Is Rust Cohle the Monster in 'True Detective'? Here's the Evidence For and Against
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Is Rust Cohle the Monster in 'True Detective'? Here's the Evidence For and Against

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 17, 2014 | Comments ()


For those keeping track at home, everything changed in last night’s episode of True Detective, and I mean everything. Reggie Ledoux had his brains blown out, along with a henchman, effectively ending the hunt for the serial killer, unless it didn’t. Suddenly, time is a flat circle, there’s a Yellow King out on the loose, and there’s a very real possibility that Rust Cohle is the Yellow King. The interviewing detectives think so. Marty Hart is beginning to think so. Rush Cohle went off the grid for years. He re-emerged, only to be spotted at the investigation scenes for the new murders. He’s got a storage unit he doesn’t want the detectives to see, and he’s been saying a lot of weird sh*t to suggest that he could be the kind of guy to go on a murdering spree.

The flat circle of time is repeating itself: The patterns that emerged in 1995 and 2002 are repeating themselves again in 2012, and all of our expectations for where this series is going just got flattened like a goddamn beer can.

Let’s take a cursory look at the evidence.

Rust Cohle is the monster.

  • Dewall, Reggie Ledoux’s cook partner, on Cohle:

    “I can see your soul at the edges of your eyes. It’s corrosive, like acid … If I see you again, I’m putting you down. There’s a shadow on you, son.”

  • Reggie Ledoux, before he had his brains blown out: “It’s time, isn’t it. The black stars … the black stars rise. I know what happens next. I saw you in my dream. You’re in Carcosa now. With me. He sees you … you’ll do this again. Time is a flat circle.”

  • The double murderer, who knows things. “Y’all never caught the man that did that. He’s been out there, killing … There’s big people who know about him. Big people … I tell you, about the Yellow King … THE YELLOW KING.”

  • Cohl steered the initial investigation toward Reggie Ledoux to cover his own ass, created the Yellow King in 2002 to mask his involvement in additional murders, and went off the grid only to kill again. After all, as Cohle said himself, the world needs bad men. Cohle is simply fulfilling the bad man quota.

  • Cohle is the Yellow King, or The King in Yellow:

    Along the shore the cloud waves break,
    The twin suns sink behind the lake,
    The shadows lengthen
    In Carcosa.
    Strange is the night where black stars rise,
    And strange moons circle through the skies,
    But stranger still is
    Lost Carcosa.
    Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
    Where flap the tatters of the King,
    Must die unheard in
    Dim Carcosa.
    Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
    Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
    Shall dry and die in
    Lost Carcosa

  • Look at the black stars. Cohle is the teeth inside the frame.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 10.37.08 AM.png

    Rust Cohle Is Not the Monster

  • The double murderer who killed himself said he’d seen the killer before, but didn’t identify Cohle as the Yellow King.

  • The double murderer said that there’s big people who knew about the Yellow King. Later, during the interview with the detectives, Cohle questioned how they kept the crime scene out of the papers. “How’d you keep her out of the papers, maybe you got some friends in high places?”

    Big people?

  • It seems like, since Cohle went off the grid, he’s been trying to do his own investigation, because he understands that he couldn’t do it within the confines of the police department because of those big people. It’s clear he has been doing a lot of digging (because he’s seen at the crime scenes), and he has his own theories, which he was hoping the interviewing detectives would help him with. Why would the serial killer be investigating the crimes? Why would a serial killer return to the scene, especially someone as smart as Cohle.

  • It’s too pat, and emotionally unsatisfying. Plus, there’s three episodes left, and still too much time to pin the murders on Cohle. The remaining episodes would seem to be about Cohle reuniting with Hart to prove his innocence and find the real killer.

  • That last shot was not suggesting that Cohle was the killer inside the frame, but that he was actually being framed.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 10.37.08 AM.png

    But who could be smart enough to frame Cohle?

  • There may be something else entirely at play. Carcosa is a place out of time, in another universe. Maybe the parish is simply cursed. Maybe, like The King in Yellow, True Detective is a horror story, one with supernatural elements (which might explain the hallucinations that Cohle has had).

    Verdict: Mind. F*cked.

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  • Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

    • logan

      Cole is not the killer and here's why. If he was the killer he would of shot the meth cooker himself to tie up all the loose ends. The last thing Cole would want is this guy testifying so killing him is necessary and he did not even though he had plenty of chances.

    • Nisi

      I think that Rust as the monster is a red herring - Hart repeats the detective's curse - about not seeing what's in front of you - again just before the part with his teenage daughter. This could mean that he didn't see that Cohle could be the killer, but it could also mean that the detectives are missing something. Cohle also asks Marty why the task force was so hot for their case. Why indeed?

      I think the idea of events repeating themselves is that Cohle will always be hunting - not that he's the next in line to repeat the killings.

      Dora Lang's husband Charlie mentions that Reggie Ledoux had a spiral tattoo on him - I didn't think I saw it. He was only wearing a towel so it's not like there was much being hidden. I thought I noticed a round scar on his back - could he have had it removed?

    • Al

      Rust Cohle is not the Yellow King. We see him investigating the murders and searching for the killer when he's alone. This show is too smart to insult our intelligence by making him the killer.

    • Pennylane22

      Rust is NOT the Yellow King Murderer. He just isn't. Yep, thats my logical theory.

    • JBGrenouille

      So many juices theories. Bravo commenters, you guys are awesome.

    • Jifaner

      I rewind and rewatch so many times during each episode because I always feel like I've missed a detail. This show is so smart and so rich that I just can't see It being Cohle. That's the easy way out and none of the paths this show has taken so far have been the easy ones.

    • Dennis Albert Ramirez

      Apparently, there was an interview with the writer, where he said Rust's flat circle speech is also a meta commentary. (Extrapolating his statement) We will be able to see his entire character's life in the 8 episodes, always playing out the same way, and playing out the same way everytime a different person watches an episode. Of course, he experiences it linearly, but we are the 4th dimensional beings able to watch him repeat the same things over and over again, no matter what he wants or does, and also at the whim of beings indifferent and far beyond him (his life pauses when we get interrupted or turn off the TV)

      If that is not true cosmic horror finally gaining steam in Hollywood, I don't know what is

    • PoV Hector

      I haven't read the King in the Yellow folklore so I am a bit lost whenever they bring up reference stuff from the short stories. With that said, I can't tell if the show it trying to slowly enter the supernatural scene especially with all this talk that Cohle is spewing. This show tries to give plenty of hints if you can pick up on it, so I can't see this stuff he says as just BS that wont be used later

    • kinoumenthe

      The show hinted at Rust being suspected from the get-go. It's simply too obvious to be him. Besides, I find spouting existentialist verbiage all the damn time pretty slim as evidence of psychopathy.
      On another note, I bet the "altercation" will be about Marty's wife. It's been foreshadowed too much to not be that. Which, if it is, is not especially original. I like the show, the atmosphere is great, the cinematography gorgeous, the technique excellent (last week long shot) and the acting top notch, but it's not exactly surprising in its plot twists…

    • guyminuslife

      It's not Cohle, and not just because the show has too obviously
      implicated him. Ritualistic killing just doesn't seem like his thing.
      He's too much of a nihilist. Besides which, he covers his tracks. He
      doesn't need to send a "message."

      My money is on Tuttle. Remember
      that guy? His name comes up every now and again, but we haven't
      actually seen him since the beginning, when he was a minor character
      with friends in high places and a serious religious angle, trying to
      take over the investigation from our protagonists. Judging from the
      latest episode, Cohle seems to think so, too.

    • Ladddewww

      Tuttle could be implicated but he's not the overall big catch, as he was dead at the time of the current murder.

    • ASFan

      How about Shea Whigham?

    • What if Cohle has been undercover for the last 10 years like when he went in with the biker gang? We already know he's spent long stretches of time under -- far longer than anyone else is supposed to do. So what if he opted to go under, act like one of the methhead followers of the Yellow King to try and find out the truth and eventually went rogue/vigilante?

    • dilwazr

      Remember when Hart said something to the effect of, "If you talked to Cohle, he was getting a read on YOU"? I was watching an Inside the Episode thing with Pizzolatto where he pointed out that Rust drinks during his interview for two reasons: one being that he's a functioning alcoholic, but also that he knows that anything he says in that room will now be inadmissible. I just think he's way ahead of the two detectives, and basically agree that I don't think he's a/the murderer.

    • John W

      The King in Yellow is a free kindle book fyi.

    • Jenn Hamm

      This is an observation and very spoilerish comment...

      ...remember when Dora's mother says something like, "why wouldn't a man bathe his own daughter?" That was such a creepy statement and so seemingly out of the blue. And when Cohle and Hart discover those kids, they are filthy. The boys legs are covered in dirt. I was also surprised a boy was captured at all. Two cents, anyone?

    • Ladddewww

      It makes you think that the old bitty visited the Ledoux meth-ranch at some point eh?

    • Boo_Radley

      Too obvious.

    • Three_nineteen

      I just caught up with this show, so I don't know if it has been discussed before, but I'm going to indulge in some wild speculation that may or may not have something to do with the central mystery.

      I think Marty is the one who molested his daughter. He didn't seem that upset when she drew those explicit pictures - didn't really ask about where she saw the image she drew, and accepted the lame "my friends dared me" excuse. Plus, if you remember, when they were talking about it, she was laying on top of him, which could indicate she was playing "Daddy's favorite" - currying favor with her abuser. Marty had been drinking and messing around for about a year in 1995. He said it was because of his dad dying, but it could also be because of the guilt he felt for what he did/ was doing. In 2002 when she (Audrey?) was found in the car with those two boys, he acted like a horrified and enraged father. Of course, looked at another way, he also acted like a jealous lover, just like when he lashed out at Rust for talking to Maggie and broke into his girlfriend's apartment and threatened her date. All the talk about "family" is kind of creepy too (to me, at least).

      When Marty and Maggie got back together and he "reformed", he could be saying that he stopped. The 2002 incident between Rust and Marty could be that Rust found out, and maybe the divorce was because Rust told Maggie or she found out somehow.

      There are some things that contradict this theory. Marty keeps saying things like he was "looking at the wrong clues", and "the answer was right under my nose". That indicates he found out someone close to him did it and he just couldn't see it. Maybe the grandfather, since there was really no reason to have him in one scene in one episode unless he is important later. Maybe Maggie? Not really any evidence for that I can see, although that would really subvert expectations.

      Maybe Rust. The camera did a weird thing (technical term, I know) when Rust was looking at the girls once. I figured it was because of Rust's own daughter, but it could be because he was thinking about or already abusing her. Marty thought Rust was at his house to talk to Maggie, but Rust could have been scoping out the kids. Then in 2002 Marty finds out, and etc. But if that were true I don't see why Marty would keep quiet about it or pretend to not hate Rust.

      Then, of course, there is the scene where the younger daughter was wearing a CROWN, and Audrey(?) took the CROWN away from her sister put it on her own head, and then threw it away. If Marty is the molester, then that might be a clue that he is the murderer (at least for the 2012 killing). A crown might have played a role in the molestation, maybe as a gift for keeping her mouth shut, and that manifested into an integral part of the murders. If Marty is not the molester, then maybe the crown means the molester is also the murderer or connected to the murderer - did she go to the Tuttle school, maybe?

    • Jiffylush

      I hate this theory but the drawings were enough to plant it in my head. Seemed to me like his reaction to the mistress (young woman) fucking someone else was similar to his daughter being found with two guys.

      Again I hate this theory.

    • Three_nineteen

      Me too.

      If it weren't for all the Yellow King stuff, I would probably be right. But since Carcosa is embedded into the series, I agree with Lee that it will most likely turn out to be the grandfather being one of Tuttle's cult.

    • Lee

      I don't think it's that simple. Remember when Marty caught his daughters playing gang rape with their barbies? Then the older daughter gets caught with the drawings, then as a teen, caught with 2 men. The clues have been under his nose the whole time - the daughter is part of their case. Someone has been taking her to ritual meetings; maybe the rich grandfather.

      Everything around them is laced with clues leading to the cult of the yellow king. I think it's likely that those involved in the cult have read the mysterious play hinted at by Chambers and Lovecraft etc in their stories, and this series is being made to add to the mythology.

    • Sean

      I thought something similar. But the more I think about it, I think it is just a distraction. I honestly don't think either man is involved. They aren't good men. But they aren't evil either. The world around them is.

    • emmalita

      Yes, Marty seems more perplexed by his daughter than like her abuser. The grandfather though, he seems suspicious.

    • Ladddewww

      It just feels like we're being feinted with Cohle as viewers only to find out it's Marty at the end. Watching it over in 2D is gonna be crazzzy

    • lowercase_ryan

      I can't believe Hart executing LeDoux hasn't sparked more theories that he's the one and trying to cover his ass.

      The execution seemed way out of place though.

    • Ladddewww

      That scene was eerily similar to the end of Se7en. That said, its awfully convenient for the arresting detective to murder the "murderer" before he's had a chance to explain the elaborate sense of his crimes and explain the multiple implications that this was not an isolated murder.

    • Merski

      I don't know. It looked like the execution was triggered by the horror of seeing the kidnapped children. As a father and family man he reacted impulsively. It seems entirely plausible to me.

    • lowercase_ryan

      I guess. I don't know, for someone who has never shot someone that was still a little off to me. Oh well.

    • Jiffylush

      It didn't seem like there was any sort of premeditation or anything to it, I thought it was a genuine reaction to the horrifying discovery.

    • Lee

      Something may have happened to his older daughter. Something that sparked the sexually explicit drawings and the doll group rape/group sex scene. And I think Hart may suspect this unconsciously. Or maybe just the possibility of losing his kids meeting head on with witnessing the horrors of what happen to the children he found... people snap sometimes.

    • Ladddewww

      I'm betting that Marty's father-in-law is a member of whatever secret society is behind this shit, and he molested the older daughter. Marty's tortured by the fact that it was done right under his nose and he was too busy trying to save the world for other people that he never noticed.

    • Drew Morton

      I'm assuming it's the religious Gov (?) Tuttle and his staff behind it. Use "Satanic panic" to solidify their own position in the culture.

    • abell

      Crazy unsubstantiated theory. Cohle is not the Yellow King. The Yellow King is still out there. Ledoux had ties to him, as did double murderer. Ledoux's clearly a bad man as he was abducting children, and speaking thematically, so it seems unlikely that Cohle luckily put them on the path of a murder while covering his own murder. The Yellow King is a big fish,and Cohle's been off the grid collecting evidence. Cohle committed and staged the new murder to flush out the Yellow King. I firmly believe Cohle to be capable of murder, but, only as it's necessary to him, unlike a serial killer who's doing it for fun.

    • lowercase_ryan

      how would staging the murder flush out the yellow king?

    • abell

      No idea. But, Cohle's crazy like a fox, so who knows? I'm just spitballing, trying to find a plausible middle way.

    • lowercase_ryan

      I agree with everything else you said but I don't think he'd kill anyone. Just my impression.

    • Art3mis

      He killed the other guy on Ledoux's land to cover up Hart murdering Ledoux. I don't know if I buy that he's committed any of the ritual murders, but he's definitely not above killing people to help himself out.

    • emmalita

      Actually, he didn't. The other guy ran into his own explosive device. Cohle fired the machine gun to make it look like they were under fire and helped cover up the murder of Reggie Ledoux

    • emmalita

      I don't think Rust or Marty are the Monster, I think they are the strangers wandering in the wasteland.

    • Dennis Albert Ramirez

      I agree. If the writers are taking the King in Yellow source material for what it is worth, the exposure to the works of the Yellow King in their universe, whatever it actually turns out to be, brings Cole to a personal madness/obsession, even if it's directed to a noble goal of solving the murders.

    • becks2point0

      What happens with the Dr. girlfriend is my question? The cops seemed to be hinting at something with her but I can't tell if I was just misinterpreting what they were saying. Did anyone catch more of that than I did?

    • Jiffylush

      She seems so minor that I was surprised she got a mention at all, it did peak my interest if something wasn't going to happen with/to her.

    • becks2point0

      I kept thinking that maybe she was a part of the piqued interest in Cohle or something to that effect. She got a big promotion so maybe she became involved with some people in high places? I can't entirely remember how they said what they said about her but it made her sound more significant than just some girlfriend he had for a few months. I may have to rewatch.

    • Ladddewww

      Marty says that she and Rust broke up and she became the director of a local hospital.

    • becks2point0

      Thanks. I did see that part but I thought it seemed that the detectives mentioned her as though she had some significance in their case or their timeline but without elaborating.

      I may have simply misinterpreted what they were saying though.

    • Merski

      Ok, I know everyone is obsessing about Cohle - and rightly so, since he's the more interesting character. But can we talk about Marty?
      He went on and on about not appreciating his family enough this episode to the point that now I'm starting to sincerely hope the show is not setting up a scenario where his rebelious teenage daughter gets kidnapped and murdered. I hope this show really is better than this!

    • Jifaner

      I think the older daughter is involved, mainly because of Marty's "the answer was right in front of me" statements. I don't think she will be killed off, it's more likely to me that she will be the the final would-be victim they save.

    • KZoeT

      His verbal and physical violence toward women (the mistress and his daughter) is interesting and points to deep issues but I'm not sure Marty is the killer.

      I am wondering, however, if Marty is the one with connections to "big men". His father-in-law seems rich and potentially powerful.

    • Merski

      Um, I think you misunderstood my comment. I was not talking in the context of Marty being the killer. Just that his family situation is being brought up and I hope it doesn't lead to his daughter being one of the victims.

    • e jerry powell

      She is turning into a little demon, though.

    • Camaria1

      I thought Charlie ( in prison? ) said Reggie Ledoux had the spiral tattoo on his back? I never saw that tattoo on Reggie in any of the scenes. Did I miss that?

    • BetterCallSaul

      I think Charlie said it was a brand. It was on the middle of his back in the scene at the cookhouse.

    • lowercase_ryan

      go back and look, he has a scar on his back that looks like a spiral tattoo. Either he was branded or he had it cut out.

    • lowercase_ryan


    • lowercase_ryan

      The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I cannot wait for the Blu-Ray box set with all of the extras. That's going to be one hell of a delicious way to spend a weekend.

    • But who could be smart enough to frame Cohle: Marty. He's my pick.

    • lowercase_ryan

      I didn't downvote you though.

    • e jerry powell

      Neither did I.

    • lowercase_ryan

      I think you overestimate his capabilities.

      I mean, I could be underestimating them...but I'm not. ;)

    • lowercase_ryan

      He's not the murderer/Yellow King. He's just not.

    • BetterCallSaul

      I don't think it's that kind of show either. In his interview in the Daily Beast, Pizzolatto basically says he's not trying to trick the audience. I took that to mean that we're not dealing with an insomniac serial killer who voluntarily comes in to answer questions about a murder he committed, covered up in mind-bending fashion, and then continued to investigate. Plus, if he were the killer, how could he have banked on Marty killing Ledoux?

    • pajiba

      Sound theory, sir.

    • lowercase_ryan

      I started to get into why he wasn't and I gave up. All the reasons above for him not being the killer ring true. None of the things which implicate him hold water, imo.

    • manting

      Rust is not the King in Yellow. The King in Yellow is a supernatural being, not a human. This show is going to take a hard left turn into the Cthulhu mythos in the near future. The head of the uber christian group that appoints the task force is a worshiper of the old ones, as are several other powerful people in Louisiana. Cole will pursue this to the top leading to his estrangement from his partner, who is a career man with a family to protect. Cole is alienated for his belief of powerful people worshiping the Great Old Ones and leaves the force to pursue his own investigation. Cole is a murderer in that he kills the uber christian guy who appoints the task force - the guy who "mixed his meds" - after his private investigation leads him to him. “Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

    • L.O.V.E.

      The compelling evidence of cohle as the killer is the hallucinations and trouble sleeping. Think fight club. he is two beings in one body. his conscious state doesnt know what he has been doing in the night, but his subconscious steers him towards all this evidence. he has in essence been trying to catch himself this whole time.

      (That said, I don't think he is the killer)

    • emmalita

      I agree. I think Rust has the intelligence, imagination and passion to commit the murders, but he lacks the kind of belief that would drive him to commit such a spiritual crime. Marty just doesn't have the imagination or artistic bent for to be the murderer. He's smart, but he isn't creative.

    • psemophile

      The show is too smart for Rust to be the killer. Too smart.

    • It's not that smart. It's vast "rich white guy" conspiracy, ala LAW AND ORDER, with Billy Lee Tuttle as the central bad guy, or at least the connected to the main bad guys. Bet my bottom dollar. Plenty of evidence, but I'm not a ranter. Just... Look at that guy killing himself in the jail cell... They're finger Cohle because the higher ups are aiming them towards him.

    • Random_Disqus_Guy

      I agree. From episode 1 I thought the 2012 detectives were looking at Rust for their case. No way is THAT the big twist.

    • Guest

      Nope. Rust is not the Yellow King / killer.

      *God I'm gonna miss McConaughey and Harrelson when their turn ends.

      **Hamm / Mad Men is gonna get screwed again as there is no way McConaughey / True Detective doesn't get all the Emmys next year (and deservedly so).

      ***But who could be smart enough to frame Cohle?

      I doubt it be a frame job more likely just a series of coincidences and leaps that could put Rust in the jackpot (same reasons the two detectives thinks he's a suspect now). If anything Rust is too smart for his own good and I hope he has another tool box full of guns / favours to get himself out of if it comes to that.

    • Slytherin Sister

      Even if it was in Drama Series, it's biggest competition would be Breaking Bad not Mad Men. But, I think it's going into Miniseries where it will win everything.

    • Guest

      Does B.B. still count for this year / 2015 presentation?

    • e jerry powell

      If it ran new episodes after the end of May sweeps, then yes. The eligibility period begins June 1 every year.

    • lowercase_ryan

      McConaughey is winning everything. At this point it's not even about Hamm getting screwed, I just don't see how he can be good enough to steal it from MM.

    • Guest

      Hamm's performance as D.D. is like the Michael Jordan of acting and it is mind blowing for me he hasn't won a single Emmy since Mad Men's run began.

    • lowercase_ryan

      He's had crazy competition. Jeff Bridges should have never won it though.

    • Mentalcase

      I think you mean Jeff Daniels for The Newsroom. I wholeheartedly agree. Cranston trumps everything.

    • Three_nineteen

      People are speculating that True Detective will enter in the Miniseries category instead of Drama, like American Horror Story does.

    • Guest

      True, but I've never understand how AHS falls in that category or the category in general.

    • DarthCorleone

      It's reasonable that AHS gets to be a miniseries. What doesn't make sense is that a miniseries with that many episodes and a TV-movie compete in the same category.

    • e jerry powell

      You're not wrong. Mary-Louise Parker never had to compete in the miniseries category.

      Unless, of course, it's a question of where TPTB choose to submit the show.

    • Three_nineteen

      Each season of AHS is supposed to stand on its own as a complete story. The next season, the characters, plot, and most if not all of the actors change, and there is no continuity between seasons. So, it's like a network decides to do one miniseries a year, but uses the same creator, writers, and producers to make each one. True Detective will be the same way.

    • lowercase_ryan

      it is intended to be an anthology. Which I think is brilliant.

    • Arran

      Yeah, the most compelling evidence that it's NOT Rust is the simple fact that there are three episodes to go and it would be fucking strange for the show to show its hand that early. If it were him it'd be more likely to be a last-second "DID WE JUST BLOW YOUR MIND" twist, and the show is too smart for that.

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