True Detective, Feature header

This morning, a dull, gray dawn broke on a dull, gray “True Detective”-less world. The show that has had us gripped for the last eight weeks (or the last weekend for compulsive binge watchers—hi there!) came to an end in either a blaze of HBOGO-crashing glory, or a fizzle of HBOGO-crashing disappointment, depending on your point of view. We’re much more in the former camp than the latter, so much so that we found our usual Good vs. Bad approach wanting this time around, purely because after a couple of niggles we were really reaching for anything particularly bad to say about it. 

Not to sound uncritical, folks, but with only a few holdouts, we loved this show to distraction, so we’re simply going to jot down a few thoughts about the finale (which you can refresh your memory on with the last of our Kevin Jagernauth's excellent recaps here) prior to looking ahead to season 2. This is a finale post, so do we really have to say there will be spoilers? There will be spoilers.

Thoughts on the finale

True Detective, season finale

Scope of the mystery
We suppose the biggest issue that some might have regarding the finale is that the solution to the mystery is smaller, and some might say, safer than a lot of the speculation had suggested it might be. And it ends with the death of a single man—a terrifyingly fucked up, grotesque and insane man, but one not possessed by supernatural forces, or even gifted particular powers, with other major players in the catalogue of sick crimes still at large. But that was to us a source of great relief too—a cool debunking of the kind of referential mania that had set in where every single thing had Significance and Meaning and it all pointed to some impossibly complex and tortuous, potentially otherworldly conclusion in favor of something real-world, making it more enriching.

In fact, we could go so far as to say it’s the show’s most successful bait-and-switch; just think about how all those “clues” (Audrey’s childhood sex drawings are maybe the best example) made us think about the relationships differently, even though they ultimately had no bearing on the mystery. Because this is a murder mystery show that is not about whodunnit, it’s about who solved it—it is about Cohle and Hart: their characters, their souls, and of course, their weird dynamic. By returning to that throughline for the finale, where some see the "safe" choice, we see the choice that was the bravest of all—staying true to these characters and not tumbling down the rabbit hole of endless overplotting.

True Detective, season finale

Resolution to Cohle and Hart’s relationship
We might almost be tempted to chalk the “they become friends in the end” arc of Cohle and Hart’s relationship into the negative column, for a show that did so much differently to what we’ve come to expect. But damned if it didn’t do it so well that every moment between them in the hospital and beyond felt right, and earned and satisfying. And it culminated in that twinkle of uncharacteristic hope from Cohle (“the light’s winning”) that, whether it’s an homage to or a rip off from Alan Moore or not, feels like it made the whole journey worthwhile.

The climactic chase through the twiggy tunnels
We have to shout out this sequence, because despite the points we’ve made above about it really being the story of a relationship and not the gothic horror blah blah blah, the show could do gothic horror really well too. And never better than here, in what has to be its tensest and most genuinely frightening scene. The fact that this late in the game it was still convincingly toying with the idea that there might be something truly uncanny and unkillable at the root of all this evil, and that it sustains that mood of dread so brilliantly, is a triumph of directorial vision and control—and set design, because, sheesh. That it all then culminates in a vision of a black hole which we retrospectively theorize could be the beginning of the hallucinatory trip that will bring a near-dead Cohle to his daughter (or an unholy confluence of Internet theories so fucking horrible they broke the space/time continuum to enter the show and distract him at nearly the cost of his life), is something that only a show this controlled in its craziness could ever have possibly gotten away with.