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Rust Cohle

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Rust Cohle
True Detective character
Cohle in 1995
First appearance"The Long Bright Dark" (2014)
Last appearance"Form and Void" (2014)
Created byNic Pizzolatto
Portrayed byMatthew McConaughey
In-universe information
Full nameRustin Spencer Cohle
The Taxman
OccupationPolice Officer
Private investigator
AffiliationHouston Police Department (1980s–1994)
Louisiana State Police (1994–2002)
Hart Investigative Solutions (2012)
FamilyTravis Cohle (father; deceased)
Sophia Cohle (daughter; deceased)
Significant otherClaire Cohle (ex-wife)
Laurie Spencer (ex-girlfriend)

Rustin Spencer "Rust" Cohle is a fictional character portrayed by Matthew McConaughey in the first season of HBO's anthology television series True Detective. He works as a homicide detective for the Louisiana State Police (LSP) alongside his partner Marty Hart, portrayed by Woody Harrelson. The season follows Cohle and Hart's hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana across 17 years.

The character of Rust Cohle and Matthew McConaughey's performance have gained critical acclaim. McConaughey received a Critics' Choice Television Award and nominations for a Golden Globe Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.[1]

Character overview[edit]

Cohle is introduced as a gifted but deeply troubled detective who has newly transferred to the LSP's criminal investigation division (CID). A solitary cynic, Cohle is a pessimist and believes that human beings are merely "sentient meat".[2]

Cohle spends his free time obsessing over every detail of the crime, hoarding evidence and keeping extensive notes in a ledger, which earns him the derisive nickname "The Taxman" among his colleagues.[3]

Cohle is a heavy cigarette smoker, with his brand of choice being Camel.[4]

The series gradually reveals Cohle's backstory. He was born in South Texas but raised in Alaska by his survivalist Vietnam veteran father after his parents divorced. He joined the Houston Police Department as a young man and became a detective in a robbery squad. Sometime in the mid to late 1980s, his two-year-old daughter, Sophia, was hit by a car and killed; a tragedy that destroyed his marriage. Devastated by the loss, Cohle grew evermore unstable, eventually killing a crystal meth addict who had injected his own child with the drug. His superiors offered him a chance to avoid prison by working as an undercover narcotics detective in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which he did for four years; Cohle notes that this was over four times as long as most undercover detectives are kept in rotation. During this assignment, Cohle became addicted to drugs, and eventually killed three drug cartel members in a shootout at the Port of Houston, while being shot multiple times himself.[3]

During his recovery, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Lubbock. Upon his release, he was offered retirement with full pension, but he declined that offer in favor of transferring to a homicide unit. His superiors then transferred him to Louisiana, where he lives only for his work. Cohle also has synesthesia and suffers from hallucinations from his drug-using years undercover.[3]

The series takes place in two time periods: 1995–2002, in which Cohle and Hart work together to find the killer; and 2012, when Cohle, who has by now quit the police force and become an alcoholic, submits to an interview with LSP detectives Maynard Gilbough and Thomas Papania regarding the murders. Cohle sees through the detectives, and realizes that they think he is the killer.[5] He uses the interview to find out what information the detectives have on him and the case.

Character arc[edit]

The Dora Lange murder[edit]

On January 3, 1995, LSP CID detectives Cohle and Hart are assigned to investigate a ritualistic murder in rural Erath. They discover that the killer raped and tortured the victim, a prostitute named Dora Lange, and subsequently attached a pair of deer antlers to her head, painted a spiraling vortex on her back, and posed her underneath a tree in a burnt sugarcane field.[2] They also discover strange stick structures that appear occult in nature. Cohle believes it to be the work of a serial killer. The murder becomes a local media sensation, attracting the attention of reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, cousin of the state governor, who together seek to assemble a task force related to crimes deemed anti-Christian, much to Cohle's chagrin. An aloof and unorthodox loner, Cohle is ostracized by his fellow detectives despite Hart's support. When Hart insists that Cohle meet his family, Cohle arrives drunk for dinner; Hart learns it is the anniversary of his daughter's death.

During their investigation, Cohle interviews prostitutes who may have known Lange; he purchases barbiturates in an effort to combat his insomnia. Seeking a rural brothel in Vermilion Parish called the Ranch, Cohle assaults some local johns and uncovers its location. At the Ranch, Cohle and Hart gain access to Lange's diary, which contains repeated references to "Carcosa" and a "Yellow King". In the wreckage of a burnt-out church Lange attended, they find more structures and a painting on the wall depicting a human figure wearing antlers.[3]

Children in the woods[edit]

Cohle and Hart work the case for three months, during which they trace the murder to Reggie Ledoux, a former Avoyelles prison cellmate of Lange's ex-husband, Charlie.[5] They learn that Reggie manufactures crystal meth for an East Texas-based outlaw motorcycle club called the Iron Crusaders, whom Cohle has a history with from his time undercover. Cohle steals cocaine from the evidence lockup and meets with the Iron Crusaders while posing as a drug dealer representing a group from Mexico. Known to the bikers as "Crash", he reluctantly agrees to assist a group of them in a home invasion so the ringleader, Ginger, will lead them to Ledoux. Accompanied by Cohle, the bikers poorly disguise themselves as police officers and attempt to rob a drug house in an African American housing project, which results in a shootout leaving several people dead.[6]

Cohle escapes and kidnaps Ginger who takes him to meet Reggie's cousin and partner, Dewall. Dewall refuses Cohle's fake business offer and threatens to kill him if they were to cross paths again. Hart follows Dewall to their rural meth lab in the swamp and calls Cohle to provide the location. Hart and Cohle methodically search the property while side stepping various booby traps. They discover that the Ledoux partners have kidnapped and abused two children; Hart executes Reggie in a fit of rage. Dewall is killed after he flees and blows up on one of his own explosive booby traps. Cohle stages evidence to support the story that Reggie opened fire on them, forcing Hart to kill him in self-defense. The two are hailed as heroes, and receive commendations and promotions.[7]

The Yellow King[edit]

Over the next seven years, Cohle dates a medical doctor, Laurie, introduced to him by Maggie, Hart's wife. He and Hart remain partners and continue to work various cases; Cohle becomes renowned locally as an ace interrogator. In 2002, Cohle ends his relationship with Laurie. When he assists a local jurisdiction with a double homicide investigation, the suspect reveals that Reggie and Dewall did not act alone.[7] He tells Cohle that he will give them information about the "Yellow King" in return for a plea deal. Cohle wants to investigate this lead further, but the suspect suspiciously commits suicide in his cell that night after receiving a phone call from a payphone.

Cohle becomes obsessed with reopening the case and pursues several leads, including a private Christian school run by Billy Lee Tuttle that had been closed amid rumors of child sexual abuse. He also visits the Ledouxs' surviving victim, now institutionalized with catatonia, who tells Rust about a third attacker, and begins screaming when Cohle asks her about the man's apparently scarred face. Tuttle complains to Cohle's superiors, who suspend Cohle and order him to leave the case closed. That night, Maggie arrives unexpectedly at Cohle's apartment and seduces him as revenge for Hart's infidelity. Hart finds out and gets into a fistfight with Cohle in front of the entire department. Cohle quits the force the same day, and becomes a drifter and an alcoholic. He initially returns to Alaska and supports himself as a fisherman. Upon his return to Louisiana in 2010, he works as a part-time bartender.[8]

Cohle in 2012

In 2012, a murder similar to the Lange case from 1995 occurs and Cohle is seen in the vicinity of the body, arousing the suspicion of LSP detectives Gilbough and Papania. They believe that Cohle may have been the killer in 1995 because he led Hart to every break in the case and seemed to know everything about the killer's frame of mind. They interview Cohle and Hart, who both refuse to cooperate once the purpose of the interview becomes clear.[8]

Cohle meets with Hart, who has also quit state CID and runs his own private investigation firm; he tells him that he has found evidence leading to the killer. Hart is skeptical and still resentful, but Cohle convinces him to help with the investigation by showing him a videotape he stole from Tuttle's home. The video is over twenty years old, and shows numerous masked men abusing and killing Marie Fontenot, a missing child whose name had come up in their investigation seventeen years prior. Cohle and Hart track down the original case's chief investigating officer, Sheriff Steve Geraci, and interrogate him at gunpoint. Geraci tells them that his superior, the late Sheriff Ted Childress, ordered him to halt the investigation; Childress was one of Tuttle's relatives.[9] They soon discover that the Tuttle and Childress families—to whom both Reggie and Dewall Ledoux belong—are related, and have long histories of child abuse and murder. They ultimately discover that the killer is a Childress, and go to a relative of the late sheriff's home to investigate.[4]


Cohle and Hart travel to the Childress house, where they find that Errol, the son of Billy Lee Childress, a relative of Sheriff Ted Childress, is the killer. They discover the remains of his father tied up in a shed. They also encounter Betty Childress, his intellectually disabled half-sister, with whom he is having an incestuous relationship. Cohle pursues Childress into the catacombs behind the house, which Childress identifies as "Carcosa". Cohle discovers an idol draped in yellow and covered in skulls—the "Yellow King"—and has a hallucination of a spiraling vortex, the same symbol that had been drawn on Lange and many of the other victims. Childress attacks Cohle and stabs him in the abdomen with a large knife. Hart arrives and engages Childress, who attacks him with an axe; Cohle saves his partner by shooting Childress in the head, killing him. Gilbough and Papania, whom Hart had called, arrive at the scene. Additionally, Cohle and Hart's full investigation evidence is mailed to various media and law enforcement agencies across the country. Numerous bodies and other evidence connected to missing persons are found on the Childress property, including Dora Lange's.[4]

Recovering in the hospital, Cohle falls into a coma for a number of days. After he wakes, Cohle informs Hart that while in the coma he felt the loving presence of his deceased father and daughter. Cohle leaves the hospital with Hart and looks up at the night sky, telling his partner, "Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."[4]

Later developments[edit]

In 2015, documentarian Elisa Montgomery shows retired Arkansas State Police detective Wayne Hays a 2012 news article depicting Cohle and Hart's investigation uncovering a pedophile ring in Louisiana that may be connected to the missing children from his case and others.[10]

Awards and nominations[edit]

McConaughey received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Cohle, and has won and been nominated for several awards,[11] including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vincent, Alice (March 5, 2014). "True Detective: Matthew McConaughey wrote a 450-page deconstruction of Rust Cohle's life". The Telegraph. London, England: Telegraph Media Group.
  2. ^ a b "The Long Bright Dark". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 1. January 12, 2014. HBO.
  3. ^ a b c d "Seeing Things". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 2. January 19, 2014. HBO.
  4. ^ a b c d "Form and Void". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 8. March 9, 2014. HBO.
  5. ^ a b "The Locked Room". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 3. January 26, 2014. HBO.
  6. ^ "Who Goes There". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 4. February 9, 2014. HBO.
  7. ^ a b "The Secret Fate of All Life". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 5. February 16, 2014. HBO.
  8. ^ a b "Haunted Houses". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 6. February 23, 2014. HBO.
  9. ^ "After You've Gone". True Detective. Season 1. Episode 7. March 2, 2014. HBO.
  10. ^ "The Final Country". True Detective. Season 3. Episode 7. February 17, 2019. HBO.
  11. ^ "Matthew McConaughey Awards". IMDb.

External links[edit]