True Detective, season 1 was amazing. Blow my socks off, amazing. I initially was intrigued when I first saw the billboard with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey over Christmas in LA. Then I forgot about it, until I people started talking about it on my facebook. Then, I heard it involved things from The King in Yellow. “Lovecraft?” I thought, hell yes! And so I watched, and got hooked. I think I watched the whole thing in one weekend, with breaks in between episodes, cuz goddamn, were those needed.
Anyway, after watching, I needed more closure and further reading. So I read other blogs and articles here and there, trying to extract more information. And all I found was disappointment, for the most part. I found maybe one blog total that “got” it. Everyone else speculated, and just, did not seem to understand what I understood. So, here goes.
First off, my initial reaction of “Lovecraft?” was wrong. I am a Lovecraft fan (Cthulhu fhtagn, and all that.) and have played Call of Cthulhu, the roleplaying game, read many stories, watched several movies, and played a whole hell of a lot of the board game Arkham Horror (we even had a campaign going at one point,) which is where I heard of The Yellow King, or The King in Yellow, and Lost Carcosa before. (In the board game, you can get “lost” in Lost Carcosa — it is another dimension that your character can explore, it’s pretty cool, trust me.) Until I read the initial article about The King in Yellow and True Detective, I was unware that it was a book, and a book not by Lovecraft. The book, by Robert W. Chambers, was first published in 1895, and was a huge inspiration and influence for HP Lovecraft, who was born in 1890 — to put things in perspective. Anyhow, what did I do when learned this? I downloaded the book to my Kindle and started reading…and watching the show as well. (I must know all source material!!)
It was informative, but I found that True Detective really only took the words and the idea of The Yellow King from the book, as well as Lost Carcosa. Otherwise, thematically it was similar, as well as being similar to Lovecraft’s themes. There were no monsters, no old ones. Just people, being people, and doing strange things, and saying strange things.
In writing this, I almost feel that I should re-watch the show, it’s been a while. That may need to happen, and there may need to be a second entry. We shall see.
In any case, True Detective struck me as being a very nihilistic and existential show — which are two things that I love. I’m less existential than I was as a teenager, but it’s something that has always spoken to me. Rust is also a rather misanthropic character too, he is the one who embodies all of Lovecraft’s and Chambers’ themes. I read numerous articles about how people “couldn’t understand a word of what Rust was saying,” and there I am, thinking “I do. I know exactly what he is saying, I get it.” Rust spoke to me, he understood the crazy world these characters were living in, he understood everything, while also being a good man.
Hart, on the other hand, is the typical Lovecraftian detective who has no idea what is going on, and gets thrown into things — and it effects his life drastically. The case of the King in Yellow that they are working on, and the bleakness and horribleness of life that they find through the case, vastly effects Hart, and I believe it’s what drives him to cheat on his wife, and basically go off the deep end. When living in an existential world, where nothing seems to matter, sure you’ll sleep with a pretty young thing, and then abuse everything around you.
Onto the symbolism. In the show, there are numerous symbols, from the spirals found on the bodies and the cultists (another Lovecraftian thing, that I’ll get to in a moment,) to the dimensional rift in the last episode. The spiral has long been a symbol of rebirth in many pagan cultures, but it can also represent the path that life takes, and even the desire of human beings to expand and explore and gain new knowledge. I see all of these themes in both Lovecraft, Chambers, and True Detective.
The cultists. Lovecraft always talked about cultists, and they are a huge part of the Mythos — there could be cultists of the elder gods, such as Cthulhu, or of smaller beings, such as The Yellow King. In the case of True Detective, they are cultists of The Yellow King. In the show, it happens to be one family that is intertwined with itself, and we see at the end a potential dimensional rift on the family’s land. Does this lead to Lost Carcosa, the kingdom of The Yellow King, or is it a hallucination of Rust? Has Rust been hallucinating the spirals that the birds made and other images that we see in the show, or is it all true? I believe that it’s all true, that underneath the seeming hallucinations, that something is going on — that they are inhabiting a full-on Lovecraftian tale. Others may argue with me, but based on everything I’ve read, this is how I see it.
True Detective, Season 1, is a wonderful introduction to weird speculative fiction for the general populace who has not been exposed to it yet. This is my life, this is what I have read and devoured for a long time, and it’s part of the lens I see the world through. We will have to see what Season 2 brings us — a whole new mystery, perhaps just as weird. I look forward to it.
I forgot to mention that True Detective is also based on the true crime pulp fiction stories in various pulp magazines, and in particular the magazine by the same title that was first published in 1924.