Interlude 3: Red Riding plus Alan Moore plus Cormac McCarthy equals True Detective.

11 Mar

(Here there be spoilers)

  1. True Detective was/is brilliant. I loved it.
  2. But boy, does it borrow and borrow and borrow. From the Red Riding trilogy, from southern gothic and crime fiction, and most notably, from Alan Moore.
  3. The last lines of the last episode—and the ultimate point of the show—were cribbed directly from Top Ten, Issue number 8. (The page is below.)
  4. Carcossa and the King in Yellow—Alan Moore connects these dots, folding in Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Chambers, among others—in his fabulous, and fabulously disturbing, The Neonomicon. Moore uses these references to make his metaphorical point, that language is a virus, and infects everything with its usage.
  5. Language is flawed, full of gaps, incomplete, imperfect.
  6. The only way we can understand reality is through language.
  7. Therefore reality is flawed, imperfect and incomplete.
  8. This tautology highlights True Detective’s underlying view of knowledge and knowing. Our mechanisms for understanding are inextricably bonded onto imprecise machinery.
  9. Put another way, we can never know anything absolutely.
  10. Put another way, the language we’re forced to use to describe and categorize something to understand it impedes our understanding.
  11. Put yet another way, how we look at something affects what we’re seeing. (It’s Heisenberg, baby!)
  12. Language as a violent virus; Alan Moore channeling William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick.
  13. Comics is a language.
  14. Film is a language.
  15. Therefore, right?
  16. The biggest visual influence on True Detective is the Red Riding trilogy.
  17. Both deal with abused children and murdered women, police corruption and cover-ups, moneyed powerful doing what they want.
  18. Red Riding is dark, tormented. A dreary existentialism—poisoned by the casual nihilism of the late-stage decadence of our current age—manifests as urban decay, dark clouds, weird lighting, long takes and haggard, haunted faces.
  19. The most disturbing thing about Red Riding is that it’s loosely based on a real case.
  20. True Detective uses Riding’s visual scheme, only replacing the urban decay with rural dilapidation. I kept thinking the directors were the same. (They’re not.)
  21. The most troubling aspect of True Detective is that the particulars of the crime are based on a real case.
  22. Reality as cosmic horror.
  23. Detective’s ominous, horrifying commentary about time, personality, free will and fate are most applicable to the show itself.
  24. True Detective, the show, is a flat circle.
  25. Put another way, the characters in the show are locked into their actions, ad infinitum. As Cohl says, everything will happen again and again. None of them have free will.
  26. Put yet another way, in the universe of True Detective, all time is happening at once. Cohl is being stabbed. Russ is slapping his daughter. Cohl is cutting a beer can with a hunting knife. All of these things are happening right now.
  27. And, yet, they aren’t happening at all.
  28. The central image of the last episode is a black hole that isn’t real. This is the perfect capstone for a show that has space/time collapse as one of its central themes.
  29. Nothing is real. Therefore all is permitted.
  30. Fiction as the worm ouroboros, swallowing its own tail.
  31. Fiction as a black hole, bending all other fiction into it.
  32. H.P. Lovecraft read Robert Chambers who read Ambrose Bierce who read Poe. Each incorporated elements of the man who came before. Everyone read Lovecraft.
  33. Fiction as not so noble lineage.
  34. The best of Southern gothic—The Inkling by Fred Chappell; Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews; Child of God by Cormac McCarthy; Dagon by Fred Chappell; Carson McCullers and Joe Lansdale and Barry Hannah and Flannery O’Connor and William Gay; the films Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Angelheart.
  35. No, no, a thousand times no to Emily Nussbaum’s review. She. Misses. The. Point.
  36. And yet, her wrap-up on the finale is just about dead-on. The ending is disappointing, moving the show into conventional and, well, predictable storytelling. Nussbaum sees, correctly, that the show has less content than style.


A page from Alan Moore, one of the biggest influences on True Detective.

A page from Alan Moore, one of the biggest influences on True Detective.

  1. True Detective’s logic is rooted in procedurals. The ending satisfies the needs of the genre, not the needs of the show. The true ending would have Cohl and Hart never get any closer to the killer, just slide through the same clues over and over. Like one of those spirals, that adorns most of the victims. They would strive and strive and strive and never get anywhere.
  2. Vladimir and Estragon on the case.
  3. As bleak and complex as Detective is, our world is much bleaker, much more complicated. Our world is a labyrinth, only the labyrinth has no exit, no minotaur at its center. Crime fiction provides a structure for us to sublimate this terrifying fact.
  4. Put another way, our world is chaotic while appearing ordered. True Detective is ordered while appearing chaotic.
  5. The lessons of Watchmen and Pulp Fiction, among others, operate here, too: how we experience something is more important than how it actually happened.
  6. Questions remain. Who is the naked man in the gas mask?
  7. Why does Ledoux say, “Black stars”?
  8. Why does Hart’s daughter draw pictures that are eerily similar to the cabal of murderous pedophiles?
  9. What is Cohl building with his beer can cutouts? (Is it the scene from the video?)
  10. Who killed that dude in the prison? And why?
  11. A few more odds and ends.
  12. My mom was born near Houma, Louisiana.
  13. I visited Houma throughout my childhood, driving through those swampy lowlands of the Louisiana coast. I don’t have fond memories. There was always something . . . creepy about the land down there. Crawdads everywhere. An electric violence in the air.
  14. After episode 7, I woke up hearing a woman being strangled in my apartment.
  15. Years ago, I wrote two distinct scenes, with two different characters, delivering two separate speeches in two different manuscripts that are almost identical to Cohl’s ramblings. Weird. Pizzolatto and I reverberate with the same influences.
  16. In the comic Animal Man, near the end of his run (issue number 26), Grant Morrison the writer entered the fictional world he had created. Like the Biblical God with Job, Morrison confronted Buddy Baker, refusing to justify his actions. The writer is god of his/her creations, Morrison says. I can do what I want.
  17. Who is the god of True Detective?

7 Responses to “Interlude 3: Red Riding plus Alan Moore plus Cormac McCarthy equals True Detective.”


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    […] groundword for Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, a huge influence on True Detective), fathers, sons, wives and daughters. The canvas is pre- and post-war Europe, England and America. […]

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    […] the True Detective hullabaloo, a lot of people were looking for ciphers to the show, texts that could explain what it meant, what […]

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  5. Books I read in 2014. | simoneandthesilversurfer - January 5, 2015

    […] True Detective, (reference) I rushed out to read Pizzolotto’s novel. I needn’t have bothered; the things that […]

  6. interlude 2: True Detective and Sinister Forces. | simoneandthesilversurfer - August 30, 2015

    […] through most of his comics. I’m betting—and I said this before—that Pizzolatto is a comics fan. Did he borrow […]

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    […] True Detective, I reviewed/interacted with his Conspiracy against the Human Race a few years ago. Despite my […]

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