I was in the same creative writing program at around the same time with Nic Pizzolatto back at the University of Arkansas, but clearly he took more from that program than I because I’ve been trying to decipher The King in Yellow for days looking for clues as to the identity of the killer in True Detective, and I’m stumped.
The allusions are clear, both to Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow and to H.P. Lovecraft, who was also inspired by Chambers’ short stories (CTHULU!) Those of you obsessed enough with the show I’m sure have already pored over all the online theories, but the only thing that makes sense in the context of Carcosa and the black stars and the membrane theory is something otherworldly, and though True Detective clearly has its inspirations in the horror genre, I still want to believe that there is one killer, an actual Yellow King, behind the murder of Dora Lange.
Could it be a group? Is it possible that Rust Cohle got too close to that group during his time off the grid, and was given to madness, like those who read The King in Yellow? Did he kill Reverend Tuttle in 2010 because, as Cajun suggested, he thought he was the Yellow King? We’re only midway through the second act of True Detective, and things are likely to take another left turn in the third act, beginning with episode 7, so perhaps that’s the twist in our future?
At the very least, given all of the religious symbolism in The King in Yellow, both the Reverend Tuttle and Preacher Joel Theriot and maybe even Clarke Peters’ Minister are possibilities to be the Yellow King. Shea Whigham and Clarke Peters seem too well known, too talented to be limited to one episode apiece, though then again, they are from the stable of HBO actors that the network loves to reuse.
Still, I like Shea Whigham’s Joel Theriot for three reasons.
First, in the full six-minute sermon that Preacher Theriot gave, there’s a not-so veiled allusion to “The Mask.”
“This is not real, it is merely the limitation of our senses, which are meager devices. Your angers and your griefs and your separations are a fevered hallucination, one suffered by us all. Your prisoners of light and matter … this world is a veil, and the face you wear is not your own … in the end, we will find ourselves at the beginning, and we will at last know ourselves, and our true faces will weep in his light and those tears will feel like a warm rain.”
To me, that sounds like a reference to “The Mask” within the imaginary “The King in Yellow” play. Specifically, unmasking, or showing our true faces, finding our true selves, and feeling the relief of that.
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
It might be a little too blunt to suggest also that Preacher Theriot is also wearing a yellow shirt (and has Elvis — The King — sideburns).
Did Pizzolato direct us to that full six-minute sermon because if offers clues, or because he really liked Whigham’s performance?
The other thing that makes me suspicious of Theoriot is this passage from I09’s excellent breakdown of True Detective’s literary reference.
A revivalist tent preacher has the unusual name of Joel Theriot, which is one letter away from the name claimed by famed occultist Aleister Crowley, who referred to himself as Master Therion, aka The Beast 666. And I had to pause the show when I watched Theriot lower his head and make the sign of the cross on his chest—because he does it backwards (right to left, instead of left to right). Given the meticulous layering of clues and symbols throughout the other episodes, my guess is that was intentional.
Combine that with the line from Reggie Ledoux that was deleted from a scene in this week’s episode (the line is in italics) that Vulture discovered in the behind-the-scenes video.
“I saw you in my dreams. You’re a priest, too. I know what happens next. You’re in Carcosa now.”
Of course, Theriot is not a “priest” (nor is Tuttle) but maybe that’s why the line was cut. Was it because it gave away too much information, or because it was inaccurate? I don’t know. I’m gobsmacked, trapped deep in a rabbit hole that I can’t seem to climb out of.
Ultimately, who the f*ck knows? For now, I’m going to buy stock in the Preacher.