True Detective, Not Spoiler-Free Thinking: Killer Been Right Under Our Noses?


There’s a yellow king, some black stars, and a flat circle of time driving eagle-eyed fans of HBO’s “True Detective” crazy with theories, but has the show’s biggest Easter egg been right under our noses all along?
Just like Woody Harrelson’s Martin Hart said in last week’s episode, “The Secret Fate of All Life,” sometimes being a detective — even of a TV show — comes with a curse: “The solution my whole life was right under my nose … And I was watching everything else … my true failure was inattention.”

While we’ve been watching out for swirly art in Marty’s kitchen, yellow crown logos at fast food joints (h/t Patton Oswalt!), black stars drawn on creepy abandoned school windows, and anyone who might have scars indicating they’re Louisiana’s most wanted killer, we should’ve just looked at the “True Detective” poster that’s been blown up and plastered on buildings for months now. While some people thought billboard hangers had messed up the posters when they first went up, it’s that unique “split” poster design that’s the biggest clue of all.

On the show, Marty’s hair is not just Harrelson’s tow-head blond — it’s straight yellow. And while we see it in various styles throughout the decades spanned in the series, the show’s poster cuts it off at the crown of his head (yes! The crown!), highlighting Marty’s hair on its own plane, below the main image. Take a closer look at the poster, above, now that we’ve pointed out the obvious.

Are we reaching, or does this actually make the most sense of any theory? There are some truly detailed and studied theories out there about the Yellow King’s literary connections, including this gem from io9. Let’s break down some other facts.

When we’re talking suspects, there’s still the creepy minister, Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham), with the Elvis-like sideburns — and yes, Elvis was “the King,” and yes, the sideburns could be covering up scars on his face — but that seems too easy.

There’s also Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders) who brought in the task force back in ’95 when the murder case came in, and is mysteriously behind the abandoned schools we’ve seen on the show. But even if he’s the man behind the horrible murders, he’s way too high up to be the one doing the dirty work.

And, of course, there’s Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, who the detectives in the present day are all but convinced is guilty. Cohle is a renegade, a thinking man’s detective. He’s misunderstood, damaged by his sad personal past, and prone to delving too deep into the cases he’s working.

Cohle also shared a haunting exchange with then-suspect No. 1 Reggie Ledoux, who looked at him and started spouting off these words: “It’s time, isn’t it? The black star. Black stars rise. I know what happens next. I saw you in my dream. You’re in Carcosa now, with me. He sees you. You’ll do this again. Time is a flat circle.” Ledoux’s rant was cut short by — spoiler alert — a bullet to the head, courtesy of Martin Hart. But why did Marty shoot so suddenly? Was he trying to protect his partner from the man he’d just discovered had children locked away, or was he protecting himself from being outed as a killer?

Later, we cut to Cohle in the present day, spouting off to the detectives about something called the M-brane theory as he continued to drain beers and make little cross-man figures out of his empty cans of Lone Star Beer. Yes, Lone Star Beer.

“It’s like, in this universe, we process time linearly, forward. But outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective, time wouldn’t exist, and from that vantage, could we attain it, we’d see our space-time would looked flattened, like a single sculpture … to us, it’s a sphere, but to them, it’s a circle.”

That same flat time circle that Ledoux was ranting about has now become part of Rust’s theory, which is notable, yes, but it doesn’t add up to him being the killer. Would a killer, even one so close to a case that he was inspired to carry out murders himself, stare so quizzically at something on the side of a tree — something that looks a lot like a flat circle — if it was of his own creation?
No, but a killer might brush off an inquiry with a very telling detail, like right before they pounced on Ledoux when Rust asked Marty if he’d ever hunted, and Marty admitted that he had, even specifically referencing a 10-point buck he’d shot… sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The antler iconography is all over the show and the crime scenes.
Another common theme that keeps cropping up is the idea of the crown, a symbol for the yellow king. We first saw it in Dora Lange’s journal, but we saw it again when Marty was talking about the detective’s curse, missing things right under your nose. During that voiceover, we saw scenes of Marty’s daughters playing outside, with one getting the other’s pretty princess crown stuck in the tree. If the girls were princesses, that would make their father, Marty, the king… at least of that household.

Let’s investigate the Marty-as-the-murderer theory a bit more: It was Cohle who went back to the Tuttle-funded school — the school that Marty dragged him away from in the last episode to investigate another lead, if you’ll recall — and without a creepy lawnmower man there this time, Cohle was free to go inside and investigate the school in shambles. And it was an investigation, gloves and all, of possible evidence and clues, like a detective investigating, not a man who’d created those clues surveying his work. He found a few of the signature stick pyres and as the camera panned out, we could see a black star drawn on a broken window. All signs on the show are pointing to Rust, but, in our eyes, that makes him the least likely candidate now.
Then there’s the photos of Rust at the recent crime scene, brought out by the detectives in the present day. It’s commonly referenced that killers often return to the scenes of their crimes to watch the aftermath unfold, but if Rust has proven anything, it’s that he’s not stupid enough to accidentally get caught driving around and walking by the caution tape of a homicide. He didn’t mind being seen there because he isn’t guilty… but his curiosity indicates that he thinks someone close to him might be.
Maybe someone like Martin Hart, the man with the yellow crown of hair. Marty doesn’t have any memorable scars on his face, but in Episode 3, “The Locked Room,” the preacher said something telling: “The face you wear is not your own.” It’s possible that Hart, or whoever the killer is, is literally wearing another face, a human-like mask with scars on it, when torturing his victims. That could be the reason that searching for a man with scars hasn’t brought up any good leads yet.

Martin Hart and Rust Cohle have been at odds since the moment they were partnered with each other. It’s much easier, as viewers (and simple present-day detectives) to not trust the loner, the man with the troubled past, the addiction issues, and the tendency to delve too deep. It’s less obvious — and therefore maybe a more valid storytelling option — that the straight man, the family man, the man actively destroying his own “perfect” home life, is the one unraveling.

And lastly, let’s look at the show’s title: “True Detective.” Detective, singular. Could that possibly mean that one of them is not being true?

What do you think: Could Marty be the Yellow King?

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