‘True Detective’ Season 4’s Spiral Links Back to Season 1’s Cult

Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country.

The Big Picture

  • The crooked spiral found in True Detective: Night Country is a major callback to a conspiracy in Season 1, and it is connected to a cult and ritualistic murders.
  • The Tuttle family is a lingering threat in the shared universe of True Detective, and they are involved in a vast conspiracy that spans decades.
  • The crooked spiral symbolizes a cult’s beliefs and is related to cosmic horror dread, similar to the terror experienced in Season 1.

Out in the long night of Ennis, Alaska, a strange crime is no longer just that with fun Easter eggs for True Detective fans to spot; instead, it’s evidence of an old threat. Since Night Country first began airing, we have confirmation that the crooked spiral that has appeared in multiple scenes is a major callback to a conspiracy in Season 1. Chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and State Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) are already in over their heads with an unsolved murder getting linked to a “corpsicle” that looks like a horrifying image pulled from The Thing, and the investigation may be getting even more depraved. As the permanent night settles over Ennis, it’s time to look back at the crimes of Season 1 that involve weird, occult rituals, a mythic entity known as the Yellow King, and the sinister realm that is Carcosa. Years before Danvers and Navarro’s investigation, two other detectives were hunting down a killer, nearly getting lost in the darkness when they stared too long into the corrupt abyss.

Detectives Hart and Cohle figure out the number of victims is staggering, but the first body that is seen on the show is a young woman. Dora Lange (Amanda Rose Batz) is found in a field, posed in a prayer position before a giant tree, her hands bound and a blindfold on her face, with a crown made of rose thorns, switch grass, berry cane, and antlers. Triangular lattice figures made from sticks are hanging from the branches overhead and others are placed around Dora. This ritualistic murder is what brings the detectives and the show’s viewers deeper into ugly family secrets, and branded Dora’s back, along with her killer’s other victims, is the crooked spiral made from blue paint, a death mark and a symbol of vile traditions that have been passed down.

True Detective

Anthology series in which police investigations unearth the personal and professional secrets of those involved, both within and outside the law.

Who Has the Crooked Spiral on Their Body in ‘True Detective Night Country’?

Image via HBO Entertainment

In “Part 1,” Anne Kowtok, aka “Annie K,” (Nivi Pederson) is mentioned as a young Iñupiat woman who was viciously killed, her body then brutalized six years before the episode takes place. It’s a cold case that is personal to Navarro, and as much as the stubborn Danvers tries to deny it, she’s later forced to accept that Annie K’s murder is connected to the disappearance of the eight male scientists at the Tsalal Arctic Research Station. Annie’s missing tongue is discovered at the facility, but that’s not all.

“Part 2” brings some answers, while making the mystery even more confounding. Six of the eight men are found in the snow, all of them stripped, with petrified faces, with their clothes folded nearby, and the crooked spiral is seen drawn on the forehead of one of the dead Tsalal men. The same parka Annie once wore is shown in a photo being worn by the emotionally unstable scientist Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell), one of the Tsalal men who is revealed to be missing after the remaining scientists’ bodies have thawed out from the ice. Whether he’s a killer remains to be seen, but even with Clark’s whereabouts unknown, he’s not the only one with a relationship to the symbol.

It’s later revealed that Clark got the spiral as a chest tattoo four days after the murder of Annie K, who herself had the same spiral tattooed on her back. Key evidence is then found by Navarro and Danvers in a hidden RV, where Clark and Annie seem to have been meeting in order to keep their relationship a secret. Inside the trailer, Clark has built a shrine devoted to Annie with animal bones and lattice figures hanging and placed throughout, along with a massive burnt-looking crooked spiral on the ceiling. In the same episode, Danvers learns that the money trail founding Tsalal leads to Tuttle United, a big name-drop the characters don’t realize the significance of. However, True Detective viewers will recognize it immediately, and it isn’t the first time the series has referenced the crimes associated with the Tuttle name.

‘True Detective’ Season 3 Features a Cameo From Marty and Rust

A Season 1 cameo in True Detective Season 3.
Image via HBO Entertainment

In Season 3 of True Detective, older detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) faces the possibility that his cold case of the murder-disappearance of young siblings has a link to Season 1’s detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). That iconic, bickering pair shows up in a news article in Episode 7 when a theory is posed to Hays that his case might be related to a pedophile ring associated with the straw dolls and symbols that are part of this season’s mystery. But the callback is a red herring. And while Night Country has references to Season 1, it’s proving to be more of a continuation of the dangers that viewers first saw in the muggy Southern Gothic terrain of Louisiana.

Minus Season 2, as that entry in the anthology series didn’t have any callbacks, True Detective incorporates the Tuttle clan as a lingering threat in this shared universe where the past is haunting Ennis in more ways than one. It’s not just ghosts — even though Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) tells Navarro that the icy Alaskan town may be so far north, the boundaries between the living and the dead are blurred. A vast conspiracy and unresolved crimes that spread over decades involving the Tuttle family all began in the debut season, where the crooked spiral was the symbol for a child sex abuse cult, with the main members being from the influential, wealthy family of Louisiana.

‘True Detective’ Season 1 Reveals the Tuttle Family’s Dark and Murderous Secrets

Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders) on True Detective.
Image via HBO Entertainment

Reverend Billy Lee (Jay O. Sanders) is the first Tuttle that detectives Hart and Cohle encounter, a reserved and elegantly dressed man who tries to manipulate their murder investigation with the hopes of covering it up. He’s the first cousin to Governor, then-elected Senator, Edwin Tuttle, who is never seen but mentioned, and he has powerful connections across Louisiana. It’s never revealed, but it’s a possibility the senator wanted to conceal his family’s secrets without ever participating in them. By the end of Season 1, Reverend Billy Lee is dead, either self-inflicted or assassinated to keep him quiet, when Rust finds criminal evidence against him. Senator Edwin Tuttle is left unscathed, denying all rumors he or the Tuttle family might be involved in ritualistic murder. These are lies, of course.

Reverend Billy Lee had been in charge of ministries, along with the Wellsprings program, which involved private religious schools being set up in rural communities to locate victims from the student body. Billy Lee is not Dora Lange’s killer, but it’s confirmed he is involved in a cult that his family has created. Season 1 never gives an official name to the cult Marty and Rust are investigating for a series of disappearances and murders that include children and young women, but to give it the unofficial name as “the Tuttle cult” isn’t reaching in the wrong direction.

The Occult Killings, the Yellow King, and the World of Carcosa

Sam Tuttle, mentioned but never seen, is a faceless monster who was father to Billy Lee and uncle to Edwin. Although True Detective does not provide definitive answers about the workings of the cult, it would seem Sam was once in charge of it, but whether that means he created it or continued it is never clear. What is clear, is how the men in the Tuttle family practiced beliefs that include the crooked spiral as an important symbol, lattice figures, and rural Mardi Gras customs, as well as literary influence from Ambrose Bierce’s “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 short story collection, The King in Yellow. In these stories, Carcosa is an ancient kingdom, and the entity The Yellow King drives people into madness.

But Dora Lange didn’t die at the hands of the first-blood Tuttles; those men did their ritualistic sexual abuse and murder through secretive practices behind closed doors. Season 1’s killer is Errol Childress (Glenn Fleshler), an outsider and the illegitimate son of Sam Tuttle from an affair, who knows of the cult and kills to create a public display of violence. Errol lives in the Louisiana backwoods where he has built a temple in honor of Carcosa, with an effigy made of bones and cloth to represent The Yellow King. Hart and Cohle finally stop him, but Senator Edwin Tuttle remains at large until True Detective says otherwise. It’s possible, like how Errol went astray with the cult’s beliefs, someone else knows of it too, so whatever is happening in Ennis could still be oozing from the epicenter that is the Tuttles.

Season 1 of True Detective is full of cosmic horror dread where humans don’t matter in the grand scope of terrible, ancient evils, and while the killer and the Tuttle cult are human, the ability to hide and stay hidden is very much like the unspeakable and unimaginable terror that cosmic horror is known for. Night Country, set in the northern tip of the world, is opening the series to the same darkness that was last felt in Season 1. Along with the spiral and now the Tuttle name-drop, Night Country has sins of the past returning — and who is running Tuttle United should be a big question.

‘True Detective: Night Country’ Adds New Lore to the Crooked Spiral

Night Country seems to go further not just in bringing the crooked spiral back for an Easter egg, but adding to the lore of it. Rose Aguineau stares into the distance where the endless night blends into the ground, describing the spiral as being “older than the ice.” It’s an ominous statement, and possibly a way to bring back the cosmic dread from Marty and Rust’s hunt for the Tuttle cult killer. It’s possible the spiral was taken by the cult, and that should make viewers wonder if the symbol was always a despicable mark or if it was perverted. While Annie K might have had the spiral as a tattoo, compared to Dora Lange’s body having it painted on, the Indigenous midwife was still killed in a ritualistic way. Maybe Night Country has a different meaning to the crooked spiral, or maybe not.

Season 4 might be cracking at the seams to let in the spirit world, or it could be intense memories and the eternal night making characters “see” the dead. Night Country may not just be using Season 1’s killer methodology for callbacks, but there will be something new added to the series’ mythology regardless. The Tuttles might have taken the crooked spiral from Ennis, using it for their cult as they added to the traditions and customs over the decades down south. As Liz Danvers would say when faced with a case to solve, viewers should be asking the right questions — and when things don’t make sense, keep askin’.

True Detective: Night Country is currently streaming on Max.

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