The Yellow Scarlet Letter: True Detective’s Finale


Rust Cohle has a cross up in his room. He tells his partner, Hart, that this is merely in order to perform a meditation exercise, in which he endures the thought of all humanity’s suffering.

Here’s the thing about people who have crosses up in otherwise barren rooms. It’s never just for meditation exercises.

There was so much that I wanted from this show. In the main, it delivered. I’m not disappointed in it, really. I’m particularly soft on it because I know there cannot be another season.

I do not mean this literally. Literally, there will of course be at least one more season. But there’s no way Pizzolatto hits another home run. Let me explain.

Critics all over the country are now complaining that the show was full of unanswered questions. This baffles me. I fail to see how the show could have possibly answered every question any more exhaustively.

The Yellow King, who is and is not Errol Childress, is…flesh. Corporeal existence. Sex. Filth. Decay. Disease. Gluttony.

That’s why, when we’re seeing things “from the monster’s point-of-view” (Pizzolatto), we see him in a house with bloodied walls, tending to bodies, having sex, and eating (eggs, of course). The house where he lives is drowning in piles of trash; it is, and is meant to be, straight out of Hoarders. He patches up the outsides of houses (by painting them) — houses that are in fact bodies writ large — while the insides are aging, rotting, swollen with tumors. He “put a fresh coat of green paint” on a house, whose owner is now in an old folks home, and came away “with green ears” himself. In other words, you can paint Nature green, but underneath, she’s still a sickly old whore.

Cohle will have to chase Errol into an even larger symbolic body: the “carcosa” (carcass) itself, which is full of arterial pathways and even more physical remains. At the center of the maze is The Yellow King, who is basically the Celtic/neo-pagan Horned God, symbol of fertility and the hunt.

All along, our boy Cohle has been good about mortifying the flesh. He turns down the drug dealing prostitute, remember? He does his meditation exercises. So he follows the maze of the flesh to its violent, putrescent center, and dies to his body, there, as he must. He is saved by the stabler version of faith: Hart, who is ordinary Christian love (heart) and ordinary venal life (hart, as in, more antlers, but he’s married). He goes into a coma, somehow experiences the reality of salvation and the union of souls, and returns, resurrected in a white shroud.

Any questions?

“So what was going on with Marty’s daughter?” Original sin: the child’s dangerous body. That’s why, when Errol has become demonically sinful, he pretends to be a child, erring innocently — “dressed” as a child (“Childress”).

“What is the point of the spiral?” It’s a symbol of trance, i.e. demonic possession. Beyond that, it echoes the circles of Hell and descent into the incestuous lusts of bodies. No matter what this show says about prostitutes, on a fundamental level, it hates them.

Cohle also enacts a series of God-like judgments on the hapless Steve Geraci. I admit, that doesn’t really explain why the show spends so much time on him, and I don’t have any better theory, other than the usual (that he represents Eichmann-like submission to evil). But one Steve Geraci is still not a lot, as far as loose threads go. Everything else, that critics are calling “irrelevant,” makes perfect sense, as long as you accept the show’s Puritanical absolutes, and its surprise-ending Jesus figure.

It’s a good trick. But Pizzolatto can only do it once.