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The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Illustration for article titled The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on emTrue Detective/em

Just when you think you know where True Detective is going, it punches your face and takes you down a new road. Last week we explored the horrors of fatalistic philosophy, but this week we got surprisingly political. Turns out that the root of all evil may be Christian voucher schools. Spoilers ahead!

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One of the things I love about this show is that it's so smart it will just break your fucking heart. In last night's episode, we began to see that the tragedy in this show isn't just about the women and children who have been killed, and it isn't just about Rust and Marty. It's about the whole state of Louisiana, and how dark forces have tried to wreck it with lies and private "enterprise" schools that teach the Tuttle Ministries' approved curriculum. This is a show that's about nothing less than the demise of America.

All season, Rust and Marty have been drawn deeper into the world of a cult which seems to worship Cthulhonic gods and sacrifice children in dark churches. We had hints that there might be something political lurking at the edges of the Lange case that began it all, especially when a Christian task force (headed by Billy Lee Tuttle) tried to step in and take the case away from the partners. But then, they actually found the dirty bastards who were kidnapping and killing kids. Or so they thought.

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But in 2002, Rust is more obsessed than ever with the idea that they didn't catch the killer. Meanwhile, Marty is obsessed with destroying his own life. In this episode, we watch as both men spiral down toward the fight that ruins their friendship, each pursuing his own obsession with catastrophe. For Marty, the catastrophe is purely domestic. After beating the young men who had sex with his daughter nearly to death, he pretty much immediately has sex with a woman whom he once tried to rescue from a brothel when she was underage.

Illustration for article titled The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on emTrue Detective/em

Of course Marty's wife figures out what's going on almost immediately because the woman sends a naked picture of herself to Marty's phone. But it's not as if Rust is somehow avoiding domestic horror. It's just that all his horrors come from the world of crime. One of the most disturbing scenes in the episode is when Rust is doing one of his signature interrogations, getting a woman to confess to killing her three newborn children by feigning sympathy for her. But once she's confessed, his face becomes a blank mask. He tells her that the press will be hard on her, and prison will be even worse — "If you get a chance, you should kill yourself," he intones emptily.

So basically Rust is bingeing on judgement and Marty is bingeing on fucking. And of course it all comes together into one hellacious mess.

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Illustration for article titled The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on emTrue Detective/em

Rust is getting closer and closer to figuring out all the connections between Lange's death and the deaths of many other women and children who are all seemingly connected to a program of church schools. On his fishing expeditions for new information, he goes back to Reverend Theriot, who says he found evidence of child molestation when he was working for Tuttle Ministries' Wellspring school program. He found a packet of pictures of naked children, and was summarily driven out of the ministry.

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And then Rust re-interviews the little girl he rescued last episode. Now she's grown up into a crazy, catatonic teenager who has been institutionalized. When he asks about the mysterious man with the scars, she does a full "I saw Cthulhu routine," screaming "HIS FACE! HIS FACE!" (Remember, another child said his face was like spaghetti. Tentacles?)

But my very favorite part of the episode came when Rust cornered Tuttle at his slick, high-tech ministry. Rust asks about the Christian schools that Tuttle helped create in the 1980s, and which may have become feeder schools for a group of murdering crazy people looking for the black stars of Carcosa. We find out that the Wellspring program supported privately-run schools which taught Tuttle-approved Christian curricula. They were intended as an antidote to "secular" schools, Tuttle says, allowing people to "choose" which education their children would get. But there's not much choice, really. The Wellspring schools are built out in rural areas, where the only other schools are miles away — so Wellspring schools become the default local teaching institutions, filling children's minds with creationism and other church doctrines. You have to watch this dialogue, in the clip below, to see some great acting and political creepiness.

There is such understated menace when Tuttle says "when we get the voucher program, we'll bring them back." You have to realize that this bizarre conversation reflects actual political struggles in Louisiana, where activists like Zack Koppelin are fighting to stop voucher schools from teaching creationism as fact. It's fascinating to think about how this show has taken us from philosophical ideas about good and evil, crime and justice, then drawn us into to this highly specific example of the ways that churches control the children of Louisiana through school funding.

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From this moment of stark, well-observed realism, we move on to the climactic moment in the episode, where we at last learn what destroyed Rust and Marty's partnership. No, it wasn't the way Rust was acting like Marty was his secretary and then getting them both in trouble for investigating cases he's not actually working on. It's not the way Rust made them both look bad by snarking at Tuttle, who is in thick with the police chief.

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Unfortunately, it's because for some stupid reason, Rust fucked Marty's wife. Really? THAT'S the big cause of all this? First of all, I can't believe Rust would do that. Yes, I believe that Marty's wife would try to seduce him, because she's hurt and wants to get back at Marty and she actually kind of likes Rust. But Rust? He strikes me as mostly asexual. Even if he isn't asexual, there's no way he would give in to such a stupid idea — even though he's shitfaced. Because after all, he trained for years to be in control while absolutely out of his mind on drugs. He's the last guy on Earth who would do something dumb while intoxicated.

The sex was hot, but I didn't believe it for a minute. And then we got to watch Marty abuse his wife a little bit, and see her act like a total bitch, and kind of wish this show would shut up and get back to obsessing over voucher schools and Satanism.

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Illustration for article titled The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on emTrue Detective/em

Which, thankfully, it does. We are now basically in the present day, with both Marty and Rust's stories to the detectives complete. After Marty stalks out of his interview, Rust practically runs him down on the freeway and insists that they get a beer together to talk over the unfinished case.

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Illustration for article titled The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on emTrue Detective/em

Enough time has passed that Marty seems to have softened on Rust, and he even agrees to buy the beer. I liked that Marty ultimately refused to take the detectives' bait, and that he believed in Rust's innocence. Maybe that will turn out to be a mistake, but it was a good final note for the episode. Rust and Marty are on the case again, Tuttle is dead, and now it's time to find the man whose face drove a young girl mad.

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It seems that evil doesn't have a supernatural source, after all. Instead, as we discovered in this episode, it comes from education that's been coopted by a corrupt church.

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DISCUSSION

Mentioned most of this on ODeck yesterday, but here goes:

Rust's conversation with Kelly, from a narrative perspective, is really carefully constructed to make it seem like she's saying the giant had scars, but that's not quite what she said. It could be a scarred giant, but there could also be two people there in her memory — the man with the scars and the giant.

Kelly: The man with the scars was the worst.
Rust: What scars?
Kelly: The giant. He made me watch what he did to Billy.
Rust: The scars on the giant, were they — were they on his face?
Kelly: His face. His face. His face. [breaks down screaming]

This could be one of a few possibilities:

  • The giant has scars and made Kelly watch what the giant did to Billy
  • Someone else with scars was the worst, and the giant made Kelly watch what that someone else did to Billy.
  • Someone else with scars was the worst, and that someone else made Kelly watch what the giant did to Billy.
  • Someone else with scars was the worst, and made Kelly watch what that someone else did to Billy.
  • The scars could be brands, and we saw Ledoux had a brand on his back (the spiral). Could the someone else with scars be Ledoux?
  • Rust just asks if the scars were on the giant's face; Kelly doesn't confirm or deny that. If the giant has scars, they don't need to be on his face. They could be something like a spiral brand on his body. We haven't seen Tuttle out of his three-piece suit, so who knows if Tuttle tubby body is scarred or not?

His face?

What I love about this is all the possibilities are open without any one possibility being tipped.

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Here's something else: We've gotten a bigger hint about what Rust is getting into than we may have realized. Remember the first episode when they meet with Sheriff Deer-Head Tate?

Rust and Marty ask Sheriff Tate about the Fontenot girl. When the sheriff gives Rust the file, Rust says "Well there's nothing in here. Says possible report made in error." (That's also what Rust finds in that database at the end of episode 5, loads of missing person cases, mainly kids, "made in error.")

The sheriff responds "Now that was five years ago. Ted Childress was sheriff back then. He's set up in, uh, Gulf Shores now, I think."

Jump ahead to episode 5, when Guy Francis slits his wrists in the jail cell. After seeing the security camera footage, Rust asks about the two guards' names and if he can see their files. Their names? Childress and Mahoney.

How likely is it that the guard Childress and the former sheriff Ted Childress just happen to share a last name? Especially in this story?

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There's a weird wrap-around back to the speech the owner of the bunny ranch gave Marty about how guys like him couldn't stand prostitution because when you add business to the mix guys like him don't own it anymore the way they thought they did. Beth is the last person Marty should be taking advantage of, even if she's coming on to him as well. It just reflects Marty's weird need to own female sexuality, and it's creepy.

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Oh, and there's the mirror thing I've been going on about here and elsewhere: Just before Maggie and Rust get it on, Maggie says to him "Some people no matter where they look they see themselves."

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I also like how Marty got his ass handed to him by Rust and Maggie finally left him (although I don't know if Maggie made the best choice with Rust; there were probably safer ways of going about things). Marty's line to the two guys caught with his daughter, "A man's game charges a man's price. Take that away from this if nothing else." That's exactly what Marty got.

But Rust should have known better, and there's something I'm not buying about all this. Okay, maybe it's just a flub in the overall story — it's been strong enough that one trip-up is permissible. However, we're getting all this story after the fact as told to Papania and Gilbough. Is there any reason we should expect we're getting the real story? Rust's drinking through his interview pretty much guarantees it's not permissible.

What if the whole Rust/Marty split was a ruse? Rust has gone into deep, deep cover before with the Iron Crusaders, and if episode 4 showed us anything, it's that Rust is impervious to mind-altering substances. A little whisky isn't going to make him that easily manipulated.

But going into deep cover means making sure others don't know you're in deep cover, or they could blow it for you. What if Marty and Rust used the collapse of Marty's marriage as an opportunity to crank up the "thing" they had, and they sold the whole fight just to make sure the police department they can't really trust believes they're really done with each other? That entire section of the episode is introduced with Maggie's narration from her 2012 interview with Papania and Gilbough — she's still narrating about "responsible people" when we see Christians on segways. So presumably she's the one who tells Papania and Gilbough that she went to Rust and pushed herself on him.

Unless that's just what they tell the cops in order to give them a reason for Rust and Marty's split. When in reality, Marty is Rust's one contact back with officialdom, and Rust is now once again in deep cover as a broken down existentialist investigating the child abductions.

Marty and Maggie's marriage is certainly done, but Marty managed to take that wreckage and do something positive with it by using it to create a ruse that would suggest he and Rust are done with each other, while in fact Marty has been helping Rust stay low and get information all this time. (Rust seems like he could most likely handle Marty easily if he wanted to.) And that's why Rust just happened to know where Marty would be on the highway at the end of the episode. He's always known because they've been in contact.

I actually think this is too complicated and more wishful thinking than anything else, but for now at least, it makes more sense that Rust losing control for the only time in the entire series.

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Oh and kinja, this is for you.