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True Detective: The Psychology of Hart And Cohle, Part III

Hart and Cohle: Human frailty, fighting for honor, and a chance at redemption

A psychological analysis of True Detective’s Hart and Cohle: This is part III. Read part I here and part II here.

Hart

This is a bad week for Hart and his hypocrisy is on full display once more. He goes to the jail cell and confronts two older boys who were having consensual sex with his 16 year old daughter. He gives them a choice—they can settle it man to man right there in the jail, or they can go down on statutory rape charges. He dons intimidating black gloves, and says, "A man's game charges a man's price. Take that away from this, if you get nothing else."

He repeatedly punches, kicks and beats them senseless. However, this is not to protect his daughter's honor. He's beating them up to maintain his honor. He feels wronged, just like he felt wronged when he saw his mistress out on a date with another man. However, the relief from avenging his honor with violence is fleeting, at best. After beating the crap out of the boys, he vomits outside his vehicle.

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Soon thereafter he runs into the young prostitute he gave money to years ago while telling to her to find a new line of work. She is now working in a phone store and appears to have turned her life around, thanks to him. But soon thereafter he runs into her in a bar and they end up in bed. This sums up the dichotomy of Hart perfectly. Helping the young under-age girl escape a life of prostitution, then making her part of his infidelity by sleeping with her—using her in a different way.

In addition, he clearly has no concept that his cheating is directly responsible for his daughter's behavior. It’s all about Hart and how the world affects him. A true narcissist, never realizing the damage he is doing to others—clueless to a fault.

Maggie realizes she will never be free of Hart unless she insults his manhood in the worst possible way, so she seduces his partner, then reveals this to Hart with a smile: "I fucked your partner, Rust." It's over and she now has her freedom. A man's game does indeed charge a man's price—for all involved.

Cohle

Cohle continues to research unsolved (and in many cases unreported) cases of missing women and children throughout south Louisiana. Tenuous links are pointing to some involvement with the governor's cousin, Reverend Tuttle.

He visits Kelly, the girl he rescued from Reggie Ledoux's secluded place. She's unresponsive, on a psych unit, but mummers about another man with scars who was the “worst of all”, and begins to scream. Cohle now knows definitively there is at least one more sick killer out there.

We see Rust using his incredible talent to gain a confession where others are unsuccessful. He interviews the mother of three dead children. It's a Munchausen by proxy case and she finally hand writes and signs a confession. Cohle then whispers to her in his even, dead voice, “Prison is very hard on people who hurt kids. If you get the opportunity, you should kill yourself," and then walks out. He is not being vicious, just in his mind realistic. It is clear once again that he sees death as part of life and in some cases as a relief from the suffering on this earth.

After leaving the interrogation room he condescendingly tosses the notes at Hart and tells him to type them up, implying that typing reports is all he's good for. When Hart protests he says, "Without me, there is no you." The partnership is rapidly fraying and Cohle seems increasingly disgusted with his partner’s late night hook philandering.

Soon afterward Maggie makes her way to Cohle's apartment to seduce him and soon they're having sex. It's not love on her part, but rather a means to get free of Hart. The look she has afterward is one of relief and being free at last. What she does not know is that Cohle is in love with her and is devestated when he realizes he was used. "What the fuck are you doing here?" Cohle asks. "I'm sorry," she replies, "it wasn't you." She needed someone that Hart could never forgive. "He'll have to go, you see, because this…this he won't live with. This will hurt him." She finally adds, "I'm sorry, but thank you" while Cohle repeatedly screams "Get the fuck out of here!"

When Cohle goes to the state police headquarters Hart is ready for him. They get into a brutal fight. Again, Hart is fighting for his honor. It has nothing to do with his wife, but how he was wronged. The partnership is broken, Cohle quits the force and Marty's marriage is over. Just like that and just like life, seemingly small acts can add up and shatter lives in many directions and for all of time.

Cohle drops off the grid for 10 years and now works as a bartender and lives behind the bar. But it’s clear that the case of the missing women and children has never left his thoughts. The current detectives think he’s guilty of the murders, but that would be much too easy.

He tracks down Hart. Cohle is still driving the same old truck from years before and the rear light is still busted from the time he hurtled Hart into it as they fought over the sexual encounter with Maggie. Cohle asks if he wants to have a beer. Hart agrees, and follows Cohle's truck—but not before checking his gun to make sure he's armed. Just in case Cohle is the real killer…

With just two episodes left, the two detectives will be reunited to finish what they started seventeen years ago. Lives have been shattered and dreams have been crushed, but time goes on. A killer is still on the loose and these two men, as different as night and day, get things accomplished when they work together. Not too many of us get a second chance to make things right. But, if Hart and Cohle are able to put away their differences, prides and pasts, they just might get the chance to earn a partial measure of redemption.

For more on Hart and Cohle, read part I here and part II here. Read True Detective: Is Hart The Yellow King here.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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