True Detective

 

Existentialism, nihilism, Christology, just enough big words there to get dangerous when it comes to explaining Rust Cohle in True Detective. See, from the non-theological perspective of those who don’t work with theology for a living, I can understand the urge to move toward nihilism to describe Rust. After all, his outlook is continuously pessimistic and bleak to say the least. “Raw-bone edgy”[1] is the phrase that Marty uses to describe his beleaguered partner. Nihilism and post-modernity, however, do not always reside together within the same house and certainly do not have to walk hand in hand in South Louisiana.

The pivotal point, as Rust narrates it, was the death of his daughter. There is a bold absence of Rust’s narrated life
before the moment of her death. His narration begins with the telling of her story in the small bits and pieces he can choke out through his grounded pain. Very little is said of his mother, or even his first marriage. As audience, we come to find out more about his relationship with Linda, a friend of Marty’s wife, than we do his marriage. It becomes obvious within the first three episodes that his daughter’s death was not only his unraveling, but also the catalyst for his turn away from belief in general. Whether you call his newly formed narrative one of fantasy, reality, pessimism, or nihilism does not really matter. What does matter is that the story is his to tell, encompassed and fueled by his pain and anger, that is where the story begins. So when you claim that the story is about Nietzschean concepts bathed in post-modernity, I’m going to say that it’s much more simple than that. This is the story of a man who experienced ultimate loss and is out to seek redemption.

Now I’m not aiming to go all Christological here either. The references to Christ are blatant enough that if you have seen the first season in its entirety, you can pull them together. Rust wakes up in episode two blurred by the camera as the cross on the wall behind him remains in focus. As Rust sits up, he comes into focus and the cross becomes blurry. In many ways they are currently in opposite states from one another. Rust is seeking forgiTrue Detectiveveness, not necessarily from God, but from himself. A redemption of humanity, a reconciliation of existence. Theodicy, the attempt to reconcile the evil that happens to human beings with the existence of a loving God, is a common quip to face upon the death of a loved one, particularly an innocent. Rust, through his grief, attempts to reason that his daughter is better off in her blackness, that “yanking” a soul out of non-existence into the “meat” of a body is cruel.[2] He repeats himself in trying to convince those around him, and ultimately himself, that she is better off dead. He describes himself as lucky for not having to raise a child in the world.

At the same time, as he rages against his own pain in humanity, he remains. No constitution to kill himself, reconciled to his nature, stuck in his programming. No matter how he phrases it, he is stuck to life. The detectives interviewing Rust ask him why he even went into homicide after all he had been through. He responded with 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”[3] He needed to remain part of the one body. That is not the position of a nihilist, it’s the position of one seeking the wholeness of humanity.

Despite his brash comments about organized religion, in particular it seems Christianity of the evangelical nature, he is clear in what he finds repulsive. Entitlement, individualism, spoon-fed morality, are the ideas that Rust rallies against. Being a member of one body, which is a Christian theological principle, is a part of his journey to find his own self once again.

In “Form and Void,” the season finale, we watch as Rust is on the edge of death. As he returns to the world he says to Marty that he “shouldn’t even be here,” and that his “definitions [were] fading.”[4] He felt his daughter in the darkness, his father in the darkness, and begins to describe that he felt a part of everything he loved. Looking back to the Corinthians verse, what he describes is coming back to the whole of who he was, to his core. As the final scene between Rust and Marty closes, they go back and forth about the stars. Rust opens with discussing the oldest story of the dark versus the light. While Marty claims that the darkness seems to have a lot more territory as he gazes upward, Rust closes with “Once there was only dark, if you ask me, the light’s winning.”[5]

While some deny that Rust had a conversion and others claim that it could not be anything but a conversion to Christ, there is a middle ground that needs to be explored. First, conversion does not indicate that Rust became a tent-revival preaching Christian. There are philosophical and theological principles in Christianity that do not involve the weaving of fairy tales, nor the charisma beneath a tent. While Rust may continue to be critical and skeptical of organized religion, which we may or may not see in the upcoming season, he certainly experienced something during the season finale that brought him back to life, back into the whole body, and into his own redemption for all those things he suffered during the period of his narration. In short, Rust found, perhaps, the single most essential quality to the Christian tradition, hope.

 

[1] Nick Pizzolatto, True Detective, television, Cary Joji Fukunaga (2014; New York: HBO.) broadcast. Episode 1.

[2] ibid. Episode 2.

[3] 1 Cor. 12:12 NAB

[4] Nick Pizzolatto, True Detective, television, Cary Joji Fukunaga (2014; New York: HBO.) broadcast. Episode 8.

[5] ibid.

By: Erica Saccucci

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