'True Detective' Won't Let Hookers Be a Scapegoat

Returning to HBO’s incredible drama True Detective is both easy and incredibly difficult. The incredibly visceral violence committed against women is not presented as a normal occurrence dropped on the heads of worthless fringe victims, like Dory the hooker — something we should be desensitized to so that we can return to the true task at hand which is, of course, crime-solving — but as an exception to everyday crime and worth all of our attention.

We begin the second episode of the series as Hart and Cohle interview friends of their main victim, Dory, and those who knew her say she was high and loopy. Immediately, Hart says she sounds sad and that she was an easy target. At first, he seems rather quick to blame the misguided youth for her circumstances — “You know what tweakers get up to.” Cohle, as usual, is more sympathetic, suggesting that she was seeking meaning and vision — “She was just chilling in the water, man.”

Back in 2012, the investigators get to the circumstances that led to Cohle’s depression. He tells them about how his daughter died in a car accident at two years old and that his marriage couldn’t handle it. It’s why he’s so good at his job as a detective. He admits he can be hard to live with and critical, but that’s what makes him right for the job. While he’s considered “the weird one” at the precinct, he’s actually considerably talented and primed for detective work. (We learned this last week, but now we're learning it better.)

On the other hand, the supposedly perfect one, Hart, is drunk and calling his young mistress. While Cohle’s “strange behavior” makes him an incredible detective, Hart justifies his extramarital affairs in a remarkably typical fashion. “You gotta take your release where you find it … In the end it’s for the good of the family.” Seconds later, his non-family “girlfriend” is naked, handcuffing him, and gyrating naked on top of him. That's definitely what “good for the family” looks like.

At the same time, Cohle is seeking his own release, but not quite the same way as Hart. He’s with a hooker, but he’s only seeking Quaaludes from her. (Only.) She’s insistent that he needs some sexual action as well, but unlike Hart, he’s more interested in making himself "normal" enough to continue on the hunt for information. She’s worried about what he can do to her, as a cop, and he only says that she’s right. He does have the capacity to do something dangerous, but he does nothing, knowing that he exists on the same fringes she does.

But as interesting as it is to see the expected roles between Cohle, the loose cannon, and Hart, the straight cop, reverse, the duo is onto the next steps of their murder investigation. They come to Dory's old compound which is full of young hookers and led by a charred older woman with a cat on a leash. Once the leader understands that Dory’s dead, she sends in a younger woman to speak to Cohle and Hart about knowing Dory. She says Dory taught her “how to be,” but all she knows now is that Dory started going to church to “hopefully” turn things around. Dory did, however, leave a bag.

Hart — who’s been established as the unfeeling, judgmental cop in all areas aside from Cohle, who he defends to the captain — notes that girl is not 18, and is ready to bust the entire operation though their main goal is to solve the murder. Instead of letting him continue his bust, Dory’s madame schools Hart. Before Dory’s young friend became a hooker, she was abused by her uncle and thus forced into a less than savory life. “It’s a woman’s body, a woman’s choice,” she says of the young girls who choose to be hookers in her service.

She’s not exactly trumpeting hooking as an empowering position, but she does pinpoint the exact reason men — including so many televised cops — have such issues with hookers from the get-go: “Girls walk this earth all the time screwing for free,” but when they add business “suddenly you don’t own it the way you thought you did.” She doesn’t make prostitution alright or average, but she does take away the stigma that assumes women forced into it are somehow lesser. Despite his rush to judge, Hart still leaves and hands the young prostitute some cash, asking her to find something different to do. While he does that, Cohle figures out that in Dory’s diary (which was in the bag that she left behind) she wrote “The king’s children were marked” to become angels. It’s clear that she wasn’t simply plucked from obscurity like so many hookers on Law & Order, but rather a willing member of what appears to be an elaborate cult.

Meanwhile, back in 2012, Cohle shares more about his transition to detective. After his daughter died and his wife left him, he “hit his job hard,” meaning when he was busting drug dealers he was also partaking in said drugs. He was unwell, and eventually he killed a druggie for injecting a kid with drugs. Rather than going to jail, the state attorney offered him an out: He needed to be an undercover drug addict, which explains why he possesses such a seemingly strange mentality. He suffers from PTSD from this unorthodox career, but almost cruelly, it’s also what makes him an incredible detective. Eventually, when given the choice, Cohle chose to work on homicide so that he might put his talents to good use.

And again, while Hart is visiting with his family, he's still knee-deep in his own cheating while Cohle is on the trail, seeking out sources. Mrs. Hart confronts her husband about his cheating, fully aware of his escapades, because she's smarter than he gives her credit for. Rather than keeping quiet, like so many cop show wives, Mrs. Hart confronts her husband. He simply responds that he works so many hours a week and that he’s earned his side game without all her “poor me, little whiny bullshit” — something viewers are clearly not supposed to take as a legitimate excuse for his behavior. Especially when his retort is as cruel as it is: “even your mom thinks you’re a ball-buster.” He leaves to find his daughters’ Barbies lined up in a position that appears to depict some cruel crime against one woman. Clearly, his home life is not as perfect as he continues to pretend it is.

Cohle, however, is the weird one, who actually seems to understand life. Speaking about his daughter’s death, he says “the trouble with dying later is you’ve already grown up, the damage is done. It’s too late” before meditating on “the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence.” This sort of thing is why the 2012 investigators clearly view him as a potential suspect, but he’s the only one who seems to have enough understanding of the suspect they're attempting to find in order to solve the mystery.

Finally, Cohle and Hart try to take what they’ve found to their captain. Unfortunately, the Christian task force assembled by the Governor’s cousin is investigating animal mutilation and seems to think “two dead cats” are the same as a mutilated woman. Cohle is downright indignant, which gets him and Hart called into the captain’s office. The captain lays down the hard truth: because of the religious fear in the South, if Hart and Cohle can’t solve this crime soon, it becomes a religious task force crime. It’s not an incredible plot point — surprise, the captain in a crime drama angles to take the case away from our unconventional heroes — but it does set up the final scene of the episode.

While Dory sought religion — the Christian religion that the task force aims to protect — she likely found death through that church. After all, who could have the hubris to yank away a life, but those who thought it was a religious rite? Hart and Cohle follow Dory’s trail out into the Louisiana outskirts, where her church was supposed to meet. They find an abandoned chapel with various markings and phrases written on the walls, but the most haunting discovery of all is a painting of a woman bound in the same fashion that Dory was when her body was found.

Originally, we met Dory as a hooker and a typical serial killer victim. But by episode two, we find that the reductive depiction of hookers as women who are simply inviting violence by existing as they do is not only unfair but inaccurate. Now, the true task at hand is figuring out the “religion” that led Dory to her horrible demise and why she may have been a willing victim.

Images: HBO (3)