It is hard to recall the last time a television series has gripped the cultural consciousness so quickly, spawning memes, a sprawling amount of Internet speculation and commentary, as well as divisive conversations about gender roles on television (check out Emily Nussbaum’s harsh, but terrific piece in The New Yorker for more on that) as much as True Detective has. At that rate, a season finale that was anything less than the finest 60 minutes of television would be doomed to succeed. Alas, the last of eight episodes from Nic Pizzolatto’s first anthology is a solid, but not quite shattering hour of television. Nevertheless, it is filled with the key elements that any True Detective viewer would hope for: strong acting, haunting music and art direction, sublime camerawork, unbearable suspense and a smattering of dark humour.
Since its start, True Detective has done so much to thwart our expectations of what a crime series can be that the rather conventional ending is bound to disappoint just about everybody. But, even if the episode does not fulfill the lofty hopes of its fans, I cannot imagine any Killing-like rage directed at HBO for failing to tie up some loose ends. One must remember that these eight episodes have always been more about uncovering the truth behind Hart and Cohle, rather than the suspect of Dora Lange’s murder. As a conclusion to suit the show’s character-driven nature, it was deeply satisfying.
The foreboding figure at the end of episode seven is Errol William Childress. He has burns in his back, scars on his face and a beer belly. He lives in a shackled home in the middle of the lurid Louisiana wasteland with his bedraggled aunt/lover (played by Ann Dowd) and his dead father. Glenn Fleshler, who plays Errol, is tense and terrific, able to show menace and vulnerability in a single glance during a scene when he peeps on some children at play during recess.
The first anti-climax that True Detective reaches in this hour is the brisk amount of time it takes Hart and Cohle to realize his identity. In a colourful drawing shown of Childress last week, the “spaghetti monster” had green ears. Well, in one of the case files connected to the Dora Lange case, one of the homes that was investigated was freshly painted green. One quick interview and a couple of web searches later, our detectives have an address. It may have been more gratifying for the duo to figure out his identity through a more labyrinthine process, but at least give Pizzolatto credit for, somewhat unpredictably, making Hart the one who connects the dots together.
However, as flat and formulaic as some of this procedural becomes, it all leads up to another tour de force sequence directed by the great Cary Joji Fukunaga that is almost as remarkable as that tracking shot from episode four. (Fans of the show should check out Fukunaga’s breathtaking debut feature, Sin Nombre, if they haven’t already.) Few sequences in small-screen memory have such a visceral atmosphere. We can almost feel the chill of the graveyard-like entrance, as barren, dry trees loom over the road. We can smell the foul stench that Marty breathes in as he moves deeper into Childress’s home.