True Detective and The Evil Within

Friday 4 May 2018

Seeing how many things the Evil Within has in common with the first season of True Detective is not much of a surprise. A video game and a TV series, respectively, that are both masterful works, of the kind that cannot be imitated in any way and will always remain unique and unforgettable. Although their subject matters are different, they are similar in many ways that may not always be that obvious. True Detective's Season 1 is a grim and gloomy tale about love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal and the extremes that the human mind can reach. The Evil Within is a dark and nightmarish adventure that is centered around the grey matter and all the evil that it can cause when used the wrong way, while placing a strong friendship in the whirlpool of uncotrollable events.

Even from these short descriptions, it is easy to sense the similarities that the game shares with the series and vice versa. It is always fascinating to find references to other forms of artistic expression in video games; and in most cases such references are anything but random. If you take a quick tour in the realms of various fandoms, you will surely notice that the fans of certain games tend to like more or less the same movies, books, music or series. Many fans of the Resident Evil game series, for example, are also avid watchers of Hannibal (the HBO TV series) and love heavy metal music. While this is not something that can be taken as a general rule, still the percentage is way too big to be seen as a simple coincidence. In a similar fashion, the developers of video games, while putting their stories together and giving shape and substance to their heroes, are naturally inspired and influenced, albeit sometimes subconsciously, by things that they themselves are fans of. If you think about it, most of them are not much older than most of us, the generation who saw video games blooming and evolving into what they are today.

Starting from the lead characters, in both cases we have a pair of detectives who are as different as day and night. Rusty and Marty in True Detective are such strikingly opposite characters that their ends inevitably meet and they get attached to each other in a dramatic, star-crossed way (something which becomes almost literal if you contemplate a bit on the rather ambiguous finale of their story).

Sebastian and Joseph of The Evil Within are completely different characters as well; one could never imagine that a man like Sebastian would be such close friends with someone like Joseph. Both pairs simply prove the physics rule that opposites attract, as well as the fact that some things are meant to be - whether it is destiny, fate or karma.

Both heroes of The Evil Within have elements of Rusty, who is quite possibly one of the most charming characters ever conceived. Sebastian is wrecked and desperate like him, a man who has lost his family and is closed off to himself, yet someone extremely strong, decisive, brilliant and efficient. In a similar way, his reserved manner can be seen in Joseph's attitude, as well as his hidden passions and his tendency to note everything down during investigation.

It is more than implied that the tumultuous bromance that goes on between the members of each pair is way more complex than it generally shows - although their reactions betray far too many things.

The differences between Rusty and Marty are exactly those that bring them together; it is as if the one complements the other. If you consider the general social stereotypes, it would be impossible for a man like Marty to befriend a guy like Rusty. Marty, being a smart but more or less conventional detective, buried in a dazed family life which could have been lovely if he wasn't so ardent to prove his masculinity by constantly cheating on his wife, a man who likes to pose as the typical dominant male yet deep inside is shockingly insecure about hismself, would "normally" feel contempt for the hermit-like, deeply intellectual and solitary Rusty. Yet he finds himself somehow trapped in Rusty's natural mental charms and he becomes his close friend without even realizing it.

Sebastian and Joseph are equally, albeit not so strikingly, different. Even so, they are also like two sides of the same coin and they need each other so as to feel balanced. Sebastian's passionate and firey temperament can only be toned down thanks to Joseph's mild and controlled attitude. But it goes the other way round too: Joseph's timid and somewhat confused character finds major sentimental support in Sebastian's strong and confident company.

The story of The Evil Within may not be exactly centered around Sebastian and Joseph, however it is full of dark undertones concerning the two guys. It is not random that they are reunited in a pivotal point of the plot, in Chapter 6, promptly entitled "Losing Grip On Ourselves", and they remain together until its end. This chapter is the hardest of the whole game, and it is as if it follows Ruvik's messed up memories, as well as Joseph's and Sebastian's who are both in a sedated state inside STEM, although at that point they do not know it. Interestingly enough, another thing that dominates in this chapter is the church, mainly as a literal place but also as a symbol.

The church is prominent in True Detective, and there are several depictions of it and themes connected to it throughout the story. From the simple crosses that can be seen in the opening credits and Rusty's apartment, to the ruined church with the disturbing drawings, to Theriot's revival, to Tuttle's luxurious but cold organization.

In The Evil Within, the church is a recurring theme and symbol; there is a ruined church in Chapter 6, a cathedral of sorts in Chapter 7 which leads underground, and there are also Juli Kidman's childhood memories that are connected to religion and the church both as a place and as an institution. In Chapter 6, we can also see priests and nuns that have become Haunted and are extremely vicious in their attacks. Although there is no specific reference in Ruvik's story concerning the role of the church in his life, there are hints that he might have been related to a local cult. Joseph finds some symbols at some point that are relevant and he and Sebastian later locate some sort of sacrificial room hidden below a secret entrance at the cemetery.

Stand-alone objects related to the church, the female statuettes that are spotted in the adandoned school in True Detective, also have their counterparts in The Evil Within. In the series, Rusty sees them when he goes to investigate the place on his own at the end of the captivating Episode 5 (The Secret Fate Of All Life). There are a few of them scattered around, usually standing on higher spots, somehow guiding him to find a valuable clue.

In the game, Sebastian finds several statuettes, called 'goddess statues' in the story. Those can be seen anywhere - among rocks, hidden behind rubble, on rafters, hanging from the ceiling. Sebastian can break them or shoot them and they reveal keys that were hidden in them, with which he can open lockers with bonus items back in the safe room. In that light, the staues in The Evil Within act in a more or less similar manner as the ones in True Detective: they are some kind of guides, leading the characters towards a right path.

The statuettes are not the only items that are found in both the series and the game. While not main plot points, the masks seem to play their role in both True Detective and The Evil Within. A most disturbing evidence concerning the activity of the murderous group in True Detective is a photo showing a blindfolded girl being watched by a man with a creepy mask covering his face. This mask is connected to the Voodoo worship in the area of New Orleans, where the story takes place.

In The Evil Within, some of the enemies that Sebastian encounters are wearing masks too; those masks look like a twisted blend between the Comedy mask and that of a circus clown. Said enemies are sometimes stronger than their standard counterparts and most of the times are carrying guns or other lethal weapons. Moreover, the mask automatically renders their face invulnerable to hit, nullifying the possibilities of a successful headshot when Sebastian is standing face to face against them.

The mask is of course a universal symbol that represents a series of things, notions and ideas; mostly and above all, it symbolizes everything that is concealed and ususally hides something negative. In both the series and the game, it is exactly this and as far as True Detective is concerned, in particular, it stands for the human hypocricy that uses a shiney and seemingly impeccable facade (Tuttle's Church) so as to open the way for all the twisted and gruesome activities that the mind can conceive. There is human hypocricy in The Evil Within as well, only it is expressed in a different way. Its victim is, surprisignly enough, not the good hero (Sebastian) but the antagonist (Ruvik). The game's arch-villain became a physical and emotional wreck because, as a child, he was the victim of hyporcicy and deceit, coming first from his own father (whom he eventually murdered) and later the doctor whom he trusted, and who had him killed.

This brings us to yet one more theme of the series that can be traced in the game. That of the victimized child who became a serial killer in his adult life. Both Billy from True Detective and Ruvik from The Evil Within were marginalized as kids, which made them develop an antisocial and solitary attitude that later led them to extremes.

Billy, the deranged serial killer in True Detective who was also Tuttle's illegitimate son, expressed his ruined childhood through a series of disturbing drawings on the walls. Near the conclusion of the story, Rusty and Marty locate his hideout in the woods, where there is a cabin "decorated" with such drawings, depicting the "Yellow King" and / or his own victims.

Similar drawings can be found in Ruvik's family mansion in The Evil Within, when you play as the Executioner in the episode with the same name. There are gory murals on the walls of the house illustrating the state or the fate of several characters involved. There is a depiction of Joseph, another one of Sebastian, as well as others of Zehn and Neun, the Amalgam Alpha, even the very same Executioner. Who is behind those drawings, it is not clear; but it could very well be Ruvik himself (because they all have the same style) in a morbid attempt to mock his victims by imitating a child's drawings while producing themes that are not appropriate for a child at all.

The countryside as a background setting with its gloomy, dusty colours is an essential protagonist in both the series and the game. In True Detective, the initial murder scene is in the field, while the resolution of the story takes place out in the open. The compelling shots of the vast and swampy plains of Louisiana only increase the atmosphere of anxiety and terror; you can almost smell the disturbance in the air. It is as if the heroes are constantly being watched, as if there are eyes following them from everywhere - even from below the ground.

The equally strong imagery of The Evil Within stresses the feeling of nausea and mislocation, which are more than literal as the characters are in a sleeping state, unable to control themselves while wandering inside Ruvik's memories. Two major plot sequences take place in the country: the first is in Chapter 6, where Sebastian reunites with Joseph and the two of them move through the numb countryside encountering all sorts of nightmarish monsters, and the second is in Chapter 9, where Sebastian reaches the root of Ruvik's traumatic memories, which is his family's sunflower field.

In both the series and the game, the notion of the open air signifies insecurity and uncertainty, but also the inevitable revelation; things cannot stay hidden out in the open - once exposed, they will become known sooner or later. The killers in True Detective are revealed in the fields; and Ruvik's deeper motives in The Evil Within are made clear when Sebastian exits to the sunflower field.

Similarly, during Sebastian's and Joseph's quest in the countryside in Chapter 6, several things come to the surface, and it is while there that Joseph says to Sebastian that he wishes to kill himself so as to not suffer from his developing change. As a continuation to this, at the beginning of the following chapter in yet one more church, he confesses that some part of himself wants to become a Haunted, resulting in him being in a state of constant battle that is mental, emotional and, above all, physical, and which remains open to several other interpretations as well.

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