Marty Hart has committed the most egregious sin in the Book of Male Antihero: he’s gone completely normal. In the parlance of St. Martin of Scorsese, the patron saint of loveable assholes, captivating monsters, and psychos worth rooting for, he’s a Schnooker. With a dwindling private detective agency, a dance card full of mundane…

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Marty Hart has committed the most outrageous sin in the Book of Male Antihero: he has become completely normal. In the parlance of St. Martin of Scorsese, the patron saint of loveable assholes, captivating monsters, and psychos worth rooting for, he’s a Schnooker. With a private investigative firm on the wane, a dance ticket full of mundane Match.com profiles, and a frozen dinner at home waiting for him, he might as well pull on a bathrobe and get Henry Hill’s morning paper. That’s commendable. True Detective has allowed Marty to fall this far – but I’m concerned that former State Detective Hart is looking for a redemption story.

I have a similar one common sentiment from tonight’s episode of True Detective. Ordinary compared to the rest of TV, not the rest of this show; Assuming next week’s finale doesn’t mess up the landing, After You’ve Gone is season one’s low point. It’s the big catch-up, an hour-long inhalation after a middle act of just exhalation. The episode shows the downside of this season’s narrow focus: there’s not much left to count on when Rust and Marty need to catch up with each other. At least in earlier episodes, those gaps are filled by True Detective’s unique take on the Southern Gothic vibe, bold directorial choices (or two or three) by Cary Fukunaga, or genuinely riveting scenes of Rust and Marty just doing shit.

Even the most enduring of the show’s many commendable elements – the superb performances of its two leads – is deadened in After You’ve Gone. In separate moments meant to contain strong emotional punches, Woody Harrelson gives the camera takes that serve as unintentional reminders of the actor’s superb comedic skills. Too bad, too, because his reaction to the Marie Fontenot snuff movie and the Tweaker’s microwave flashback nightmare were meant to be humanizing moments for former He-Man cop Martin Hart. Both Marty and Rust approach the end of this story with a renewed commitment to honesty, but there’s a dubious level of insincerity about what Marty’s big moments in After You’ve Gone should be. (Or maybe it’s all an act and he’s unconvincing in his answer because he was one of the guys in the masks as part of the state police cover-up of the Tuttles’ hillbilly dress-up games and he was found NO, NOT YET. )

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In terms of surprises, After You’ve Gone lives up to the expectations we have of HBO dramas, which traditionally ignite the bigger fireworks in the season’s penultimate episode and then spend the finale burying the ashes to sweep up. However, if you’re telling a story that doesn’t get past the next episode, True Detective doesn’t have that luxury, so it saves all the flashy stuff for last. (Speaking of flashy, the graphics might be a bit flat this week, but the episode starts with a decent zoom onto a jukebox while addressing Juice Newton’s Angel Of The Morning.) Excitement is this week: As Cohle sketches a former Tuttle employee of the Presented with stick sculptures, she spits out Carcosa babble; In the final scene, Papania and Gilbough ask a man with a suspected skin condition for directions. But as with this man’s equally suspicious landscaping methods, the episode involves plenty of circling and reunions of events the viewer has previously heard about in interview sequences.

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The good news is that while Nic Pizzolatto begins to fill in the cracks in his narrative, he’s not repeating what we know word for word. Part of it is a continuation of the unreliable narrative of The Secret Destiny of All Life, while another part digs into the depths of Rust’s Yellow King mania. Do we need to see the storage shed Rust previously denied the cops? No, but one look at the floor plan offers an unprecedented glimpse into the decaying mind of Rustin Cohle. Marty is able to let go of his old self’s deplorable traits, while Rust has insanely doused his own with a big can. After You’ve Gone isn’t the most quotable episode of True Detective to date, but it’s a gem of noir-indebted phrasing as Rust adapts his sprawl to his biggest venue yet: Life’s Barely Long Enough to Be Good at One Thing to become. Be careful what you are good at. The silver lining caught in After You’ve Gone’s circular nature involves the multiple reminders of what Rust and Marty are good at. Sparks fly between Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey every time Marty demonstrates the bloodhound instincts not left behind with his badge and gun, and McConaughey is great fun when someone remembers his asshole partner is a natural police force.

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I worry that after seven episodes of difficult answers and muddled morals, True Detective is heading towards a clean conclusion where Marty and Rust relive the heroic moment they invented after killing Ledoux to have. (But given the fatalistic way Rust talks towards the end of After You’ve Gone, things might get a little messier.) Meanwhile, the falls he and his former partner suffered have kept me anticipating that finale, and they make it easier to break the talkative, exhibition-heavy speed bumps. It goes back to the philosophy of the other bad men, expressed by Rust all along time ago: There was only so much change that Hart and Cohle could make in their official capacity as police officers. They are no longer accountable to a department or family, only to each other and the debt they owe to the women and children who disappeared because the wrong bad man died in 1995. (Speaking of which, in all the digital ink that spilled on True Detective, has anyone written about how the actual love story buried in all that dirt and grime takes place between Rust and Marty?) In order for that to happen, they had to become Schnooks . It’s just too bad the episode this happens in is a bit of a snob too.

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