On Sunday night, the saga of True Detective will come to an end. Over seven episodes, creator Nic Pizzolatto’s series has mesmerized audiences with the tale of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), two Louisiana State Police homicide detectives on the hunt for a serial killer responsible for a string of sadistic, ritualistic murders. The series, directed by Cary Fukunaga, is set in three time periods and spans seventeen years.
The show has also, with its myriad references to the occult, recurring imagery, elliptical-philosophical dialogue, and general weirdness, prompted viewer's imaginations to run wild, cooking up far-fetched (and not-so-far-fetched) theories of how the show will wrap things up.
According to HBO, the final episode airing March 9 will be titled “Form And Void,” and comes with the following logline: “An overlooked detail provides Hart and Cohle with an important new lead in their 17-year-old case.”
Hmm. Your guess is as good as ours.
Without further ado, here are the craziest—and most sensible—theories of how True Detective will come to a close.
Marty is the Killer … and the Clues Have Been Right Under Our Noses
Many, including the folks at Yahoo! TV, have theorized that Woody Harrelson’s character might be the killer. It’s an interesting theory, and one with some logic behind it. Why did Marty go crazy and shoot Reggie LeDoux in the head? Was it because he was so disgusted by the vision of LeDoux's child victims, or to shut someone up who could finger him as the killer? Also, there have been numerous references throughout the show to “The Yellow King,” a reference to Robert W. Chambers’ collection of short stories, The King in Yellow, being at the heart of the killings. The promotional poster for HBO’s True Detective has an odd split-design, cutting off Marty’s blond hair at the top, and leaving us with a blond-headed crown at the bottom. Furthermore, the show is called True Detective—not True Detectives, plural—so perhaps only one of the men (Rust?) is the “true” detective, and Marty is the killer.
The Five Horsemen
The most logical theory, it seems, is the Five Horsemen theory—that there were five men involved in the ritualistic killings on True Detective. My colleague, Andrew Romano, expounded on this in his epic essay on how the series will (probably) wrap up, and indeed, there’s a wealth of evidence: the five men on horses dressed in black Cajun Mardi Gras capuchins engulfing Dora Lange in a photograph at her mother’s house; five male dolls surrounding one naked female doll in a gang rape scenario on the floor of Audrey's and Maisie’s (Marty’s daughter’s) bedroom; five Lone Star beer can men crafted by Rust on the interrogation room table; that the black stars, a symbol of the possible cult that was found by Rust at the abandoned school, tattooed on the neck of the prostitute in Episode 2 who told Rust and Marty about Dora Lange’s involvement in a weird church, etc., each have five points; and there are five masked figures involved in the gang rape video Rust uncovered and showed to Marty in the penultimate episode. In the same episode, it’s revealed that the “Five Horsemen” may all be members of the same “rich” family—presumably the Tuttle’s.
Audrey is Doomed
There’s a great deal of evidence suggesting that Audrey (Erin Moriarty), Marty’s eldest daughter, will meet a grave end in the True Detective finale. Here’s what we know: the picture in Dora Lange’s house of a young blond girl surrounded by the “Five Horsemen” looks an awful lot like young Audrey; when Audrey was a child in ’95, she was punished in school for scribbling drawings of people having sex in her notebook. In one of the drawings, a masked man is depicted, while in others, the women appear to be wearing some sort of animal mask. When young Audrey is questioned by her parents about how she came up with the images, she cries, but remains mum; there’s a spiral drawing (echoing the spiral tattoo on Dora’s back) hanging in the Hart kitchen in 1995; a picture of Audrey next to a painting of hers in 2012 depicting a character sporting black stars, similar to the tattoos on the aforementioned prostitute in Episode 2; there are identical flower paintings on the wall of the psychiatric ward Rust visits in 2002, and a framed painting in Marty’s bedroom; and Audrey sported a crown with tassles in 1995 that’s very similar to the ceremonial crown seen on the gang rape victim in the disturbing video that Rust shows Marty in the shed.
Also, we know that Audrey became a problem child in 2002, having been caught with two older boys having sex in a car, and later, in 2012, she is heavily medicated, according to Maggie. Was Audrey a victim of the Five Horsemen, and will some terrible fate befall her?
Rust Will Commit Suicide… or Sacrifice Himself
A popular theory circulating the Internet is that our hero, Rust, will commit suicide. This idea is largely thanks to a quote uttered by Rust while in conversation with Marty during Episode 7, where he tells him, “My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation as long as I can remember. I’m ready to tie it off.” Is it the violence and degradation that Rust’s ready to tie off, or is he actually suicidal? Here’s what we know about Rust: by 2012, he’s boozed up but still obsessed with solving the Dora Lange case. He tends bar. He has no women in his life save the pictures of slain bodies. He lost his daughter in a car accident. The only thing that seems to keep him going is solving the case.
There’s a moment in Episode 1 where, during a long car ride with Marty, Rust goes on a lengthy rant about the sorry state of humanity, and how the only noble thing for us to do is kill ourselves. “We are creatures that should not exist by natural law,” he says. “We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self—a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact, everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand-in-hand into extinction—one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.” When Marty asks why he’s even living, Rust responds, “I lack the constitution for suicide.” Perhaps. But that was in 1995. In that same conversation, Rust tells Marty he isn’t religious, even though a huge cross hangs in his Spartan apartment. Rust says it’s because: “I contemplate the moment in the garden… the idea of allowing your own crucifixion.” If Rust indeed lacks the “constitution” for suicide, perhaps Rust will end up sacrificing himself to save Maggie, Audrey, or Marty—whom he still feels he owes penance to for having sex with Maggie—to save them from The Yellow King.
You Don’t Mow Another Guy’s Lawn!
This is one of the more comical theories that’s been passed around online. It involves the strange confrontation between Rust and Marty in Episode 3, entitled “The Locked Room.” Marty comes home to find Rust in a tank top chatting up his wife, Maggie, in the kitchen. Rust claims he stopped by to return the lawn mower he’d borrowed, and ended up thanking the family by mowing the lawn, which makes Marty irate.
“You mow my lawn?!” he screams. “No problem. I just don’t ever want you mowin’ my lawn, all right? I like mowin’ my lawn.”
Some, funnily enough, have said the scene is a nod to the Farrelly Brothers’s film Kingpin, when Woody Harrelson’s character diffuses a fight with a group of local toughs (played by Roger Clemens), by punching his pal in the face and screaming, “You don’t mow another guy’s lawn!”
When I spoke to Cary Fukunaga, he mentioned McConaughey’s role as Larry Dickens in a 1992 episode of Unsolved Mysteries, saying, “Have you seen McConaughey in Unsolved Mysteries? Even back then, it’s a great performance! And he’s mowing the lawn.” In the episode, Dickens’s mother is named “Dorothy Lang”—True Detective centers on the death of Dora Lange—a creepy man in the episode exposes himself to a group of kids, drives a red pickup truck that looks an awful lot like Cohle’s on the show, and shoots McConaughey’s character to death when he sacrifices himself to protect his mother. Will Rust have a similar fate?
The Lawnmower Man
At the end of Episode 7, we’re presented with “The Lawnmower Man” again, Errol Childress, who is presumably the “green-eared spaghetti monster” revealed in the pilot that reportedly chased a child through the woods, resulting in this look-alike sketch.
We last saw Errol in Episode 3, when he conversed with Marty and Rust while mowing the lawn of one of the Tuttle’s schools. Also in Episode 7: a LeDoux cousin told us that during a hunting trip with Reggie he encountered a man with scars “underneath his nose and cheeks” who gave him “funny looks,” and Tobey Boulere said that one of the “three younger men” involved in sexual misconduct at his school had “bad scars around the bottom half of his mouth, like he got all burned up.” And the Tuttle housekeeper also remembered a man with a scarred face whom she believes was one of Sam Tuttle’s grandchildren, and added, “I think his daddy did that to him.”
“My family’s been here a long, long time,” he mutters to himself at episode’s end. The camera then pulls away to reveal that he’s mowing in a spiral shape similar to the one found tattooed on Dora Lange’s back, as well as the group of birds in a spiral formation witnessed by Rust. Is Errol mowing grounds where The Yellow King’s unfound victims lay buried? Is he doing this against his will? Or is he merely another victim of the Tuttle’s wrath?
Many believe that the 1992 sci-fi film The Lawnmower Man holds some answers when it comes to Errol’s backstory. The film centers on Jobe Smith, a mentally disabled greenskeeper who lives in a tiny garden shed owned by Father Francis McKeen, a local priest. Father McKeen routinely beats Jobe. Later, when he gets mixed up in an experiment that makes him smarter, he exacts revenge on all those who abused him when he was “dumb,” including Father McKeen, who is burned to death. Is Errol, perhaps, a victim? And will he be the one who exacts revenge on Sam Tuttle?
It’s All About ‘Nam
The most insane theory has been saved for last. A Reddit user who goes by the handle “simplyravishing” posted that “The Yellow King,” who’s presumably at the heart of the ritualistic killings in True Detective, is none other than “the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant from Episode 3.” His/her evidence for this theory is that Rust and Marty “somehow not only found, but ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in the backwoods of Louisiana,” and that most of the people linked to the cult have been “white guys with white power ideals” like LeDoux and Lange, who would probably refer to a Vietnamese person as “yellow.” Furthermore, there’s the scene where Rust describes LeDoux’s “little shop of horrors as being reminiscent of the way his father described Vietnam,” so we can assume that some nasty stuff went down there. I’ll let simplyravishing take it from here:
The King in Yellow is a Vietnamese refugee who made his way to the United States after the war in an effort to track down Mr. Cohle and any of his living family members to repay him for the atrocities he committed against the King's family in Vietnam. Rust didn't choose to leave Alaska, his father sent him to the relative safety of Texas after training him how to survive the relentless onslaught of the King in Yellow's vengeance. Then, as the investigators stated, Mr. Cohle vanished from the map (the first step in the King's ultimate plan).
After the ‘accident’ involving Rust's daughter (orchestrated by the King in Yellow), Rust knew he had to disappear or face certain death so he chose to go deep cover, finding that to be a safer way to live than be out in the open without a badge where he would be easy for the King in Yellow to pick off. Once, Rust was allowed to resume normal life and take a job as a detective in the Louisiana State Police, the King in Yellow relocated to Louisiana, opened a Vietnamese restaurant as a front to avoid suspicion, and began gaining the loyalty of local criminals by offering them a direct line to his narcotic connections in Southeast Asia. The Lange murder and the cult sculptures are simply breadcrumbs the King in Yellow is using to lure Rust into a trap and finally finish his ultimate quest for revenge.