In 1995, Ginger and Cohle (still undercover) meet with DeWall Ledoux, Reggie's cousin and cook partner, in a roadside bar. DeWall refuses to do a drug deal with Cohle, but after DeWall leaves, Hart follows him. Hart radios his location to Cohle and the pair meet up near the hidden meth lab in the bayou, where Cohle leads the way through brush, avoiding hidden explosive booby traps rigged to kill unwary intruders. The pair descend on the house where Hart apprehends Reggie and handcuffs him. Cohle draws down on DeWall, who has just stepped out of the meth lab, as Hart is searching the premises, coming across two kidnapped and abused children, one of them dead. Enraged, Hart executes Reggie Ledoux with a shot to the head. DeWall panics and flees but is killed when he detonates one of the booby traps. Hart removes the handcuffs from the dead Ledoux, and Cohle sprays the yard with bullets from an AK to give the appearance that a shootout had taken place. In their 2012 interviews (voiced over the actual events) and later before a shooting board, the pair separately relate identical concocted stories of surviving a chaotic firefight in which Hart managed to kill Ledoux. Hart and Cohle are hailed back at the station and in the press as heroes, with both receiving commendations and promotions.
By 2002, Hart is reconciled with his wife and kids, while Cohle has a physician girlfriend. Hart's daughter Audrey has begun acting out and tensions rise once again in the household. Cohle, a renowned interrogator, is brought in to get a confession out of a robber accused of murdering two people in a store while high on PCP. After confessing, the prisoner begs for a deal from Cohle, declaring that Ledoux wasn't the killer of the missing girls--the real killer was never caught and is still killing. He claims he himself met the "Yellow King," information withheld from the public in the Dora Lange case, and that people high up know about the killer. Cohle beats the man, demanding "a name," but is restrained by other detectives. He returns later with Hart to find that the prisoner has killed himself in his cell after receiving a phone call (purporting to be from his lawyer) made from a public pay phone out in the middle of nowhere. Cohle returns to the abandoned religious school, where he finds dozens of stick sculptures, and drawings and black stars on the walls.
In 2012, Papania and Gilbough tell Hart that they suspect that Cohle, who they allege conveniently led Hart to every clue or lead in the case, has been behind the killings all along; Cohle has been spotted among the bystanders at the scene of the recent killing in Lake Charles that is similar to the Dora Lange case. Cohle has also been a person of interest in the suspicious death of Reverend Tuttle two years before. Cohle walks out of his interview after the detectives accuse him, ridiculing them to get a warrant, while Hart is asked in his interview to explain what exactly happened between him and Cohle in 2002.