‘True Detective’: Who The Hell Is The Yellow King?

The mystery of Dora Lange's death only gets more complex in this week's episode.

The following contains spoilers for this week’s “True Detective.”

First of all, to all of those excited for the big gunfight between Rust and Marty and Reggie Ledoux, sorry you were let down. The teased confrontation between our detectives and the number-one suspect in the murder of Dora Lange turned out to be anything but true.

The cover-up constructed for the authorities did more than hide Marty’s execution of Reggie. It also took the drug cook’s echoing of phrases like “black star” and “the Yellow King” — mysterious ramblings we heard in the premiere — off the record.

“It’s time, isn’t it?” Reggie says while in handcuffs. “The black stars rise. I know what happens next. I saw you in a dream. You’re in Carcosa now with me. He sees you. You’ll do this again. Time is a flat circle.”

Pretty ominous, huh? If you’ve been a faithful “True Detective” viewer, you know that this imagery has been mentioned with growing frequency since it was first mentioned in Dora Lange’s diary and in a drugged-out phone call to her ex, Charlie. Evidence showed up this week, thanks to the late Guy Leonard Francis, to suggest that the Yellow King is the real menace and still on the loose, killing people.

So what’s the deal with the Yellow King? We presumably won’t know the specifics of how he’s connected to Dora Lange until the next episodes air, but there are already clues outside the confines of your TV about what it all might mean. Jeff Jensen from Entertainment Weekly noticed back in the first episode that both “black stars” and “Yellow King” were references to author Robert W. Chambers and his influential collection of short stories called “The King in Yellow,” which opens with this excerpt from the titular fictional play.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
     In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
     Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
     Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
     Lost Carcosa.

Pretty ominous, huh? “The King in Yellow” is a collection of interconnected short stories, some of which mention a play of the same name that will drive anyone who reads it entirety mad. The king referenced in the title is a supernatural being that is essentially an embodiment of death. “I pray God will curse the writer,” the narrator states, “as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth — a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow.”

Sounds like Rust would be a fan.

So what does it all mean? The clues we’re given in the latest episode suggest that there is an actual person called in the Yellow King in the world of “True Detective,” and while it’s highly unlikely that there is anything supernatural about him, he is very powerful and still claiming victims.

The episode ended with 2002 Cohle, who we now know is a suspect in 2012, entering Reanne Olivier’s old school, which was funded by Reverend Tuttle’s foundation. Tuttle’s name, like the Yellow King, has cropped up more and more as the case progresses, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Cohle finds a stick sculpture in the abandoned school.

Though Reggie Ledoux is no more, the case is still very much alive and moving in the direction of Tuttle and the Yellow King.

You can read “The King in Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers legally and for free here.

Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.