True Detective S1: The Spectrum of Man
Rust Cohle, the Übermensch
I’m rewatching True Detective Season 1 for what is probably the 7th time. The writer, Nic Pizzolatto (an Italian btw), infused many Schopenhauerean and Nietzschian concepts into the intense dialogues between Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. Much has been written about the root of the philosophical themes in this season and as you know, I am not one to theorycel. Regardless, it’s impossible to watch True Detective S1 without seeing the obvious contrast between Rust and Marty and who they are as men. Let’s begin with Rust.
Rust is what normies call a “dark character.” Rust is very much an introvert, extremely perceptive, and exceptional at what he does as a homicide detective. Rust knows how to read people. He has a reputation for getting criminals to confess their crimes by manipulating them during interrogations; many of them confess their crimes to him as a means to salvation. Very powerful. He said he can see through their eyes and people’s eyes in general. To quote Rust, “everyone wears their hunger and their haunt.”
Rust is not distracted by women. Marty and his wife Maggie (played by the lovely Michelle Monaghan), take him to a bar to try and set him up with his wife’s hot friend — he wasn’t interested. In another scene, a hooker throws herself at him and he essentially says thanks but no thanks. He is, however, tempted and seduced by Marty’s wife, but we’ll get to that later.
Rust is not soft. When Marty finds out that his wife left him because he got caught cheating, he shows up at her job and causes a scene. Rust shows up and gets Marty under control. Marty is a physically very strong and is filled with rage, yet Rust is able to get him under control simply by putting his hand on him and telling him that they have work to do.
Rust settles down Marty in front of Maggie who is visibly turned on by this. Rust gives Maggie a look of reassurance that she’s okay while he walks away with Marty.
Marty then takes Rust to a bar and starts venting about how he fucked up, how he needs to get his wife back. Rust replies “This is none of my business. I don’t want to hear it.” Marty keeps rambling again. Rust tells him again that this is none of his business, that they have work to do. Marty, taken back by how cold one man could be, accuses Rust of being “the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch.”
This is consistent with Rust’s perspective on life:
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; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe 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.
This quoteable scene isn’t why Rust doesn’t lend Marty a helping hand at the bar. It’s because Rust has accepted, as intimately as possible, that he lives his life alone and is going to die alone. Rust looks himself in the eyes as part of his morning routine.
This does not mean that Rust would never help out a friend, but we’re talking about Marty here, who Rust does not respect. Let’s talk about Marty.
Marty is a bit hard to describe. He’s physically strong, very tough, quick to start a fight, and attracts a lot of women. He has a beautiful wife and kids and tends to get drunk often. He has a great reputation at work but is ultimately a company man. He’s there for a paycheck.
Yet Marty has such self-destructive tendencies to the point where you can argue he wants to get caught cheating on his wife. He starts fucking Lisa, the typist at his job, played by Alexandra Daddario (yep, we all remember the scene…pain).
Not only does Marty fuck Lisa regularly, but he assumes complete control of her. He sees her at the bar while she’s on a date with another man and not only does Marty approach Lisa while his wife is a few meters away from him, but he confronts Lisa. Marty is not a careful man, he is arrogant and arguably stupid.
Following the bar he then drunkenly bangs on Lisa’s door, yells at neighbors who tell him to be quiet, attacks the guy she’s with, demands that he answer whether or not she sucked his dick and then leaves. Lisa confronts him at work a few days later and Marty essentially tells her to go fuck herself. Lisa then shows up at his home and tells his wife everything.
Rust can see right through Marty. He accuses Marty of doing this to himself. He refers to Lisa a “young Maggie” and accuses Marty of not being able to “smell crazy pussy” despite “all of that dick swagger you roll.” Rust is unimpressed by Marty, he ultimately sees him as fundamentally dishonest and blind.
Rust, rather than confront Marty directly on this, inserts himself into Marty’s life as not only an example of who he could be, but to show him how badly things can get for him. This is unbelievably ballsy and a form of spiritual torture, as one can only wonder if Rust is threatening to cuck Marty by constantly mogging him in front of his wife.
The chemistry between Maggie and Rust is very interesting. Maggie sees Rust as who Marty could potentially be. His polar opposite. They both have the same job but Rust is a greater man than Marty by any given estimation. Maggie accuses Marty of becoming stupider over time. “You were so much smarter when we first dated.” She admires that Rust is able to control himself in a way that Marty has never even considered. She likes that Rust knows who he is.
Rust is aware of this, and chooses to mog Marty in front Maggie very directly several different ways. He even shows up at his house while he isn’t home and mows his lawn in a wifebeater while Maggie makes him tea. Marty is stupid, but not that stupid. He knows what Rust is doing and calls him out on it, but ultimately does nothing about it.
After Maggie finds out that Marty was cheating on him, she shows up to a bar alone in a sexy red dress in an attempt to seduce another man into fucking her. One man approaches her but she isn’t into it. She gets enough drinks in her to finally go for who she really wants: Rust. She shows up at Rust’s apartment crying while holding a bottle of wine. Rust knows what’s going on and tries his best to avoid her advances, despite her physically throwing herself at him.
Rust eventually gives in as Maggie grabs his face and kisses him. In addition to the built up sexual tension between them, Maggie is cute as fuck and has a tight body; very difficult to resist. He bends her over his kitchen counter and alphawidows her. Maggie brags about this to Marty by saying she “hasn’t been fucked like that in years.”
Immediately after cumming in her, Rust realizes the size of what he just did and calls out Maggie for using him to get back at Marty, despite Maggie truly wanting to fuck Rust. He screams at her to get the fuck out of his apartment.
Rust despises Marty because of his lack of honesty. Rust would respect Marty more if Marty admitted his weaknesses or even attempted to understand his nature. Marty is not honest with himself or anyone else. Marty rationalizes his behavior by saying things like “everyone needs balance”, “boundaries are good”, and says “you know what I’m talking about, right?” when talking to other men who have been through a divorce. Marty does not own his behavior or is even mildly curious about his true nature. He ends up alone. A sad, single man who eats pre-cooked dinners while watching TV.
Rust is much more content with how is life turned out, despite also being alone. He works at a local bar and drinks on his day off. He describes this as being inevitable.
Yet Rust aggressively continued his work on his own even after being fired and eventually catches the pedophile ring he was after for decades. Rust knows what he wants, knows what he likes and has a mission in life. Rust knows who he is. Marty tried to convince Rust to “have a normal one” several times throughout the season. Rust’s response? “Given how long its taken for me to reconcile my nature, I can't figure I'd forgo it on your account, Marty.” Rust knows he is bad. “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”
Rust and Marty represent the potential outcomes of who men can become, relative to how honest they are with themselves. Rust arguably is higher IQ than Marty; Rust is also a physically superior specimen. There is likely a strong biological factor at play, but you don’t need to be high IQ to be honest with yourself. Rust is ruthlessly honest with himself and even more importantly, curious about who he is and has tested himself to his limits. Only at this point can you “become who you are.” This is something that Marty, and frankly most men, are not willing to find out, as the answer could be very scary.