The Awakening of a Mystery: True Detective, Revisited (Part 1)


The Awakening of a Mystery

There are countless ways to tell a story, but a good detective story usually begins with a dead body. That’s not actually where the story begins, but it is when we-the-viewer often enter the narrative. As the story progresses, we follow living characters as they retrace the past, until they piece together the victim’s final moments and dramatically catch the killer before the end. That’s how the story usually goes, anyway…

Shadowed figures. Fields on fire. A massive tree. Darkness.

Our storyteller, Nic Pizzolatto, offers the images above as the first clues in the mystery of True Detective. Pizzolatto uses countless images, words, and sounds to form an energetic chain–a kind of path–which, if diligently followed, leads to the heart of the mystery. Throughout the series, Pizzolato balances the more mundane aspects of human reality with the irrationality of human experience. Set in the lush, overgrown, and surreal landscape of Louisiana, True Detective is a story of ritualistic murder, government conspiracy, and relational conflict, which centers around two characters whose obsessive desire to know almost kills them on several occasions. However, in the words of Detective Rustin Cohle, it’s a much simpler tale:

“It’s just one story. The oldest. Light versus dark.”


True Detective’s first season makes use of several overlapping narratives. First, there is the partly falsified the story about the events surrounding the Dora Lange case of 1995, as told by Rustin and Hart during interviews in 2012. Second, there is the “real” story that we see interspliced amidst these interviews. The “real” story fully emerges in the last two episodes of the season, and eventually, the timelines converge. Thankfully, True Detective doesn’t show too much of its hand right away, but instead sprinkles hints and symbols throughout each episode. Especially important in solving the mysteries of True Detective are the moments in speech that are passed over quickly, as if your attention is intentionally being directed away from them, and many are present in the first two episodes: Why wouldn’t a father bathe his child?, “Little girl said a ‘green-eared spaghetti monster’ chased her through the woods”, “Missing girl, five years gone, report made in error”, “They’re first cousins.” The clues evoke a sense of both curiosity and fear–of both needing to know the whole story and yet wanting to remain ignorant of the terrible truth.

I imagine the entire series as being Louisiana’s dream – a vision emerging from the swamps, the soil, and the dead: an eternal dream of ritualistic violence and psycho-spiritual transcendence. It is a cyclical dream which elicits the desire to know, like a myth.

It never happened, but it is a true story.

Part 1: The Psychological Types of True Detective

You know, I’ve seen all the different types…We all fit a certain category…any of those types could be a good detective, and any of those types could be an incompetent shit-heel” – Hart

While re-watching True Detective, I began to imagine Rustin and Hart as a compensatory pair of psychological types.  They are not opposites, but rather, they have developed different ways of taking in information and energy, and perhaps most importantly, they both share an Intuitive function. My focus is primarily on Rustin, because he is such an extreme example of intuition, more akin to a nihilistic prophet and a grief-stricken poet: he yearns to see and to smell the universal psychosphere and often speaks in impressionistic and imagistic fragments (“That taste: Aluminum and ash.”) Hart, on the other hand, is a less-interesting typological example, but a fascinating illustration of psychological defenses. However, before moving forward, here is a little background about Carl Jung and his theory of typology.

Carl Jung & Psychological Types

Toward the autumn of 1913 the pressure which I had felt was in me seemed to be moving outward, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as though the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality. This feeling grew more and more intense.” – Jung & Jaffe, 1961/1989, (p. 175)

Swiss-psychiatrist and pioneer of analytical psychology Carl Jung was interested in the unseen from an early age. His doctoral dissertation was actually about a supposed medium–later revealed to be his cousin–and he studied both the intrapsychic world of human experience as well as the artistic, literary, and mythopoetic expressions of humanity. Jung, like Rustin, sometimes had overwhelming intuitions, dreams, and visions. For example, in October of 1913, Jung saw had a vision in which the whole of Europe was frozen and then covered with a deluge of blood. Jung (1961/1989) thought he was becoming psychotic, but months later in August, 1914, when World War I broke out, he found himself both relieved and disturbed.

These events prompted Jung to engage in a fifteen-year period of extensive self-analysis involving active imagination, writing, and painting. During this period, the nucleus of Jung’s psychological work was formed. Two of the figures Jung encountered in his dreams and in his active imaginations were a young woman, Salome, and an older man, Elijah. Recently, Jungian scholar V. Walter Odajnyk (2013) suggested that these figures became subsumed under the concepts of functional types: Salome became Feeling and Elijah became Thinking. This dyadic model expanded into Sensation, Intuition, Feeling, and Thinking. These figures were also initially linked with two different ways of directing and being directed by energy, which were named introversion and extraversion.

Jung (1921/1990) described introversion and extraversion as being two different “attitude types” that are distinguished by the direction of their interest (p. 330). Simply put, introverted people were described as withdrawing libido, or psychic energy, from the object, as if to protect themselves from being overwhelmed by it. The subjective attitude of extroverts, on the other hand, is always in positive relation to the object. For extraverts, the object can never have enough value. Jung (1921/1990) described these two attitudes toward the object as processes of adaptation, which he believed to be determined by some instinctual, unconscious cause (p. 331).

The Inferior Function

The essence of the inferior function is autonomy: it is independent, it attacks, it fascinates, and so spins us about that we are no longer masters of ourselves” – Jung, 1943/1973

As they develop, people tend to use–and overuse–one function, which is sometimes referred to as the superior function. Ideally, people develop auxiliary functions to become more differentiated individuals, but in Jung’s model, there is one superior function and two auxiliary functions, which exist on shared spectrums. For example, Sensation and Intuition are on opposite ends of the irrational spectrum and Thinking and Feeling are on opposite ends of the rational spectrum (the descriptors “rational” and “irrational” are used in a specific manner in Jung’s work). Unfortunately, the Inferior Function–possibly the most interesting aspect of Jung’s theory of typology–has been entirely left out of the popular Myers-Briggs Type Inventory MBTI (the MBTI is the test which assigns people the typology labels such as INFJ, ENFP, INTP, etc.)

Jung (1943/1973) emphasized that the expression and development of this inferior function–the underutilized, unacknowledged function–was necessary for the development of character (p. 58). Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian analyst and one of Jung’s longest collaborators, described the inferior function as the despised, ridiculous, un–adapted part of the personality, but also as “that part which builds up the connection with the unconscious and therefore holds the secret key to the unconscious totality of the person” (von Franz & Hillman, 2010, p. 10). Von Franz (2010) also stated that this inferior function is always directed toward the unconscious, symbolic world (p. 10). All that aside, a person’s ignorance of their inferior function will cause them continual problems, and even if they are somewhat conscious of how this function might be operating in their life, it will still cause them problems. In short, regardless of our gifts, we all have limitations.

Rustin, the poet-prophet with no body

I wouldn’t say shy. Intense…more like introverted!” – Hart speaking about Rustin

Intuition has been described by Jung (1921/1990) as being a perceptive function via the unconscious. In other words, we do not know how it operates, only that it does operate, albeit invisibly. I think that Rustin’s superior function of Intuition is primarily introverted, which would make his inferior function extraverted Sensation. Theoretically, this means he would be unconsciously feeding external objects–specifically in this story, pieces of evidence–with his own psychic energy, and because he is unconscious of this dynamic, he is fascinated by objects, even becoming obsessive in his fascination (“You have a tendency towards myopia–You’re obsessive”, says Hart). The body is also connected with the Sensation function, and Rustin treats his own body like a specimen. After his confrontation with Hart in the locker room, Rust checks his pulse, but we see no emotional reaction during or after this incredibly tense interaction. Throughout the series, we observe Rustin’s overly controlled body, which is rarely moved by emotion or involuntary impulse. Perhaps it is our role as the viewer to feel the emotional responses that Rustin does not.


I don’t sleep. I just dream” – Rustin

Rust’s mind projects outward–it sees and feels potentials in objects, tracing them through time, backward and forward. He also has an interest in history: his Intuition wants to grasp the whole by knowing the trajectory of the story from beginning to the end, or rather, from the past to the present, so he can project into the future. Rustin tries to see the whole case from the very first moment, which is why he draws and documents–as he says, any little thing looked over could be break the case. Rustin does not believe in coincidences but in synchronicities, that is, in the potential for events to be meaningfully connected without causal explanations (synchronicity is another concept elaborated by Jung). Rustin also uses his Intuition to inhabit the minds of criminals, both to imagine their motivations and future actions, as well as to elicit confessions. Intuition, however, is not infallible–in basic decision making, it can just as easily be wrong, and as we witness with Hart and Rustin, can lead someone completely astray. Further, if Intuition is coupled with anxiety and fear, it morphs into paranoia. Paranoid intuition sees only the potential for danger, persecution, and evil in every direction–it can disconnect a person or an entire group from consensus reality.

It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person.” – Rustin

Rust’s apartment is also reflective of his personality and typology: he has few physical possessions, but the atmosphere in that room is electrically charged with psychological speculation, philosophical ideas, and ever-present dreams. The tiny round mirror on his apartment wall only allows him to stare into one eye at a time, which leaves his body out of the mirror, and therefore, out of his contemplations. Personally, I never bought his pessimistic “It’s my programming” excuse for remaining alive, nor did I take seriously that idea that he “lacked the constitution to commit suicide.” On the contrary, I think Rustin’s mind is intensely alive–almost too alive– and even though he is muscular and in control of his body, he allows it no spontaneity. His face remains robotic during violent encounters, and sometimes he appears to be almost dissociated. Rustin seems to reside primarily in his mind, and when brought out of his mind and into his body, he feels the deep grief, loss, and sadness. It is the mourning of being human that he continually avoids.

The Dynamism of the Two Detectives

Well, you don’t pick your parents and you don’t pick your partner” – Hart


Rustin and Hart help to illustrate these psychological concepts in living beings, rather than in a clinical examples or theoretical text. In short, Rust would clearly be more introverted and Hart more extraverted. First, imagine Rust’s solitary nature, barren apartment, and private past. Now imagine Hart: the family man with a large house filled with objects of comfort and distraction in a neighborhood filled with other families. Hart gets drunk with the guys from work, cares for his professional reputation, and knows how to maintain his public persona. Hart also seems to experience the hierarchies of government and police work as being more tangible than they are to Rustin, who treats them as meaningless and unnecessary. Hart likely has Thinking as his primary function, with Sensation and Intuition as his auxiliary functions (I have to assume this, because what kind of detective could function without intuition?). As a result, his Feeling function would be largely unconscious or at least underdeveloped. A full exploration of the Feeling function is outside the scope of this essay, but in short, it is a rational function that has more to do with differentiating value than it does with experiencing or expressing emotion. However, Hart is relationally damaged, which is evidenced by his struggle in every intimate relationship he has (I examine this more in my second piece, which examines psychopathology in True Detective).

Because of their profession, Rustin and Hart are captive to concrete, physical objects. Various forms of evidence–including corpses and confessions–are required in order to substantiate the reality of their invisible perceptive function, so in a sense, Intuition and Sensation always work together. They are two aspects of one dimension: from one angle, they look like cut up pieces of string, but from another angle, they form an unbroken circle.


All my life I wanted to be nearer to God. The only nearness–Silence.” – Pastor Joel Theriot

Throughout the series, Rustin and Hart repeatedly circle the killer, the victims, and themselves. They are forced to engage with both the physical and the immaterial planes of existence until they are brought to the edge of mortality, which is, perhaps, the only real mystery.


Franz, M.-L., von, & Hillman, J. (2010). Lectures on Jung’s typology. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.

Jung, C. G. (1990). General description of the types (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Series Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 6, 9th ed., pp. 330-407, 538). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (Original work published 1921)

Jung, C. G., & Jaffe, A. (1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Richard and Clara Winston (trans.). New York: Vintage. (Original work published 1961).

Jung, C. G. (1973). On the psychology of the unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et. al. (Series Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 7, 2nd ed. pp. 14-66). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1943).

Odajnyk, V. W. (2013). The Red Book as the source of Jung’s Psychological Types. Psychological Perspectives, 56(3), 310-328.

Written by Daniel Siuba

One Comment

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  1. Well, good analysis, but you’re mistaken.
    Rustin is a thinking type (the introvert), he is deeply rational, and much of what you describe as intuition seems more rational than irrational, as conceived by Jung. The irrational is accepting of the accidental, which is too contrary to the person Rustin is. If sensation were his lower function, he wouldn’t be so assertive, so at ease with the use of force, and with the world around him.
    Similarly for Marty, he’s a sensation type, he’s typically irrational, takes what he perceives without judgement, observable from the first episode, and is a slave to sensations, without knowing it, which basically corresponds to this extroverted type. You’re right, his thinking is differentiated, but it’s auxiliary.

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