Internet Finale Theories, From Least to Most Likely
Tess Lynch: Now that we know it’s unlikely Rust or Marty are the killers (hang on to that “maybe,” though — we’re a loooooong 48 hours from Sunday), it’s time to examine some of the other theories regarding True Detective’s finale. It’s been a wild ride — I can still remember the look on Molly Lambert’s face when she had her True D breakthrough after Episode 3 and started binge-watching H.P. Lovecraft documentaries — and the show has created more “How will it end?” buzz than I have the bandwidth to plumb. Here are some of my favorites, from least to most likely. Spoilers abound because I don’t care about your feelings.
1. The Yellow King is a boat. [Reddit]
Evidence: Lots of shots of water, murder locations by the bayou, and most damning of all, “[t]o those who have been around boats, naming one ‘The Yellow King’ would not be an odd name. There are definitely stranger names for boats.” The boat could also be named Carcosa, which is a slightly weirder name for a boat, but still not as weird as the SS Fartbutt.
Counterevidence: Seems more poetic that the Yellow King would refer to the sun, not the water, and there have been nearly as many (or perhaps more) references to fire along the way. How disappointed would you be if everyone had had their drawers in a knot over an evil boat this whole time? It’s not that hard to kill a boat.
2. There will be bees, because True Detective is based on The Wicker Man. [Reddit]
Evidence: Screenshots showing similar “animal masks, paggan [sic] rituals, sacrifice of young girls, regional cult, A true detective, religious patterns and… The yellow king.” In that case, the Yellow King would be the fire that consumes Marty and Rust as they’re locked in a passionate embrace. I think.
Counterevidence: Neither Marty nor Rust is a virgin, so sacrificing them would be pointless. No demon god is interested in receiving a couple of burned-up sluts, am I right?
3. The Yellow King is the owner of a Vietnamese restaurant. [Reddit]
“The amount subtle clues/details in this show are staggering, but one that is constantly overlooked is the fact that Hart and Cohle somehow not only found, but ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in the backwoods of Louisiana. How can we write this off as a coincidence?
Secondly, almost the people we’ve met that are either directly linked to the alleged cult or have knowledge of the King in Yellow are backwoods white guys with white power ideals (Ledoux, Lange). It would make perfect sense that they would refer to a person from Vietnam as “yellow.”
Finally, Rust describes the scene at Ledoux’s little shop of horrors as being reminiscent of the way his father described Vietnam. Given the terrible things we witness going on at the Ledoux household, it’s safe to assume that Rust’s father saw and did some terrible things in Vietnam.”
Counterevidence: That’s racist, brah.
4. The Yellow King is Preacher Theriot. [Warming Glow]
Evidence: Among other fine nuggets, “Preacher Theriot is […] wearing a yellow shirt (and has Elvis — The King — sideburns).”
Counterevidence: Not meaty enough. Plus, I like one of the suggestions in the comments better: “Tuttle is one of the five men responsible for the cult that’s hitting the area (along with Dora Lange’s father, Marie Fontenot’s father, Rianne Olivier’s father/Reggie Ladoux’s father and possibly Marty Hart/his father-in-law). These five men are trying to to resurrect The Great Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos by sacrificing their daughters.”
5. Maggie and her father are involved in the cult, either as perpetrators, victims, or a mix-and-match of the two. [Gothamist]
Evidence: Maggie grew up by a lake (possible Robert Chambers reference), Audrey seems pretty clued in to the spiral madness, Maggie’s parents are rich — and by now, we all know that means they’re prime devil-worshipping suspects — and there are some little IMDb mysteries in there, too. Maybe Maggie brought Audrey into the cult. Maybe Maggie’s dad tried to sacrifice her when she was a child. Maybe everyone is secretly a Cthulhu and they’re all going to rip off their human masks at the end! (I added that.)
Counterevidence: Too tricksy. Series creator Nic Pizzolatto has said there isn’t a twist, and right now it seems like this is too much to wrap up in a single episode — though I wouldn’t be surprised if Maggie’s dad was one of the Five Horsemen, which brings us to …
6. … the most likely theory: The Yellow King is Reverend Tuttle, and he’s the leader of the Five Horsemen, who do his bidding. [Pajiba]
Evidence: Oh, there’s plenty, including Rust’s five little beer men, the five male dolls surrounding a single female, and a photo in Dora Lange’s house.
Rust and Dora
Alex Blagg: First of all, I’d like to note that, unlike many people who are loudly demanding that True Detective “stick the landing” and come up with some kind of narrative masterstroke conclusion to its story, I am just so psyched to see what creator Nic Pizzolatto has in store for us that I don’t really care what happens. Sure, I would love to see some kind of brilliant sleight-of-hand reveal that blows our collective mind, but True Detective can honestly do whatever it wants on Sunday and I’ll still love it. You give me seven hours of high-grade, heroin-addictive, riveting television, I won’t complain about where we end up. Rust and Marty find out the sex cult is actually a bunch of frustrated Chuck E. Cheese employees? Fine! Marty’s daughter is actually the Devil? Cool with me!
All this being said, I DO happen to have a theory about a final revelation. As the season has crept toward Sunday’s finale, the inside of my own brain has started to look something like Rust’s scary crime-shed storage unit. And here’s the gist of my thesis:
Rust planted and staged the body of Dora Lange to force the investigation of the Tuttle cult, which actually had something to do with the the loss of his daughter.
Sound crazy? A few things to consider: One, the very first image of the very first episode depicts someone dragging Dora’s body toward that scary antler-tree, followed by a giant ring of fire (or a “flat circle” of fire) lit up around the crime scene. Kind of a flashy move for a shadowy secret child-murder club, no? Nothing we’ve learned about the Tuttle cult suggests they’re in the prostitute-killing business, yet the bodies Rust and Marty have found in the show seem to only push their case forward. Like, why was Rust hanging around that murder scene in 2012? Perhaps he wanted to be seen, wanted to be brought in for questioning, because he needed to reunite with Marty and his insider departmental resources. This would also explain all Rust’s stacks of “sex-murder serial killer” coffee-table literature as “research.”
Reading between the lines of Rust’s darkness and obsession, it’s not difficult to imagine a world in which he actually lost his daughter under more sinister circumstances, and has since become obsessed with unraveling and destroying the politically powerful Tuttle cult at any cost. So I’m pretty sure he staged Dora’s murder.
It’s probably either that or the other theory I had: The show’s creator and only writer is Nic Pizzolatto, which is pronounced “pizza-lotto.” Like “a lot of pizza.” The Yellow King = cheese? Maybe it was Papa John? Remember, time is a flat circle, and SO IS PIZZA. Anyway, I’m still trying to work this one out.
Season 1, Flattened
Minimalist posters by Nigel Evan Dennis
Molly Lambert: You know how Matthew McConaughey made a 450-page graph about Rust Cohle in preparation to play him? Well, to work through my intense feelings about True Detective coming to an end, I made an hour-and-a-half-long mix with my brother Ben Lambert about what True D really means to me. There’s horrorcore rap to take you to the ’90s South, and prog rock to lure listeners into the court of the Yellow King. Take a sonic trip into the psychosphere today! I give you your passport to Carcosa: “TRU Detective!”
The Mystery of Stacy Gerhart
Emily Yoshida: In these last final days before the finale, before everything is out there in the open and we are left to put together (or weep over) the pieces, I’m going to choose to spend my time fixating on Stacy Gerhart. I’m feeling sleuthy recently, against my better judgment. Sue me, let’s do this.
Stacy Gerhart has appeared twice this season: once in the premiere, when Rust gives her billboard a significant-seeming glance, and later in Episode 5, when Rust is going back out to the Dora Lange crime scene. Clearly, she is not just a random young female casualty in a man’s man’s man’s world, like Marty’s older daughter will likely end up being. (If Audrey ends up being more than a highly effective thematic footnote, I will be genuinely surprised.) Your first thought: Oh! Is she Rust’s daughter? Eh, only if Rust were a particularly negligent teen. She was 14 in 1987, eight years before the events of the premiere, in which Rust could not be older than 40. (I’m guessing, but who knows — them Camel Lights’ll age a fella.) Which would make her 14 when Rust was 32, which would have made him a father at 18. Unlikely? Probably?
There are a lot of other numbers to baselessly overanalyze in this billboard, though, so let’s get to it. 10-11-87. Add up each individual number and you get 108. Numerology that (1+0+8) and you get 9. Alternately, you could add up each digit (1+0+1+1+8+7=18, 1+8) and you also get 9. 9 might be an important number! Look at these early glyphs of the number 9! Or this could be a complete accident! Let’s move on, ideally.
You could also try calling the number on the billboard, which was among my first moves. Unfortunately, neither Errol Childress nor producer and director Cary Fukunaga pick up on the other line; it is a disconnected Verizon Wireless number. But why Verizon (red)? Why not AT&T (blue) or Sprint (YELLOW!??!?!??!)? Probably something to do with blood. And/or death. OK, I feel like we’re hot on the trail, let’s keep going.
You could also Google “stacy gerhart true detective” and find out she may have been a sophomore at Light of the Way School for Doomed Youngsters. Bet wherever she is, she’s mad that an inferior haircut got featured on a billboard near her hometown 13 years after her death. But wait … you guys … what if her name isn’t Stacy Gerhart? What if it’s … STACYGER HART!? Shut down the subreddits, I think I cracked this baby. I retroactively apologize for the spoilers.
Very Pinteresting, Rusty!
Surprise, There’s No “Surprise”
netw3rk: In the end, I think it’s going to be pretty normal. After all the haunted pseudo philosophizing and crafting of beer-can men, after the quantum Groundhog Day meta-musings on the nature of time and consciousness, after the Lovecraftian menace and allusions to madness-inducing fiction within fiction — turns out one of the bad guys was the creepy reverend who showed up in the first episode and tried to have the case taken away from Rust and Marty. The scarred man was the weird-looking guy on the lawn mower outside of one of the reverend’s schools in the third episode. They have some hideout somewhere in the bayou, probably. Marty and Rust will go there and apprehend Errol and maybe some others.
No anagrams, no hidden context. The poster for the show with the top of Marty’s head (THE CROWN OMG) cut off is just an asymmetrical graphical flourish. Audrey’s drawing of a spiral? A coincidence. The matching flower painting from the Hart home and the psychiatric hospital (“Wow! Great catch!”), probably a production design coincidence. This is a show whose mysteries have fueled intense kabbalah-esque textual readings and wild theorizing, when there was never really a mystery. Billy Lee Tuttle shows up almost immediately, trying to get our heroes off the case. His religious schools are implicated soon after. Errol appears on his lawn mower a few minutes after that. But we fell into our own little devil traps anyway, pausing screens, decrypting paintings, searching for Old English word roots.
Modal jazz refers to a style of musical improvisation where, as opposed to bebop or straight jazz, the chordal center stays static, doesn’t change. But what seems like tonal constraint, only getting to improvise in one key, over one chord, becomes an exercise in freedom and metaphor because those static root notes act as an anchor, a home base to come back to no matter how far afield you go. The achievement of True Detective as a viewer experience is the creation of a space where the audience could improvise theories and explore concepts like metafiction, rebirth, freewill, and determinism around what is actually a very grounded, very normal story.
Or maybe Maggie turns out to be the Yellow King and this whole theory is shot, too. I’m prepared for that.
I Have All the Answers!
John Lopez: Wow, time flies. As much as a circle can fly, I mean. When I first interviewed TV’s Laurel and Hardy of existential despair/cosmic horror, True Detective was still a plucky little anthology concept with nifty promo art. Now, the McConaissance has culminated with St. Matthew’s Oscar, and True Detective is a pop culture juggernaut, creating fun new cat memes and causing sales of obscure 19th-century horror books to rocket. I peaced out after the first three episodes; now I’m back for the finale only to discover the show has grown like a carcinoma — and I mean that as a compliment. One minute True Detective was just a little lump you keep forgetting to ask the doctor about; two months later, it’s a labyrinthine, obsession-stoking phenomenon that makes friends text each other at 7 a.m. about the Yellow King.
Here are my picks for the answers to all those burning questions: Who is the Yellow King? I’m going the Chinatown route that he’s one of the Tuttles (Louisiana senators aren’t exactly famous for their clean living), or, if not that, at least a stuffed rabbit from childhood that Lawn Mower Man used to develop his nasty sexual proclivities. Will Hart or Cohle die in the end, only to be reincarnated and live this same story over and over in an infinite regression? Yes! (Thanks to the magic of HBO GO.) Is time a circle that goes round and round, an illusion that we mere mortals use to make sense of our pitiful, cosmically insignificant lives? Actually, as far as modern physics goes, that philosophical attitude is pretty common — even Einstein kind of believed it. In fact, if you want to be on the controversial vanguard of modern physics, you have to argue that time is, in fact, very real, despite what puny quantum scientists think.
What does it all mean? Considering the title of the finale is “Form and Void,” I’m guessing the point is to answer that Rorschach-test question yourself. Mine is that in a genre as thoroughly mined as detective fiction, execution counts for a hell of a lot. From Fukunaga’s subtle, confident direction to McConaughey and Woody Harrelson giving fluid, detail-oriented performances, to whatever brilliant Louisiana location scout rustled up those crazy exteriors, you can make a story that’s been told over and over feel exciting and fresh by putting the devil into the details. After all, what’s more fun: being told whodunit or Googling “yellow king” until three in the morning?
Something Tells Me We’re Not Going to Get the Time-Travel Resolution I Was Hoping For
Mark Lisanti: From an interview with BuzzFeed, in which creator Nic Pizzolatto goes debunk-crazy on the utterly misguided Rust-did-it-ers, maybe-Marty-heads, and Team I Bet Papania and Gilbough Have Secret Antler-Dungeons, Though:
It was a little surprising, but not frustrating at all, just part of the experience of having people connect to the show. The possibility is built into the story, as it has to be credible that the 2012 PD suspect Cohle. I just thought that such a revelation would be terrible, obvious writing. For me, the worst writing generally just “flips” things: this person’s really a traitor; it was all a dream; etc. Nothing is so ruinous as a forced “twist,” I think.
Whom are you going to believe? The guy who actually wrote the show, or the incredibly intricate system of colored yarn connecting the hand-drawn portraits of every suspect you’ve plastered to the wall with an improvised paste made out of stale Lone Star and your own blood?
It’s probably just a misdirection. Don’t rip everything down in despair before Sunday night. We’ve come too far together to give up now. There are debts to pay.
(Time-traveling Rust did it.)