Who Exactly is True Detective’s Dr. Pitlor?


Dr. Pitlor, or “Creepy Rick Springfield” as he is affectionately referred to in the True Detective Reddit community, is something of an enigma in this season’s True Detective. The soft-spoken psychiatrist first appears in “Night Finds You” when Ray Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides drop by his clinic to investigate a lead. While our detectives don’t get much in the way of answers, the audience is treated to an apéritif of psychological misdirection: TV land’s slight of hand.

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Let me back up a little. A few years ago I become obsessed with The Shining, poring over every frame as if somewhere in the celluloid was hidden the code to life. While I never did find that code (I’m pretty sure the big guy dozing under the tree by my local Costco found it first), what I did find was an eye for the abstruse: secrets hidden in plain sight.

The scene that introduced me to this Brave New World was set in the Colorado Lounge. So there’s Wendy, pestering Jack with polite small talk, when suddenly, without any explanation, some furniture in the background vanishes from sight, only to reappear a few seconds later!

I did a double take. Did I see that right? I rewound a few seconds, pressed play, and sure enough the disappearing act unfolded in front of my eyes once again. Maybe it was a mistake, I thought. Maybe some upstart Prop Master’s assistant got caught up in the excitement and carried it away. I’ve seen it happen. A makeup girl is chatting up the Best Boy between takes, and suddenly a swivel chair that was facing left is now facing right. But something told me that wasn’t the case. Not with Kubrick.

I started scouring the film for other such inconsistencies, and before I knew it I was down the rabbit hole and on my way to Wonderland. I found spatial and temporal disparities, repeating numbers, color significance, allusions to Navajo mythology. It was like Kubrick was having a conversation, not with actors and their words, but with images and their associations.

So what does this have to do with Dr. Pitlor? Funny you should ask.

Pitlor’s office abounds with esoteric art and literature, but a common image emerges upon closer inspection: that of a black bird. We see this image in some pottery on the desk as well as in a painting of an anthropomorphized bird (most likely a raven or a crow) hanging on the wall behind our True Detectives.

As Ray might say, “I’m no Columbo,” but there it is, staring right at us, framed between the detectives just like Pitlor. Yet everyone I spoke to immediately after viewing the episode overlooked it. As an audience, we are so trained to focus on the actors and their words that we often miss the imagistic discourse happening all around them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pizzolatto deliberately uses images to have conversations as well, just as Kubrick does in The Shining. He certainly did to some degree in True Detective season one, using “devil’s nests” to symbolize our captivity and the spiral to suggest the pervading theme of eternal recurrence.

I know what you’re thinking: “Dang, Rick Springfield has an exquisite tan!” Well, you’re right, but what is a bird painting doing in his office? At this point in the season, many viewers suspect that the bird mask accompanying Caspere on that romp down Mulholland Drive belonged to him.

Now I’m thinking that the painting is there to subliminally establish a connection between Caspere and Pitlor, a connection that grows even more evident in episode four.

While he didn’t make a physical appearance, Dr. Pitlor has a strong presence in True Detective’s fourth episode,“Down Will Come.” His name first arises in conversation with Betty Chessani, the daughter of our favorite straightedge mayor. It turns out Betty’s biological mother suffered from schizophrenia and was committed to a hospital in Nevada. “And that doctor,” Betty says, haunted, “She hung herself in there.” When asked about her mother’s doctor, Betty replies, almost predictably, “His name’s Pitlor.”

And so establishes a connection between Mayor Austin Chessani and Dr. Pitlor, but it doesn’t end there. When Ray and Ani return to the Panticapaeum (the sweat lodge in the mountains), Eliot reveals that Pitlor actually attended the institute during the ‘80s, “Researching dynamics of communal living. Part of Chessani’s Lodge I think.” He goes on to show the detectives a photograph of Pitlor from the time, and lo and behold, Austin Chessani is right there with him.

With so many pieces falling into place, it seems only a matter of time before the chickens come home to roost… and other such idioms. Chessani and Pitlor are linked, and our detectives know it. But what are we to make of it? What else can we assume about the character?

Who exactly is Dr. Pitlor? Do you think he’s implicated in the murder of Ben Caspere, or were the knickknacks and paintings in his office simply misdirection? Could he be the evil mastermind behind the transportation deal debacle, or is someone else pulling the strings?

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