Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Light is Winning: TRUE DETECTIVE Finale & Series Review

Please be warned that this will contain spoilers for the entire first season of TRUE DETECTIVE.

So how about it? TRUE DETECTIVE just finished its first stellar season with the eighth episode, "Form and Void," and unlike many other of the mystery-based shows and stories, it did not disappoint. Keep in mind, this will be more of a review about the finale and the show as a whole, not as a dissection of the episode or me looking for the hidden meanings of symbols or images within the episode.

TRUE DETECTIVE seemed to really take off with the Internet crowd by the time whispers of Carcosa and the Yellow King were being heard. Then, when we got the now super famous six minute tracking shot scene, almost overnight, this was the show to talk about. The last episode made quick work of our main duo putting the final pieces on who was the "spaghetti man with green ears" at the center of the mystery. This episode had everything. There was creepy "Yellow King" imagery, hauntingly beautiful Louisiana shots, and the best part, a lot of Rust Cohle and Marty banter.

One of the two key scenes of the episode was the car ride that they share early on. They try to catch up and finally clear the air about Marty's marriage falling apart, the meaning of choices, and how despite being used by Maggie, somewhere deep down, Rust wanted to have sex with her. This interaction mirrors the first scene where they try to get to know each other very awkwardly in the pilot. The second is the last scene with them discussing Rust's dream and his new found appreciation for his life, which will I discuss later.

The episode goes on to quickly set up the final confrontation between the two partners and their enemy in a backwoods estate. The fact that Cohle had a contingency plan to send their accumulated evidence and the VHS showing that sacrificial murder of the young girl to the relevant authorities and media outlets and the "good bye" scene between Maggie and Marty gave the final act a sense of dread. By the time we see the spaghetti monster, Errol Childress in his natural and disgusting habitat, it feels a bit of a let down in terms of just how "normal" he is, but everything leading up to their confrontation was insanely tense.

The final set piece in Carcosa is as beautiful as it is horrifying. I highly suggest you go to www.darknessbecomesyou.com to look at the "throne" of the Yellow King. There was a few times that I went back and watched the sequence of Rust chasing Errol just to appreciate the various branch sculptures to just to try and decrypt this mysterious man who is at the heart of the show's mystery. When we see the now-infamous black hole and our two protagonists are lying there bleeding after killing Errol Childress, part of me felt both relieved and disappointed. The big bad wasn't a crazy supernatural boogie man, but a regular man, who was abused physically and mentally himself, who physically and mentally abuses innocents, perpetuating the flat circle of abuse masked in a self-righteous backwoods religion.

This has become the biggest point of contention in discussing this show between Jonesy and I, and it seems the Internet as a whole is bitching about all of the allusions to the supernatural being a red herring or being unnecessary. Look through the majority of the negative reviews, starting with episode five, "The Secret Fate of All Life," all seem to stem from the fact that the show is messing with the audience's somewhat more grandiose expectations of what the plot should be. When the terms "Carcosa" and the "Yellow King" started to show up, everyone including myself, wanted to read much more into the show. When certain plot points, like whether Rust was the killer, or the crazy theories about Marty's daughters and father-in-law, but all of those were quickly debunked, and people seemed to be annoyed. For those people who were used to LOST, or even BREAKING BAD, this was a disappointment, and the more outspoken critics (I say this because I've yet to meet anyone in real, non-Internet life.) sure seemed loud about it.

The thing is, the show, at its core, has always been about these two men. The mystery, the hints of a Lovecraftian mythology, the creepy ritualistic murders, and yes, even the women, all were not nearly as important as the journey that Rust Cohle and Marty Hart take during the almost 15 years for them to have their version of justice. If you don't think that's true, then why was that final scene just them outside finally completing their journey as two deeply flawed men finish paying their debt.

It would have been really nice to get Cthulu or maybe an explanation of the black hole, but in the end, that's not the story that was being told. From the beginning, this series, from the way that we have been told up until the finale, was telling us to never expect any of the usual story plot point and tropes to hold up. Reggie LaDoux was killed almost immediately after showing up. The mystery about Cohle was over almost as quickly as it was suggested. Present-day Detectives Pappania and Gilbough were not in on any conspiracy, and Marty's daughter potentially being sexually abused is never investigated one way or the other.

This would be a great time to give major props to Woody Harrelson's role as Marty Hart. Matthew McConaughey gets to do the crazy and showy part of the nihilistic, former undercover agent that sees things and waxes poetic about the meaninglessness of life. He's the star of a thousand tumblr memes. His transformation between 1995 to 2012 is very apparent, with his pony tail, mustache, and skin looking a little worse for wear. Marty on the other hand has always been the quiet rock that supports the crazy, and as such, his deterioration is less apparent. When we see him, he seems to be pretty well put together until you see him leave Detectives Gilbough and Papania. You see his beer belly, and it's not until episode seven that you see how his life has been since their big blow up: he is a divorcée who lives alone, has a failing PI agency, and eats frozen dinners. And so, it is his resolution to be the quiet one in the background and is surprised when his ex-wife and daughters come to see him in hospital. Then, the "stand up" family man's man breaks down and cries and seems to apologize for years and years of wrong doing and abuse that he perpetuated on the three women that he supposedly cared for. That's a huge moment that seems to go unnoticed.

What most people will be talking about is Rust's big speech about the void, the deeper darkness that he felt as he was slipping away, and the loving feeling his dearly departed daughter and father gave him. His new outlook on life all culminated to a broken man who lives and has been shaped by an evil world where this series takes places, and where not all of the bad guys will be caught, yet he can still find some light. And just like the clothes in the hospital that Rust leaves behind, he's left behind the darkness and nihilism with Marty helping carry him like he did during their partnership.

I'd love to hear more of y'all's thoughts about the show! Am I defending it too much? Not enough? Is it totally overrated? Tell us in the comments below. 


  1. Spot fucking on! This is my favorite part:

    "Then, the "stand up" family man's man breaks down and cries and seems to apologize for years and years of wrong doing and abuse that he perpetuated on the three women that he supposedly cared for. That's a huge moment that seems to go unnoticed."

    1. Thanks, bro! I still contend that not enough people are giving Harrelson/Hart the credit they deserve.

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