The Rule of Five: Cops, Crime, and Conspiracies in True Detective’s two seasons.


My fingers are trying to mutiny against me. Why? Because I’m about to ignore my own stance on comparing season one of True Detective with season two. “It’s an anthology series,” I shout from the balcony. “You can’t go in with high expectations! You have to divorce them!” Angry neighbors aside, the weird thing is that I still believe this, yet here I am, about to write my way into hypocrisy.

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Wait, don’t leave yet! I assure you, this isn’t going to be a rant about how much better the first season is; how McConaughey and Harrelson are irreplaceable, how the time-worn, gothic aesthetic of Louisiana is far superior to the more saturated and gilded colors of California. What I’m going to do is find the connective tissue that links the obsessions of one man from one story to another — those specific elements that find expression again and again.

Still with me?

Good. On a trip like this, I’ll need more than a bird’s head to keep me company.

Both are beset by rampant pollution, the churning plumes of poison emitting from the stacks in Baton Rouge mirrored by the industrial waste flowing from the runoff pipes in Vinci.

For Nic Pizzolatto (among many other writers), the outer is a projection of the inner: the environment a reflection of the characters themselves. There’s a reason that our booze-crazed, cigarette-sucking heroes so often find themselves on poisoned ground, and it isn’t because they forgot to book with Travelocity.

Okay, that was a bad joke, but you get what I’m trying to say. While the haunting vistas and invasive vegetation of Southern Louisiana  found in True Detective’s first season are a far cry from the knotted freeways and tinsel neon glam of California, the two states share certain emphasized similarities. Both are beset by rampant pollution; the churning plumes of poison emitting from the stacks in Baton Rouge mirrored by the industrial waste flowing from the runoff pipes in Vinci.

The result is a world of lost souls wandering a toxic continent

Furthermore, Pizzolatto highlights the seedy underbelly of culture by showcasing the sex trade, drug and alcohol abuse, and corruption in all levels of society. The result is a world of lost souls wandering a toxic continent, not quite beyond the realm of grace, but roving close to the rim.

The dynamic between law enforcement and the criminal element in True Detective also forms common ground between the seasons. “With roots entwined,” cops and robbers are less the adversarial bunch we are accustom to seeing in film and television and more symbiotic in the world of True Detective. “One hand the other,” as Frank Semyon might say.

This relationship unfolds in the True Detective season one in a variety of ways. Rust and Marty collaborate with criminals throughout their investigation of the Dora Lange case, sometimes covertly in undercover operations and other times by drifting into illicit territory themselves. The detectives in season two are no saints either, and whether by choice or obligation, a cop in the world we deserve is often just a criminal with a badge.

The recurrence of special task forces assigned to potentially volatile cases is another touchstone between seasons. When Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle drops by Arkansas State CID to check up on the Dora Lange case, Commander Speece mentions, “We’ve been discussing the viability of a task force to investigate crimes with an anti-Christian connotation.” This kind of intervention happens again in season two. As Lieutenant Kevin Burris finishes rummaging through a cupboard in Ben Caspere’s apartment, he tells a crime scene photographer that, “Everything goes through Vinci P.D. Special Homicide Task Force.” The implicit suggestion here is that when higher-ups take an interest, it ain’t out of the milk of human kindness.

And finally, we come to the Rule of Five. For fans of True Detective’s debut season, one of the most thrilling aspects of the murder mystery came with the Five Horseman Theory, sparked by a recurring visual motif of five men. This theory found expression in the beer-can men, the dolls in Martin’s daughters’ bedroom, and of course, in the old photograph of five men on horseback in Dora Lange’s childhood home. The theory holds that five men (and probably a great deal more over the years) were responsible for the ritualistic murders in Louisiana, making Errol Childress a very small branch on a very old and very rotten tree.

But what does this theory have to do with True Detective’s second season? Look closely at the wall in Ben Caspere’s apartment.

Oh yeah.

Granted, this might just be a coincidence, or perhaps even deliberate misdirection on Pizzolatto’s part to get our hopes up (I mean, Cthulhu should have made a cameo in season one, just at the end, to destroy the world). With plotlines crisscrossing the story like the Harbor and Gardena freeways, it is entirely possible that Pizzolatto simply picked the number of animal masks at random.

At least, that’s what I thought…

As Ani pays her dear old Gandalf-looking dad a visit in “Down Will Come,” she finds more than some New Age thinkers doing the downward dog. Mentioning a certain psychiatrist named Irving Pitlor (introduced in “Night Finds You”), Eliot informs her that, “He was around for a time, early 80’s. Researching dynamics of communal living. Part of Chessani’s lodge I think.” No, not our beloved Mayor Austin Chessani, but his father.

While we can identify three of the men in the photograph (Chessani, Pitlor, and Bezzerides), two men are left unnamed: the man on the far left, and more enigmatically, the man in the middle, his face bathed in cool shadow from the broad brim of his hat. Could he be Chessani’s father, or a new character entirely?

Do you think the Rule of Five is making a comeback in season two? Does Eliot Bezzerides know more than he’s letting on? Could he be one of our Foul Five, or do his ties with Chessani and Pitlor only exist in the past? Most of all, who is that friggen guy in the hat?

Next: True Detective wasn't nominated for an Emmy this year, but we knew that was coming.

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