First, if you think there will be spoilers here, this will be as close to a spoiler-free review as I can manage. There will be a few series insights on the series and its characters on a whole, but no major spoilers. You can still watch the finale and be amazed.
Second, if you are looking for a trashing or thrashing of this series, you have found the wrong review. Last night, the finest writing to ever grace television concluded and I was left in awe.
Welcome to my post-mortem of True Detective.
With episodes written by Nic Pizzolatto, direction from Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson leading an incredible ensemble of actors, True Detective has been building as a slow burn would into a raging inferno, and reveals all in their finale. You are taken deep into the mouth of madness, the darkness of Carcosa threatening to swallow you whole, its hunger never sated and always ravenous. The Yellow King is also revealed, and Cohle and Hart must face it alone, without backup. It is pure suspense season with terrifying imagery, the stuff of nightmares.
However, True Detective is not about the Yellow King. It’s not about Carcosa. It’s not about the grand conspiracy that Cohle rambles about in Episode #7: After You’ve Gone. True Detective is about the heart, soul, and life that a homicide detective faces on a day-by-day basis. This series was never the story of a serial killer, but about the men who have been sent out to catch him. We are reminded of this by Pizzolatto as we spend the final fifteen minutes of the series with Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. We watch all the compartmentalization their job demands, all the horrors they had carried since 1995, and everything seen at the throne of the Yellow king come crashing on them; and in the end, they find themselves once again facing the next day and whatever it may bring.
To be clear, Marty and Rust are not friends. They really don’t like each other, but they do love each other. Reluctantly. People may use the term “bromance” to sum up this finale but what Marty and Rust share isn’t anything like that. They are not “bros” but they are brothers.
Yes. There’s a difference.
As tangible as the opposition between Marty and Rust is, there is at the same time a dependence they share with one another to complete a job, or in the words of Rust, fulfill a debt. What makes this story not your usual cop procedural, not a CSI: Lafayette or a Law & Order: Inbred Justice, is that in the multitude of cop shows on the air we don’t get to know these characters. The D.A. on one show is hardly a far reach from the D.A. of another show, and police officers and detectives are interchangeable in most cases. From the beginning, True Detective offers up individuals, people that we focus on in more detail than the crime at hand. We find immediately these characters are flawed, broken down to their core; but Rust and Marty must set aside their frailties—lest they face them as Rust continues to do, right to the very end—and focus on the task at hand. When you look back on the series, you realize we’re not getting to know their case so much as we were getting to know the “bad men that keep the other bad men from the door.” We have dinner with their families, watch their highs and lows in life, and find their world interrupted by a bizarre case that never goes away, even after they believe it’s closed.
There really was a perfect storm of elements that made True Detective such compelling television. The characters, likable and relatable even with their terrible shortcomings. The intensity of the case, its details, and its delirious intellect. The writing not only air tight in its dialog, but in the wonderfully placed references of Lovecraft and the medieval King in Yellow mystery. Masterful direction, including a mind-blowing six-minute tracking shot that added to the tension of the moment. Truly, while McConaughey and Harrelson shine in their roles, not one performance around them is sub-par. Every actor in this production is incredible.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of True Detective’s finale is that it came delightfully twist-free. There was no supernatural element, even amidst heavy Lovecraftian influence, behind this case. Neither Hart, Cohle, or anyone involved in their lives were “behind” the murders. This was a story about the evil in man doing evil things, and the light attempting to best the dark. No odd Shamalan-esque ending. No good-guys-silenced-with-a-bullet kind of ending. The case was solved. Now, our heroes must move on.
This begs a question: How do you move on from something like that?
In Marty’s and Cohle’s eyes, I found them wondering the same thing.
Not everyone is going to be happy with this ending, but I found the True Detective finale to be an entirely satisfying one. If this were a run-of-the-mill, Silence of the Lambs, serial killer drama, then maybe I would have been disappointed, but the series is called True Detective. This was the story of Marty and Rust, from the get-go; and I was thrilled to have taken this journey with the two of them. I look forward to what HBO has planned for the second season (There WILL be a second season, yes, HBO?!), and am sorry to see McConaughey and Harrelson wrap up some of the most riveting, powerful television ever produced.
I still smile at Rust’s closing remark of the light looking a bit brighter. This was truly a hero’s journey, and it was time well spent.