True Detective: Too Sure, and Not Sure Enough


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"Rust knew exactly who he was, and there was no talking him out of it. And Marty’s single big problem was that he never really knew himself, so he never really knew what to want.”

['Maggie Hart']
True Detective 


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Rust tends to extremes. He appears to be something of a mystic: he spends too much time alone, lives an austere lifestyle, and has visions. He communicates with a wild world, beyond the fringes of normality; is in touch with strange energies, and speaks with voices that most others can’t hear. In walking a singular path with conviction he has found himself in uncommon places; at the top of mountains, and the bottom of seas. Such things are the boons of the extremist. However, in walking to the periphery he has become estranged from the centre, from normality.

Marty is his link to the normal world, and normal people. No matter how much Rust may prefer his rarefied air, he cannot exist as an island: he still needs the conventional world. He exists at the borderline of society, but is not so extreme as to have stepped beyond it (or so it appears). A large part of him pulls outward, away from the centre; but another, smaller, yet significant part, keeps him in its orbit. He is connected to society, and so lines of communication, strained as they may be, must remain open.

However, Rust’s time in strange lands has given him an equally strange dialect, one that most normal people can’t understand. They are repelled by his tones, and interpret him as being aloof, terse, obscure, idealistic, and so on. They cannot tolerate him long enough to see beyond their first impressions.

No so for Marty, who acts as a mediator between Rust and the conventional world. With Marty by his side, Rust becomes just about palatable to normal people. He acts as translator, able to frame Rust’s needs in the language of normality, and through him Rust is able to act in the world of people, to make things happen. As he finds out following their estrangement, without Marty he cannot act as effectively: he lacks the language, the contacts.

As in any close relationship, an exchange takes place. Their friendship lights a path between them, allowing each to venture along it; Marty edges outwards, becomes a little more reckless, entertains wild theories and notions; Rust edges inwards, becomes conventionalised, to a degree - goes on a date, tries a romantic relationship. Without Marty he drifts back to the extremes, and to the few people whom he can tolerate, and who will tolerate him.

Chances are that Rust has always tended to extremes - I think certain people are naturally drawn to the frontiers - but we gather that at one time he was more conventional; a family man, with a wife and child. These things probably tethered him, to a certain degree, and prevented him from drifting too far out: without them there was nothing to stop him from floating off. It may have been at this point - free from a tempering influence - that he came to know ‘exactly who he was.’ Turning his back on normality, he retreated to the simplicity of extremism; a place without shades of grey, give and take, or compromise: a place where they speak a pure dialect, in a sure voice.

And so Rust became solid, like a statue: frozen forever in a single pose. He knows who he is, and doesn’t want to be any other way (or can't be any other way). His personality has very definite outlines; impassable boundaries with specific entrance and exit points. He must be tackled in a certain manner, from a certain direction; it is easy to get it wrong, and to rub him up the wrong way.

As with anybody who is stuck in a definite position, Rust can only communicate effectively with very specific types of people: those we are like him, or those who fit his shape without too much of a rub. It is an unconventional shape, and not one most people are used to accommodating, but Marty has just enough flex to adapt to it, unusual as it is. And this, it seems to me, is to his credit.

Marty is not as solid as Rust. He has a little give in his system, is softer, more supple. He does not know what he wants - hasn’t settled into an exclusive position - and so flits between poses; now the burdened family man, now the carefree youth. The only problem is that one pose threatens the other: he cannot do both, at least not in the long run. He must decide.

And so the fact that he doesn’t know himself - that he can’t hold a single position - is a problem for Marty. However, whilst you could say, along with his wife Maggie, that Marty’s problem is his lack of self-knowledge, you could, on the other hand, say that Rust’s problem is that he does know himself, that he is too sure of who he is.

His lack of flexibility condemns him to the outskirts, to a frontier lifestyle that, by conventional standards, is toxic. It seems, then, that each could stand to learn something from the other; Maggie certainly seems to see it this way. She wishes her husband were a bit more like Rust, more able to commit to a single pose; and she wishes, although she may not see it this way, that Rust were a little more like Marty; more flexible, more inclined to come in from the fringes and lead something approaching a normal life.


Perhaps what Maggie's perspective misses is the positive aspect of these problems. Yes, Rust may be too extreme for his own good, but his extremity makes him an extraordinary detective. And yes, Marty may not know himself well enough, but his lack of sureity makes possible his relationship with Rust; a relationship that allows each to be more effective in certain ways.

Is it possible to know who you are whilst remaining open to other ways of being? Is it possible to be sure without becoming a statue?

Perhaps Rust’s main problem was not that he knew who he was, but that that there was no talking him out of it. If what life demands of us is to become solid and commit to a position, then perhaps what it also demands is that we allow ourselves to be talked out of it, at least every once in a while.


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Status Quo
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In-between

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