“Haunted Houses” is by necessity a filling-in-the-blanks episode. It is focused mostly on the 2002 interval that we know will not advance the primary mystery in any huge ways. And even on a character level, it’s mostly filling in the blanks that most of us have guessed at already regarding Maggie’s role in the dissolution of the Hart/Cohle partnership. An episode featuring the implosion of Marty’s two most important relationships should probably feel more seismic than this, except that we’ve known it was coming since the beginning. That focus on Maggie in the “present” also adds to the feeling that this episode, while doing some interesting things on a character level, is deflating some of the momentum that had started to build around the main storyline.
Maggie is brought in for questioning, but the detectives aren’t recording her and act a lot chummier than they do with their fellow officers. Even in the early going, it’s clear that she is more defensive of Rust than her ex, which all but confirms what happened between them even before she seduces him into a thoroughly unsexy 45 seconds of coitus. Of course, she’s not doing it because McConaughey is so dreamy, but as a drastic bridge-burning measure to ensure that the flat circle of Marty begging forgiveness, shaping up a little, then going back to old ways, slipping home unannounced and secretly washing only the clothes he’s wearing. I’ve never been married and had an affair going on the side, but even I can recognize that this is some sloppy work on his part.
Rust, meanwhile, is at his Rust-iest throughout “Haunted Houses”. It’s the second week in a row that someone mentions wanting to hurt him just….well, just because he’s him. He doesn’t seem put out by it either time, so he must just get it constantly, which makes sense really. It’s hard to say which is the more thoroughly self-parodic exchange; the “pure gibberish” of the alligator in muddy waters metaphor, or calmly telling the homicidal mother that “if you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself.” That poor nutjob, she probably doesn’t realize that he offers the same advice to high schoolers, relatives at thanksgiving, parking lot attendants and the doctor who gives him prostate exams.
Which “Haunted Houses” continues to do quite well, to be fair, even if it’s not as jaw-dropping as the last couple weeks have been. The brawl between Hart and Cohle is not going to supplant the projects raid as the show’s signature action scene, but it is rough and really well shot without being too showy. Hopefully we’re just about through with the 2002 section and next week will focus mainly on the present, where we can ramp up to a proper conclusion. Although maybe I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up too far for a conventionally satisfying resolution to the mystery. Another none-too-subtle statement from Rust has told us that “this is a world where nothing gets solved,” after all. I don’t know that Cohle can live with that, but I think I can. As long as they don’t pull some bullshit twist where Maggie or Marty has been working with the cult all along or something. If that happens, you can expect the finale recap to consist solely of that picture of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera.