"Cohle can’t extinguish his own humanity. Of all Matthew McConaughey’s incredible achievements in True Detective, the greatest came Sunday in the stilted, urgent, brief sex scene with Maggie, which lacked any of the erotic qualities of Marty’s encounters. Here we—I, anyway—saw the repressed love impulse in Cohle made explicit. Exactly how he loves Maggie is mysterious, but undeniable. Love, of course, is the thing he had attempted for years to negate, but which became embodied in Maggie—conveniently, maybe, since she was a woman he couldn’t touch. It’s why he becomes so angry at Hart when he realizes he’s sleeping around again. “Goddam,” he says, unable to believe what his partner is capable of losing. And then, because of Maggie’s weakness, there comes a night when she’s no longer untouchable, and the dam that has kept Cohle’s humanity from bursting shows its first crack, and then another, and more, until everything he’s tried to suppress rushes out in an overpowering deluge.
After the flood, when he realizes that he’s exposed himself to a scorned woman, the hard reality sets in. He wants her to have acted from the same wellspring of suppressed communion, but she tells him “it’s not you” as if that’s some kind of favor. It stuns him to the point of tears. Because as he allowed Maggie to reach a place he kept carefully hidden for so long, there was a part of him that begged, like a child, not to be hurt. He made himself vulnerable, and the result was more devastating than he could have imagined. The naked pain on his face, after he’s finally allowed himself a moment of rare hope, is one of the most shattering moments we’ll ever see on television. We know, in our guts, that we’ve just witnessed a man’s last chance; whatever curtains parted in that moment, they’ll now close for good."
"What I’m most impressed by, though, is how this episode gets you to identify so thoroughly with Lester—then immediately removes that identification once he kills his wife because she dared insult him. It’s a tough trick to play, and I’m not precisely sure how Hawley and Bernstein manage it (short of the fact that, y’know, killing your wife because she’s mean to you is the wrong choice in most circumstances). Here’s my best stab at it: When Lester impulsively conks Pearl on the head with the hammer, we immediately cut to a point-of-view shot of her face, frozen in horror, then watch as blood starts to trickle down it. Bernstein is suggesting, subtly, that we, who have been invited to identify with Lester because we’ve all felt picked on by the Sam Hesses of the world, or felt diminished by those we’ve loved, are the ones who’ve perpetrated this crime in some way—perhaps by wishing it would happen within this fictional context. Then, just as quickly, we’re outside of that point-of-view, watching Lester’s hammer swing through the air to connect with his wife over and over, and then we’re just watching him—not even his face—hunch over Pearl as he hits her again and again. We go from being Lester, to seeing the true horror of his actions from an angle that has him swinging toward the camera (and, by extension, us), to an angle that cuts out his face and dehumanizes him. The sequence asks us if we, ourselves, would be capable of something like this, answers “yes” in no uncertain terms, then removes us from Lester to see if we can recognize the gravity of what he’s done. It’s crafty stuff."