As a preface, I had just watched Sherlock 3:3 before this, so the first time I watched it, I had a hard time simmering down and this show definitely promises to be a slow burner. Well, kind of. I mean, you get the money shot of a dead person pretty quick, but the build of, “Why are we here?” takes a while to resolve.
We start with an interview set in present date (well 2012) with two ex-detectives who were mismatched from the start. The narrative jumps around a bit but per the dates, Rustin (Matthew Mc) was interviewed in April, Marty (Woody Harrelson) in May. Marty, balding P.I. apparently retired from the force, starts talking about Rustin, whereas Rustin, now full blown alcoholic, burned out with long hair, mustache, and living off the grid, starts with the case they’re there to talk about which occurred in the mid 90s. Their first case. And y’all, this is some real Hannibal shit.
So antlers are in this year. There’s a woman kneeling before a twisted tree in the midst of sugar fields wearing a crown of antlers with her hands tied in a prayer pose. She has a spiral pattern, maybe a tattoo? on her back. Rustin’s nickname is “Tax Man” because while all of the other detectives had notepads, he had a big ledger where he sketched the scene. Marty takes pictures.
While there are observances about how Rustin lives, like his bare apartment with just a mattress and books about detectiving, he doesn’t seem to ask many questions.
Rustin, all clean-cut and puppyish, notes these little cages around the body and says that killer is a meta-psychotic. He believes the murder is going to happen again, or has happened before. Per his light reading, he probably knows how to classify it, but while they’re Louisiana State Police, it doesn’t seem like either of them have come across anything like this, and the tiny town in the middle of nowhere surely hasn’t seen it.
Now, for those who didn’t live through the mid 90s and may not be aware of the Satanic Panic, I’m really interested to see where this ritualistic murder goes. There is a nod to it in this episode where a preacher shows up at the offices and talks about the spiritual war.
I knew I would love this show when Rustin is asked why he has a cross in his apartment and he says, “It’s a meditation. I contemplate whether I would allow myself to be crucified.”
And also that self awareness was an evolutionary mistake.
I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self. A secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody. When in fact, everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand-in-hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
So, not real surprised he’s an alcoholic. He’s brooding about his daughter’s birthday coming up. They pass a billboard with a child’s face on it asking, “Who murdered me” and you get the idea that this town…something is seriously awry, but no one seems to notice. Like, you know, kids go missing sometimes, but no one’s put antlers on them after they’re dead, so they don’t count.
Anyway, Rustin is invited over to all American cop’s house to meet his wife and 2 kids and he’s not sure he can do this thing because he has issues. He heads out to a truck stop where he talks to some sex workers and then buys sleeping pills off of them. Apparently, the murdered girl was a part time sex worker. There was sex, torture, death but washed clean. Rose thorns and switch grass were woven into her crown. Clearly some symbology or ritual in effect with potential connection to Santeria, per the pastor of a black church out in the area where they found the woman. A man asked whether it was a young girl who had gone missing, so apparently, missing girls is a thing in this small, but very spread out, remote town. Rustin isn’t kidding when he says, “They may as well be on the moon.”
So the little girl went missing, the police believed the dad took her and they moved on. Another little girl was chased through the woods by a man with a green spaghetti face and that was dismissed as fantasy. Not sure yet what’s important, so just noting it.
As they move forward in the story, Rust demands alcohol. He insists it’s because he starts drinking at noon on his day off, but you get the sense that things are going to start to get intense.
The dead woman’s ex is in jail. She called him but he said she didn’t make sense, talked about becoming a nun. That she met a king. He felt she was fucked up, but…given the overtones of her murder…one has to wonder.
Apparently the reason for this interview in present time is that the old files about this case got ruined by Hurricane Rita. But this seems less routine just for sake of record keeping, particularly when the two investigators ask after the dinner Rusty went to with Marty’s family where he showed up drunk. He tries to drink coffee to sober up and Marty sets up a means for Rust to escape, but the wife manages to quite easily pry out of Rust what’s really eating at him: his daughter is dead and that’s what ended his marriage. And probably why he had to get drunk to deal with the domestic life and Marty’s two little girls. Once he’s unburdened himself, he seems more at ease.
Back in present time, we find out that Rust and Marty fell out in 2002, seven years after the case was apparently resolved. But Marty is very defensive about why they stopped being friends and he finally asks why they’re asking so many personal questions.
Rustin wasn’t super popular around the office, but Marty stands up for him. Even if Rust disturbs Marty, he respects his ability to detective and realizes that he’ll need that to break the case. Then, a pretty young lady shows up and… we find that Marty maybe isn’t the family man he presents.
They go out to interview the missing girl’s uncle who has apparently had a series of strokes. They talk to the woman taking care of him, they ask after the little girl but Rust decides to investigate the dilapidation out back. He has observed that this town isn’t really a town but a memory of a town, fading. And so it’s not surprising there’s an old shed out back that no one’s bothered to look into where Rust finds one of the little “cages” like was hanging up around the posed body. An item the pastor had identified as a devil’s trap, to trap the devil/bad spirits in.
In present time, Rust is hip to why they have called him in and asks to see the new case. They provide a photo of a woman hanging from a bridge like an angel with an antler crown. The current detectives, of course, want to know why a new body with the same MO has shown up since Rust and Marty arrested someone in 1995.
Rustin replies, “Start asking the right fucking questions.”
Exactly! So I think we have a pretty nice set up for who the characters are and where they’re coming from, so now we can move on to the mystery. I’m pretty excited about the premise, particularly in the time they set the original story because you know someone got jammed up in the Satanic panic who probably either had fuck-all to do with it, or had some idea and maybe put out those Satan traps trying to contain the evil.
I’m intrigued by the “king” and the dead woman being a “nun.” A cult leader using perverted religion to obfuscate his murderous leanings? That is so my jam.
That said, I feel like perhaps this is a series that is such a “lean in” sort of thing that it would actually benefit from the Netflixing premise of being able to binge watch. It seems like a lot of the reviewers who are all drooling with excitement over the show have seen the whole 8 episode series. And, given that after the hour it seemed like we were really getting to the point, even if HBO didn’t want to blow its whole wad at once, a double episode premiere may have been less obscure.
But, I’m intrigued and am looking forward to seeing the next episode.