'True Detective' Talking Points: The Return of the Yellow King

A character's name brings the season one obsession back into play.
HBO

Maybe the idea of a connection between the two seasons of True Detective isn't so terribly farfetched after all.

Structurally, the show is following some of the same patterns in season two as it did in season one. Both times, the fourth episode (the midpoint of the season) ended with a big action set piece. The preview for Sunday's episode suggests a jump ahead in time, just as episode five did last season.

Both are interested in unseen powers manipulating events — and there was a further hint in "Down Will Come" that they could be the same powers.

The guy the detectives were tracking before the shootout was named Ledo Amarilla. His last name is Spanish for "yellow," and as Complex and others pointed out, "Ledo" is two letters short of "Ledoux," as in Reggie Ledoux, the heinous meth cook/child molester the season one detectives initially thought was the Yellow King.

As with all True Detective theories, the significance of Ledo's name could amount to squat. But just as Rust and Marty pinned their murders on Ledoux before later events led them closer to the real killers, now the season two cops have a convenient scapegoat in the death of Ben Caspere.

Amarilla, of course, didn't really kill Caspere: The detectives were investigating him because he had pawned Caspere's watch. If this case were a Law & Order episode, Amarilla would be the guy the cops question in act two who insists he just found the watch, but under a little pressure admits he knows where it came from and points them in the direction of the real killer.

The fact that he and his cronies were so ready for the cops — and initiated the shootout — implies that they were paid for their time. So who stands to gain?

The obvious answer is Mayor Chessani (Ritchie Coster), who has it out for Ani (Rachel McAdams) after she questioned his wife and is feeling the heat of the state investigation into Vinci. A massacre like this, resulting in the death of several cops and even more civilians, will almost certainly mean a suspension of the task force Ani leads, if not the end entirely (which would also explain the apparent move in time).

Chessani's words to Ani and the rest of the cops as they head out for the operation — "Be careful out there" — is a quote often said in earnest on the classic cop show Hill Street Blues. Here, though, he says the line in such a mocking way that it's hard not to be suspicious of him (along with, you know, every other action he's taken thus far). Yet to say this frequently drunk, power-grubbing official of a tiny little kleptocracy is the one pulling all the strings seems too easy as well.

Which brings us to the Catalyst Group, the mysterious firm that's behind the railway land grab and seems to have ties to Caspere, Vinci and everyone else involved in the case. It would be no surprise to find out that Catalyst, perhaps under a different name, was involved with the Black Mountain military operation that has dogged Paul (Taylor Kitsch) throughout the season.

Black Mountain, of course, calls to mind Blackwater, the private security firm responsible for the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007 and numerous other shady incidents during the war. It has since changed its name to the much more innocuous-sounding Academi.

Catalyst would be just the right kind of name to make people forget about something bad in the company's past, since it's so boring and corporate-sounding. Next to nothing about Catalyst has been revealed yet, and not much may be, if season two once again follows the season one pattern of having the cops catch the killer but not the people behind him.

That would also be true to the traditions of L.A. crime fiction this season of True Detective is emulating. Raymond Chandler's and James Ellroy's heroes often score a measure of personal victory, but it's always cut by the sense that the larger forces of corruption continue unchecked. We'll soon see if the show walks the same path.

True Detective airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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