Series: True Detective

Man is the cruelest animal.

Martin Hart: You think, you wonder, ever, you're a bad man?
Rustin Cohle: No, I don't wonder. Marty. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

True Detective is an American drama series premiering on HBO created by Nic Pizzolatto. It has been confirmed that the series will be an anthology, with each season focusing on a different case with a different set of detectives.

The first season stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart respectively. Initially opening in 1995, the duo is assigned to investigate a gruesome ritualistic murder in Louisiana, which involves a missing woman and occult overtones. Jumping between then and seventeen years later, the two are interviewed in the almost-present by two detectives (Michael Potts and Tory Kittles) who suspect they're Working the Same Case, and that the real Serial Killer is still out there.

Using the interviews as a Framing Device, the series jumps around three periods: from 1995 to explore the progress of the investigation, as well as 2002 and 2012 to show how the case affected the pair's personal and professional lives, and how it drove them to a falling out. The first series which premiered on January 12, 2014, and was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Following the widespread success of season one, a second has began production in November 2014, and will involve an entirely different setting and directors. The series will be set in California (though not around Los Angeles), and will follow a larger group of detectives. The cast is said to star Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn, and is set for broadcast in Summer 2015. A teaser can be seen here.

Season One provides examples of:

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  • Abandoned Area:
    • The Church at the end of episode 2 ("Seeing Things") with the painting of a naked woman with antlers on the wall.
    • And the (even creepier) abandoned school.
    • The abandoned Civil War fort that Errol has turned into his shrine.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Strongly implied with Dora Lange's father.
    Mrs. Lange: Why wouldn't a father bathe his own child?
    • Beth, Dora Lange's friend, has a similar situation with her Evil Uncle.
    • This is the partial source of the Yellow King killer's insanity, as he was sexually abused and tortured by his father along with countless other children as part of the cult's rituals, which is what drives him to do the same to countless other children and young women
  • The Alcoholic: Both of the detectives are alcoholics.
    • Cohle is a relapsing-remitting. He's mostly sober in 1995, though he frequently falls off the wagon over the course of the case. He arrives at the Hart residence drunk, chugs cough syrup on the way to interview a CI, and drinks from a bottle of Jameson before going undercover. He's also got a bit of a drug problem.
    • Hart descends into this over the course of the investigation. Early on, he brags that he can have one beer with lunch and "not need twenty more." However, as pressures build, he drinks more and more and becomes a belligerent drunk. After the case is initially closed, he joins a program as part of his efforts to win back his wife. After he returns to the investigation in 2012, he also starts drinking again.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: The Iron Crusaders are outlaw bikers who perform drug deals and armed robberies.
  • All There in the Manual: Nic Pizzolatto stated in an interview that the reason Serial Killer Errol lapses into a random British accent is because after he was burned as child, he taught himself to speak again through watching old video tapes.
  • The Alleged Car: Rustin still drives the same red pickup he had in 1995. In 2012, it's revealed that he never even repaired the tail light that was damaged in his fight with Hart in 2002.
  • Arc Number: Five, which is heavily associated with the Cult of the Yellow King. Examples include:
    • The way Audrey Hart staged her dolls, five standing around a sixth on the ground.
    • The picture of Dora Lange (at her mother's house), surrounded by five horsemen dressed for Courir de Mardi Gras.
    • The tin-men that Rust slowly sets up during his interview with the police
    • in the videotape, there are five men, all dressed in a twisted version of Courir de Mardi Gras, that torture and kill Marie Fontenot.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • The Devil traps, appearing at scenes associated with the murders.
    • Stars. They appear in Dora Lange's diary, as a tattoo on her acquaintance's arm, and are mentioned by Ledoux. In one scene, asterisks frame Cohle. Cohle mentions looking up at the stars in Alaska and making up stories about them. In the final episode of the first season, Cohle stares at the stars out of his hospital window. He and Hart have a conversation describing stars as "light versus dark," in which Cohle concludes that light is winning.
    • Spirals. They're drawn on the murder victims, which helps link the murders together. When a perpetrator is revealed he's mowing the lawn in a spiral. In the season one finale, Cohle sees a spiraling vortex in a starry abyss in the darkness of Errol's inner sanctum. Reggie Ledoux and Errol Childress have spiral brands on the back of their neck, as well.
    • Horns are also a recurring theme. The first case involves a murdered woman with horns placed on her head. There are a few drawings of women with horns on their heads. Ginger the biker has a chest tattoo of horns curving up to the sides of his neck.
    • Circles are a recurring metaphor. Cohle in particular talks about cycles repeating themselves and people moving in circles. Marty's marriage cycle of fighting and then reconciling is visually described when he rollerskates in a ring with his family. As his kids go to take "one more lap around," Marty begins to reconcile with Maggie and start the cycle over again. In 2002, Cohle revisits the Dora Lange crime scene and sees a wreath of branches and twigs at the tree where they found the body. And in 2012, Cohle describes his own life as a circle several times.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: While directing a child to seek shelter in a bathtub during a gun battle, Cohle gestures with his gun and points the barrel right at the kid's head.
  • Author Avatar: But not for the author of the series. Rust's nihilistic philosophy is straight out of Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. (Ligotti's Lovecraftian fiction is an acknowledged influence on this series.) Rust's childhood in rural Alaska is probably a nod to another modern weird fiction writer, Laird Barron, with whom he shares this background.
  • Badass: Cohle, who did undercover work with outlaw bikers and Mexican cartels. After a fistfight with Hart, in which Cohle got the upperhand, Hart still realizes that Cohle was holding back.
  • Bad Liar: Hart. When he lies he either stumbles and avoids eye contact if improvising or uses unnatural words in a robotic way that makes it obvious he's reciting a rehearsed story. He does surprisingly well hoodwinking an old colleague in 2012 however.
  • Beneath the Mask: A subtle example with Hart. On the surface he presents himself as a laid-back, easygoing family man who bears the responsibility of his job. Underneath, he's a philandering husband, a bad father, a bit of a drunk, and has rage issues.
  • Berserk Button: For both Hart and Cohle, it's hurting children. Prior to the timeframe of the series, when Cohle was an undercover narcotics cop in Texas, he shot a tweaker for injecting a baby with crystal meth. Later on, Hart executes a handcuffed Ledoux when he finds two chained, tortured children, one dead, in his garage. Hart also eventually quits the force after a particularly upsetting and gruesome crime involving a dead baby. And both Cohle and Hart are compelled to see the case through after watching the Marie Fontenot video.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: That silent, sulky, world-weary tavern owner that Rust works for? He's actually a brutally effective sniper.
  • Bigger Bad: The Tuttle Clan and their cult are this to Errol Childress. The family patriarch, Sam Tuttle, is presumably long dead by the time the series begins, but this still leaves the unseen Senator Edmund Tuttle.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Beneath Hart's laid-back Good Ol' Boy facade, he cheats on his wife and is dealing with psychological issues. Contrast with Cohle who doesn't bother with a facade and is utterly upfront with all his flaws.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Surprisingly closer to the upbeat end of the spectrum. Hart and Cohle manage to kill Errol Childress and survive, becoming Fire-Forged Friends in the end. Hart manages to at least come to terms with his relationship with his family, and is genuinely relieved to see them when they visit him in the hospital. Cohle also manages to find hope in the world, after believing that he will reunite with his daughter and father in the afterlife. However, the other cultists remain at large, and some have even died without getting any retribution, but the detectives have at least managed to put down the worst one. Note that the cult won't be able to be as active with the attention on them.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Hart and Cohle are both very flawed men who do morally questionable things throughout the first season, but the major antagonists are unambiguously evil, with no redeeming qualities.
  • Blatant Lies: Cohle and Hart insist that Cohle took personal time in 1995 to visit his ailing father, to cover for his brief trip to Texas and their involvement in the Beaumont shootout.
  • Boom Head Shot: How Hart kills Ledoux and how Cohle kills Errol.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Appropriately for this show, a dark variant on the trope, as Marty's older daughter is dressing as a goth and having sex with two guys at a time after the Time Skip to 2002.
  • Brick Joke: As they leave the Bunny Ranch, Marty gives $100 to Beth, one of the Ranch's underage girls, to try and get her out of prostitution. Rust quips that Marty's putting down "a down payment" on the girl, which raises Marty's ire. Seven years later, Marty's having an affair with Beth.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Burt shits himself when questioned by Cohle. Literally.
  • The Brute: This was apparently Errol's role in the cult. He's just a lowly handyman, but he's large, strong, and a particularly depraved sadist.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Cohle - darkly pessimistic, a misanthrope who sleeps under a crucifix (despite being non-religious) and with a tendency to philosophize at random, is explicitly identified as a good detective.
  • The Butler Did It: The gardener, actually.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Cohle sends their info to everyone and their mother in the final episode.
  • The Cavalry: Papania and Gilbough arrive with reinforcements once our two heroes have defeated the final villain.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster discussed early in the show and the Lawnmower Man who gives some exposition in episode 3 turn out to be the same man as well as one of the primary killers in the conspiracy.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What happens to the victim, by way of a knife.
  • Comically Serious: Cohle, especially in Episode 3, where Maggie manages to set him up with one of her acquaintances. He has the same stoic expression on his face even when he's dancing.
  • The Conspiracy: It's a group of killers, some of whom are connected to politics and the police.
  • Consummate Liar: Contrary to Hart, Cohle lies very naturally and makes it very believable that he was a part of whatever fictitious event he's describing. Understandable, considering his past as an undercover cop.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Cohle does this. A lot. Lampshaded by Hart.
    Hart: Stop saying shit like that, it's unprofessional.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Although the show is Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, Cohle's nihilistic attitude and deeply cynical philosophy match the cosmic futility found in this genre. The show certainly is inspired by the works of weird fiction writers Thomas Ligotti and Robert W. Chambers. Additionally, there are unexplained references to some seriously eerie mythology.
    Miss Dolores: Him who eats time, in robes.
  • Cowboy Cop: Cohle pays scant regard to police protocol or procedure and engages in his own investigations, which doesn't sit well with his partner or superiors.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Hart. When he sees his mistress, Lisa, going home with another man, he breaks down her door and terrorizes him. He promises to skull-fuck Lisa for personally telling Hart's wife about their affair in retaliation for Hart's breaking-and-entering. After his wife leaves him, Hart begs her to give him another chance at the hospital where she works and has to be held back by security, leaving only when prompted by Cohle regarding their case.
  • Creator Cameo: Nic Pizzolatto plays a bartender in "Who Goes There".
  • Creepy Child: one of the girls that Hart and Cohle saved is like that as of 2002 and is said to be only getting worse.
  • Crown of Horns: The ritualistic murder that opens the series has a woman posed nude wearing a crown of deer antlers.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: The cultist's strange religion includes references to "the Yellow King" and "Carcosa" from Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow.
  • The Cynic: Cohle. Unlike most examples, it isn't played as him being simply grumpy or downbeat but having genuine existential despair about life and humanity and shows what a wreck he is. By the end of the investigation, he's shown to be getting better, in his own nihilistic way.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Happened prior to the opening of the series, but the death of Cohle's daughter seems to qualify.
  • Daylight Horror: While many of the more terrifying scenes take place at night, plenty take place during the day where the bright Louisiana sunshine just makes the horror worse. The series opens with a dead woman found in broad daylight. the scene where Rust and Marty confront Ladoux also takes place in broad daylight.
  • Da Chief:
    • Major Ken Quesada in 1995. He is quite agitated by the political pressure he's facing to solve this case.
    • Major Leroy Salter in 2002. He has little patience for shenanigans and resorts to the classic Turn in Your Badge and gun disciplinary method.
  • Dead Little Sister: In Cohle's case, a dead daughter.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Hart and Cohle have their moments.
  • Death Seeker:
    • Cohle implies this is his motivation in 2012. He just wants to solve the Dora Lange case first. He gets better.
    • Childress believes that being killed will bring him to a new existence.
  • Deep South: Season 1 takes place in Louisiana.
  • Defective Detective:
    • Cohle is really messed up, at least when he's not on the job. In 2002, even his professionalism starts to crack.
    • Hart is outwardly more stable, but he's not much better than Cohle under the surface. His home life is extremely dysfunctional.
  • The Determinator: Cohle will solve the Dora Lange case, no matter the cost. This is shown to great effect in "Form and Void", where he manages to survive getting stabbed by Childress and nearly bleeding out.
  • Diagonal Billing: For McConaughey and Harrelson in the opening credits.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Reggie Ledoux
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The victim, Dora Kelly Lange.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: The initial victim, Dora Lange, is found naked. The detectives link the murder to a variety of other cases involving naked women.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Cohle's reaction to Gilbough and Papania trying to get him to not smoke, all within the first five minutes of episode one.
  • Everybody Smokes: in the 1990's scenes, at least. Gilbough and Papania both try and stop Cohle from smoking during his interview, but that goes as well as you'd think it would.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite both being extremely cynical and flawed anti-heroes, Hart and Cohle are both utterly horrified and enraged by the ritualistic rape, torture, and murder of children that they uncover that has been (and continues to be) perpetrated by the cult, and by the end of the series are utterly fixated on bringing them down even at the cost of their own lives.
  • Evil Brit: Played with in the case of Errol. In his one POV scene, after he's revealed to be the final villain, he spends much of it affecting an upperclass British accent and spouting high-brow quotes.
  • Eureka Moment: Marty connecting the green ears on the portrait of the "Spaghetti Monster" with the freshly-painted house.
  • Fanservice: With HBO, it's a given.
    • The lingering shot of Michelle Monaghan's ass during her introductory scene in bed.
    • Also Lisa, Marty's mistress (Alexandra Daddario) fully naked in episode 2.
    • Beth, Marty's new mistress, appears naked in one episode 6 scene, and poses in front of a mirror in lingerie in another.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The sex scene between Maggie and Rust. It's brutal (yet consensual) and animalistic but is deliberately intended to not be titilating.
    • In the final episode of season 1, Errol Childress and his half-sister.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The burly outlaw biker Ginger. It's apparently a reference to his red beard.
  • Forced to Watch:
    • The cartel torture method Cohle describes; it involves a mirror being propped up in front of you while you're castrated and worse.
    • Also, what 'the tall man with the scars' did to Kelly Rita.
    • Hart and Cohle getting Steve Geraci to talk honestly about the Marie Fontenot case by showing him the cult's videotape.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • As revealed at the end of the first episode, Cohle and Hart did not manage to stop the killings in 1995, so the mystery will remain unsolved after the case is officially closed.
    • Watching carefully enough at Hart's hands during the 2012 sequences shows that he doesn't wear any wedding ring. When his flashbacks goes when his wife is back with him, you immediately understand that she definitively left him later.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Audrey's macabre display of her toys and the grouping of Rust's tin men (which he makes throughout the interview) lead up to the videotape in Episode Seven, which is the first display of the Yellow King cult's ritual.
    • Audrey's pictures include one man, penis out, groping a woman. He appears to wear a mask. It's later revealed that the ritualistic slayings involve masked perpetrators, though Audrey is never confirmed to have any knowledge of the cult.
    • Two more visual clues leading to the videotape: the first appearance of Ledoux at the end of Episode Three, animal-like in his underwear, and gas mask and the picture of Dora Lange during Courir de Mardi Gras.
  • Framing Device: The detectives interviewing Hart, Cohle and Maggie separately 17 years after the case was investigated.
  • Friend to All Children: Marty's problems with his own daughter aside, he's really sensitive about seeing violence against kids. That's what made him execute Ledoux on the spot and eventually, quit the force entirely.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The first we see of Ledoux is a long shot of him striding through a field wearing nothing but underpants and a gas mask, giving him a freakish and bestial appearance. It later becomes clear that he's dressed this way because he's a meth cook.
  • Genre Savvy: Maggie, when being interviewed by Papania and Gilbough, says that after being married to a cop for so long she's aware of the tricks used in interviews, and tells them to just get straight to the point.
  • Get Ahold Of Yourself Man: Cohle to Hart after Hart's wife leaves him.
    Hart: Hell of a bedside manner you got there.
  • Get Out: As Rust realizes that Maggie had sex with him as a way of getting back at Marty, he gets uncharacteristically angry and starts shouting for her to "Get the fuck out!" of his apartment.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Ledoux's surviving victim mentions a third perpetrator, whom she describes as a giant with scars.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Mostly averted, but when Marty looks at the tape of a girl surrounded by men in animal masks closing in on her, we only see (and hear) his reaction. Also serves as Nothing Is Scarier. This is also in full effect when Marty sees a recently microwaved baby, shown in the same episode. Creator Nic Pizzolatto and Director Cary Joji Fukunaga specifically stated in interviews that whatever they could show on the video would not be as bad as people's imagination, and so avoided showing it directly to make it that much worse.
  • Hallucinations: Cohle sees a number of strange things while investigating the case. Their source is mysterious, but Cohle explains them as acid flashbacks.
    • Cohle has these in episode 2, seeing blurring lights on the highway, a weirdly neon-pink wave that spreads across the cloudscape and a flock of birds forming the symbols on Dora Lange's body.
    • The hallucinations come back full swing in the season one finale, where he sees a spiraling, alien constellation while standing at the heart of 'Carcosa'.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Both Cohle and Hart count as modern-day spins on this trope, but especially Cohle with his poetic cynicism about the world around him.
  • Hollywood Satanism: The killings are occult in nature and said to be Satanic by a number of people. Reverend Tuttle states early on that the rituals are "anti-Christian." This is apparently to throw the cops away from him. When speaking of their mythology, the murderers never use any explicitly Satanic language. Instead they refer to "Carcosa" and the "Yellow King".
    Sheriff: Those symbols, they're Satanic. I saw a 40/40 about it.
  • Homage:
    • The final dialogue between Cohle and Hart in episode 8, about the stars reflecting the struggle between light and dark, is pretty much the same as the dialogue between two dying aliens in issue #8 of Alan Moore's Top 10. Nic Pizzolatto has said that he's a fan of Moore's comics, so the reference is almost certainly intentional.
    • The first season includes a number of references to The King in Yellow
      • A figure in the evil cult is called the Yellow King. When Cohle reaches Carcosa, he comes across a room with an altar resembling a throne upon which a macabre collection of bones is on display, draped in tattered yellow robes.
      • "Black stars" figure into both the book and the cult's mythology.
      • "Carcosa" is occasionally mentioned. In the book it's the land ruled by the King in Yellow. It's unclear what it means to the cult, although the season finale implies it is the derelict complex located on the property of the Serial Killer.
  • Homage Shot: Towards the end of the second episode there's an extended visual homage to Cassilda's song from The King in Yellow.
    Along the shore the cloud waves break,
    The twin suns sink behind the lake,
    The shadows lengthen
  • How We Got Here: The two detectives narrate the story leading up to the present. At around the end of episode 6 and moving into episode 7, the story catches up with the present, after which the story is told more or less in a linear progression (with the exception of the odd flashback).
  • Hypocrite:
    • In episode 3 ("The Locked Room"), 2012 Hart natters on about the importance of family, while 1995 Hart bursts into his mistress's apartment and beats her date up.
    • Hart is just full of this really. He justifies his affair with a courthouse employee essentially as letting off steam and states that it is ultimately "for the good of the family." He is saying this in 2012 with a left hand entirely devoid of a wedding ring.
    • Hart continually calls out Cohle for his perpetual angst, but indulges in it just as much himself where his family life is concerned. Even in the car, which he designated an angst-free zone after Cohle's first misanthropic rant. Cohle points out that the difference between him and Hart is that Cohle isn't in denial about who he is.
    • Both men use self-deception to bury their problems — Hart hides his dysfunction under a veneer of civility and boundaries, and Cohle tries to convince himself that he knows the "truth," which is that nothing matters and he doesn't care, to erase the truth of the pain he feels because he does care. Obsessively. His speech may frequently refer to nihilistic/existential philosophies, but all his actions are to fight against the abyss. The real nihilists are the murderers he's pursuing. Hart calls him out this conflict in episode 3:
    Hart: For a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Of a sort.
    Rust: What is this, some kind of hillbilly bunny ranch?
    Madame: Excuse me, you might wanna talk to Sheriff Bilson before you start tossin' accusations around.
    Rust: Nah, I got nothing against hillbillies.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Ginger tests Cohle's legitimacy by making him take a snort of cocaine and then rob a drug stash house with him.
  • Implacable Man: Errol absorbs three headbutts from Cohle and a few bullets from Hart and is still is fighting shape. Only a headshot takes him down.
  • Indy Ploy: The entirety of Cohle's escape from the ghetto in Beaumont, TX was pretty much improvised. Whatever plan he had in mind to capture Ginger, it was useless the moment one of the bikers shot a hostage.
  • Informed Attribute: One of Errol Childress's two distinguishing physical features is supposed to be his great size, but he's actually no taller than Cohle when they finally meet. Errol is frequently described as a "tall man" by witnesses. Cohle laments not being able to notice Errol's height when they first met because Errol was sitting down. One of Errol's victims even calls him a "giant," which is particularly odd given that she was also tormented by Reggie Ledoux, whose height is listed as 6'7 and is visibly a head taller than Hart.
  • The Insomniac: Cohle.
    Cohle: I don't sleep. I just dream.
  • Insufferable Genius: Cohle gives off this vibe when he talks about his philosophic views.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Cohle has such a prominent pair that it's almost a deconstruction because it shows what a psychological wreck a person becomes by wearing them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Cohle comes across as abrasive and is extremely cynical about humanity in general, but when he shows up drunk to dinner with Hart's family, he genuinely apologizes. Also, even though Marty tries to arrange an alibi for him to leave gracefully, Rust stays because he finds that he actually enjoys spending time with Marty's family, more than he thought he would.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ginger gets dumped in a ditch by Cohle, but otherwise escapes all punishment for his drug stash invasion and general scumbaggery.
    • Cohle and Hart admit themselves at the end that they could never have caught all of the cultists, most of whom are never even identified, let alone apprehended or punished, and are shown to still posses a vast amount of power and influence in Louisiana due to the lofty political positions of many members of the cult's core family.
  • Killer Cop: Hart straight-up executes Ledoux after discovering the extent of his crimes. Cohle previously executed a meth head who injected his own daughter with crystal meth.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Cohle often preaches about the futility of humanity, but nonetheless works as a detective to, as he says, "bear witness".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Annoyed at how a bartender is making him spell out what he wants, Marty asks the man, "Why do you make me say these things?" The man is played by Nic Pizzolatto, the show's creator.
    • After Cohle swaps out cocaine in the evidence locker for a bag of sugar, he mutters to himself "We really should have a better system for this."
  • Light Is Good: The occultists' mythology includes "black stars." In the end, Cohle states that the stars represent "light versus dark" as a metaphor for good versus evil. Hart says that dark seems to be winning, but Cohle counters that there was only darkness in the beginning, so light is winning.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: What happens when Reggie Ledoux's meth-cooking partner steps on a land mine.

  • Machete Mayhem: The first time we see Reggie Ledoux, he's carrying a machete, in his underwear, wearing a gas mask.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: the Cult of the Yellow King, who never take their masks off in the video.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Rust is this when dealing with suspects, especially in the interview room. He'll sympathise with them, show he understands them and make them believe that confessing is the best option. Hart mentions that Rust spots weakness better than anyone he'd ever met. Papania even calls him a manipulator in the season one finale.
  • Match Cut: In Episode 5, the camera focuses on a toy tiara that Audrey throws up into a tree, to show the passage of time. In 1995, it is new. In 2002, it is tarnished.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Several moments throughout the show remain unexplained — Dora Lange seeing "the King in Yellow walking through the forest" when she closes her eyes, the various quotations from the play, Miss Dolores' freak-out about Carcosa and "him who eats time, in robes," Cohle seeing a swirling, starry abyss during the final confrontation, and multiple references to "black stars," among others.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Rustin Cohle. Hart and Cohle's surnames are homophones for Heart and Coal.
    • Also, Ginger, referring to his hair color.
    • Errol Childress is revealed to be an abuser and killer of children.
  • The Mole: Cohle was one for four years while working for a DEA task force in Texas. Undercover cops are supposed to be pulled out after 11 months, but Cohle kept going because the DEA was essentially using his self-destructive behavior to further their own ends and could do so with impunity because of a previous shooting that would otherwise have put Cohle in jail or, at the very least, off the force.
  • Never My Fault: Hart is prone to this, variously blaming his family, job, a midlife crisis, his father's death and even Cohle for his affair.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In episode 6, Marty delivers one to the teenager who was having sex with his daughter.
  • No Social Skills: Subverted. Cohle is stoic and generally abrasive to other people. However, it becomes clear that Cohle is perfectly able to be social when he wants to be. He's an outstanding interviewer and can also adopt realistic personalities while undercover. He even maintains a brief relationship so as not to arouse suspicion. When he's not playing a part, however, he simply chooses not to be sociable.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A tape of the cultists' ritual sacrifice. We see only a brief glimpse of a blindfolded girl. Otherwise we only see the viewers' horrified reactions.
  • Odd Friendship: Rust and Maggie, to Marty's displeasure.
  • Off The Wagon: Cohle, who identifies himself as a recovering alcoholic, shows up to dinner with Hart's family drunk. By 2012, he's fully relapsed.
  • Only Sane Man: Rust feels this way when he is suspended and told he will need to attend counselling sessions to get reinstated.
    Rust: "I'm the person least in need of counselling in this entire fucking state".
  • The Oner: A really impressive 6-minute sequence shot in "Who Goes There". It features Cohle undercover in a crapsack neighborhood during a riot as he takes a suspect through numerous shootouts and obstacles, all in a true Oner. This article explains exactly what went into shooting the scene.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Cohle in 1995.
  • Pet the Dog: Cohle may be a misanthropic nihilist, but he still makes sure to individually direct two kids to hide in their bathtubs for safety in Episode 4 just before and during a riot.
  • The Profiler: Cohle has elements of this. Hart warns him not to be; if he's trying to fit the evidence into a presumed narrative, he'll bias his judgment of the facts.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The detectives get back together in 2012 when they finally realize that the Dora Lange case isn't solved yet.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Definitely. Although there actually isn't that much sexual assault shown on screen, this show goes a long way towards looking at the aftermath of some pretty horrific ritual sex-crimes both in terms of the areas where such crimes took place, and the psychological effects they have both on the victims and the people who tried to stop them.
  • Red Herring: Fukunaga referred to the Big Bad of the show as the Beast in the Tall Grass. Early on, Cohle and Hart talk about the villain who's still out there, and the show cuts to a man striding ominously through tall grass, but we learn later that this is actually Reggie Ledoux, the man they chased down midway through the show. The real Beast in the Tall Grass is actually Errol Childress, who is introduced and reintroduced while cutting overgrown lawns.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: One of the basic difference between Hart and Cohle, particularly in 1995. Martin Hart is red, being an impulsive womanizer with rage issues. Rustin Cohle is the blue oni, with a stoic and stiff personality. In the present, they've both moved closer to the center, showing how much the case has changed them.
  • Red Right Hand: The Beast in the Tall Grass is visually distinguished by his facial scars. When hunting him down, Hart and Cohle often make the same hand gesture around their chins when asking about "The Man With Scars."
  • Refuge in Audacity: Ginger's plan to rob the stash house in the ghetto is incredibly audacious. To wit, he dresses himself and two other guys in cop uniforms (keep in mind they are still bearded, tatooted 1%ers), rolls into ghetto, takes few black guys hostage and proceeds to rob the gang. It would have worked, even though gangbangers were fooled only for a moment, but one of the bikers shot the hostage, prompting people outside to retaliate.
  • Revenge: Maggie gets revenge on her husband by having sex with his partner.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Cohle has one. His apartment is nearly devoid of furniture, and he does nothing there all day but drink and stare at an increasingly disturbing assortment of crime scene photos and relics associated with the murders. The only thing missing is the writing on the walls. He later graduates to a storage container with the writing on the walls.
    • Carcosa, Errol's massive structure of bone, bodies, and wooden structures, is an entire infrastructure of crazy.
  • Scenery Porn: Or Gorn, depending on how you look at it. The series loves to show wide, sprawling landscape shots of rural Louisiana, especially the juxtaposition of the dank marshlands with industrial landscapes. Certain episodes make use of abandoned buildings such as schools and churches. Other charming locales include backwards bayous, meth shacks, and housing projects rife with crime. Not exactly the French Quarter during Mardi Gras...
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Rust leaves the force after being suspended and subsequently attacked by Marty
  • Serial Killer: The creators of the series refer to him in interviews as The Creature in the Tall Grass. It's eventually revealed that the murders are a mixture of cult sacrifices and lone killings by a remnant of the cult: serial killer Erroll Childress.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Smart Guy: Hart highlights Cohle's intelligence several times just in the first episode.
  • Stealth Pun: Rust never sleeps. "I don't sleep; I dream."
  • Straw Nihilist: Cohle spends a lot of time talking about how humanity is evil and life is pointless. Hart lampshades how annoying his nihilist rants are.
  • Take This Job And Shove It: After a fistfight with Hart in the parking lot of headquarters, while Cohle was on suspension, Rust decides he's had enough of it and quits. Though it turns out later that it was at least partially because he wanted to investigate the case without oversight telling him not to.
  • Tattooed Crook: All of the criminals in the show are covered in tattoos, some with meaningful designs. Cohle also sports a tattoo on his forearm that is probably a result of four years spent undercover as crooks.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Cohle and Hart don't particularly care for each other right from the start, but have to work together because they're partners. Even after a violent falling out, however, they reunite and pursue the main case out of shared revulsion for the crimes.
  • That One Case: Cohle is convinced that the 1995 murder case is still unfinished. He continues working it long past its closure, believing that there are additional perpetrators to be found and that the crimes are still ongoing. He's right.
  • Time Skip: Besides the time skip that occurs every time the show cuts back to the Framing Device, the show leaps forward seven years from 1995, when the Dora Lange case was closed, to 2002, when Rust started investigating it again.
  • Too Dumb to Live: the Iron Crusaders, a group of racist hick-bikers who go into a black neighborhood dressed as cops (even with their long hair and beards), break into a house, loudly abuse the people in the house, shoot one of them, and proceed to get the shit killed out of them.
  • Torture Cellar:
    • Reggie Ledoux has one, where he tortures kids. Hart's immediate reaction after seeing it is to the execute him.
    • Errol Childress's "Carcosa" seems to function as one as well as a temple.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Hart's daughter Audrey have a disturbing fixation with sex, posing her dolls in positions that resemble a gang-rape, and getting in trouble at school for drawing people having sex in her notebook. It foreshadows 2002, where she is picked up by Sheriffs about to have a three way with two adults in a pickup truck.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Invoked by Leroy Salter for Rust, briefly before he quits for good, following the latter's Cowboy Cop antics and reopening of old cases.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: We're occasionally shown things that contradict the narration of the two detectives. It's where the "True" part of True Detective comes from.
    • Cohle and Hart state that they took some time off while Cohle tended to his sick father, when in reality Cohle went undercover in a biker gang and participated in a robbery. The interviewing detectives realize that the cover story is fake.
    • That gunfight with Reggie Ledoux that Hart and Cohle have been referencing for a few episodes? It never happened. Hart shot a handcuffed Ledoux when he found the kids he had locked up, and he and Cohle managed to spin it into a promotion for both of them.
  • Verbal Tic: Hart is prone to making a "psst" sound when being dismissive of something. Cohle sometimes absently clicks his tongue, especially in the 2012 timeframe. He's also a lot more "groovy" and overall McConaughey-sounding by this point, though he does occasionally talk this way in 1995 as well.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Some media sources have speculated that the Hosanna Church Sex abuse scandal (and the somewhat dubious story given by the main culprit as to the supposedly occult motivations for his crimes) was a direct inspiration for the disturbingly similar abuse meted out by the Tuttle schools.
  • Villainous Incest: Errol indulges in this with his half-sister. It's also strongly suggested to have been done by his father upon Errol as a child, and that this is a reason behind Errol's psychosis.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "The Secret Fate of All Life". Hart and Cohle track down Reggie Ledoux, and Hart snaps and executes him after discovering two children in a Torture Cellar, provoking the two of them into a cover-up. Papania and Gilbough accuse Cohle of the 2012 murder and a few others. And then there's the school...
    • "After You've Gone", the penultimate episode. There is a group of men involved in the murders, including many higher-ups. There are possibly dozens of victims, many children. And it's strongly implied that the Lawnmower Man from Episode 3 is the Spaghetti Monster.
    • "Form and Void", the first season finale. The final showdown of the season happens when Cohle and Hart finally track down and kill Errol Childress, the Spaghetti Monster and one of the group's foremost acolytes. While chasing him into a horrific compound near his house ('this is Carcosa'), Childress sneaks up on Cohle and brutally stabs him, and buries an axe in Hart's chest. Nonetheless, Cohle manages to kill Childress, and both men survive the ordeal to become Fire-Forged Friends.
  • Wham Line:
    • At the end of the first episode, the 2012 detectives present Cohle with a new crime scene that has similarities to the Dora Lang murder.
    Cohle: How can it be him, if we already caught him in '95?
    • Followed up shortly afterwards with another one that implies 2012 Cohle knows a lot more than he's letting on:
    Cohle: Maybe you'd better start asking the right fucking questions.
    • In the second episode, when investigating Dora Lange's former lodgings, they find her diary and read from it:
    Cohle: (Reading the diary) I closed my eyes and saw the King in Yellow moving through the forest.
    • In Episode 5, when Cohle interrogates Guy Leonard Francis, a man accused of two murders during a robbery-gone-bad. The man claims to have information about the Dora Lange case, which Cohle dismisses as bargaining for a plea, until he utters the following line. It's not just the line, but the fact that Cohle goes apeshit over it.
    Guy Francis: I'll tell you about The Yellow King.
    • At the end of episode seven, the penultimate episode of the first season, we finally get a revelation of who the real killer is, combined with a Wham Shot:
    Lawnmower Man: (as the camera pans out and the lighting changes, revealing his scars) My family's been here a long, long time.
  • Working the Same Case: The reason the present-day detectives claim to be interviewing Hart and Cohle. However, they eventually reveal that Cohle is the suspect they're after. Also, in the first episode, the detectives suspect a missing girl, Marie Fontenot, may be a victim of the same killer.
  • World Half Full: Cohle, who refers to himself as a pessimist.
    Cohle: Look, I'd consider myself a realist, alright, but in philosophical terms, I'm what's called a pessimist.
    By the end, he fully subscribes to the "world half-full" view of things, concluding that the world is slowly—if painfully—getting better.
  • Worst Aid: After Rust gets stabbed, he pulls the knife out, leaving a gaping, bleeding wound.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The entire "Yellow King" cult/Tuttle ministry runs on this, with the ritualized molestation, rape, torture and murder of children being the lifeblood of the cult in the distant to recent past, and the main obsession of the series main villain in the present.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Hart and Cohle are both particularly disturbed by violence against children. They both summarily execute a suspect that has harmed a child. Cohle advises the Marshland Medea to kill herself. Hart quits the force after seeing a baby in a microwave. A big part of why the main case haunts both detectives is the inclusion of murdered children.
  • X Meets Y: Southern Gothic meets Detective Drama, with occasional references to Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Hart is a serial womanizer. In 1995 he's having an affair with Lisa, the sexy young courthouse admin worker. Rust points out to Marty that Lisa looks like a younger version of Maggie. In 2002, he starts an affair with Beth, a former prostitute he met in 1995.
    • Maggie pulls this on Marty after finding the pictures of Beth on his phone by seducing Rust.