the drug ring that utilizes the stash house will soon descend. Rust takes the boy to the bathroom and tells him to lie down in the bathtub and stay quiet. He rejoins Ginger’s group in the kitchen area. He stops Ginger from opening the stash hole, which is rigged, and has Tiger do it instead.
Ginger starts loading a bag, but they’re running out of time, and the rest of Ginger’s group is losing their cool. One of Ginger’s men shoots and kills one of the people they’ve held up. The people who have gathered outside the stash house start firing back and will enter any second. Rust decides it’s time to bail with the man he came for. He checks that the back door is clear, shoots Tiger, and gut-punches Ginger. Then he drags Ginger to a nearby house, breaks in, and orders its only resident to get in the bathroom. He calls Marty from the wall phone and tells him when and where to pick him up. He doesn’t have much time, though, because Ginger escapes out of the front of the house. Rust puts down two men who confront him and catches up to Ginger.
A major police response has complicated the situation even more, but has also provided Rust and Ginger some cover as they make their way to the edge of the neighborhood. Rust and Ginger climb over a fence and run to the next street. Marty pulls up, they pile in, and Marty drives off. Rust demands Ginger give him the location of Ledoux; in exchange, he’ll let Ginger go. Ginger doesn’t spill, and Rust punches him in the face a couple of times. They escape the area. Rust and Marty will interrogate Ginger elsewhere. Our last shot is of the chaos Rust and Ginger left at the stash house.
The final ten minutes of the episode is basically just a suspenseful build-up to a long action sequence. A five-minute chunk of the stash-house raid, from entering the house to getting into Marty’s car, is all shot as one continuous take.
See you again for Episode 5: The Secret Fate of All Life.