True Detective
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart in True Detective. HBO/Sky Atlantic

"The world needs bad men to keep other bad men from the door."

Are Hart and Cohle bad men? They certainly have their own demons that they try to keep at bay, but which manifest themselves in The Locked Room. As the investigation of the murder of Dora Kelly Lang continued, the third episode of True Detective explored the nature of people's morality, and how societal structures provide illusionary boundaries for our deep down desires and inhibitions.

Church of Christ

One such structure is religion, which writer Nic Pizzolatto firmly places in his sights for this episode. With roles in The Wolf of Wall Street, Non-Stop and American Hustle, character actor Shea Whigham is currently ever-present, and turns up here as the evangelist pastor of the burnt out church discovered at the end of last week' instalment.

Cohle (recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey) is quick to dismiss the congregation who flocks to his sermons, asking Hart, "What do you think the average IQ of these people is?" Taking a leaf from Richard Dawkins, he rounds off his arrogant remarks with the line, "No one here is going to be splitting the atom".

Hart (Woody Harrelson) takes umbrage with such observations by saying that religion is a structure for making sure people are good. But Cohle argues that people do bad things regardless of their faith, and that religion merely serves to repress our innermost desires.

Mowing the Lawn

This openness versus repression is contrasted in the two lead characters. Cohle still comes across as an enigmatic figure, but when it comes to talking about God, religion and morality, his nihilism is refreshingly open. His morbid musings culminate in a grand speech to the two present-day detectives that in the photos of murdered victims he sees a relief that they've finally realised they can let go from the burdens placed on them through life.

True Detective
Shea Whigham as evangelist pastor Joel Theriot in True Detective. HBO/Sky Atlantic

One person who can't let go is Hart, who struggles with how he perceives himself and the inner monster who lurks beneath. He tries to give the appearance of a normal family man, but instead buttons up his feelings and both lies to and cheats on his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan).

We've seen him chafe within these confines before, when he violently reacted to Cohle insinuating he was having an affair. He loses his temper again when he comes home to find his partner has not only invited himself over to his house, but mowed his lawn.

This masculine insecurity finally explodes after the two detectives go on a dancing double date. Spotting lawyer Lisa (Alexandra Daddario) there with another man, his jealousy erupts as he follows her home, before beating up her new boyfriend.

Breakthrough in the Case

This contrast between surface illusion and what's underneath is mirrored in the investigation itself, as the two uncover the violence beneath the beautiful Louisiana bayou. After spending the night rooting through old case files, Cohle uncovers a prior murder, that of Rianne Olivier, with similar characteristics to that of Dora Lang.

When Olivier's grandfather gives them the name of her once boyfriend Reggie Ledoux, who skipped parole after sharing a cell with Lang's ex-husband in prison, the two detectives finally find themselves with the crucial breakthrough needed for them to continue the case, and not let it fall in to the hands of the governor's anti-Christian crime taskforce.

A Monster at the end of it

With the interrogation/flashback structure in place, there was never any danger of this happening. We know the two continue the case, and at least back in 1995, thought they had got their man. What is far more interesting is the deeper characterisation and thematic insight that Pizzolatto is presenting, as well as teasing us along with what is to come later in the story.

Hart and Cohle both tantalise by making reference to a future gunfight, but it is in Cohle describing the Hunt for Ledoux that we are really enthralled. He describes life as: "A dream that you had inside a locked room. A dream about being a person. And like a lot of dreams there's a monster at the end of it".

All this over footage of a giant man clad only in underwear and gas mask, and with a machete in hand, trudging through a field. The inner monsters of Hart and Cohle have been revealed, now we await meeting the monster at the heart of these ritual murders.