Eyes Wide Gone: Ben Caspere and the Sin of Watching in True Detective


At this point in the season, the investigation into the alleged murder of city manager Ben Caspere has essentially gone cold. In “Other Lives” we found out that Attorney General Richard Geldof closed both the Caspere case and the “Vinci Massacre” in one fell swoop by labeling Ledo Amarilla and his gang responsible. After a sixty-six day time jump, the detectives have all but absolved themselves from the case, attending instead to issues in their personal lives.

Ray is still dealing with his custody battle, Paul has a child on the way, Frank is slipping back into an old rut and Ani is stuck in sexual harassment meetings. Despite the fact that the show has almost completely abandoned its concern with Caspere, one question still simmers in my mind: why burn out his eyes?

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It’s the kind of death that’s open to interpretation. Some might use the old phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul” to argue that whoever did Caspere in meant to send a very potent message. “To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart I stab at thee,” and so on. Others, like True Detective fans in the Reddit community, have argued that Caspere’s unusual mutilation was meant to signal Greek mythology, specifically the character of Tiresias.

The blind prophet of Apollo, Tiresias was famous for his clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman. Given Caspere’s wounds, along with some of the more direct allusions to Greek mythology found in names like “Antigone” and “Athena,” we can see where this sort of rationale comes from.

Unless True Detective gives us a definitive answer, any interpretation is valid. However, given what we know, I think Nic Pizzolatto is trying to make a statement about the sin of passive observance. What do we know about Caspere? That he was quiet, and that he liked to watch. “I recognize him,” Eliot Bezzerides comments when shown a picture of Ben. “Never spoke. Attended some seminars here, I believe.” His reputation as a silent witness was further corroborated in “Maybe Tomorrow” when Paul Woodrugh paid a visit to a local dance club. “He liked to watch,” says a patron of Ben, “Had me and this girl go at it while he sat in the corner.” Not only did he like to watch, but also re-watch, as the camera and hard drive in his safe house suggest. But what, if any, is the metaphor at work here? What’s so bad about watching?

Unless True Detective gives us a definitive answer, any interpretation is valid.

Inaction. In an age when human beings have never been more informed, we sit idly by and watch as horrible things happen and do nothing about it. After all, what can we do? What difference does one vote really make when all you have is A or B, red or blue? And I’m not talking about the illusion of choice, here. I’m talking about how knowledge makes us culpable. It’s like if you witness an assault and choose to whip out your phone and capture it on video instead of intervening. Are you at fault? Maybe not in a legal sense, depending on the laws in your region, but what about in an ethical sense? It’s so much easier to remove yourself from a situation, to sit back and eat from the endless banquet of information without ever putting it to use. It’s just what we do. We take a byte, and then we casually proceed to the next article, the next video, the next story. And that is all.

Granted, I might be imposing my own views on this season of True Detective. In fact, I’m almost convinced of it, but there does seem to be an indictment against passive “watching” here. Take Stan, for instance. You know, Stan. One of Frank’s goons? The guy who stood in the background for the most part? Maybe said a line or two? Anyway, Stan met the same demise as our dearly departed city manager, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. Until I watched episode five.

When Frank sends Ray to tail Blake (another one of his goons), we find out that Blake is working behind Frank’s back. He is seen with Dr. Pitlor, Tony Chessani, and a series of girls who we assume work at the “parties” that have been alluded to all season. So why was Stan offed in such a familiar fashion? Possibly because he knew about Blake’s involvement and chose not to act one way or the other, to betray Blake or join him. There is no fence-sitting in the world we deserve. Pick a path and walk it.

We all know the emperor has no clothes, but why do you think the city manager has no eyes? Is there a metaphor at play here, the details of his death indicative of some larger statement, or was it simply designed to shock the viewer?

Next: Review: True Detective season two, 'Church in Ruins'.

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