April 22, 2014

Untrue detective

A theory that those who say that True Detective reminded them of Twin Peaks really mean, or should mean, Fire Walk With Me. Not just because the detectives worked in pairs in Fire Walk With Me, or because David Lynch was able to be more brutal or darker or more serious than he could be on television in 1990 and 1991 (he could get away with television at the Fire Walk With Me level for HBO now, if True Detective is anything to go by), or because it offered a kind of cosmic/Gnostic happy ending not unlike True Detective’s “the light is winning”, but different from the ambivalent ending of the series, but because the supernatural element dominated and complicated the story. Evil is both stronger and less clearly identifiable – less easily isolated – in Fire Walk With Me just as it is in True Detective, in which we never felt that the crime or mystery was entirely solved or even fully explained. Evil has seeped out into the world and now it goes on and on – in True Detective’s Gnosticism (and Lynch’s) the material of the world itself is evil and goodness is remote. Like True Detective, Fire Walk With Me also paid attention to the psychic damage done to agents, but in a less realistic way.

Early on I thought that both True Detective and Rectify were series made in the shadow of the West Memphis Three story. In Rectify, Daniel Holden (Aden Young) gets out of prison after 19 years on Death Row on rape and murder charges – he even resembles Damien Echols, with his pale skin, black hair and air of dazed gentleness, and the names Daniel and Damien are obviously similar. The timeframes match: as Rectify aired in 2013, we could assume that the rape and murder happened in 1993 or 1994, while the murders of the three boys in the West Memphis case also happened in 1993 (both Daniel and Damien were found guilty and locked up as teenagers, and then cleared). Rectify is about the difficult adjustment to life after prison, possibly a fantasy of how things could be for Damien. True Detective initially unfolds in a world in which occult panic was easily summoned – it is 1995, just two years after the West Memphis Three killings, which were assumed to be ritualistic and were interpreted in the wake of 80s-era Satanic panic. All three stories are Southern: Georgia is the setting of Rectify; Louisiana for True Detective; Arkansas for the West Memphis story. If not intended as analogues, they at least hint at some dark, shared, traumatic cultural material, a questioning of received religious systems and a persistent, strained hope that justice (legal, cosmic or both) will triumph in the end.