If you’ve watched one episode of True Detective, HBO’s gritty meditation on good vs. evil, you’ve likely consumed them all — rabidly, and multiple times. Not since Lost has a television series so deeply tapped into our obsessive conspiracy theorist sides. And not since fans asked “What is the Island?” has the Internet been pondering one singular TV question: Who is the Yellow King?
At its core, True Detective is a story about two detectives, Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), partners who are haunted by a grisly occult murder that took place in Louisiana in 1995. (Spoilers ahead, so read on with caution.) The series time-jumps through 17 years of Rust and Marty’s tense relationship, from a horrific showdown with the (supposed) murderers in 1995, to the pair’s major falling-out in 2002, to a 2012 reconciliation of sorts prompted by the “debt” that weighs on both of their souls — the revelation that the killer is still out there.
The creepy clues revealed throughout the episodes so far have viewers obsessing over every little, beautifully crafted detail. Why was the body of Dora Lange, Rust and Cohle’s 1995 murder victim, found bound in a praying position under a tree, wearing only a crown made of deer antlers? The detectives keep coming across devil’s nests and painted spirals, whispers of Carcosa and the Yellow King. Rust is convinced the disappearances of women and children along the Louisiana Gulf for years have been tied to Lange’s ritualistic murder. Is the Tuttle family, powerful both politically and in the religious institutions of the Katrina-ravaged bayou, behind it all? In last week’s penultimate episode we met the oft-mentioned “tall man with scars,” who may also be the Spaghetti Monster — and the real killer. Or is he just a pawn?
True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto recently debunked the idea that either Rust or Marty were behind the murders, but plenty of other theories abound. Some fans have laid out their theses and True Detective tributes in painstaking detail for other obsessives to pore over; below are some of the most intriguing. Tune in to HBO on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET for the season finale, and to find out which ones were closest to the mark.
We Keep the Other Bad Men From the Door
For its beautifully minimalist illustrations of True Detective‘s main characters alone, the website We Keep the Other Bad Men From the Door is worth a look. Borrowing its name from a classic Marty-Rust exchange in episode 3 (Marty: “You wonder ever if you’re a bad man?” Rust: “No I don’t wonder … world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”), the site is as much an appreciation of the series as a fully realized, virtual evidence locker. Chicago artist Nigel Evan Dennis examines each character’s motives (from good to bad to not quite sure), offers a detailed map of the crucial, stunningly shot sequence at the Hoston Projects in episode 4, and ponders the philosophy behind Rust’s “M-Brane Theory” and the fan-driven “5 Man Theory.” If anyone’s feeling generous, we’d love one of the Big Hug Mug/Lone Star men prints Dennis is selling.
The Yellow King Theory
Occam’s Razor tells us the simplest answer is often correct. So how did we miss the clues this video made for True Detective devotees so clearly points out?
A guide to the essential True Detective reading
At the first mention of the Yellow King in episode 2, fans feverishly Googling the phrase for answers quickly learned of the link to Robert W. Chambers’ novel The King in Yellow. The series also borrows references to the city of Carcosa, black stars, and twin suns from the supernatural horror tale. BuzzFeed contributor Lincoln Michel put together a pretty comprehensive list of books that gives further insight into the show’s occult themes and Rust’s philosophies. The “other reading” section includes Galveston, the similarly moody debut novel by Pizzolatto.
Playlists inspired by True Detective
From the Handsome Family’s haunting “Far From Any Road” playing over the opening credits to a song like The Black Angels’ “Young Man Dead” closing episode 1 like a punch in the gut, the soundtrack to True Detective lends as much atmosphere as watching Rust and Marty drive down a road lined with moss-covered cypress or enter a burnt-out church by a levee. Fans are so taken by the series’ striking soundtrack, they’ve been inspired to create their own playlists inspired by the show. The best aurally nail the drama’s themes or create an ambiance that so accurately captures Pizzolatto’s South, you can imagine the camera panning over another heinous crime scene as a new song begins. Or you can just listen to a compilation of all the songs actually played over the course of the series.