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Exploring The Season Finale Of 'True Detective' & What We’d Like To See Carry Over To Season 2

by Jessica Kiang
March 10, 2014 4:16 PM
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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.

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  • Jessica Petersen | March 11, 2014 10:50 AMReply

    How about the editing on the show, it was amazing throughout and nobody seems to talk about that. Brilliant stuff in ALL of the episodes.

  • Go Lindelof, go! | March 10, 2014 9:26 PMReply

    More stuff from the Damon Lindelof storybook, like conspiracies, mysteries and hidden meanings that lead to nothing and at the end everybody is yelling that IT WAS ABOUT THE CHARACTERS!

  • frank | March 24, 2014 9:12 PM

    Please don't bring up that "L" name anymore. It's synonymous with trash.

  • Anonymouse | March 10, 2014 10:14 PM

    i've read a few people complaining about this and do not think this argument/comparison holds water. lindelof and co. compounded mysteries with no endgame, which the x-files and other shows have done so - 22+ episodes a season is rather taxing for any writer/showrunner. true detective did no such thing. the main mystery was solved without impunity. were all the characters implicit in the horrors brought to justice? no. were all the layers of the mystery explored? no. there was no cop-out, pardon the pun. the creators delivered a brilliant gothic horror detective tale. brilliant, yet not perfect. but not every show can be the wire.

  • Zinjo | March 10, 2014 8:02 PMReply

    Love the show and having two of my favorite actors performing in it only made it better!
    Reminds me of a much more grounded Twin Peaks, devoid of the supernatural. Interesting, flawed, characters involved in a mystery bigger than themselves. Whether the two stars return to reprise their roles in Season 2 or not, this season established the show as "One to Watch"!

  • Puly1333 | March 10, 2014 5:16 PMReply

    People want "more female characters" on the next season of True Detective... well, f*ck female characters! I want more interesting, 3 dimensional, well writing characters and I don´t give single f*ck if they are male or female, black, white or purple...

  • Puly1333 | March 11, 2014 3:59 PM

    Please, Slurricane, go back to kindergarten and sued your teacher, she clearly didn't teach you who to read. But, maybe there is some hope with you... you said "if there are women up front and center, it's gonna be trash" meaning that, maybe, maybe, you didn´t understood a single thing that I wrote and you are covering your ass. Please go back to my text and read this part again: " I want more interesting, 3 dimensional, well writing characters [explanation: characters, people, real human beings inside the context of the play / movie / tv show] I don´t give single f*ck [explanation: I´m careless about the following subject] if they are male or female, black, white or purple..." [explanation: as long as the character is a good one, I don´t care if it´s a female black revolucionary or a white male with daddy issues]
    You are very welcome, a-hole

  • Slurricane | March 10, 2014 5:37 PM

    f*ck you right in your misogyny. The CREATOR of the show, said that that was the way he was gonna go with it. If you're saying forget anything you've seen or enjoyed from him this far, if there are women up front and center, it's gonna be trash, then you're the absolute worst time of human being.

    I'm pretty sure The Following is on tonight. Go play in traffic until it's go time.

  • Dryer | March 10, 2014 5:04 PMReply

    There was a taunt authenticity to this show that will doubtfully be unmatched with following seasons. Here's hoping the writer doesn't loose track of that and as you mentioned 'fall down the rabbit hole' which seems to plague almost every HBO program once it's out of the gate running its second lap, ie. The Wire, Sopranos

  • Mate | March 24, 2014 9:10 PM

    ********TT, why does EVERYbody spell "LOSE" wrong? What the **** is happening in this world?

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