True Detective is slipstream psychedelic fiction gold. I know most of you who have become addicted to HBO’s True Detective will agree, this is the best show on TV right now. The writing is deeply layered and intellectually sophisticated. The acting is unnerving in the best way. Put simply, the show creeps. It creeps into your mind. It is now slowly creeping into the cultural lexicon. It reeks of strangeness.
Warning… Episodes 1-5 spoilers ahead.
True Detective has been called weird fiction but I consider it slipstream fiction. The term slipstream was coined by cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling in the late 1980’s. It has been called “the fiction of strangeness,” and True Detective is strange indeed.
In episode two, a flock of birds in flight above detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) form the same spiral symbol found on the murder victim’s back. There have been many debates about the reality of this moment. Did Cohle actually see this or did he imagine it? The key is in the shot itself. We see his back in the shot. We are witnessing the event with him. This reeks of supernatural slipstream fiction. It also represents indifference found in the natural order of the cosmos. Immortal chaos.
We learn early on that Cohle spent time undercover and became heavily involved in drugs. We see from his point of view a world of psychedelic visions caused by nerve damage.
If you have ever taken Ayahuasca, Ibogain, or psilocybin mushrooms, you know that you constantly question reality and perception. Are you seeing the strangeness in front of you? Are you dead? Is life a simulation? These are just some of the deep philosophical questions that emerge when we view “reality” through the psychedelic filter. Cohle is still having psychedelic flashbacks, and this leads us to believe everything he sees is an illusion. Not so fast.
The most terrifying subconscious idea for a human being is the realization that a three pound organ veiled in a blanket of darkness is hiding behind our eyes, controlling our perception, our reality and ultimately our cosmos. Once you really understand this idea, archetypes of all sorts begin to emerge from beyond the cosmic abyss. Monsters are nothing compared to what rests at the edge of the psychic abyss. Patterns of pure magic and chaos begin to wave and moan to get your attention. Psychedelics don’t fool you into seeing these cosmic patterns. Psychedelics prepare you for the appearance of these cosmic archetypes by expanding your grasp of space-time. Psychedelics move you from a lower fractal perception into a larger fractal perception. Like a circle, within a circle, within a (flat)circle. With or without psychedelics, these patterns and archetypes will emerge eventually for everyone, no matter how much we insist on their absence.
I know the science behind psychedelics and the brain. I have personally experience Ayahuasca and other psychedelics. I know the strangeness they conjure. I continued to hear and see strangeness months after the Peruvian shaman gave me my first taste of Ayahuasca. My space-time reference has been altered. I can see the cracks in the code. Cohle can as well. Illusions are co-creative experiences, a dance between the brain and the mirror that we call the cosmic abyss.
One of the best examples of this psychedellic slipstream is when Cohle is being interrogated in the present time:
Cohle – “It’s like, in this universe, we process time linearly, forward. But outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective, time wouldn’t exist, and from that vantage, could we attain it, we’d see our space-time would look flattened, like a single sculpture … to us, it’s a sphere, but to them, it’s a circle.” “This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”
Detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) is critical to Cohle’s perception in the series. Cohle needs Hart’s denial, his pure psychological protest agains the cosmic abyss. Hart’s world needs to be simple, or at least that is what the series writer Nic Pizzolato wants us to believe. Hart’s cosmic abyss is darker than black. He just doesn’t know it yet.[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”1451662076″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61bYnF1qfZL._SL160_.jpg” width=”113″]
A key to this show comes when Cohle finds the journal (The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer anyone?) of a former prostitute, Dora Lange, the murder victim. Cohle begins to read it to Heart while walking away from the “hillbilly brothel.” It is here that we learn of The King In Yellow. It reads “I closed my eyes and saw the King in Yellow moving through the forest,” “The King’s children are marked. They became his angels.”
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1492977446″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51SVWkMnjtL._SL160_.jpg” width=”100″]When I first heard this King in Yellow reference my first thought was Charlottr Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper (1899). I read The Yellow Wallpaper 10 years ago and the reference is relevant to the female characters in the show. I will let you unlock that secret yourself.
So who or what is The King In Yellow? Now we go deeper.
The King In Yellow reference is from a book published in 1895, by author Robert W. Chambers, titled The King In Yellow. You may want to read the book to really understand just how amazing this show really is. It deals in multiple realities, cosmic fear and occult ideas. I have a feeling Pizzolato is just warming us up. This is just the beginning of a much darker story.
Every penny of HBO’s budget is worth Cohle’s monologues on religion. He strips religion down to NLP, low IQ and obesity. Truer words have never spoken on TV. “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then that person is a piece if shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.” – Cohle
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0486437507″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51qtCXwOxLL._SL160_.jpg” width=”101″]Another amazing Rustin Cohle: “I have seen the finale of thousands of lives, man. Young, old, each one was so sure of their realness. That their sensory experience constituted a unique individual. Purpose, meaning. So certain that they were more than a biological puppet. Truth wills out, everybody sees once the strings are cut off all down.”
As much as I would love to see 6 seasons of this story, unfortunately the show is an anthology. We only have three more episodes with McConaughey and Harrelson. Both have said they will not return for another season. Next season will be another town and another cast. Who will it be?
Will next season continue the supernatural, slipstream fiction format? Will The King In Yellow reference make another appearance in season 2 as it does in the book? Don’t ask me…I’m just a futurist.
Episode 6 airs tonight on HBO. Are you ready?