Exploring the connection between HBO’s ‘True Detective’ and New Orleans’ Fort Macomb.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the season finale of HBO’s “True Detective,” you might want to wait to read this article until after you do.
The majority of the scenery depicted in “True Detective” was familiar to those who have experienced Louisiana’s landscape: open fields, oil refineries on the river, small town churches, and shacks on the bayou filled the show’s beautifully filmed scenes. However, one “place” mentioned several times in the series — Carcosa — kept viewers mystified and confused throughout the episodes, ever since the eery, tattooed killer Reggie Ledoux told Rust Cohle, “You’re in Carcosa now.”
The mythical city first referenced by Ambrose Bierce in a 19th-century short story and mysteriously mentioned by a few “True Detective” characters along the season’s journey turned out not to be a supernatural underworld or some metaphysical sphere, but an evil, shrine-like temple on the maniacal Errol Childress’ spooky compound.
Carcosa turned out to be real.
After confronting Childress’ half-sister in their broken down plantation house in the last episode, Rust and Marty follow Errol back behind shacks scribbled with cultish paintings and into the woods; then, eventually, into the place called Carcosa.
As Rust (with Marty close behind him) goes deeper into the jungles of Carcosa, the labyrinth gets creepier. The detectives come across objects familiar to their case: the same stick sculptures found at the scenes of gruesome crimes they’ve investigated, piles of dirty children’s clothing, and at least one mummified victim.
Eventually, along with many suspenseful minutes and bellowing statements from Childress to Rust (including the disturbing, “Come die with me, little priest”), the camera pulls back and the viewer is made aware of the reality of the structure believed to be Carcosa: it’s a fort.
Not just any fort — but a real and formerly functional one that still exists (yet is sadly crumbling) outside of New Orleans.
Director Cary Fukunaga and the “True Detective” crew filmed the final showdown between the detectives and Errol Childress in Fort Macomb, an almost 200-year -old camp on the western shore of Chef Menteur Pass and near the Rigolets.
Fort Macomb was built around 1822 and named for Major General Alexander Macomb, a Commanding General of the United States Army in the 1800s. It was constructed after the War of 1812 as part of a seacoast defense plan, specifically intended to guard the city of New Orleans. During the Civil War, Fort Macomb was first occupied by the Confederate army starting in 1861, but was later captured by Union troops.
After an 1867 fire damaged the fort’s barracks, it was abandoned, and in 1871 Fort Macomb was decommissioned.
Today, Fort Macomb and the land surrounding it are owned by the State of Louisiana. Because of the fort’s decaying condition — and further damage caused by Katrina and other flooding — it is considered hazardous, and isn’t open to guests.
Nearby Fort Pike, however, is another seacoast fort built just like Macomb for the same purposes in the 1800s and is open to visitors. It’s ten miles away from Macomb, and sits just 23 miles east of downtown New Orleans. You can find out more about visiting Fort Pike here.
As a fan of “True Detective,” one of the things I loved about this season was its relationship with place. “True Detective” was made possible because of Louisiana — its history, traditions, customs, and landscape — and both the show’s writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga did a thorough and respectful job capturing the region.
Filming the Carcosa scene in Fort Macomb was, I believe, a thoughtful and appropriate farewell to both this season and the Louisianan setting.
If anything, shooting in Fort Macomb made viewers aware of a unique historical landmark in New Orleans, and adds another unique and literary layer to an already immersive narrative.
Photo Credits: Pictures of Fort Macomb provided by Wikimedia Commons