Decoding the Mind of True Detective's Rust Cohle

With just two episodes of True Detective left to air, and with dreams of Yellow Kings dancing through our fevered locked room monkey brains, what clues can we derive from Rust Cohle's nihilistic existential rantings? Spoilers for True Detective to follow.

Rust Cohle's monologues may seem like drunken atheistic dorm room philosophy, and maybe that's a fair assessment — but whenever a character starts ranting about the meaning of life in a piece like this, it's a solid bet they're telling us something about the writer's view of the story.

The edited version of Rev. Theriot's revival tent sermon shown in episode 3, "The Locked Room," seems like a fairly typical "Jesus saves" revival message. The uncut version, available on HBO's official site, darknessbecomesyou.com, is a more sophisticated theological message that provides a skeleton key for decoding Rust's worldview.

The Happy Premises

Happy Premise #1: Time is a flat circle and we are trapped in eternity, doomed to repeat our lives over and over again.

Every murder victim, everyone who suffers from disease or poverty or injury is doomed to repeat the cycle of their existence. That is the Secret Fate of All Life. That is what Rust means by "time, death and futility."

Happy Premise #2: Consciousness, therefore, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We are only trapped in history because we are aware of history.

Rust believes we are trapped in a meaningless, thresher-like meat prison. He meditates on Gethsemane, the idea of allowing one's own crucifixion. He imagines he sees relief in the eyes of murder victims, feels gratitude at his daughter's painless death and muses that collective suicide is humanity's only hope of escape.

The Reverend speaks of the rain, the grass, the mountains and other elements of nature being free of despair and that we should be, in the parlance, "like as unto them." What's the reason? They are free of consciousness. Hence the quote from Proverbs on the banner above the Reverend's pulpit: "Lean not on your own understanding."

Happy Premise #3: Since we are conscious, our only escape from the prison of time is to gain a higher perspective of ourselves.

Rust describes this idea in scientific terms, using M Brane Theory. Viewed from the outside, our universe is a singular, crystalline, timeless superposition of matter and energy. If we can achieve that perspective, we can transcend history.

Rev. Theriot asks how it is possible for the world to forget itself, for us to have lost our timeless, eternal perspective on creation and describes our final realization of ourselves as a birthright from God: "In the end, we will find ourselves at the beginning. And at last, we will know ourselves. And our true faces will weep."

In other words, we forget ourselves when we process time linearly, in a sphere. We see our true selves when we see the universe without time, as a flat circle.

The Yellow King

Given the Happy Premises, what is the secret of the Yellow King? Well, from my particular vantage point on the flat circle, I'm in no position to say for sure, but here it goes, for what it's worth.

Decoding the Mind of True Detective's Rust Cohle



The Yellow King is not a person. It's a drug, or a drug experience, cooked up by Reggie Ledoux in his Dark Easy Bake Oven of the Soul.

Yellow King blotter acid gives you the fourth dimensional perspective Cohle speaks of which is the vantage point of God the Reverend speaks of. When you drop Yellow King, you see your life as an unbroken superposition of cosmic energy embedded in a flat circle, your true face is revealed to you, and you weep warm tears. Hey, who hasn't been there?

Which means that the murder victims are not really murder victims. They dropped Yellow King, traveled to Carcosa, saw themselves as they are and concluded that dying now meant that they would be embedded in eternity as relatively happy people, spared the thresher of long life. And so they allowed themselves to be killed and marked as a message for others to follow them into a blissful eternity.

The futile hell of the story is that Rust mainlines this secret truth of the universe, but still cannot break his programming. As a homicide detective, he cannot rationalize drugging people into suicide, even if doing so conforms exactly to his philosophy of existence. He is trapped, doomed to play out the contradictory role he has chosen for himself: the nihilist who wants to save the world.

Or maybe the butler did it.

Jason Shankel is a monkey brain in a locked room who dreams about being a person.