When I heard HBO was coming out with a show called True Detective, I immediately wondered, “Is this going to be about a bunch of vampires that have to eat detectives?”
After viewing this masterful series, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was nothing like True Blood, except that it is set in Louisiana and deals with conspiracy, violence, and spectacular titties (on both live and dead women).
Now the internet is already filled to the brim with True Detective reviews, so I’m not going to shove something down your throat you’ve already eaten. You can read True Detective theories while listening to a True Detective Podcast while drinking a six pack of Lonestar, which is how I spent my last few Friday nights. I’m going to do my best to steer clear of puppeting all the popular reactions to the show. I’m going to get pretty unique and personal here eventually, but speaking of the reactions, let’s start with the critics.
The show tends to depict women as mostly victims, dimwits, and dirty sluts, so naturally, there has been tons of feminist outrage. I understand this completely. I’m a real-life man, with ear hair and everything, so I decided to have masculine outrage that there are no positive male role-models in the show. Every man is either a depressive alcoholic, womanizer, child molester, murderer, badge saluting simpleton, or worse…a preacher. How am I supposed to explain to my future son that he doesn’t have to grow up abusing drugs, cheating on women, raping children, or lying to people? I guess I can’t now. Thanks a lot, True Detective
Other critics of the show are upset because they simply guessed the wrong ending. Some really wished it would have ended with Rust Cohle and Cthulhu jousting on top of unicorns in outer space. Others wanted the conspiracy to go straight to the top, with Marty slapping the cuffs on Obama and deporting him back to Kenya. I’m pretty sure even a few of us (myself included) were convinced for a while that either Rust or Marty was the Yellow King. But we shouldn’t let our bad guesses diminish our enjoyment of the show. I know we all had our reasons for believing what we believed, but in the end, it’s fiction. It’s all taking place in show-creator Nic Pizzolatto’s brain. He is playing the oldest game in the book, saying, “I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10.” And it’s up to us guess it. The clues are just his way of stimulating us, and judging by this show’s impact, we were stimulated. Now, if the internet could only use this power to find out where Malaysian Airlines flight 370 crashed, we would be putting little pieces of metal and meat into plastic bags by now.
And of course there are people shouting to the high heavens about the bevy of unexplained questions. First off, this isn’t Clarissa Explains It All, so all will not be explained. Melissa Joan Hart aint walking through that door to tell you why the Tuttle family thought the secrets of the universe were located inside little kids’ buttholes. Life is full of unanswered questions, unexplained coincidences, and forgotten clues. People still want to know how the Yellow King played into all of this. People still want to know why Marty’s daughter was such a slut. Everybody just assumed she was molested. I mean, it fit inside the context of the story, right? Marty warned us early on that sometimes when you look at something from a narrow perspective, you can make every clue fit your own narrative. I know our perspective of the Hart family was pretty narrow, but we should still play the odds. I think the show actually does explain why Audry Hart was such a slut: She had a shitty father! Shitty, absentee dads are like slut fertilizer. Marty ignores his children throughout their childhoods, and when he finds out his daughter was getting statutorily DP’ed by Bevis and Butthead, he curses her out, smacks her, and then goes down to the station to crack some skulls. Everything he’s doing in reaction to her promiscuity is something to ameliorate his own pain and frustration. He is not fixing a problem, but that is the kind of man he is, and that is apparently the kind of man my son will grow up to be if he watches this show. Thanks a lot, True Detective. Also, does anybody find it weird that Melissa Joan Hart has the same surname as detective Marty? Maybe she has something to do with this!
My point is, you don’t need every damn thing wrapped up nice and neat; that’s what your imagination is for. Pizzolatto gave us eight great hours; we can take it from here. In my mind, Marty and Rust went on to become successful P.I. partners, Senator Tuttle eventually got caught molesting Honey Boo Boo, and Melissa Joan Hart lived on to kill again. Also, I should note that Tony Soprano lived until the ripe old age of 62 and Forrest Gump died of AIDS on that bench. That’s my world. You can accept it or just make your own. If you want answers, watch Law and Order or ask Allen Iverson.
Now, I promised I would keep this unique. Part of the reason I was so enthralled by this show is because of something that happened to me in the Summer of 1996. I’m here to give you my theory of how True Detective was born.
Anyway, when I was fifteen, I applied for a special work permit because I wanted to catch the manhood train earlier than most, figured it would give me some relief of my teenage angst. I always wanted to experience the freedom of a working man. I distinctly remember sitting on the school bus one morning at a traffic light and staring out the window at a guy using a jackhammer in the parking lot of Rob’s Donuts. He looked so wildly unkempt and free. In comparison, I felt so governed and caged. In retrospect, that guy was probably more tethered to that shitty job than I ever was to the public school system (especially considering my frequent truancy) but I didn’t see that then. I pictured him getting in his own truck, driving to his own apartment, watching his own unscrambled porn, and drinking his own Coors Lite. I felt like every choice would be made for me unless I had my own job and money. Surprisingly, even now, with my own job and money, that notion of freedom I’ve been chasing my entire life still eludes me. I imagine the Jackhammer man was just as caged as I was then, and he is just as caged as I am now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he looked into that school bus and wished he was there, wished he could do it all over again, wished he was me…but I digress.
I got my first job in the summer of 1996 with my uncle’s construction company. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the day, a new guy shows up. His name was Massie (note: that was not his real name). I remember the first time I saw him. I was standing on a trestle, expecting a sheet of plywood and all of a sudden, a guy appears below whom I’d never seen before, and he hands me the sheet. He doesn’t say anything, not even “Hi, I just got hired, and I’ll be the guy handing you the wood now after the cuts.” He just stares up at me, with his mullet flowing down the back of his neck. His cap was low on his head. His eyes were stern. His face weathered. He was about fifty or sixty years old I imagine. My uncle knew him from the olden days, and he apparently needed a job.
Anyway, I worked with Massie for about a week or two, and he never said much of anything. If he did, it was usually strange, negative, or completely inane. He was saying “I smell aluminum and ash” before it was cool. Massie even had a tattoo on his forearm. It was a dagger or something and had to do with his military days. I think he was in Korea. Anyway, after the war, he was a sheriff in Plaquemine’s parish. I could write paragraphs about what that means. Let’s just say it’s probably like being an enforcer for a Russian mob boss.
One day, we got rained out, but it was before lunch, so me and Massie were asked to go work at a different job site about an hour away. The sky was pouring down with rain. I still recall how we quickly sidestepped mud puddles as we ran to his truck. There was lightning, thunder, all that shit. It wasn’t your average summer thunderstorm.
Not long after, we were stuck at a rail road crossing watching a train go by. I remember hearing only the sound of the windshield wipers and thinking it odd he didn’t listen to the radio. I expected classic rock, some of that white-trash ship-yard bullshit I was accustomed to from men who looked like he.
I always had the distinct feeling he liked me a little more than the rest of the guys, even though he never talked much to me. Maybe it was my good nature, always laughing at everything, always falling for everything. Maybe it was my uncle. I like to think it was just because I was a decent soul and he could sense that. In any case, I figured that earned me a little leeway. I asked him how he knew my family. He said he grew up across the street from them back in Plaqemine’s parish, back where he was a deputy. Not wanting the conversation to go cold, I asked him if he liked being a cop. He said “No” pretty bluntly. I asked why. He said he saw too many awful things. I predictably asked him to tell me some of the awful things.
For reasons I’ll never know, he opened up to me on that stormy stretch of Old Highway 90 between Chacohoula and Berwick.
He told me a story of a lady walking across the Empire bridge (which is also in True Detective). A car was coming down it. I forget which kind. He explained how the front bumper was huge and pointed, like an arrow or something. Anyway, it hits this lady walking across the road, and it cuts her in half. He explains the guts coming out. He talks of how they find one half of her in a ditch and the other half in the marsh.
He tells me about the first time he encountered a floater. He explained how after the body dies, the bugs in your stomach keep digesting and making gas, but you can’t fart it out, so you float when you’re dead. I remember wondering in that moment that if I was ever lost at sea and treading water, I’d just hold in all my farts so I could float. In any case, his boss hands him a rope and he has to swim out to this floater and tie a rope around it so they can pull it in. He talked about how specific the odor of decaying human flesh is and how the skin of the floater came off in his hands like paper. He said it wasn’t the first or last time he would smell death.
He then told me about one night where he discovered a car with a broken windshield that had hit a tree. They concluded the guy flew through the windshield, got up, and walked or hitched a ride home. He was nowhere to be found. When the sun came up, they saw him impaled on a tree in the swamp, way up in the air. He told me of how the sun rose right behind this guy’s hanging corpse, and it all looked like some kind of fucked up painting.
I told him that kind of shit is horrible and added that life is awful, trying to sound like a grizzled old man myself, but then he says I hadn’t heard shit yet. It was still pouring down outside when he started telling me about how after he was a sheriff he went to work for the state police. He said he was undercover, embedded in a Satanic Cult. He really stressed to me that I don’t have to believe that these people have special powers, but I had to believe that they believed they had special powers. He said it like three or four times, how hard they believed and how powerful believing was. He wouldn’t go on until I said I understood. The main group of these people operated out of St. Bernard Parish (where those nerd ghost hunters burned down that plantation I wrote about). He said they were prominent members of the community: judges, doctors, whatever. He then asked me what the most innocent thing in the world was. Before I could answer, he said, “A baby.” He continued, “Babies are innocent and have a certain power, and these people believe if you absorb one, you gain that power and become strong.” This was way before the dead-baby humor that now riddles the internet, so I had nothing to buffer me from the horrific tale he was about to tell.
He said that this cult had twelve women in it. They were called “birth maidens.” All of the male members of the cult would get together and have an orgy with one of the birth maidens every month and basically just bukkake all inside her. They tried to plan it so that each month one of the maidens gives birth, and as soon as she does, they build a giant fire, and liquify the baby over it inside a giant pot. He added that even the bones are melted. He talked about how soft baby bones are.
All the members drink up the baby and believe they’re becoming something else, something more than human. He informed me that the only section of a baby that wouldn’t break up or liquify too easily was parts of the skull on the baby’s head, which he said was about the size of a silver dollar. (note: I have never looked at silver dollars the same). He said he’d been to plenty of these fire locations, kicked through the ashes, and found dozens of these silver dollars made from the bones of baby heads.
At this point, I was scared out of my mind. I wanted to ask him if he ever had to drink a baby, but I didn’t. Something in me knew the answer to that already. I was becoming increasingly worried. The rain was coming down pretty hard, and I felt trapped. After a moment of silence, and I have no idea why I asked this question to this day, I sheepishly inquired…”Massie, did you ever kill somebody?” And I swear on everything I love, just as those words left my lips a giant bolt of lightning struck a few hundred feet in front of us and the loudest thunderclap I’ve ever heard rang out. He looked me sternly in the eye and barked, “That’s something you should never ask a man!” He then glanced at his hands on the steering wheel, and I could see he was clutching it madly. The truck started to slow down. I thought he was going to stop on side of the road and murder me and drink me up because I was pretty innocent. I remember us sitting there in complete silence, only those wiper blades going back in forth. It felt like an eternity. I could feel my own heart beating. One hand was on my seat buckle and the other slowly moving towards the door handle. He then made a u-turn and headed back from where we came. He said quietly that he was sick and calling it a day. We didn’t talk at all on the way home. He dropped me off and I’ve never seen him again. He never showed back up to work after that. Nobody even asked me about him. I found that even stranger. I told a few of my friends, and “That’s something you should never ask a man!” is a running joke between us to this day. I sure as shit didn’t tell my family. I didn’t want it to get back to Massie that I told his secrets.
I nonchalantly asked my uncle about him a few years later at a family gathering. He said he remembered hearing something about Massie quitting the police and joining some crazy cult he was investigating. He said it almost like it was funny. I wanted to say, “That crazy cult drank babies!” but I didn’t. I asked my aunts about him too. They said they just knew him as a wild man, and they were shocked when he became a sheriff. He was on all accounts a pretty cool cop though. I heard stories of him just watching the kids get drunk on the levee and wouldn’t dare arrest them. He was just watching to make sure they didn’t get hurt or do anything stupid. I asked a man in the old country about him on a visit a few years ago as well. He said Massie was always a weird guy, especially since he came back from the war.
To this day I don’t know what happened to him. Every couple of years I google him. Still nothing. He doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy who would have a Facebook page anyway. Frankly, I’m both mystified and terrified of him. I mean, that was my perception of him as a fifteen year old. Maybe he was just another old white trash drunk having some fun with me. In any case, that remains one of the most interesting car rides I’ve ever gone on.
But after the first episode of True Detective, the satanic imagry, Rust Cohle, the sprawl of the cult, they all kind of just bring me back to Massie. All that terror and mystery came back for me. There are so many similarities here. I mean, what’s the odds of an ex-state police officer with vast experience doing undercover work who looks like Rust Cohle stumbling into a cabal of powerful people engaging in sacrificial killings? It just seemed eerie.
Nic Pizzolatto borrows a lot of content from other writers and philosophers. He is also from South Louisiana. It crossed my mind that maybe Massie told him his story, and Nic just borrowed some of that too. I mean, I could see him getting rid of the baby drinking part. That’s hard to make work on screen. Either it’s going to come off as campy or just too disturbing. Nobody drinks babies on TV. Maybe like in Russia, but not in a civilized country. Also, Massie had the reputation as joining a cult, just as Rust had similar suspicions directed at him. This is what I like to think happened:
Massie is undercover and he’s getting too close. He gets word from higher up that the investigation is being terminated. He suspects a cover-up so he quits the force and lives full time as a cult member, drinking babies and having orgies. Somewhere in there, he starts to believe he is transforming. He’s conflicted here. I mean, he doesn’t like drinking babies. He probably thinks they taste bad and it’s evil; however, he has all these cool new powers like telekinesis. Plus, these kids were bred to be killed anyway. It’s not like they were going to attend Yale and cure cancer. Also, all kinds of kinky sex. So he goes along with it until he’s just drunk one baby too many. Then, he snaps and kills off all the leaders or at least blackmails them. The cult is disbanded and Massie loses his superpowers after a while, but the world is a little safer. He drifts across South Louisiana doing odd jobs just telling his tale to people he felt comfortable with. I like to picture him tending some smokey, backwoods bar in LaFitte or Venice, Louisiana. Nic walks in looking to have a drink and the rest is history. It explains why the cult members all seem to recognize Cohle. Could this be an inside joke between Massie and Pizzolatto?
Of course Massy could have been an old, drunk man having some fun with a gullible teenager to pass the time, and as luck would have it, that fun ended up being vaguely similar to a show that kid would watch nineteen years later. But that seems unlikely to me, because it’s me, and I want my life to have more meaning than that. That’s why we have our theories, nurture our beliefs, and invest in these grandiose narratives we all operate under. I’ll never truly know if Massy was telling the truth or even if his story inspired this series in any way, but I do know it amplified my enjoyment of it. For that I am grateful, and I think that’s the most beautiful emotion of all, to just be grateful. Under love, happiness, and charity, lies the simple ability to experience appreciation, to experience thanks.