True Detective’s Yellow King – The Secret Revealed

True Detective Rust VHS Tape The final episode of True Detective has aired, but the Internet is still asking: Who is the Yellow King? Errol Childress doesn’t seem powerful or evil enough to lead a cult that ritually murders women and children in the secret place called Carcosa. At most, he’s the last withered remnant of a clan that mixed voodoo, Santeria and witchcraft into a fearful Lovecraftian brew. So if Errol is not the Yellow King, who is? I think I know and soon you will too. Some fans of the show made much of the mug that tent preacher Reverend Theriot is drinking from in Episode 6. The mug features a John Deere logo – a yellow stag with antlers like the crown placed on murdered Dora Lange’s head in the first episode.

More cynical (and media-savvy) viewers like Christopher Orr at The Atlantic suggest that the King in Yellow is Game of Thrones’ Joffrey Baratheon, in a masterful bit of HBO cross-marketing.

And Variety reports that a photo posted on Fox’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts on Friday indicates that the elusive Yellow King has been Homer Simpson this whole time.

But I don’t believe the Yellow King is an entity at all. The original King comes from Robert W. Chambers’ obscure 1895 short-story collection. Running through the stories is a fictional play called The King in Yellow. Chambers only quotes from the play’s first act, because anyone who reads or sees Act II performed is driven insane by the revelation of horrible, incomprehensible truths about the universe. Thus, “The King in Yellow” is a symbol for knowledge so terrible that it cannot be unlearned.

True Detective’s writer Nic Pizzolatto has created his own document that drives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle mad – The Yellow King is the snuff film videotape that shows five men in animal masks doing horrible things to little Marie Fontenot. We are not allowed to see past the first few frames of that video – there is no eye bleach strong enough for that tape. We watch Marty and Rust (and even the villainous Sheriff Steve Geraci) recoil violently as they watch what’s recorded there. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Perhaps gazing so long at True Detective has turned me into Rustin Cohle, because I can’t help noticing that the cult’s visual symbol is a spiral: a videotape unspooling.

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