On a scene by scene basis, “The Secret Fate Of All Life” is as grim and unsettling as any other episode of True Detective. There’s the normal murder and nihilistic grumblings, plus kids locked in crates and increasingly disturbing Hart family drama, and even the detectives’ vanquishing of Ledoux and closing of the Lang case is undercut by our knowledge that the triumph is based on a narrative that is false not only in the details, but in the assumption that it means the end of the killings. But I also found the episode tremendously encouraging in terms of the metagame TD’s been playing with its framing structure. I enjoy some structural experimentation as much as the next pretentious internet writer-type, but I am glad that the 1995 segment has closed out and the 2012 storyline will not play out entirely within the confines of the interviews, leading up to the dramatic confession that one of the main guys has been the killer all along, which is about the only twist possible if they were to remain in that restrictive environment.
Which is not to say I have hated the interview aspect. Harrelson and McConaughey have done a great job carrying it, and it’s actually at its most effective this week, as it begins to contrast in earnest the falsehoods the detectives are telling the interviewers with the reality of how the showdown at Ledoux’s cook site played out. This keeps us a little off balance, when the framing device could easily rob all tension from the proceedings. Between this and last week’s masterful closing sequence, it’s to Pizzolato and Fukunaga’s credit that they have managed to make it work as effectively as a thriller as they have in spite of our foreknowledge that the only developed characters will make it out of the dangerous situations of 1995 unscathed.