The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Just when you think you know where True Detective is going, it punches your face and takes you down a new road. Last week we explored the horrors of fatalistic philosophy, but this week we got surprisingly political. Turns out that the root of all evil may be Christian voucher schools. Spoilers ahead!

One of the things I love about this show is that it's so smart it will just break your fucking heart. In last night's episode, we began to see that the tragedy in this show isn't just about the women and children who have been killed, and it isn't just about Rust and Marty. It's about the whole state of Louisiana, and how dark forces have tried to wreck it with lies and private "enterprise" schools that teach the Tuttle Ministries' approved curriculum. This is a show that's about nothing less than the demise of America.

All season, Rust and Marty have been drawn deeper into the world of a cult which seems to worship Cthulhonic gods and sacrifice children in dark churches. We had hints that there might be something political lurking at the edges of the Lange case that began it all, especially when a Christian task force (headed by Billy Lee Tuttle) tried to step in and take the case away from the partners. But then, they actually found the dirty bastards who were kidnapping and killing kids. Or so they thought.

But in 2002, Rust is more obsessed than ever with the idea that they didn't catch the killer. Meanwhile, Marty is obsessed with destroying his own life. In this episode, we watch as both men spiral down toward the fight that ruins their friendship, each pursuing his own obsession with catastrophe. For Marty, the catastrophe is purely domestic. After beating the young men who had sex with his daughter nearly to death, he pretty much immediately has sex with a woman whom he once tried to rescue from a brothel when she was underage.

The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Of course Marty's wife figures out what's going on almost immediately because the woman sends a naked picture of herself to Marty's phone. But it's not as if Rust is somehow avoiding domestic horror. It's just that all his horrors come from the world of crime. One of the most disturbing scenes in the episode is when Rust is doing one of his signature interrogations, getting a woman to confess to killing her three newborn children by feigning sympathy for her. But once she's confessed, his face becomes a blank mask. He tells her that the press will be hard on her, and prison will be even worse — "If you get a chance, you should kill yourself," he intones emptily.

So basically Rust is bingeing on judgement and Marty is bingeing on fucking. And of course it all comes together into one hellacious mess.

The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Rust is getting closer and closer to figuring out all the connections between Lange's death and the deaths of many other women and children who are all seemingly connected to a program of church schools. On his fishing expeditions for new information, he goes back to Reverend Theriot, who says he found evidence of child molestation when he was working for Tuttle Ministries' Wellspring school program. He found a packet of pictures of naked children, and was summarily driven out of the ministry.

And then Rust re-interviews the little girl he rescued last episode. Now she's grown up into a crazy, catatonic teenager who has been institutionalized. When he asks about the mysterious man with the scars, she does a full "I saw Cthulhu routine," screaming "HIS FACE! HIS FACE!" (Remember, another child said his face was like spaghetti. Tentacles?)

But my very favorite part of the episode came when Rust cornered Tuttle at his slick, high-tech ministry. Rust asks about the Christian schools that Tuttle helped create in the 1980s, and which may have become feeder schools for a group of murdering crazy people looking for the black stars of Carcosa. We find out that the Wellspring program supported privately-run schools which taught Tuttle-approved Christian curricula. They were intended as an antidote to "secular" schools, Tuttle says, allowing people to "choose" which education their children would get. But there's not much choice, really. The Wellspring schools are built out in rural areas, where the only other schools are miles away — so Wellspring schools become the default local teaching institutions, filling children's minds with creationism and other church doctrines. You have to watch this dialogue, in the clip below, to see some great acting and political creepiness.

There is such understated menace when Tuttle says "when we get the voucher program, we'll bring them back." You have to realize that this bizarre conversation reflects actual political struggles in Louisiana, where activists like Zack Koppelin are fighting to stop voucher schools from teaching creationism as fact. It's fascinating to think about how this show has taken us from philosophical ideas about good and evil, crime and justice, then drawn us into to this highly specific example of the ways that churches control the children of Louisiana through school funding.

From this moment of stark, well-observed realism, we move on to the climactic moment in the episode, where we at last learn what destroyed Rust and Marty's partnership. No, it wasn't the way Rust was acting like Marty was his secretary and then getting them both in trouble for investigating cases he's not actually working on. It's not the way Rust made them both look bad by snarking at Tuttle, who is in thick with the police chief.

Unfortunately, it's because for some stupid reason, Rust fucked Marty's wife. Really? THAT'S the big cause of all this? First of all, I can't believe Rust would do that. Yes, I believe that Marty's wife would try to seduce him, because she's hurt and wants to get back at Marty and she actually kind of likes Rust. But Rust? He strikes me as mostly asexual. Even if he isn't asexual, there's no way he would give in to such a stupid idea — even though he's shitfaced. Because after all, he trained for years to be in control while absolutely out of his mind on drugs. He's the last guy on Earth who would do something dumb while intoxicated.

The sex was hot, but I didn't believe it for a minute. And then we got to watch Marty abuse his wife a little bit, and see her act like a total bitch, and kind of wish this show would shut up and get back to obsessing over voucher schools and Satanism.

The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Which, thankfully, it does. We are now basically in the present day, with both Marty and Rust's stories to the detectives complete. After Marty stalks out of his interview, Rust practically runs him down on the freeway and insists that they get a beer together to talk over the unfinished case.

The plot to destroy education in Louisiana, on True Detective

Enough time has passed that Marty seems to have softened on Rust, and he even agrees to buy the beer. I liked that Marty ultimately refused to take the detectives' bait, and that he believed in Rust's innocence. Maybe that will turn out to be a mistake, but it was a good final note for the episode. Rust and Marty are on the case again, Tuttle is dead, and now it's time to find the man whose face drove a young girl mad.

It seems that evil doesn't have a supernatural source, after all. Instead, as we discovered in this episode, it comes from education that's been coopted by a corrupt church.