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'True Detective' Creator Nic Pizzolatto Reveals Alternate Endings & Shares Season 2 Story Details

by Kevin Jagernauth
March 10, 2014 11:18 AM
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"True Detective" has finished, and now the debate begins on its legacy. Did it live up to the promise in the first half of the season? Was the story concluded in a satisfactory manner? Is this really one of the greatest shows in TV history? We'll let you hash it out in the comments section, but in this writer's opinion, there hasn't been a TV drama this dense, rich and satisfying in a long, long time. That said, last night's finale did leave a slightly sour taste in the mouths of some. Obviously, **SPOILERS AHEAD**.

So, in "Form And Void," we saw both Rust and Martin near death, only to survive and spend the last quarter of the show involved in a discussion of light versus dark, and the meaning of the universe. As we wrote in our recap, it was a fitting and rather poetic conclusion, with both men changed from what they've experienced. But it wasn't the supernatural finale some were hoping for or tragic conclusion some expected. And writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto shares his approach and some of the other ideas he had going into the finale.

"For me as a storyteller, I want to follow the characters and the story through what they organically demand. And it would have been the easiest thing in the world to kill one or both of these guys," Pizzolatto told HitFix. "I even had an idea where something more mysterious happened to them, where they vanished into the unknown and Gilbough and Papania had to clean up the mess and nobody knows what happens to them. Or it could have gone full blown supernatural. But I think both of those things would have been easy, and they would have denied the sort of realist questions the show had been asking all along. To retreat to the supernatural, or to take the easy dramatic route of killing a character in order to achieve an emotional response from the audience, I thought would have been a disservice to the story. What was more interesting to me is that both these men are left in a place of deliverance, a place where even Cohle might be able to acknowledge the possibility of grace in the world."

And it was a smart choice, giving the finale of "True Detective" a true emotional heft (Rust's story about feeling his daughter's presence and love while on the brink of death is awards reel stuff). But perhaps vexing to many was that the conspiracy around the Tuttle churches stayed in the background and was not fully resolved. Martin even quiets Gilbough and Papania when they start explaining where the investigation has gone. But for Pizzolatto, it was all about making the show as real as possible. 

"The conspiracies that I've researched and encountered, they seem to happen very ad hoc: they become conspiracies when it's necessary to have a conspiracy. I think it would have rang false to have Hart and Cohle suddenly clean up 50 years of the culture history that led to Errol Childress, or to get all the men in that video," he explained. "It's important to me, I think, that Cohle says, 'We didn't get em all, Marty,' and Marty says, 'We ain't going to. This isn't that kind of world.' This isn't the kind of world where you mop up everything. We discharged our duty, but of course there are levels and wheels and historical contexts to what happened that we'll never be able to touch."

It's a brave position to take, and a choice that leaves the world of "True Detective" as complex and unfair and haunted as it was when we entered. But now, the big question: what's happening with season two? Well, Pizzolatto is already putting pen to paper, for another conspiratorial tale, but one that seems to be more national in scope.

"Okay. This is really early, but I'll tell you (it's about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system," the writer shared. Damn.

For more, read the entire interview at HitFix and feel free to share your thoughts below.

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  • loudrockmusic | March 21, 2014 6:10 PMReply

    I agree with the other folks on here who mention how the writing fell apart on the last two episodes.

  • crabpaws | March 11, 2014 9:39 PMReply

    I read Nic Pizzolatto's interview, I read all of Nic Pizzolatto's interviews, I saw all 8 episodes, most of them more than once, and after the finale, I'd like to make this request: Nic Pizzolatto, please shut up. Your mouth is writing checks your screenwriting *ss can't cash.

    That last episode was a writerly disgrace. You claimed you weren't going to trick the audience and you then you did it. You cannot with a straight face call half-baked TV trash innovative and still keep the respect of those of us who can tell the difference. You've gone Hollywood in a big way, Nic, the place where bullcrap walks until it's up there on the screen for all to see. Then it's the downward spiral, Nic. You're in Carcosa now.

  • Tennesse3501 | March 12, 2014 4:47 PM

    I respectfully disagree! I did not feel tricked at all! The mystery was solved in 8 episodes. Compare that to "Twin Peaks" where we had to wait years to find out who killed Laura Palmer. On "The Killing we had to wait forever to find out who killed Rosie Larson. The mini-series was great.

  • jerry | March 12, 2014 3:31 PM

    Same here, read 'em all. Saw 'em all.
    Pizzolato now denies that any of the hints he provided, verbal or visual or, were intended to mislead. Pizzolato wrote it all with just this ending in mind. A couple of dozen lines in the final minutes to alter the entire effect and to escape the responsibility of intellectualizing what he had previously done. Check out the Eastwood movie, Million Dollar Baby, which changed direction, but did it gracefully, with sparse eloquence and minimalist acting, and with much deeper emotion. I felt insulted at first by this cartoon, but have come to realize that I was wrong - Pizzolato is simply incapable. He should do well in Holywood. This guy is no writer, but hey, he knows that. He is an "artist".
    The writing, which I found fascinating in the first seven episodes, now disintegrates before my eyes. Like mathematical symbols on a chalkboard it now blows away, because not only is there no solution, but there was never any puzzle. The entire thing turns to meat, sentient or not. I've stated all of this in other places but I repeat it here. There is no need to buy the box set of this series anymore. The author has explicitly told us that there is nothing there.

  • Washington | March 12, 2014 8:57 AM

    Nobody was tricked you all deluded yourselves into obsessing over Lost style details for no reason

  • Rita G | March 11, 2014 4:41 PMReply

    I absolutely loved every episode of this show (True Detective) and hated that is over! The last episode was the greatest, leaving me to taking off my robe and standing up, because the intensity was so high in the series and in me. I am happy that the writer kept both men alive. Just the coolest when Cohle reached over and blew psycho Childress's head off to save his partner, Martin forming a true personal part of their relationship. They had respect and disrespect, anger, resentment and many other feelings, but I think the ending caused a real caring and trust that was lacking previously.
    It is by far one of the best TV series I have watched and I can say I watch a lot! The writer was superb! Casting could not have been better! My only complaint is that the cast will be different in Season 2. Harrelson and McConaughey were so good and such a perfect team.

  • Tennesse3501 | March 12, 2014 4:52 PM

    Next season the producers should star Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy bringing the entire Tuttle family to justice! Louisiana will never be the same state again. (LOL!)

  • Margie Barkley | March 11, 2014 9:54 AMReply

    To offer "the possibility of grace," a glimmer of joy, even though we have had follow the characters through their souls' darkest nights - that is genius. Tragedy evokes emotion, but that does mean that it is more profound than resolution. Good writing is meant to be read/viewed more than once. When I watch this again, I will look for the breadcrumbs of hope that I could not see the first time. As we live in the real world we should look for these clues. Thank you for offering an opportunity to think deeply and to arrive at the possibility of hope in a world that is incoherent at times.

  • Xibalba | March 11, 2014 7:20 AMReply

    Picasso stated:'the greatest artistas doesn't copy,the steal'.If Pizzolato has proved to be a great storyteller,but the finale was incoherent with Cohle's visión of the world.

  • mike | March 10, 2014 6:35 PMReply

    The only reason you think he copied from other work is because there are so many shows that its pretty easy to do something and related to something else. its hard to stay completely original. We have the ingredients. its what we make with them. I thought the series was great. I loved Cohle's philosophies. my favorite episode was when Cohle ran through all of the gang members and he beat the crap out of the biker guy the whole time they were getting away.

  • FilmGuy | March 10, 2014 5:47 PMReply

    "To retreat to the supernatural, or to take the easy dramatic route of killing a character in order to achieve an emotional response from the audience, I thought would have been a disservice to the story."

    Mr. Pizzolatto, the story is meaningless if there is no emotional response from the audience. Take a poll of how many audience members thought at least Cohle was going to die and I bet you'd find many.

    What we ended up with was seven great episodes soaked with philosophies on death, yet neither character died and the story ended on a weak note. Meh

  • FilmGuy | March 13, 2014 8:31 AM

    Yeah, watched the whole series again. The release of tension was way too abrupt and the resolution of the case was less satisfying than the build-up. Maybe it was the constraints of the eight episode format, but number eight was less emotionally satisfying than the previous seven. He's a hell of a writer and has progressed much since writing Galveston. He could definitely improve upon his endings. Should do great in dvd/blu-ray sales.

  • Erick | March 11, 2014 8:34 AM

    Dude, you've missed the boat. Which is fair enough, but perhaps not by such a wide margin.

    What he said was that he didn't want to take a shortcut to achieve an emotional response from the audience. He didn't say that he didn't want any emotional response at all.

    And why does it matter that some of the audience thought Cohle was going to die? How does that have any bearing on anything at all?

    This was never about detectives, it was about two men who happened to be detectives. It was a character study first, and everything else came second. And as a character study it is just about flawless.

    Another distinction you've failed to make: all the bleak philosophies were Cohle's, not the shows. I mean, so much of this show seems to have gone way over your head. Including the fact that - as others have said - Cohle went from thinking humans should stage a species wide suicide to the perspective that the light is winning.

    How does such change in one of the characters you've supposedly come to care about over the 7 "great episodes" fail to elicit an emotional response from you? Again, this show seems to have been pretty much wasted on you.

  • David. | March 10, 2014 7:42 PM

    Do you not think that a series with such dark unspeakable themes which concludes with an overwhelming feeling of hope is quite an amazing achievement for a story and all the more so that neither Cohle or Hart died.

  • Chris | March 10, 2014 3:06 PMReply

    He stole from se7en. No wait he stole from Alan Moore. No wait, this is the internet comment section and none of these things actually happened.

  • Anonymouse | March 10, 2014 3:49 PM

    personally, i don't mind when a writer takes from another writer or work of art if he/she adds new perspective, transcends the original message, expands the theme, or satirizes it. but when a writer takes dialogue from a source he has already made clear is an influence on his work to make the exact same point the original author made, i tend to think it's lazy writing. mind you, i think the dialog in question fits with Cole's tansfiguration, his unmasking, if you will.

    if the adage "good artists copy, great artists steal," holds true, i think pizzolatto copied more than stole here.

  • robert | March 10, 2014 2:01 PMReply

    That's not really what an "alternative ending" is...

  • Anonymouse | March 10, 2014 1:10 PMReply


    the lifting comes from a comic book called Top Ten #8, written by alan moore, where a dying horse headed alien describes a game of intergalactic/interspecies chess-like game involving forcers of light and darkness. as the alien is dying, he describes how long ago there was only darkness in the universe. now there are more and more stars and light is slowly winning the game.

    my description does the comic book no justice, but the similarities jarred me a bit and diminished what i thought was quite a brilliant series, if only because the lifting was blatant, imo.

  • Anonymous | March 10, 2014 2:49 PM


    no, i do not think moore, much less pizzolatto, are the first two humans to have this idea or even put them to work in fiction. but when pizzolatto in interviews says his influences in writing the series include alan moore and grant morrisson, it doesn't leave much to the imagination as to where he cribbed this idea and a lot of the fourth-dimensional stuff. mind you, i do not think it detracts from the viewing experience. as i have said, i found True Detective to be brilliant serial television. however, it does diminish the overall value of a work of art when the influences show a bit too glaringly.

  • anonycat | March 10, 2014 2:10 PM

    You think that in however many thousand years our species has been thinking that either of these two were the first to come up with this idea?

  • fitzcarraldont | March 10, 2014 2:08 PM

    Thanks. It's sounds like a good graphic novel. Maybe I'll give it a shot because the space element and dialog you mention seem cool. It's definitely an interesting find relative to True Detective.

    One last thing I'll add to my cache of Se7en and TD comparisons is that the neon cross in John Doe's apartment and the one Tuttle's office, which both imply righteous hypocrisy. Ok, I'm done.

  • fitzcarraldont | March 10, 2014 12:47 PMReply

    The Alan Moore connection @Anonymouse mentions is news to me. Can we get a link or a direct quote?

    On the one hand, I think the whole series took and developed the feeling of Andrew Kevin Walker and David Fincher's Se7en. True Detective mostly avoided specific appropriation/theft of Se7en but did an ample amount of thematic aping — intentional or otherwise. The dynamic between the two cops is very similar to that in Se7en: feuding partners, literary references galore, occult ritual murders, inscrutable clues. (Plus, in an early draft of Se7en Freedman's character actually sleeps with Paltrow's). The last lines of the finale, however, seem deeply influenced by the last lines of Se7en where Freedman's character says in VO: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, The world is a fine place and worth fighting for...I agree with the second part." It look likes either Pizzolatto lifted the sentiment or the sentiment is predictable enough that both he and Andrew Kevin Walker divined it to be the appropriate way to end their stories. Next season, I hope Pizzolatto takes greater pains to stay far afield from the territory of other terrific stories like Se7en while continuing to advance genre conventions in the thrilling way he has here.

    On the other hand, The makers of True Detective navigated a spectacular framing device, illuminated sophisticated dialog worthy of audiences with higher than a 4th-grade reading level (one of the only shows to regularly do so, to my knowledge) and built a deeply appealing character in Rust Cole. Let's agree Harrelson's predictable character left something to be desired without being nearly as easy on the eyes as young the Mr. Pitt in Se7en. That aside, week in and week out, the show left viewers with something to consider for the next seven days. Usually it was something profound.

    I don't have a problem with lifting in storytelling (the venial form of plagarism) as long as the lift fires my interpretative faculties and fits into a larger mold of originality. True Detective mostly managed this caveat throughout its first season. Here's hoping Pizzolatto completely breaks free of his influences in the second.

  • Anonymouse | March 10, 2014 8:17 PM

    @ fitz

    yes, i think there are similarities between Seven and TD, but i believe that this is not so much a copying/lifting (as in the alan moore bit) than it is both stories rely on a particular set of genre tropes: dueling partners, literary and occult references, existential and nihilistic tendencies, multiple red herrings, unsatisfied women, etc.

    here's hoping the next season, which focuses on "hard women" and "occult subway system" lives up to the heights that the first season did.

  • Anonymouse | March 10, 2014 12:01 PMReply

    was hoping he's stay away from occult conspiracies for the next season. anyway, has nic pizzolatto spoken about the homage/theft/appropriation of the stars, darkness, and light dialogue from alan moore? it was a bit glaring and took me out of the show. everything before that, thought, was brilliant.

  • Chris A | March 12, 2014 4:27 PM

    In response to the "occult conspiracies": some may believe that because there are references to the occult, that supernatural elements will enfold. Other believe that there is no such supernatural element, and the conspiracies are just fantasy and delusion. I believe in the latter, so this show wrapped up extremely well, in my book. Some people are evil, and some crimes and mysteries will never be resolved. Rust and Marty caught their man, and that is as far as they got. Unfortunate that the others were not brought to justice, but at least the Rev. Tuttle paid his price. This is real. Not every crime is solved. I don't need supernatural elements to appease my need for resolution.

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