True Detective, Carcosa, and a deleted scene from Blackwater Lights

5 min readJan 19, 2024

Originally published on March 2, 2014

Note: This followed my original viral explainer of True Detective Season One, which you can find here. Keep in mind that some of the tropes discussed, particularly cultists in animal masks, have become standard fare in horror fiction and even video games (I’m looking at you, Alan Wake 2). But they were novel in 2014, certainly on television, which contributed to True Detective’s malign creepiness.

Watching the penultimate episode of True Detective tonight, I had another Carcosa moment, when Nic Pizzolatto’s fictional world seemed to intermingle in a flat circle with mine.

Early in the episode, Cohle and Hart are holed up in Cohle’s Carcosa-fied storage shed (yellow door, naturally), Rust plays a videotape stolen from a hiding place in one of Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle’s opulent homes. In the tape, we see a young girl, blindfolded, in what looks like a white robe or dress and crowned with horns, being led to a chair in the woods by a group of people wearing robes and animal headed masks. She’s then tied down, her legs spread, as one of the cultists walks toward her. Whatever happens next causes Marty to scream “No!” as he cuts off the tape.

After the episode ended I opened up a version of Blackwater Lights, one of the dozen or so revisions I made with Sarah, my editor at Random House. After we started editing she asked me to cut one scene entirely. I was initially reluctant to do so, but (as is often the case — there’s a reason editors get paid to work at the Big 5) I came around because I knew she had a point.

The scene involved children, and she told me that this particular sequence (and one other, which I also cut) could make a reader put down the book (or maybe throw it across the room). She consulted with her colleagues and they all said the same thing — children being hurt, or even the implication of it, was a no-no. So I cut it.

But tonight I watched something similar playing out on HBO and, well, once again I felt like Nick P. and I were fishing in the deep waters of Lake Hali together.

It is obviously a spoiler if you haven’t read the book, though it probably wouldn’t kill your enjoyment.

To set things up, Ray, the protagonist, is being forced to watch a DVD by Micah, the scar-faced preacher of a backwoods church in West Virginia, and Mantu, his bodyguard. I’ll let it unspool exactly as it was written:

“Don’t hide your eyes, Ray,” Micah said. “You need to see this. You need to understand what you’re up against.”

Mantu stepped away from the television, closed his eyes, and clasped his hands, as if in prayer, in front of his face.


More black screen. Ray’s throat tightened as the scene opened. “No,” he whispered. “Jesus Christ, no.”

A young boy sat reclining in what looked like a dentist’s chair, his face brightly lit. The camera pulled back and refocused. He was strapped to the chair, his wrists and ankles bound. A silent film.

“Turn it off,” Ray said.

A man stepped into view. He wore a stylized goat mask and a doctor’s white coat. The boy looked at him. His eyes widened with fear and went out. Like light switches flipped to off. Completely gone. No one home.

“Micah, enough.” I will snap. I can’t watch this.

The goat-headed doctor lifted a syringe. The boy’s eyes were like cold marbles, black and vacant. The doctor bent over, his horns nearly touching the boy’s face, lifted the boy’s small arm and stuck the needle under the skin.

“Skip ahead,” Micah said.

Ray took a deep breath. “Please,” he said. “No more.”

Micah put his finger to his lips and nodded to the screen.

The TV went black again. This time, the white letters were crisper, and the film didn’t shake. LAM 12 OCT MKMIRROR.

A different boy, in a long, white t-shirt that came to his shins, stood clutching a white rabbit to his chest. He was maybe eight, rail thin, his eyes damp and wide. Around the boy, in a tight circle, stood adults — ten, maybe a dozen, it was hard to tell in the dim light — in silky, dark red robes. Each adult wore an animal head. A bird, a lion, a horse, a monkey, a goat. Giant, obscene heads. A scratchy children’s record played in the background — a singsong rhyme that Ray couldn’t quite make out.

“Micah, please — “

“Shhhh.” He pointed to the TV. His eyes and face had hardened.

The monkey-headed figure knelt down in front of the boy and placed a black bowl at his feet. He returned to his place in the circle. The goat reached into his robe and pulled out a knife — a black handled dagger with a thin, long silver blade. “Give me the rabbit,” he said.

“Micah, turn it off. Turn it the fuck off.”

The waters of Lake Hali run deep.

Michael M. Hughes is a writer, speaker, and magical thinker. He is the author of Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change, the Blackwater Lights Trilogy, as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction, and he speaks and teaches classes on magic, tarot, pop culture, psychedelics, and more.

His comprehensive tarot course, The Art and Magic of the Tarot: Foundations, is available here, as well as his new course on Tarot Magic.

Michael’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, CNN, The L.A. Times, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, Wired, Elle,Vox, Cosmopolitan,and even the ultraconservative The American Spectator,which wrote: “He may play footsie with the devil, but at least the man has a sense of humor.”

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