True Detective fans are completely enthralled by the HBO cop drama with some even lauding it as “the best show on television” and “the most compelling and striking thing on television since ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Sopranos’ stopped airing new episodes.”
But one piece of the show’s byzantine, weird-killer versus even weirder cop storyline has left critics and viewers scratching their heads and wondering if True Detective, as it veers into its final three Season One episodes, might be headed away from the police procedural genre into the realm of the supernatural.
Without giving away “spoilers,” viewers will have noticed repeated references by various bad guys in the show, as well as the psychologically tormented detective Rust Cohle — played by Matthew McConaughey — to someone or something called “The Yellow King”
Similarly cryptic references crop up, courtesy of certain characters, to “black stars” and a place called “Carcosa.” With five of the eight True Detective episodes now aired, the role that this “Yellow King” actually plays in the solution to the ongoing murder mystery remains pretty vague. But clearly, it will play some role.
What many viewers may not know is that the “Yellow King” is a direct reference to a book of supernatural horror stories published in 1895 by author Robert W. Chambers. Titled The King In Yellow. The first four, and best, stories in the collection decsrbe the strange and disturbing activities of the title character, a depraved monarch who rules a place called Carcosa, over which “black stars'” shine in the sky and that seems to exist only in another dimension.
But when the Yellow King and his servants cross over into our own dimension, they bring unspeakable horror with them.
Because the book was published in the United States prior to 1923, its copyright has expired. That means True Detective fans can fill the week between episodes by downloading and reading The King In Yellow legally, for free, from Project Gutenberg as well as other sites on the internet.
The theme of human contact with the unspeakable and drives a person insane appears to be one that fascinates writer Nic Pizzolato, the creator of True Detective who also penned all eight episodes. The dialogue spoken by McConaughey’s character clearly shows that he has been psychologically damaged by his exposure to certain unthinkable horrors.
But were those horrors purely human, or did they have some otherwordly element. That’s what the critics attempting to read between the lines of True Detective are still trying to figure out.
“There is an actual person called in the Yellow King in the world of True Detective,” writes Kevin P. Sullivan at MTV News. “While it’s highly unlikely that there is anything supernatural about him, he is very powerful and still claiming victims.”