Editor’s note: This article contains minor spoilers for the finale of True Detective.
A few weeks back I posed the question on Nerdist.com “Is True Detective the Next Great Horror Show?” In that article, written right after Episode 2, I discussed the tone of the series in the first few episodes and explored the mythos of Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow, an anthology of short stories that if you watched Season 1 or if you have the internet, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with at this point.
As I write weeks later having discussed the show at length with friends and even tried to convert a few new viewers (how apropos!) I struggle to really answer the question: “Is True Detective the Next Great Horror Show?” Well, yes and no, but in the end, it really doesn’t seem to matter, does it?
What we learned during last night’s finale, which was in such high demand that it crashed HBO GO, is that ultimately, this wasn’t a story of good triumphing over evil or writing the big wrongs of the universe, it was about two guys. That’s it. No more, no less.
“Two guys?!” you’ll say. “But! But! The Yellow King and Maggie and Marty’s daughter and Rust’s dad! We never answered all the questions!” I hear you yelling at your computer. Yeah, and just like life – real life – we never will.
I had said from the beginning that this was the first time I had been disappointed that I couldn’t have access to all eight episodes at once a la the Netflix binge-watch model. The reason was not because I was impatient and wanted it all right now, but because I couldn’t figure out what story show creator Nic Pizzolatto was telling. There are serious horror elements that speak to my taste as a genre nut. There are clues and references that call for an active viewing experience, which was perfect fodder for the obsessive nature of the internet. There is an element of exposing some of the south (where I’m from) for its mistreatment of people in lower classes and its willingness to sweep dirt that could incriminate the religious and powerful under the rug. The show wasn’t afraid to create a systematic villain – whether it’s organized religion or the government — but it’s not an overtly political show. I found myself telling a friend, “I just need to watch the finale so I can go back and watch it all again knowing what kind of show I’m watching,” which for some reason made sense to him. But every scene, every glance, every inflection could be interpreted a multitude of ways and that’s what it comes down to. The fun of True Detective’s Season One is also ultimately what the show was about: the intensely rich and beautifully textured characters.
Pizzolatto had said in previous interviews that “the show isn’t trying to outsmart you” and that Rust and Marty aren’t the anti-heroes you’ve been seeing on cable lately. He told The Daily Beast, “I think they’re both actually heroic in the sense that they’re not corrupt men… They’re honest cops. There are moments throughout the series where they could let the case go, but they don’t. So they may not be moral exemplars, but I do think they’re heroes.”
So what does that all mean? If the show isn’t trying to outsmart me or Keyser Söze my ass, what IS it trying to do? At the end of the day, True Detective was this: whatever you wanted it to be.
For the first time in a long time, a series let the viewer decide. I think how you saw this show is mostly based on what you, as a viewer, brought to the table. People who watch my True Detective chat show know that I would not give up the idea of Marty being involved with these murders. It sounds a bit far-fetched, sure, but I just couldn’t trust him. Even in the end, when he and Rust were talking outside the hospital, part of me was waiting for him to shank Rust because he had been evil the whole time. I know that sounds silly and it’s not my own ego coming forth because I simply had to be right. But I’m sure that somewhere down the line, a smooth, smart, charming womanizer got under my skin and I’ve never let it go and I brought that to my viewing experience. I’m sure there are people who got hung up on Maggie or Hart’s mistress or Cohle or the two detectives, Gilbough and Papania, who were interrogating them for whatever reason that they bring to the table.
And then, the ending. They live. It’s kind of like when The Grandson finds out that Prince Humperdinck lives in The Princess Bride.
Who gets Humperdinck?
I don’t understand.
Who gets Prince Humperdinck? At the end! Someone’s gotta do it. Is it Inigo? Who?!
Nobody. Nobody gets him. He lives.
You mean he WINS?! Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?!
It’s a hard lesson that The Grandson in both the movie and the outstanding novel (go pick up a copy – seriously, it’s like an extended cut of the movie IN YOUR MIND!) has to learn at a young age. And it’s something that we had to learn last night on True Detective too. Rust and Marty make it. Errol William Childress, the “Spaghetti Monster,” does not. The Tuttles get away with it. Someone else will wear The Yellow King’s crown because The Yellow King could be anybody. It’s all kind of frustrating.
But for those who realize that the stakes of season one were a soul, that of Rustin Cohle, and that soul was rescued from The Yellow King’s grasp and was brought back from the brink of Carcosa, they should find themselves satisfied. For those who knew that Marty Hart was a good man somewhere inside, they find him reunited with his family. And then, as Cohle so tragically expressed, they have to go on living. With the knowledge of what evil exists out in the world and what they themselves are capable of, for better or worse. It’s very Buffy “Once More With Feeling,” isn’t it?
In this case, I don’t find myself sold a false bill of goods. I could see how some might call foul but those who do, aren’t paying attention. Marty says early on, “You don’t pick your parents and you don’t pick your partner.” When it comes down to it, they’re talking about family. And that’s what Season One was about. Family. A broken family like Marty’s, a corrupt literal and systematic family like The Tuttles, a departed family like Rust’s and a monstrous family like The Childress clan. My hat is off to the entire cast and crew of True Detective for giving something I didn’t expect.
What did you think of True Detective and its finale? Let us know in the comments below.