If you have paid attention to the show’s first four episodes, you will have noticed the breadcrumbs left for the viewers. Multiple references, as well as direct quotes, from Robert W. Chambers’ collections of short stories entitled “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “The King in Yellow” have been there from the beginning. “This place is like someone’s memory of a town, and that memory is fading,” said Cohle in the very first episode of True Detective. At the time, this sounded like nothing more than the ramblings of a depressed, crazy person, but in hindsight it fits within the story of Carcosa and the nameless man. The story, in short, is about a man who wakes up in a world he doesn’t recognize or understand, only to find out he is trapped in time, between multiple dimensions, unable to find his way back to Carcosa. And he will not find his way back, as he was sent for a reason.
Is Cohle our nameless man trying to find his way back? His past seems blatantly shady and unexplored. We have only Cohle’s word for it, as he claims that some “locked” files contain his past as a magical undercover DEA agent for multiple years (even though Hart mentions those undercover jobs usually only run 6-9 months) before getting shot and sent to homicide. In the current time line, our questioners point out how convenient it is for Cohle and Hart to land this “case of a lifetime.” Should we be taking these literary references at face value, though? Cohle mentions in his present day interview (or should we now say interrogation) that he had wondered how many times this exact conversation between them had happened. That sounds like a man trapped in time to me.
Even more dubious are the constant references by others to “The King in Yellow,” as if it is a tangible object – therein lies the million dollar question. Red herring, or a genius ploy to present a horror series as a crime noir? With a less ambitious approach, the king in yellow may turn out to be nothing more than a crazed cult brainwashed in to taking souls and marking them for the king. This doesn’t explain why Cohle seems to be familiar with the person or entity, though. We saw him lose his cool at the mere mention of it while interrogating a prisoner. Nor does it explain why Ledoux seemed to know Cohle, or his ramblings about twin sun and black stars. In the short stories, the yellow king represents death itself, and is seeking entrance to Carcosa. Has Cohle stopped the king and his followers before in other dimensions? Is that his purpose, to protect Carcosa?
There is no denying the horror and mythological themes presented in True Detective, but whether or not this is clever writing to give the series a darker tone or something buried beneath the surface remains to be seen.