True Detective Season 4’s Showrunner Explains The Spiral’s True Meaning

Issa López explains just why there were so many Season 1 Easter eggs in Night Country.

True Detective

True Detective: Night Country is the latest in a long legacy of the True Detective anthology series, but it tied itself to Season 1 specifically. The first season of the series made a huge splash, redefining the murder mystery genre and showing the abilities of the HBO miniseries.

But now that the fourth season has come and gone, it’s still unclear just why all these connections were made. In conversation with Inverse’s Hoai-Tran Bui, showrunner Issa López broke down just what all these connections mean and why they were added into the cold tundra of Ennis, Alaska.

Season 4 of True Detective contained multiple references to Season 1. Rose Aguineau sees a vision of Travis Cohle, the father of Season 1 character Rust Cohle, in Episode 2. In that very same episode, Peter Prior’s research into Tsalal Station reveals it is funded by Tuttle United, referring to the Tuttles, the central figures of the Tuttle Cult in Season 1.

The spiral from Dora Lange’s body back in Season 1 became an iconic symbol throughout True Detective.


But the spiral is the biggest throughline of the series’ legacy. The spiral appeared as a tattoo on a victim in Season 1 and “the crooked spiral” was referred to as a name of a pedophile ring in Season 3. In Season 4, the spiral became a repeating motif, shown as a tattoo, as a snake frozen in the ice, photos on the floor, and even an orange peel.

López points out the ties between the spiral and Carcosa, the otherworldly place referenced in Season 1. “It's the mark of Carcosa, and Carcosa is this... nether region. It's beyond the plane where the old gods move,” López tells Inverse.

It’s this connection that motivated the multiple spiral appearances in Season 4. “We have this never completely explained cult that is creating these horrendous sacrifices and very, very profane rituals to access Carcosa, and for the Yellow King that inhabits it,” López says. “And I thought, ‘What if we take this and make it into the symbol of the places and the situations where you can almost see through to the beyond and the regions where the old gods walk and inhabit and sleep, in a Lovecraft kind of way?’”

The orange peel at Tsalal station was one of the last examples of the spiral in True Detective Season 4.


So all the symbols denote a connection to the other world, something that played a huge role in the True Detective Season 4 finale. While investigating the now-abandoned Tsalal Station, Detectives Nevarro and Danvers each confronted their own pasts and connections with lost loved ones, who all exist in the afterlife, this season’s version of Carcosa.

Discussions of these greater worlds and “old gods” permeate True Detective history. When Season 1 aired 10 years ago, the nebulous mystery and witness testimony of a “green-eared spaghetti monster” fueled theories the entire series was building up to a Cthulu-like monster appearing in the finale. The series never went so supernatural, but the tone carries over to Season 4.

According to López, the spiral is a warning of ancient forces at work. “If you go all the way to the end of the season, we can see that it is, as Rose says in Episode 2, ‘older than the ice, older than us, possibly older than the stars,’” she says. “It's always been there where the universes touch one another. So it's just a very deep bow to the supernatural elements and the spiritual elements of the first season.’”

The Season 1 references in Season 4 may not have held the key to the Tsalal mystery, but their additions show how the supernatural elements reflect the world of Season 1. The concept of “Carcosa” may be more blatant in the Season 4 finale, but it’s just the latest example in True Detective’s long legacy of how our personal mysteries reflect the greater mysteries of being.

True Detective Season 4 is now streaming on Max.

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