Playing Detective with True Detective

truedetectives I'm happy to see such a great reaction to my io9 article about HBO's True Detective (The One Literary Reference You Must Know to Appreciate True Detective). It has currently received almost 200,000 page views and has nearly 300 comments—and, surprisingly for the normally hate-strewn Internet, nearly all of the comments are astute, kind, and polite. I'm a little stunned by that, but I suppose weird fiction fans are a more friendly bunch than fans of other genres (and judging by the horror conventions I've attended, it certainly seems true).

(Update: As of 2/20/14, the article has over 650,000 page views and nearly 400 comments).

I could have gone on for another 1,500 words, or even double that, about the many little chestnuts, allusions, and Easter eggs, both visual and scripted, that are ripe for the plucking in what is hands-down the best show on television. And I may continue delving into the mythology and relevance of the show as it hits its final episodes because I suspect there are going to be a lot more shout-outs to weird fiction. So watch this space.

In the meantime, and just a handful of hours before episode 5 premiers, I would like to riff on what I think we should all keep our eyes on this evening (or whenever you get to see it). Just a few elements I suspect will be symbolically resonant:

  • The continued symbolism of masks and being unmasked (for our lead characters, as their motives, flaws, and hidden aspects come to light, but also Reggie Ledoux in his Cthulhu-esque gas mask, maybe Theriot the preacher, and the political bigwigs I suspect are involved). Masks are a major element in Chambers's fictional play, and True Detective is playing with symbolic and literal masks in a big way.
  • The elite cult allegedly sacrificing women and children in the woods, and the standing stone circle. Will we see it this episode? For me this is exceptionally intriguing because it is very similar to a key plot element in Blackwater Lights. Hell, it's on the damn cover of the book.
  • More allusions to The King in Yellow. But will it be exposed as the metafictional play in our reality, or will it be a "real" play in the show's world? And watch for the appearances of the color yellow as signifiers of a descent into madness.
  • And we'll get closer to understanding what it is that drove Detective Cohl to his nihilistic, dreary, drunken worldview, and what happened between him and Hart that caused Cohle's spiral (pun intended) into madness. And why they are being interviewed in the present (my guess—because the cult of the Yellow King is active again).

And one last thing: several commenters have called me out on predicting that the show will go deep into the supernatural. And they have a point. In thinking about it further, I would be just as delighted—maybe even more so—if the Lovecraftian, Ligottian, and other weird fiction elements are just a layer of icing for people like us who live and breathe this stuff. How cool would that be?  And as one commenter astutely noted, if a central element of the plot is a cult that believes in the supernatural, well, doesn't that make the show supernatural anyway?

Cosmic horror doesn't need a spaghetti-faced monster from another dimension. Because we all have the potential to be that monster at the end of a dream. And that's the most horrifying truth of all.

Let the hunt begin.