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.Next
The wormhole-like maze into the cave of this human Carcossa is an astounding piece of set decoration – a labyrinth of bark and branches cluttered against each other, some standing atop piles of girls’ shoes and dresses. A trembling score and slow, slinky cinematography makes Cohle’s journey into this dark place even more eerie. It builds up beautifully into a nearly breathless (and also very quick) scene of brutal violence, with flinging axes and headbutts galore. (The setting of the final confrontation also reminded me of the pit from this week’s Hannibal episode, especially with the small circular hole at the top.)
As gripping as the violent, climactic finish is, it is not even the episode’s finest sequence. To our pleasant surprise, we close on some of Cohle and Hart philosophizing, except they are not just babbling about their own existential miseries. Their words are touching and direct. Just out of the hospital where they spent a few weeks being stitched up and recovering from stab wounds, Cohle talks about being “under in the dark” during his coma. “Beneath that darkness, it was a deeper warm, like a substance,” he says. “I knew my daughter waited for me there.” Cohle came so close to reaching the other side, but after feeling her love touch him in that abyss, he resolves to let the darkness go.
McConaughey won an Oscar last weekend and I will expect nothing less than an Emmy added to his mantle in six months time for Best Actor in a Mini-series. And I expect his speech in the series’ final moments to be his awards show clip. The actor crumbles into cries midway through talking, shedding tears of both relief and sadness. Hart can do little more than to pat his partner on the shoulder and lift him up from his chair, musing about how the stars in the sky show how tiny flickers of light can illuminate the darkness in the world. “Once there was only dark,” Cohle mumbles. “You ask me, the light’s winning.”
Does a show as sprawling and substantial as True Detective seem cheapened at the close by some rather procedural investigative tactics and some plain mumblings about the relationship between light and darkness? Yes and no. Yes, as the show’s happy ending seems like a bit of an anti-climax to the grit, gloom and grumbling that pervaded through previous hours, which hinted at an unquenchable darkness. No, as it closes off the anthology with humanity, exploring the relationship between its protagonists and what they have learned from their 17 years of correspondence than at the lurid details of the crime they investigated.
The anthology began with sin, crime and nihilism, yet ends on a hopeful note. I imagine some may be frustrated at the lack of morose qualities from the final ten minutes, but just as many (if not more) should be moved by these final moments. As Marty tells his partner, “We ain’t gonna get them all. That ain’t the kind of world it is.” Yes, we would have liked to know more about the killer and the methods of his madness more clearly – but the show is not about Errol Childress. It is about Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. They have each other, they have found some light within the darkness, and that is a good way to go out.
PS: I’m looking forward to season two of True Detective – which will have women investigators, this time – with great anticipation. Tell us, do you have any casting suggestions for next season’s anthology? How about Diane Lane and Ellen Barkin? Geena Davis and Carrie-Anne Moss? Melissa Leo and Margo Martindale? Sharon Stone and Laura Dern? Jessica Chastain and Julianne Moore? Man, there are so many combinations you can make. Feel free to share yours below.Previous