Last night True Detective, Season 1 ended. I’ll let you have a new paragraph pause here to let that sink in.
OK? Now, my educated guess based on the observational evidence surrounding me in everyday life leads me to the following conclusions: Barring any HBO GO issues, If you are reading this, you watched it (if you didn’t watch it, fair warning-there WILL BE SPOILERS ahead), and probably watched it regularly (religiously?) and as such you also probably (read: definitely): emailed your friends about it, talked to your coworkers about it, texted everyone about it, and spend endless hours on things like True Detective meme round-ups, and recap readings and think pieces on it, tracking down Nic Pizzolatto’s first novel and deciding whether you’re going to read “The King In Yellow” on kindle or in hard copy. And of course, YOU HAD THEORIES. Not just about how the mystery will end but also regarding what this show was ALL ABOUT. Men, women, time, space, relationships, religion, meaning of life even and, sure, murder.
It has been A WHILE since a show has so enveloped our everyday lives AND SUCCEEDED IN DOING THAT SO QUICKLY. Sure, WE CARED about the Breaking Bad finale, but that was a loyalty built over seasons of TV making, and we swore our allegiance to Mad Men, but that show’s slow burn was not necessarily built for water-cooler chatter and HBO’s other blockbusters (GIRLS, Game of Thrones, True Blood…) still felt a little too niche-y and a lot too guilty pleasure-y for this level of across-the-board devotion. But there was something about the pedigree, the set-up, the quiet confidence with which True Detective presented itself to us on that Sunday 9 weeks a go that made us instantly FEEL GOOD about liking it, and that, naturally, led us to loving it (for most, that love part happened somewhere around EPISODE 4 which aired with a one week delay in sequence, after a Super Bowl break, making it seem all the more worth it, somehow, after that wait). Then, of course, there was a time of deep, profound, unquestioning love (EPISODE 5), a rough patch (EPISODE 6, in my humble opinion) and a slightly dirty, almost-too-fast make-up moment (EPISODE 7). And now, last night, it was time to say goodbye (for now). And for real too, not just a TV season goodbye, because despite True Detective (inevitably) being renewed for Season 2, this would be the last hour we’d EVER spend with Marty Hart and Rust Cohle.
So, how was it?
Personally, I thought it ended better than we could have hoped for. I will be the first one to admit that after EPISODE 6 my murder mystery jaded self was a little worried. After those first reveals started coming, I could not help but note: “This is all fine and sinister enough stuff but it is also just NOT REALLY ENOUGH. It would be on most other shows, but I don’t think it is here….Two more hours to go and the answers will be in our hands. Presumably. I just hope they are worthy answers“. In EPISODE 7 Alan wisely closed his recap with this: “…there are enough loose ends that I cannot but think that Pizzolatto has a proverbial ace in the hole. Marty and Rust see some nasty shit in this episode, yet they seem ill-equipped for what comes next.” And they weren’t.
That “NEXT” naturally came in the time they spent both with each other and with the man who has turned them into the men they’ve become: The Yellow King, The Man with Scars, The Spaghetti Monster, the one and only Errol Childress, child and woman killer, Tuttle family pariah and Lawnmower man.
Granted, he was revealed to us, the viewer in Episode 7 (and I am still not QUITE buying the fact that they never connected his scarred face WITH ANYTHING after seeing him face-to-face more than once) and the way they were finally led to him in Episode 8 felt a touch hokey, as far as TV deduction goes (a painted house? A FRESHLY PAINTED HOUSE? A GREEN FRESHLY PAINTED HOUSE? Could that be somehow related to the GREEN FACED spaghetti monster? and then those old tax forms…) but trust me, I am not here to nitpick.
Every thriller depends deeply (though not exclusively) on the effectiveness of its monster. Just ask Silence of The Lambs and/or Se7en. There’s really no ands/ifs/buts about it. You don’t have a worthy adversary, you may as well not be solving murders on any screen, big or small. And Pizzolatto and team have gone the country fried, Southern pitch black gothic route with their Errol. Which is a fair, if a little predictable choice. Fingers crossed by Season 2 they REALLY get their killer freak on. Still… plenty to enjoy/be scared of here too:
Episode 8 opens on him looking over a strung up man (corpse?) in bed, the scar tissue of a (time as a flat) circle (the same one we saw on Reggie LeDoux in Episode 5 and on the back of Dora Lange in Episode 1) glimmering on his thick, red neck. Things are not a-ok here, a fact that is confirmed when in the next scene him and his half-sister/lover share a rocking chair moment that sent the most shivers down my spine than any scene since that faithful X-Files HOME episode, which almost scarred me for life back in 1996 (look it up/revisit it-it is worth it. And by “it” I mean “the nightmares”.).
While Errol is going about his incest/authority figure torture/child killing business-as-usual, Marty and Rust get to spend some quality time together, and as in every episode before, this is where the show really shines, and it is to Pizzolatto’s credit that he gives his leads this window even as, obviously, there is some ass to be kicked and future murders to be stopped. Both men have evolved over the course of the past 17 years, and without that evolution they would not be able to be where they are today: en route to finally meet the Dora Lange killer. In the car, they talk about Maggie, and the decisions that everyone can make and well, for the first time ever, you feel A BOND between the two. In 1995, Marty would have just dismissed Rust as a weirdo, and Rust would not have given value to Marty’s more superficial thought process in return. In 2002, the tension between the two would have made that car ride unbearable. But in 2012 (2013?), they can drive and talk with the best of them. It almost made me wish there was another, current time crime for them to solve after this, just so the two of them could hang some more.
And it is this new connection, this newfound true (detective) partnership that lets them make it through the next 10 or so minutes on film at the Childress home. If you thought the LeDoux compound in EPISODE 5 was creepy, then you were VERY SATISFIED by the hot psycho mess of the Childress abode. As Marty handles the half sister/”love” slave and looks for a phone to call for back up, Rust follows Errol into a cave. BECAUSE OF COURSE THERE IS A CAVE. And what a cave it is. Piles of children’s clothes-check. Plenty of antler sculptures for everyone to enjoy-check. A vaguely psychedelic fever dream of a clearing-check.
And then: the face off. Errol, who really mostly focuses of women and children and his own blood when it comes to getting creative in his killing calling, goes for the old-fashioned stabbing route when attacking Rust, and Rust responds with a classic extreme head butt, with Marty appearing, a tomahawk (really?) being propelled into his chest (BUT THE RIGHT SIDE! SO HE WILL LIVE!!!) and Rust dispensing one final bullet in Errol’s direction, just as Gillbough and Papania arrive, cavalry in hand. Case solved. Just like that. Finally.
Now, this is probably a pretty good time to mention that while I wrote the previous paragraphs somewhat flippantly (distance, of even a few hours, can be a bitch) – all of this is done very effectively. You duck, you cower, you are maybe even compelled to hide behind a pillow or text someone for support-the sequence, as ridiculous as it sounds when put on paper, makes sense as you watch it. You buy into it, from both the “parallel universe” perspective (which True Detective’s production design team has been amazing at throughout the season) and the old-fashioned tension angle. Which speaks volumes for the quality of acting and direction here because, lets face it, this is still just two guys hunting down a killer. We’ve all seen it all before.
The final ten minutes get us back into True Detective’s true niche: which is, of course, feelings. Both Marty and Rust somehow survive the knives and the tomahawks in their torsos and as we learn from the news the Tuttle’s are denying any involvement with what went on, and as Marty’s wife and daughters stop by for a (stagnant, awkward) visit-it is clear, you can’t win all your battles in one day. But, you can still take it one relationship at a time.
Outside, starring at the sky, our two heroes reconnect again, literally being given a new chance at life. Rust tells Marty how while he was dying, he saw his daughter, and the sense of acceptance (of her death) we finally feel from him here is maybe the true closure this show was leading up to. Rust doesn’t want to go back to the hospital, and Marty half carries him away, the two of them stumbling in the moonlight, a happy ending to a bromance if there ever was one. “I love you, man” may as well be written in the stars.
IT IS a great ending, in the end. It does, however, make no qualms about the mystery being secondary here. That murder had so many loose ends left untied (what made the victim progression from kids to women? What WAS IT that Billy Childress did to baby Errol?), it was almost abominable, and for anyone who was keeping track of every single little creepy detail for weeks on end (Marty’s daughter’s drawings! The King in Yellow quotes! the 12th century mysticism!) the fact that none of these were truly addressed may feel like a slap in the face, at least a little. But there was just an hour to Episode 8, and, in my opinion, it was an hour well used, playing to the show’s strengths and sweeping the weaknesses under the (granted, gorgeous) carpet. As expected by some, this show was about MEN. Flawed, questionable men, but (at least) real men. And, maybe refreshingly and commendably, that is all there is to it.
Let us know what you thought in the comments, and well, lets start that Season 2 count down, k?