This second installment of my analysis of True Detective (now out on DVD) attempts to explicate the Lovecraftian and supernatural elements in the series, something creator Nic Pizzolatto has largely denied. In this installment, we investigate the true meaning of Carcosa. Please note that this analysis contains massive spoilers.
The first mention of Carcosa occurs in 1886 by Ambrose Bierce, as expressed by the spirit of Hoseib Alar Robardin:
I observed with astonishment that everything seemed unfamiliar. On every side of me stretched a bleak and desolate expanse of plain, covered with a tall overgrowth of sere grass, which rustled and whistled in the autumn wind with heaven knows what mysterious and disquieting suggestion. Protruded at long intervals above it, stood strangely shaped and somber- colored rocks, which seemed to have an understanding with one another and to exchange looks of uncomfortable significance, as if they had reared their heads to watch the issue of some foreseen event. A few blasted trees here and there appeared as leaders in this malevolent conspiracy of silent expectation. (“An Inhabitant of Carcosa”)
Robardin settles at a giant tree to get his bearings. During this time he becomes extremely sensitive to his surroundings:
I seated myself at the root of a great tree, seriously to consider what it were best to do. That I was mad I could no longer doubt, yet recognized a ground of doubt in the conviction. Of fever I had no trace. I had, withal, a sense of exhilaration and vigor altogether unknown to me — a feeling of mental and physical exaltation. My senses seemed all alert; I could feel the air as a ponderous substance; I could hear the silence. (“An Inhabitant of Carcosa”)
The lone, huge tree plays a significant part in True Detective. As explained by Pizzolatto in the DVD extras, it has metaphorical (a family tree), biological (a human nervous and circulatory system), and metaphysical (bridging the spiritual and physical worlds) meaning. Detective Rust Cohle speaks of his sensitivity to the psychosphere:
I get a bad taste in my mouth out here… aluminum… ash… like you can smell a psychosphere.
Cohle can sense what others cannot. He can sense the hidden world that is Carcosa. In True Detective the stone hallways of Fort Macomb double as a physical manifestation of Carcosa.
But that’s not the only form Carcosa takes. Carcosa is associated with Aldebaran and the Hyades, stars within the constellation of Taurus. James Blish’s “More Light” specifically pits Aldebaran against the Hyades:
STRANGER: Carcosa does not sit upon the Earth. It is, perhaps, not even real; or not so real as you and I. Certainly, the Living God does not believe in it. Then why should you?
With this long history of association with very specific stars, their appearance takes on greater meaning in True Detective. At the finale, when Cohle looks up and sees a swirling vortex of stars, he is staring into Carcosa:
The people faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my seared eyes to the fathomless glare, and I saw the black stars hanging in the heavens: and the wet winds from the lake of Hali chilled my face. (“In the Court of the Dragon”)
It gives a whole new meaning to the finale as well, when Cohle and Hart ponder the nighttime sky. Lauren Davis encapsulates the conclusion:
After Rust describes his near-death experience to Marty, Marty reminds Rust that he used to look up into the sky and tell stories about the stars. It’s another interesting “little priest” moment for Rust—him spinning stories about the bright stars when the Yellow King is linked to the rising of black stars. Rust now views that as “the oldest story…light versus dark.” Marty looks up and replies, “[I]t appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.” But as the two men hobble back to Marty’s car, Rust finishes with, “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”
With the King in Yellow lurking amongst the stars, it is not necessarily a good thing for the light to win.
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