The fifth and sixth episodes of HBO’s True Detective are dark. Granted, the whole series is dark, so it’s almost as if showrunner Nic Pizzolatto is redefining what darkness looks like. Sure, we’ve already taken the dark to the level of a more graphic Criminal Minds but the shocking thing, at least by episode six, is the darkness we see inside the minds of ordinary people. Rather than spend the two episodes re-upping the slasher genre, Pizzolatto takes us inside the darkness inside of our own minds.
I’ll admit that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey have a way of bringing humor and irony, even in really tense situations. When they raid the farm in “The Secret Lives of Fate,” we have what happens juxtaposed to the way they wrote up the report. At this point, we know they still make it because we know 2012 is the present. But we recognize that the narration isn’t always trustworthy because they aren’t always trustworthy… and because we don’t know exactly what’s going on in their heads.
But if “The Secret Lives of Fate” feels like it’s an emotional payoff we’ve been waiting for, then “Haunted Houses” shows us that we haven’t gotten to the bottom of the barrel yet. On one hand, we have McConaughey’s Detective Rust Cohle exploring what he believes is behind the murders, through an association of private Christian schools, and on the other, the wavering commitment of Harrelson’s Detective Marty Hart to marriage and sobriety. Both men are going to go chasing after a demon, and both of them aren’t ready for what they’ll catch.
Out of respect for the preview I’ve gotten, I don’t want to spoil what actually happens, but wow. For viewers who’ve thought Michelle Monaghan was underused: your wait is over. “Haunted Houses” is an explosive, cliffhanger of an episode that makes me happy I already have my hands on episode seven. Another note I’d previously under appreciated is T Bone Burnett’s score. Maybe it’s because of the ordinary creepiness of this sixth episode, but the score’s mood connects us emotionally to the macabre violence Cohle and Hart have been dangerously close to. Too close.
Hart and Cohle do a regular dance around what’s real, where religion falls into all of this. But while religion gets pushed into the front of what threatens the world these two men “protect,” it’s clear that they fall into the “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” category. Their unraveling lives are the result of their frustration with their lives, their struggle with their own lack of grounding, and the vision of the world that they see every day. It’s a dark world, and they’re threatening to get lost in it.