Liminalist # 27: There Is No Surface (Discussing True Detective with Heather Poirier)


This podcast is accompanied by a two-part article, “The World Itself: Powerlessness, Fantasy, Transportation Systems & Lost Masculinity in True Detective 2.

First of a two-part psycho-exploration of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective season 2 with Lovecraftian Heather Poirier, on comparisons to season 1, the armature of espionage, plot as a delivery device, the implacability of archetypal forces, Greek tragedy and the underworld, the death drive, Oedipus, the scapegoat mechanism, and the structure of detective fiction, class structure, expanding agency, and Frank’s failed ascendancy, transportation and double society, Frank’s naive bid for legitimacy, the inaccessibility of multi-generational lines of power, ancestral poisons, tearing apart the tropes, intentional opacity of plot, season two’s midway slump, sound and texture in season 2, parallels with The Counselor, the bleakness of defeat, the irony and futility of Greek tragedy, Pizzolatto’s sowing of doubt & fanning the tiny flame of hope, killing Frank, Frank’s will to power and the walk into the abyss, Woodrugh and the power of concealment, confounding expectations, season 1 backing away from the implications of conspiracy, social engineering and unrevealed hidden agendas, the ancient impulse, the impossibility of justice, a Pavlovian system, the protecting wall, controlling Woodrugh, the reward-and punishment control system, Antigone’s quest to bury her brother, Ray & Antigone’s core pain, who is in who’s underworld, the art of handling people by keeping them triggered, gods like men/men like gods, everybody gets touched, innocence unregained, what is immortality, money & children, children as currency, how Woodrugh is handled, masculine impotence and lack of autonomy, the id and the eternal return, Woodrugh’s death plan, the American Dream and the child within, the puer aeternus, the new Eden, “new year, new you,” being locked in the past, having all your boxes ticked and fate sealed, getting to the core pain, acceptance of pain and maturation, autonomy through defeat, the beginnings of integrity, Ray’s broken pieces, Colin Farrell’s facial hair, why cops are less effective, the necessity of sacrifice, the false hope of leaving the underworld, Pizzolatto’s use of names and language, conspiracy culture and season 1, everybody becomes an investigator, the absence of interrogations in season 2, fair play in detective fiction, Mad Men a soap opera about social engineering, Don Draper’s Esalen epiphany and the spiritualization of advertising, Snow Crash and weaponized memes, The King in Yellow, the wages of the American Dream.

Heather Poirier’s blog

Songs: “Bad Vibrations,” by The Black Angels;  “Palida Luna” by Lidya Mendoza; “Intentional Injury” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy; “Risk” by Alexandra Saviour; “Slippershell” by Kristin Hersh.

8 thoughts on “Liminalist # 27: There Is No Surface (Discussing True Detective with Heather Poirier)”

  1. I really enjoyed this conversation (I’ve enjoyed all of your podcasts I’ve listened to) – thanks.

    It was clear to me after the second or third episode of True Detective that I’d have to watch it again, maybe I will. It was also clear that it was going to be a lot of work to follow what was being presented and that there wouldn’t be any redemption. I fell asleep during every episode (my own form of escape?) and would go back later and pick it back up but of course it was even more disjointed. I just found it relentless, grinding, hopeless – very difficult.

    It’s the lack of redemption I suppose; the banality of evil; the exploration of flies caught in a web and the description of it’s end, mapping the subtleties and nuances of it’s struggle knowing it’s doomed but wanting to hope. Needing a hook, a direction that may lead to escape…a house to renovate?

    On another note you need not look to the corruption that’s coming to light in England. As you live in Hope (ha) you’re surrounded, it’s at hand and present – no need to buffer it with time and space. It’s no coincidence that BC has a large native population and E. Van. is one of the “worst” neighbourhoods in N.A. . It’s the final flush for the broken. There are rumours of something much darker and deeper in the Robert Pickton story. Then of course…

    My wife works with native children and it’s a huge generational, entrenched problem. The Native community doesn’t (know how) really want to address it though, the scabs still bleed. Of course it’s not just limited to the Native community either, that sort of thing doesn’t discriminate but that was so systemic and remains so unacknowledged.

    • Yes I am familiar with much of this, inc the Pickton case via my wife. I also thought of Gabor Mate, but haven’t pursued it yet. Thanks for the reminder.

      The UK thing is CLOSER to home for me, however, because it’s my personal history.

  2. Great conversation. So much material.

    There were several scenes from the series that really took my breath away but I have to say the relationship between Ray and his boy was the most poignant. As someone who lost her parents rather early in life I think a lot about forging healthy, strong nonfamilial relationships. Not an easy task because our (and by this I mean humanity’s) culture/biology demands blood bonds. Blood informs blood-we think of it as a magical substance that unifies us even while it poisons us. A lot has been said about parental love as being the only “unconditional love” and yet how can it be unconditional when it requires the condition of parenthood/blood. Most of our insight into Ray’s character comes from his emotional displays (however flawed) of fatherly love for his child. His love transcends blood, obviously, as until the very end there was a good chance that he wasn’t biologically the parent. It is interesting, too, that as Frank begins to work towards leaving the business/underworld he starts to consider adoption. He starts to realize that true blood ties didn’t save him from extreme trauma. It’s too bad about all the hubris, I think he could have had a great, redemptive second act. (Incidentally, the conversation sticks with the obvious Greek drama/ myth connections-but there is a heap of Judeo-Christian metaphor in the Frank/Chad relationship)

    On a comment after your essay, you speak about Chad (a name which may come from the Welsh word for “battle”) receiving his idea from his mom about the toy models (think “modeling” in the psychoanalytical definition!!)being in reality reflections of death machines. I disagree. The realization is very much in keeping with the man Chad is becoming. I also think Chad become a metaphor for the counterpoint, at least peripherally, to what Heather calls the “industrial waste” of Hollywood. Smack in the middle of this “paper mâché” world of recognizable Hollywood stars-is an unknown actor who is playing an overweight, red headed, painfully shy, possibly pacifist and maybe someone who is on the spectrum. Of course his parents doubt Frank is his “real” father-we do too! He does not belong on our TV sets. His presence is jarring because we are programmed to expect only beautiful people on screen. A lot of us probably were nervous about his future mistreatment on the show, others may have secretly desired it. People who think he deserved to have his shoes stolen because he is so softens must become hard. Never mind that the majority of us resemble Chad much more than the cops and gangsters and gorgeous whore/madonnas that Hollywood programs us to identify with-it’s all part of the blood culture (or maybe just a chimp response) to jump the fat kid. Pizzolatto is too smart to not have known this casting would stir some people’s lesser instincts.

    Lastly, the unsent voice message may have been less for his son and more for us. Did we get it? This final message from Father to son/artist to audience: “A turn here, a turn there, and it goes on for years, becomes something else. I’m sorry, you know, for the man I became, the father I was… I hope you got the strength to learn from that. And I hope you got no doubts how much I loved you, son. You’re better than me. If I’d been stronger, I would’ve been more like you. Hell, son, if everyone was stronger, they’d be more like you.”

    • Nice deep response, thanks. You could be right about Chad re: having his own insight; thematically I understand your point, but dramatically we saw how a) his mother was trying to turn him against Ray; b) how angry she was about Ray’s violence. Logically, the most likely place for Chad to have got this idea would have been from her.

      I found Ray’s line abut Chad being an example for everyone a bit much, a father’s over-idealization of/projection onto his son.

  3. It was a bit much-so putting it in Ray’s mouth works. Also when Frank tells Stan’s child that he is solid gold is pretty sappy. None the less-it is what the kid needed to hear. A good father figure has to be ok with the treacle.

    Also, I’m not sure if you covered this anywhere but the Russian river that Ani references and the cabin in Guernville is within spitting distance of Bohemian Grove.

    • I missed that.

      I think it was bold of Pizzolatto to even attempt those sorts of father-son scenes that have been Spielbergized to death (tho Spielberg maybe did my favorite ever positive father-son scene, in Jaws….)


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