HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE is, for the most part, an anthology series; each season has its own dark, twisty, turny, mystery-facing storyline, with new characters introduced and set up to lead a descent into a potential death spiral of grisly madness (fun show!). But while a new True Detective season generally means a new standalone mystery, much like its television anthology counterpart Fargo, each season does exist in a shared universe alongside the others.
“There are Easter eggs throughout that you will find, and there’s a big, big thing in Episode 6 that you will discover in time,” Issa López the creator, writer, and director of the show’s fourth installment, True Detective: Night Country, said during an HBO event back in November. “It is its own story, but it’s still connected. The spiral is there, the way that there are those dark and ancient gods (perhaps yes, perhaps not) working behind the scenes. It is the same universe.”
While we haven’t gotten to the major Episode 6 revelation that López is teasing above, there’s already some major fallout in the greater True Detective universe from the first couple of episodes alone—details that directly tie the events of Night Country to True Detective Season 1, particularly the lore and story of Rust Cohle (played masterfully by Matthew McConaughey).
Night Country, set in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, tells a story that would seem to be set far away from the other seasons’ mysteries set in Texas, Los Angeles, and the Ozarks. But one obvious symbol—that same spiral that was ever-present in Season 1—draws a clear connection. And while some Night Country viewers were suspicious of a deceased character named Travis who appeared in the dreams of an older Ennis woman named Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw), the season’s second episode confirmed Travis as the key to a vital True Detective connection.
Is Travis Cohle from True Detective: Night Country the father of Rust Cohle from True Detective Season 1?
During a conversation between Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) and Rose, we learn that Travis’ last name was “Cohle” (subtitles confirming the spelling, as you can see above). And while we haven’t gotten 100% guaranteed confirmation, we can take the evidence that we do have and draw the conclusion that Travis Cohle is, indeed, Rust Cohle’s father.
What leads us here? In True Detective Season 1, we learned that while Rust grew up in South Texas, he moved and spent much of his childhood in Alaska with his father, a Vietnam veteran and survivalist (who Rust mentioned had some “some crazy fucking ideas”) named Travis. Rust also mentions in Season 1 that his father had Leukemia. We learn later in the story that Rust spent 8 years of his adult lfe in Alaska after a fight with Marty (Woody Harrelson) that led to him leaving the police force.
While True Detective: Night Country‘s first episode spends a thread with Rose as she follows that mysterious figure named Travis (eventually leading her to discover the frozen Tsalal station guys in the form that Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) refers to as a “corpsicle”), the second episode dives deeper into Rose and Travis’s backstory. As it turns out, Travis and Rose had a long-running affair (we knew in True Detective Season 1 that Rust’s parents were divorced, so Rose could possibly also be Rust’s mother), and when he was diagnosed with Leukemia, he decided to take matters in to his own hands. He came over to Rose’s house, gave her croissants that he baked himself, talked, had sex, and then he “put himself into the ice,” where he froze to death—and Navarro was the one who later discovered him.
That wasn’t the last Rose saw of Travis though; she mentions that Travis only appears when he wants something. Obviously, this could be a reference to a fairly toxic real-life experience, but it also seems like she sees manifestations of Travis on a fairly regular basis, including this latest time that led her directly to the corpsicle.
How does the revelation of Travis Cohle being Rust’s father (and more) figure into True Detective‘s story?
It’s kind of a big deal. On top of the mere revelation that Travis is Rust’s father, directly connecting the events of Season 1 and Night Country, there’s also the whole matter of that spiral symbol. Rose mentions that its older than Ennis, and perhaps older than the ice itself. We’ve long thought that the events of True Detective Season 1 turned out to be surprisingly grounded—ie: not rooted in any kind of cosmic supernatural horror—but what if Rust’s time in Alaska really did get him involved with whatever the spiral is or represents?
That’s perhaps looking a bit far. But we can also return to True Detective Season 1 with a new eye, looking at each reference Rust makes to his father a bit differently. Rust at one point near the end of the show mentions that he felt his father’s presence; was he perhaps also seeing and being led by his deceased father, much like we see the way Rose was?
We don’t have exact answers yet, and probably won’t ever. But all worth considering in the grand scheme of True Detective‘s increasing lore and history.
Will Matthew McConaughey appear in True Detective: Night Country?
Back in 2016, Matthew McConaughey said during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show that he would be open to returning to the Rust Cohle character (and that he’d discussed it with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, who is not involved with Night Country outside of a credit), but that it would have to be “the right context, the right way.”
Ostensibly, a surprise appearance by McConaughey could be the Episode 6 surprise connection that López alluded to. But that would seem pretty far-fetched and a pretty difficult secret to keep given how big a star McConaughey is and how vital his character is to the world of True Detective; even the tiniest news of his return would travel fast.
The connection of Rust Cohle and Travis Cohle is more of a super fun easter egg—and one that will perhaps continue to be explored as the season goes on—than an opportunity to bring arguably the show’s biggest star back in the flesh.
But then again, as Rust himself so famously said: time is a flat circle—and we can never really say never.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.