True Detective is coming off of two very strong episodes. The question is whether the creative forces behind the show can keep this momentum going in the final three episodes of the show.
It’s hard to say whether this episode succeeds on its own merits, or if it is coasting on the good will earned by what came before. “Haunted Houses” is a bit of a come-down from Fukunaga’s frenetic pacing in “Who Goes There” and “The Secret Fate of All Things.” In 2002, Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) continues his investigation into the ritual murder case he and his partner, Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), had previously thought closed.
Outside of one or two low-key (but significant) advancements in the case, this is mostly a character episode. We get insight into how and why Hart and Cohle’s partnership broke down ten years before the present day investigation. Detectives Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles) – two characters whose names I had to look up on Wikipedia because I’m pretty sure they’ve never been named on the show – have brought in the former Mrs. Hart, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), to aid in their inquiry into Cohle’s recent activities. Turns out Rust and Marty aren’t the only ones covering up their past transgressions; none of the characters are getting out of this one smelling rosy.
This episode offers me a chance to mention something that has been essential to the show since day one: hair and makeup. We have followed Marty, Rust and Maggie across three time periods, spanning almost 20 years. It makes sense that they would change physically over that time. Felicity Bowring (makeup department head) and Anne Morgan (hair department head) and their respective teams have made these transitions believable, and almost magical. The scenes in 2002 are the ones where the least age adjustment is needed, but it is hard to tell as the earlier scenes and the later scenes all look very realistic in each character’s case.
“Haunted Houses” is a quiet episode, but for the first time I am not disappointed in that. Writer Nick Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have finally earned the benefit of my doubt with their work. By all appearances the next episode will finally show some progress on the 2012 front (maybe even giving Potts and Kittles something to do), but this show has fooled me on the foreshadowing front before. As long as the season doesn’t completely regress, I have faith that Pizzolatto and Fukunaga can wrap this thing up well.