Watching the show after two previous viewings, I tend to appreciate how well-structured the main mystery is. Despite his whack-a-doodle philosophy about, oh, everything, Rust goes so far into his head that he missed something.
What did he miss? Well, in a short scene where he was out canvassing for clues alone, he took a photo of a place that will become vital to solving the case in the last episode or so.
I think this episode mostly covers two things very well.
We got a bit of where Rust Cohle had been in his life prior to becoming a homicide detective in Louisiana. We know he was suspected of being a fed, that he was originally from Texas, and he lost a daughter and then a marriage. He also mentions a relationship that occurred after the case had been more or less solved and the present day, something the show will depict, and how Maggie was responsible for it.
But where Rust originally came from is something else. After his marriage fell apart, he got into a bit of trouble and ended up in a deep undercover narcotics division in Texas for four years. As a result of that, he still has drug-induced hallucinations. After a short stint recovering in a mental hospital, he managed to move one state over to the homicide division, where he manages to make zero friends and can antagonize just about everybody, up to and including and especially his partner Marty. And while he has some really sharp observation skills, he still needs certain drugs just to sleep at night, and even if he did come across as the more diplomatic at the redneck bunny ranch, or find the incriminating painting in the burnt-out church, he still isn’t able to get along with anybody at all.
One of the themes for the season is how poorly women are treated. Ironically, writer Nic Pizzolatto doesn’t really do a good job of fleshing out most of the women on the show except maybe Maggie, but he does demonstrate that Marty is a major hypocrite who lies rather deftly to himself to explain his actions. Yes, he is cheating on his wife, mother of his two daughters, with that legal clerk. He’s also controlling of that young woman who wants more out of her life than to be a cop’s mistress. He lectures the madam at the bunny ranch over an underage girl that he will encounter again in a later episode (Rust, prophetically, wonders if the cash Marty gave the girl to find another place to live was a down payment). He gives his father-in-law grief while his wife is expressing/denying frustration at home with her mother. And, most obviously, is the fight Marty and Maggie have at home. What does Marty think home life should be? It should be what he wants.
There are an awful lot of anti-hero men who screw around on their wives on TV these days. But the Tony Sopranos and the Don Drapers seem to get away with a lot more than Marty does. It’s a little depressing True Detective went that route at all, but at least there’s a different spin on it. Most of the cheating husbands don’t claim they do it to keep the darkness at bay from their wives, and most wives are closer to doormats until they find out, and then they still might not do anything.
Two side notes: both Rust and Marty had daughters. More women in the lives of these two men.
And while Rust may make some observations about how Marty is obviously cheating on Maggie, he’s no saint either as seen with his toolbox interrogation scene.