While there is a case that needs investigating in “True Detective,” the show’s richest pleasures have been found in the characters. And in particular, writer Nic Pizzolatto is curious about what makes men tick—what allows them to survive unspeakable horror and what they require to keep a handle on this side of sanity, in a profession that continually brings them face to face with things that defy all logic and humanity. In this week’s “The Locked Room,” it’s those intangible values and qualities that are explored, exposing who we become when those structures are stripped away, and how fragile they can be in the first place.
“I think Rust needed a family. Boundaries are good,” Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) tells the detectives played by Michael Potts and Tory Kittles. Indeed, for Martin himself, he’s fashioned a life that keeps everything in balance, as he explains: “I keep things even, separate.” He’s got his job, a young sexual plaything in Lisa (Alexandra Daddario) and waiting at home, the normalcy of family providing stability. But having rules for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that others will understand or adhere to them, as Martin quickly finds out.
Meanwhile, Martin accuses Rust of having myopia, an obsession for the work that’s unhealthy, and he’s not wrong. The only thing Rust knows how to do with his insomnia is keep investigating, spending nights going over old case files, looking at pictures of dead bodies, sitting in his living in a lawn chair, looking at a wall pinned with paperwork and photographs. And again, as Martin tells the current timeline cops, having no sense of limits can leave you adrift. “If working his theories, if his job was his idea of himself, then fine. The rest of us had families, people in our lives, good things. People give you rules. Rules describe the shape of things.”
But while Martin has people in his life who are good to him, he’s not good to them. His wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) can sense Martin pulling away, perhaps not surprising given, that she’s not so much his life partner any more, as someone slotted into a box for his convenience, allowing him to keep it together. But the distance from his wife pales compared to that with his daughters, who are again showing disturbing signs of dealing with some kind of trauma. In “Seeing Things,” we caught a glimpse of their dolls posed in the tableau of a crime scene, and this time around, it’s the eldest daughter, in trouble at school for crude drawings of men and women having sex. But as Martin and Maggie team up to talk to their daughter, his eyes can’t help but drift to the TV in the background to watch the game, even as his child cries in his arms. “I’m all fucked up,” he later admits to Maggie.
However, Maggie just doesn’t know how fucked up he is. Out at a local country bar, where Maggie has also set up Rust with a friend of hers, Martin spots Lisa…with another man. And it’s not so much the man he’s concerned about, as the threat it holds to his carefully calibrated life. Casually confronting Lisa, out of eye and earshot of Maggie, she simply tells him that their relationship has run its course, and moreover, he’s married, and she’s not interested in that kind of commitment anyway. But this situation boils beneath the surface of Martin, and after everyone has split for the night, he races drunkenly to Lisa’s house, breaks down the door, and beats the man who is spending the night. If this is Martin when he’s lost one part of his support system, how far will he go when it all comes apart?
As for Rust, you can’t argue with the results. Even though he’s consumed by work, the case he’s building for a serial killer gets stronger and stronger. A visit to the revivalist church (picking up on a thread from the end of the second episode) leads them to start tracking down someone only referred to as “The Tall Man.” (Oh, and once again, here’s Shea Whigham showing up in support playing a preacher and destroying it; someone please give this guy a leading role.) And his late nights spent pouring over years worth of case files gives them their biggest break yet: the name of a man who skipped parole, was involved in meth dealing (all the victims had drugs in their system) and was convicted of sex crimes. He’s the perfect candidate for the killer… but they’ll have find him first…
“True Detective” is about the men we are and the framework that defines us. Rust lives without boundaries, without giving a shit for any sense of decorum. It’s what puts him at odds with his boss (Kevin Dunn) as well as continually with his partner. When Rust decides to stop by Martin’s, mow his lawn and then come inside and talk with Maggie, he has no idea, and more likely, simply doesn’t care about the kind of message that could send in a small town. As for Martin, he needs the civility of family life, the escape of no strings sex and the discipline of the job, because without it, he’s not quite certain who he is. But it does leave him with one doubt: is he a bad man? Rust has the answer: “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”
And right now that bad man is Reggie Ledoux. They need to find him before he strikes next, once again reminding the world that their dreams of a better life and the people they want to be can be shattered so easily. As Rust grimly posits. “…like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.” And certainly, the absolutely chilling final shot of “The Locked Room,” with Reggie walking outside in an undisclosed location, wearing nothing but underwear, a gas mask, and clutching a cleaver, is one that will haunt you for the next couple weeks, until “True Detective” comes back after the Super Bowl. [B+]