In True Detective season 1, the murdered woman whose case Rust and Marty take on in 1995 is called Dora Lange, a name remarkably similar / practically identical to the real life great Depression-era photographer, Dorothea Lange.

The series writer, Nic Pizzolatto, filled the screenplay with many references, allusions and puzzles, some obvious and some less so. It seems to me inconceivable that he didn't have a connection in mind between the fictional Dora and the real Dorothea but I have no idea what it could be and have found no reference to it on the Internet. Any thoughts?

  • Am I allowed to add a gentle bump? I'd sure love to know if anyone has a theory.
    – Adam Gold
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 23:40
  • You could try adding a bounty, but you would need more reputation for that... I just upvoted since it's an interesting question.
    – Luciano
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 9:39
  • That's good to know for the future. Thanks and also for the upvote!
    – Adam Gold
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


Is this character in True Detective a reference to a real life photographer ?

In True Detective season 1, the murdered woman whose case Rust and Marty take on in 1995 is called Dora Lange, a name remarkably similar / practically identical to the real life great Depression-era photographer, Dorothea Lange.


Basically, the True Detective's first season has two main sources of inspiration:

Throughout the whole series, the first victim's surname is pronounced Lang, with a hard g instead of a soft one; furthermore, in the third season premiere, a copy of the fictional book The Forests of Leng is seen in the missing child's room; when taken in conjunction with one another, especially in light of the information presented at the first bullet point above, this points towards Lovecraft's Plateau of Leng, mentioned in eight of his Dream Cycle writings, penned throughout the 1920's and early `30's; this is further strengthened by the lyrics to the show's opening credits, mentioning a plateau-like landform, called mesa.

  • Thanks for covering the bases! Re the pronunciation of the last name: the real life photographer was of German heritage so the native pronunciation would be 'lang-er'. From past conversations about her with various people, I've alway heard her last name prounced with a hard 'g' impying the '-er' was dropped at some point for utility's sake.
    – Adam Gold
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 1:36
  • @AdamGold: Wiktionary confirms its German etymology, thus indirectly providing a reason for its non-English pronunciation; consequently, I have edited the answer. The main reason I consider the two to be unrelated is ultimately due to Occam's razor; i.e., given that an in-universe explanation already presents itself, there does not appear to be any need for requesting an additional one; e.g., one might also inquire about a possible connection between Dora Kelly Lange and Katherine Kelly Lang (!), etc.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 3:35
  • Occam's razor is always a sound approach. I think in this particular case, I guess I've chosen the 'law' of coincidences (which is, of course, not a law at all) or perhaps, better stated for these purposes, 'non-coincidences': given what we know about him as a writer, the chances of Pizzalotto not intending the name of the fictional victim to at least be an aullsion to the real world photographer are extremely remote. Whether he intended that connection to symbolise something is far from clear though. Notwithstanding our 'methodological divergence' (!), thanks for such a great contribution.
    – Adam Gold
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 6:42

You're not the first person to discover the significance. According to this review, the reviewer correlates Dora to Dorothea and points out she is the "portraitist of the rural downtrodden". Dora, in that series, was a prostitute; a rural downtrodden.

I don't know that Pizzalotto would address the correlation explicitly, given that he's also never addressed the allegations of plagiarism of Thomas Ligotti's writing, which has been pointed out multiple times by interviewers and critics. I couldn't find any interviews where anyone specifically asked him that question.

  • Very good catch with the review. I have obviously not tried hard enough as it's the first time I've read an acknowledgement of the connection. We know Pizzalotto drew strongly from multiple literary and philosophical sources (some he acknowledged openly, clearly some not) which is unsurprising given his previous life as an academic. In this vein it seems wholly consistent that he names a character similarly to a real life artist. Of course choosing to assign that name to the murder victim raises a whole different question.
    – Adam Gold
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 1:43

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