Theme and plot analysis are contained in blockquotes throughout the recap.
The camera slowly zooms in on an old, one-story brick building with a mural painted on the side similar to the one in the Light of the Way school, one of an antlered woman in a forest. We hear Errol speaking and then we see him from behind. He’s cheerfully talking to a man who’s tied spread-eagle to a table in front of him. On Errol’s bare back, we see the spiral brand as well as other scars. He says he’ll bring the man water later if he’s good and then says, “Bye, Daddy.”
Errol leaves the brick building and approaches a large house across an overgrown driveway. The house is reminiscent of (and probably is) the “master’s” house of an old plantation. Errol plays with an aggressive German Shepard. Inside the main house is a vast amount of hoarded items: dolls, magazines, etc. Errol stops to watch an old Cary Grant movie (North by Northwest, I think) playing on a TV by the stairs. A woman calls to him and Errol replies in a British accent. He goes to the kitchen where the woman is cooking and says, “It’s been weeks since I left my mark. Would that they had eyes to see.”
After a brief interaction, Errol sits down to watch more of the movie, and the woman approaches him to ask, “You want to make flowers today?” Errol continues to speak with a British accent. “Now, Betty. I have very important work to do. My…ascension removes me from the disc and the loop. I’m near final stage. Some mornings, I can see the infernal plane.” Betty says it makes her sad that it’s been so long.
He has her sit on his knee and begins touching her. In his regular voice, he asks her to tell him “about Grampa” and it’s implied that he’s heard this story often. Betty begins her story of her grandfather catching her alone in the fields. Her story strongly implies he had sex with her; consent is unclear but considering the set-up, I’d say consent was impossible.
The camera pulls away out of the house, across the bayou, and past a sign for a nature trail, implying the house is very deep in the wilderness.
If Delores was correct, the late Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle was Errol’s uncle. Based on the VHS tape Rust stole from Tuttle’s safe, Tuttle took part in the same crimes as his nephew. Interestingly, Errol’s off-the-grid, cluttered house sits in sharp contrast to Tuttle’s rich, immaculate, and relatively accessible office. In addition to being nearly entirely protected by his financial and political power, Tuttle cloaked himself in the typical markers of goodness (hypocrisy as the norm) whereas Errol is largely shielded by obscurity. (I say “largely” because we’ve seen his family connections intervene to cover up his crimes, likely because they’re also Tuttle’s crimes.)
When authorities come across him, Errol’s presence is justifiable, seemingly happenstance, and therefore overlooked. Moreover, he appears to be a genial, working-class, white “good ol’ boy”, and authorities don’t look at him twice, which means he takes advantage of the assumptions of others. Moreover, one of the biggest reasons he hasn’t been caught yet is that his victims are not only very difficult to connect, but also are entirely made of members of an oppressed, “unwanted” group (women, children, the poor). His family connections intervene only when a victim’s family attempts to find them.
Recall that Delores said Errol’s face was burned by his father, so if you prefer mundane explanations for the show, it’s safe to assume Errol is torturing his father for revenge.
Errol talks about leaving his “mark”, his “ascension” removing him from “the disk and the loop”, and seeing “the infernal plane”. The disc/loop is most likely related to the “time is a flat circle” line from episode 5 and all the philosophical baggage that carries.
The woman is accepting of Errol’s lifestyle and his crimes and can be considered an accomplice. We’ll see her again.
(Chambers reference) Errol, like Reggie Ledoux, has the spiral brand on his back, which we’ve established as this show’s Yellow Sign. When Errol talks about leaving his mark, he’s likely talking about this spiral shape.
An aside: I tend not to rely on interviews with actors, show creators, or writers in order to understand a movie or show’s plot/characters. If something needs explanation, debunking, or clarification, then the writing didn’t do its job. Conversely, if something appears to be purposefully ambiguous or simply there for flavor (rather than just an “Ass Pull” or “Narrative Filigree“), I prefer to stick to my own head canon rather than ask the writer for validation of my theory.
If your head canon tells you that Errol uses a British accent for a mundane reason, while another person believes a decidedly supernatural explanation, then finding out from the show creator that one is right and one is wrong (or worst of all, that it doesn’t matter because it’s meaningless) can take the fun out of it. For that reason, I won’t link to any interviews from those directly involved in the show who try to explain the plot or characters.
Back with Rust and Marty, who have Geraci (Michael Harney) at gunpoint on a fishing boat, Rust tells Geraci to take the VHS tape out of its bag and put it into the VCR. (Geraci is not given latex gloves.) Geraci is forced to watch the same disturbing video that Marty watched in the last episode, and he screams at what he sees. After the video has been shut off, Geraci’s head is in his hands and Rust says to him, “That little girl is the one you said went to see her daddy.”
Geraci tells Rust and Marty how the missing persons report for Marie was marked as “report made in error” by someone else when he returned to it for follow-up. The sheriff at the time, Ted Childress, to whom Rust and Marty spoke back in ’95 and who is now dead, was the one who closed the file. Marie’s parents and her aunt and uncle were somewhat distant relations to Ted Childress (more of those family connections), and Geraci says he could do nothing about the whole thing due to “chain of command”.
He is increasingly adamant about how little power he had to properly pursue the case, especially with the mother gone and even the report gone. Then he says, “Later that year, I was in State CID on Ted’s recommendation,” suggesting Ted was getting Geraci out of the picture to further cover up Marie’s disappearance. Rust and Marty think they won’t get much more out of Geraci, but Rust wonders aloud if they need to go as far as “staging something” to make sure Geraci doesn’t talk about their interaction.
Elsewhere, a school lets out for recess. Errol is painting the side of the school. He glances at the children occasionally, such as pair of white girls spinning in circles. (This may be a symbolic nod to the spiral shape.) A young white boy holding a ball calmly stares at Errol.
Rust, Marty, and Geraci are back on shore. Rust tells Geraci they’ll mail his cellphone and gun back to him once they’re certain they’re a safe distance away. Geraci reminds them he’s sheriff and makes a vague threat, but Rust gives him a couple of reasons not to do or say anything, such as the VHS tape that now has Geraci’s fingerprints on it.
Geraci doesn’t quite get the message, so Rust tells him he’s got an already-paid contract with a sniper friend of his to take Geraci out if he tries anything. That only angers Geraci, who tries to call Rust’s bluff. Rust raises his hand and someone shoots about six bullets into Geraci’s car. It’s Doumain (Johnny McPhail), in fact, the man who owns the bar where Rust works.
Rust and Marty are back at Marty’s PI office. They can’t locate any relations of Ted Childress, so they’re at a dead end. Rust suggests looking through case files again when Marty notices something in the photos on the wall. He locates one of the 1995 canvassing photos near Erath and holds it up next to a more recent photo of the same house. They realize the house had a fresh paint job in 1995—green paint. They speculate that the painter wore a baseball cap, leaving only his ears exposed to paint splashes and thus leading to the little girl’s description of a green-eared spaghetti monster.
Later, while driving to speak with the green house’s former owner, Marty asks Rust if he was holding back when they had their fistfight in 2002. Rust says he wasn’t, but Marty thinks Rust would be that arrogant. Maggie also apparently told Marty that “she made it happen” with Rust the night they had sex and that it wasn’t Rust’s choice. (That’s creepy.)
Rust replies, “Everybody’s got a choice, Marty.” He says he blamed Marty for “being a lying sack of shit” and pushing Maggie to the point where she used Rust to get rid of him. He then admits Maggie recently visited him out of concern for Marty’s well-being. Marty gets into how much Rust judges him, even with his expressions. To that, Rust says,
“Look, as sentient meat, however illusory our identities are, we craft those identities by making value judgments. Everybody judges, all the time. Now, you got a problem with that, you’re living wrong.”
As he has done before, Marty mishears Rust and asks him, “What’s ‘scented meat’?” (Oh, Marty.)
(self-delusion; misogyny, the patriarchy) Let me lay out the two awful stereotypes at play here: 1) that men “cannot be raped” because 2) their need for sex is “uncontrollable”. If Maggie claims she made it happen and says it wasn’t Rust’s choice, that either implies Rust didn’t consent, which means she raped him, or that she was using his “uncontrollable” desire for sex against him, which entirely erases Rust’s agency from their sexual interlude. Eliding his agency both unfairly absolves him of any responsibility and also dehumanizes him.
“Everybody’s got a choice” is a dissatisfying answer to me because it doesn’t pinpoint Marty’s error. In sexual assault cases, victim-blaming (when the victim is a woman) attempts to blame the behaviors and choices she made which “tempted” her (usually male) perpetrator. The delusion that these men don’t choose to assault because they “cannot control” themselves is a big part of rape culture and misogyny. It’s insulting to both women and men, the former because it places blame on women for someone else’s actions and the latter because it dehumanizes men with the suggestion that they are not rational creatures when it comes to sexual urges. It’s also a delusion that sexual assault stems from an “uncontrollable” need for sex. It doesn't. Rape is about power, entitlement, and violence.
Conversely, in rape cases where the victim of rape is a man and the perpetrator is a woman, a common fucked-up reaction is to insist men “will always consent” to sex (with a woman) and that rape “only happens to women”. Ergo, a man saying he was raped is ridiculed; he’s not “performing masculinity” right.
Rust’s line about “everybody’s got a choice” only vaguely refutes those larger delusions. His line does affirm that of course he had agency that night just as Marty had agency (and therefore the blame) when he cheated and lied. I do like Rust telling Marty that Marty was a shitty husband not because of some outside influence, but because Marty made a bunch of selfish decisions.
Rust and Marty track down the former owner, Lilly Hill (Terry Moore), to the retirement community where she lives. They ask if she recalls getting her house painted and provide the approximate date. Luckily, she does. The men who painted her house worked for the parish, and her church got a discount for her paint job. They ask for anything else, and she happens to remember how much she paid for the work: $250. She also remembers one of the painters had scarring on his face. Rust confirms that Mrs. Hill and her husband worked that year and paid their taxes.
They look up the Hills’ tax records that year and find the write-off for the paint job. $265 paid to “Childress and Son Maintenance”. They find the business license for the company, registered to Billy Childress in 1978 and not renewed since 2004. They look through the company’s public records, such as contracts with parishes to maintain schools, churches, and cemeteries, and learn the company has been working all along the coast.
They run a background check on Billy Childress in an effort to locate his son. They don’t find one, but they find an old address through the DMV. As Marty spouts off the address in voice-over, the scene switches to an exterior shot of Errol’s house. The camera moves inside and we hear sounds of Errol and Betty having sex. (That’s what Betty meant by “making flowers”.)
The next day at Doumain’s, Rust gives Doumain instructions regarding nearly a dozen identical envelopes containing all of their evidence about the scarred man’s crimes. If Rust doesn’t stop Doumain within twenty-four hours, Doumain is supposed to mail the envelopes out.
Marty sits across from Detective Papania at a diner. Neither is willing to tell the other how their respective cases are going. Papania is aware Rust and Marty are working together, and that Marty is pulling a lot of old case files. Marty tries to push Papania in the same direction they’re going—the many branches of the Tuttle family and their cult activities—but Papania thinks Marty’s been duped by Rust.
Marty insists they don’t know anything that would constitute obstruction of justice, but asks Papania if he’ll “do the right thing” if Marty calls with something concrete. Papania gets prickly over Marty’s obfuscation, and Marty repeats himself, “We get something, do you want the call or you want it to go to someone else?” Papania says he wants the call.
Rust and Marty drive out to Billy Childress’ old address. Both are tense. As they pull off the main road, Rust says, “That taste. Aluminum, ash. I’ve tasted it before.” Marty asks if Rust still has hallucinations, and Rust says, “It never stops. Not really. What happened to my head, it’s not something that gets better.”
(Chambers reference) Recall that Rust tasted “aluminum, ash” in episode 1: they were leaving the Dora Lange crime scene, which was just outside of Erath. At the time, Rust supposed out loud that he could smell the “psycho-sphere”. Recall that in episode 3, Rust told us about his synesthesia wherein “one sense triggers another sense”. In episode 7, I said it was a common literary device for Chambers and his contemporaries to flag evil places with descriptions of impossible dimensions (of a location near Erath, Rust said “Nothing grows in the right direction.”) or disturbing smells (“aluminum, ash”). Rust’s comment here is therefore a signal to the viewer.
We know Rust’s hallucinations are chemical “flashbacks” resulting from his time undercover in Narcotics, and we’ve seen a few examples of the kind of hallucinations he suffers. In episode 2, while Rust is driving, the road and streetlights in front of him both blur and speed up, stretching the lights out. Later in that episode, back in the car but with Marty driving, Rust watches as the sunset-colored clouds spread unnaturally across the sky. At the end of that episode is when Rust sees the flock of birds briefly form the spiral shape. Let me quote myself from that recap:
“1) It’s implied that Rust has told Gilbough and Papania about the birds, which is why they ask if he was hallucinating on the job. 2) Rust insists that he could always tell reality from hallucination, so that might insinuate that Rust mentioned the birds to Gilbough and Papania because, at the time, he felt he wasn’t hallucinating. The insinuation isn’t watertight, but the ambiguity remains. 3) Rust asserts that his chemical flashbacks stopped after he was clean for a while, which implies that 2012’s Rust doesn’t have hallucinations anymore.”
Of his hallucinations, Rust told Marty just now, “It never stops. Not really.” That contradicts what he told Papania and Gilbough about not experiencing hallucinations anymore (perhaps he didn’t want to give them unnecessary fodder to use against him), but it doesn’t contradict him asserting that he “could always tell what was real or what wasn’t”. What we’re left with is still that smidgen of ambiguity. Recall how Rust admitted that while sometimes he thought he had lost it when he was seeing things, other times he thought he was “mainlining the secret truth of the universe”, which I linked to the theme of “forbidden knowledge” common in stories by Robert W. Chambers and his contemporaries. All this will come to a head at the climax of this episode.
The camera watches Rust and Marty’s car arrive from inside the house and over Betty’s shoulder. When they get out of the car, Rust looks around and tells Marty to call Papania. Marty has no signal on his phone, so he decides to approach the house and ask to use the phone. Rust tells Marty, “This is the place.” Marty goes up to the house. Rust is curious about the buildings across the driveway from the main house. The camera shows us that someone is watching Rust through the dirty window of one of those buildings.
Marty knocks on the door and gets Betty (Ann Dowd). He gives her an excuse about being a surveyor and asks to use the phone. Betty says they have none. Marty tries to ask for water, but Betty refuses again. Marty gets to the point and asks for Billy Childress, to which Betty says, “Old Bill? He’s in his house, mister.” (She’s talking about the small brick building.) Marty asks whom Betty lives with. Betty tells him to leave. Marty puts his foot in the door and asks, “Where is he?” Betty gravely replies, “All around us, before you were born and after you die.”
Marty starts forcing his way into the house. The home’s German Shepard, which has been barking this whole time, gets out through the dog door and sprints past Rust to one of the rear buildings. Rust yells at Marty to clear the house. He takes out his gun, goes behind the building with the mural on it, and finds the dog, dead. He looks past the house to the line of trees and sees a man whom we’d recognize as Errol (Glenn Fleshler). Rust demands the man get on his knees, and Errol darkly—almost petulantly—says “no”. He bolts into the treeline before Rust can stop him. Rust runs to catch up.
Marty searches the house and locates Betty upstairs. He passes through a bedroom containing a mattress with large stains, a tub in the center, and several articles of extremely dirty, possibly bloody clothing or rags. In a room off this bedroom, he finds Betty trying to stifle her giggles. He knows they must have a phone in the house and asks where it is. Betty says, “He’s gonna come for you. He’s worse than anybody.”
Rust finds an entrance into some sort of brick structure. A large stick sculpture sits next to this entrance and is adorned with clothing. An unseen Errol beckons Rust inside. Marty, having restrained Betty to the staircase with his handcuffs, rushes outside to locate Rust. He enters the rear building that Rust circled around earlier.
Indeed, it’s the one containing Billy Childress, tied to a table. The interior walls are covered in red lettering, flies buzz, and the man’s eyes are open and unblinking. He has white hair and only wears a yellowed pair of underwear. His lips are sewn shut. Horrified, Marty leaves the building, finds the dead dog, and calls for Rust. Rust replies and Marty continues toward his voice.
Rust enters the large brick structure. Errol’s voice echoes, “Come on inside, little priest.” Rust continues farther in, finding many more large stick sculptures. The brick structure, overgrown with plant-life, turns out to be even larger than expected and it’s almost a maze. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the path to the center forms a spiral, but we don’t get a clear sense of its layout.)
Errol continues whispering directions, “To your right, little priest. Take the bride’s path.” The interior hallway Rust uses is filled with stick sculptures. Errol mutters, “You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man. You blessed Reggie. Duwall. Acolytes. Witnesses to my journey. Lovers. I am not ashamed.”
Rust passes sculptures containing more than sticks. One holds a sort of mummified body crowned with antlers. Another holds an upright body that seems to have been allowed to decay without wrappings. Errol invites Rust to “come die with me, little priest”. Rust finds a hole in the brick wall of a side tunnel and enters it to find the promenade you see above. Marty has also entered the brick structure, but hasn’t caught up with Rust. He finds a massive pile of clothing, some of it obviously meant for children. He calls for Rust, but Rust doesn’t answer.
Rust finally finds a large domed room with a circular vent at the top. On the other side from where he enters is an elaborate stick sculpture. Some branches depict arms and they are draped with dirty yellow fabric. Several skulls sit where a head would be. Rust cautiously moves into the room, and we get a better look at what we can assume is some sort of depiction of the Yellow King, though perhaps it’s more of an altar than the entity itself.
Rust turns and looks up at a slow-moving swirl that appears distant and enormous. It is surrounded by stars and shines softly.
Errol takes advantage of Rust’s distraction to attack. He knocks Rust’s gun away and stabs him. Rust stops him from delivering another slash with a hand-axe, and Errol growls, “Now, take off your mask.” Rust is lifted into the air with the knife still stuck inside him. Marty hears some of the commotion and double-times it, having found the promenade.
Rust head-butts Errol twice, breaking his nose. He head-butts him two more times and is finally dropped. Before Errol can swing a hand-axe down on Rust, Marty shoots Errol in the shoulder. Marty misses two other shots, and Errol throws the hand-axe, which lands in Marty’s right pectoral. Errol advances on Marty, drags his axe out of Marty’s chest, and raises it again, but Rust shoots Errol in the head.
Marty crawls to Rust, who slowly pulls the knife out of his stomach. Rust says the wound is bad and Marty tries to disagree. (I’d call Rust an idiot for pulling the knife out, but Rust is hoping to die right then and there, so maybe it’s on purpose.)
Back at the main house, Betty raises her head at the sound of approaching sirens. Papania and Gilbough have arrived with a lot of backup. One of the officers launches a flare that Marty and Rust can see through the vent in the ceiling of the domed room. Marty has Rust’s head on his leg and calls for help.
I have a lot of commentary, so this is the start of a long aside. I’m mainly going to talk about two things: Errol’s lines and Rust’s hallucination. Here’s everything Errol said after escaping into the brick structure:
“Come on inside, little priest.”
“To your right, little priest. Take the bride’s path.”
“You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man. You blessed Reggie. Duwall. Acolytes. Witnesses to my journey. Lovers. I am not ashamed.”
“Come die with me, little priest.”
“Now, take off your mask.”
I do have a guess as to why Errol calls Rust a “little priest”. I’m not entirely confident in my theory, but it makes the most sense to me. First, some reminders/context: in episode 5, Duwall tells Rust, “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. […] There’s a shadow on you, son.” Of that exchange, I said,
“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.”
Later in that episode, Reggie Ledoux says to Rust, “It’s time, isn’t it? The black stars… […] I know what happens next. I saw you in my dream. You’re in Carcosa now with me. He sees you. […] You’ll do this again. Time is a flat circle.” Of that exchange, I reminded the reader of the significance of “black stars”, the literary reference to “Carcosa”, and suggested that the “he” in “he sees you” refers to “the Yellow King, or one of his heirs or avatars”. Recall that both Duwall and Reggie die in that episode, one to his own land mine and the other to a bullet from Marty’s gun.
Okay, here’s my guess. Errol is acknowledging that Rust’s eyes are open to the “secret truth of the universe”. I think this notion of enlightenment to what lies beyond the veil is what Errol meant when he said, “Would that they had eyes to see.”
Reggie and Duwall—Errol’s “acolytes” whom Rust “blessed” (killed and thus “released” them from the “circle”)—both spoke to Rust as though Rust understood them. Because Errol’s murders are done as a cult ritual, Rust’s awareness has earned him a spiritual title, hence “little priest”.
Let’s explore the rest of Errol’s lines. The “bride’s path” is surely some predetermined literal path as well as a ritualistic one, which Errol’s many, many victims were forced to walk before they were killed. Combined with the evidence on Dora Lange’s body as well as Errol’s line about “lovers” and not being “ashamed”, the “bride’s path” surely also implies rape. I suppose you could continue the metaphor when Errol “stabs” Rust.
As well as saying “witnesses to my journey”, Errol talked about his “ascension” removing him from the “disc and the loop”. I’m going to guess that Errol’s ritualistic murders (as in, leaving his mark enough times) were an attempt to escape the cycle or gain power over it.
The most interesting lines are also the most ambiguous. Errol whispers, “You know what they did to me? What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man.” Some possible meanings are:
“They” could be 1) his parents/father/family or 2) a pantheon of beings who live outside of time.
“What they did to me” could 1) refer to being on the receiving end of physical and possibly sexual violence (recall that Errol’s father burned his face), or 2) suggest that cosmic entities “killed” the consciousness living in Errol, and/or trapped him in the third dimension and the endless cycle.
“What I will do” could mean 1) he’ll inflict the same violence he suffered on as many more victims as he can, or 2) he intends to leave “all the sons and daughters of man” trapped in the endless cycle; maybe he is the one who created the cycle or who exploits it to “eat”.
Of that last secondary meaning, remember that Rust said, “So death created time to grow the things that it would kill.” Remember that Delores said of the Yellow King, “Him who eats time.” Remember that at the end of the last episode, Errol said aloud, “My family’s been here a long, long time.” Remember that Marty asks, “Where is he?” and Betty replies, “All around us, before you were born and after you die.”
Consider once more Reggie’s lines, “I know what happens next. I saw you in my dream. You’re in Carcosa now with me.” This may imply that Reggie had a vision of escaping the cycle upon his death and “ascending” to a higher or alternate dimension, that this far-off cosmic location is Carcosa (“the infernal plane”), and that from there, he witnessed the scene that played out in the large domed room, which is why he then says, “He sees you. You’ll do this again.” Consider the rather specific hallucination Rust sees of what looks like a black hole or nebula or some other cosmic body. Consider that Reggie saying “you’re in Carcosa now with me” implies that Rust is literally looking at a dimensional gate.
Finally, let’s discuss “Now, take off your mask.” As I said in episode 1’s recap, one of the few excerpts from the fictional King in Yellow play cites a “mask”. In the short stories themselves, the reader can find other instances of “mask”, one of which is extremely relevant. I’ve reproduced them below:
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 2
(later in the meta story) “The mask of self-deception was no longer a mask for me, it was a part of me.”
“The Yellow Sign”
Night fell and the hours dragged on, but still we murmured to each other of the King and the Pallid Mask…
Recall that in episode 3, Reverend Theriot told his congregation. “You are a stranger to yourself, and yet He knows you. […] This world is a veil, and the face you wear is not your own.”
The only literal masks we see in the show are in the photos Rust shows Marty in his storage shed. The adults in the video of Marie Fontenot as well as the adults whom Johnny Joanie described wore masks.
The more interesting use of masks is figurative, and the figurative meaning is twofold: 1) deceiving oneself and 2) deceiving others. Examples would be Marty deceiving himself into thinking he’s not a misogynist, and Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle deceiving everyone around him into thinking he’s a good person. A third meaning may apply: 3) our bodies deceiving our minds, hence Rust calling humanity “sentient meat” and his assertion that “we are things that labor under the illusion of having a self [and are] programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody when, in fact, everybody’s nobody.” A fourth option can also be argued: 4) the world deceiving our bodies/sensory inputs/reality. Hence, “this world is a veil” and Rust’s discussion of a fourth dimension.
Considering the episode’s title is “Form and Void”, when Errol tells Rust to take off his mask, I believe he’s either telling Rust to shed his physical form (through death) or suggesting that Rust will finally see past the “veil” and witness the void. Possibly both.
The scene fades to black. We hear Marty in voice-over describing the last things he remembers. Then we see Marty in a hospital bed. The left side of his face is bruised from Errol stomping his head. Papania and Gilbough stand in Marty’s hospital room where get-well balloons sway. They catch him up on a few details that he missed and mention “the girl” (Betty) only talked a little.
They confirm the man Marty and Rust shot (Errol) was indeed Billy Childress’s son, but no record exists of his birth. The knives in Errol’s shed match the wounds of the Lake Charles victim as well as those of Dora Lange. Papania begins to tell Marty of Betty’s possible blood relation to Errol, but Marty cuts him off, not wanting to know. Marty asks about Rust and is told that Rust hasn’t yet woken up.
Maggie and Marty’s daughters come visit him. Marty is very pleased, having not expected them. He and Maggie hold hands. Audrey touches his shoulder and asks how he is. Marty says, “I’m fine. Yeah, I—I’ll be fine. I mean, I—I am…fine.” He then breaks down into tears.
Marty is surely feeling a lot of emotions here. Surprise and pleasure that his family visited him, that they cared enough to visit. The emotional fallout (relief, fear, guilt, grief) of surviving a very brutal attack on his person and seeing Rust slowly dying. The relief and pride of having solved a case that was not only important in stopping a mass murderer, but was also personally important to him and Rust. The weight of the knowledge he’ll have to carry of those who died between ’95 and ’12, and of the horrible things he saw at the Childress address. Some of these emotions are positive, some negative, and all of them very poignant. I find it very satisfying to see him release some of that emotion through crying, especially in the company of his family. After his comments in an earlier episode about men “airing their bullshit”, seeing him cry now hints at a turnaround for him—one that leads in a healthy direction. Another side to all this is that he may be weeping for one more reason: that he finally sees how far away he has pushed his family, yet they’re here for him when he needs them (even he didn’t have a sliver of hope that they’d show). Marty may finally be desisting in his self-deception.
A news anchor helpfully tells us that two weeks have passed since Rust and Marty killed Errol William Childress. We learn that forensic teams at the Childress house found physical evidence linking Errol to dozens of missing persons. However, the news anchor continues, “In the meantime, the State Attorney General and the FBI have discredited rumors that the accused was in some way related to the family of Louisiana Senator Edwin Tuttle.”
This last piece of discouraging news comes as the camera pans into Rust’s hospital room, where he has woken up and has just shut off the TV. His left eye is still deeply purple. He appears exhausted and defeated. He looks out at the night sky.
One morning several days later (Rust’s eye isn’t as purple), Marty sits in a wheelchair next to Rust’s bed. Marty sips water from a cup and wakes Rust. They bicker for a few lines. Then Rust confesses that he saw and spoke with Errol before they killed him nearly twenty years later. (This would be outside the shutdown Light of the Way school, the yard of which Errol was mowing.)
“I couldn’t tell how tall he was ’cause he was sitting,” Rust says, “and his face was—it was dirty, but I…I saw him.” That and the fact that he and Marty still didn’t get all the guilty members of the Tuttle family (the adults seen on the VHS tape) is really weighing on Rust. Marty tells him they won’t ever get them all. “That ain’t what kind of world it is, but we got ours.” Rust laments that he’s not supposed to be there, the implication being he thinks he should’ve died.
The camera pans out of the hospital, across the bayou, and gives us one last glimpse at the Childress house, Ledoux’s place, and the tree under which Dora Lange was found.
Back at the hospital one night after Marty has finally been discharged, Marty wheels Rust just outside the front entrance for some fresh air. He informs Rust that he’s taken care of the arrangements for when Rust is discharged in another few days and gives Rust a gift. It’s a pack of cigarettes.
Marty wheels Rust farther from the entrance so that Rust can light up and see the night sky. He asks Rust if his head feels any better. Rust says again how he shouldn’t be there (shouldn’t be alive). Marty doesn’t understand at first, but when Rust says it’s not what he thinks, Marty asks Rust to talk to him. Rust replies,
“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—it was deeper. Warm, you know, like a substance. I could feel, man, and I knew, I knew my daughter waited for me there. So clear. I could feel her. I could feel…I could feel a piece of my—my pop there, too. It was like I was a part of everything that I ever loved, and we were all, the three of us, just fadin’ out. And all I had to do was let go…and I did. I said, ‘Darkness, yeah, yeah.’ And I disappeared, but I could still feel her love there, even more than before. Nothing…there was nothing but that love.”
Rust grows very emotional as he says this. Marty is sympathetic, but seems uncertain as to what to do. He touches Rust’s shoulder. Rust says he woke up after having this experience, and he cries even harder. Marty reminds Rust that Rust once told him about stories he’d make up about the stars. (What? This is the first I’m hearing of it.) This helps Rust at least talk about something familiar and Rust explains he didn’t have much else to do in Alaska. Marty asks for an example, and Rust says that, after laying in his room for so long looking out, he realizes it’s all just one story. “Light versus dark,” he says.
Marty says the dark seems to have a lot more territory. Rust hums agreement. He reaches for Marty to help him get to a car because he’s done with staying at the hospital. Marty asks if Rust wants to return for clothes at least, to which Rust says, “No, anything I left back there, I don’t need.” (Obvious double meaning there.) He tells Marty he’s wrong about the darkness winning because at first, there was only darkness, which means, to him, the light is winning.
Rust has also reached a turning point, though it’s a little more muddled. His experience as he lay dying contradicted what he assumed would happen when he died. He grieves that he didn’t get to stay in that warm darkness and finally be at rest. He takes comfort in knowing that when death comes, it will lead him somewhere good. He possibly also worries that his experience wasn’t real. Like Marty, these complex, poignant emotions are expressed with tears. The one thing that Rust has come away with that he didn’t have before is hope.
Regarding the ending… It’s, of course, dissatisfying to learn that Rust and Marty didn’t bring down the Tuttle family, but that outcome felt rather appropriate and in line with some of the show’s themes and ambiance. After all, “nothing is ever over”.
Some people didn’t like that Rust survived and would have preferred that he get the death he wished for. Others surmised that Rust’s story of his near-death experience was meant to infer that Rust no longer completely condemned “faith”, and they hated that notion.
First off, if you hate it, why don’t you create a different head canon and decide to believe something else? Second, I think saying that Rust had a “religious experience” or that he’ll have some kind of spirituality going forward is taking it too far. His experience was personal, and he filtered it through the same worldview he has held throughout the entire show. Has it lessened his pessimism? A little. Let’s go back one last time to philosopher Paul J. Ennis:
“The more subtle existential angle he is touching on is the “eternal recurrence of the same” that Nietzsche introduced. There, the idea, and it is found in older traditions, too, is that the greatest horror for us is not to die, but to live with same lives on repeat for all eternity. In Nietzsche, this notion is designed to shake us up out of our passive lives. The challenge being, to paraphrase, whether you would be willing to carry on as you do if you knew it would all happen again (eternally).”
I’m told Ennis’s interpretation of the above notion isn’t quite on point—that what Nietzsche meant was to ask that we accept all the experiences, good or bad, that has shaped the person we are. Nietzsche was, in fact, the one who coined the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I think this is what has happened for Rust. He has come out of this stronger. He isn’t less certain of his long-held views on self-deception and moral hypocrisy. He’s simply more accepting of the things that led him to this point in his life, the point at which he has had this experience with a warm darkness filled only with love. I’m happy to see that Rust will finally allow himself some comfort before he really does shuffle off this mortal coil.
Thank you so much for following along as I recapped and analyzed the first season of True Detective.