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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: 'True Detective' Finale: It's Classic Noir, People

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood March 10, 2014 at 3:16PM

Many critics of HBO's 'True Detective,' which aired its finale Sunday night, don't understand that Nic Pizzolatto is riffing on established genre perameters.
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'True Detective'
'True Detective'

Critics who are saying that we needed something in the "True Detective" finale that was bigger and more plot-centered (meaning more melodramatic and tied up? or with a fantasy comeuppance for the rich evil dudes?) may have been missing the point of the show all along. The most important possible "resolution" is the one we got: the world's gloomiest guy begins to see the light. Hard to imagine anything more satisfying than that. (The finale scored series-high ratings for HBO.)

Also, many naysayers do not seem to realize that Pizzolatto and company are consciously working variations on an established genre. (See this Hitfix interview.) Too many changes, and you're no longer writing a sonnet. The central narrative line--a couple of workaday who cops who realize that the necessary thing will not get done unless they wade in-- is enacted regularly in the novels of, for example, George Pelecanos, the great contemporary hardboiled standard bearer. 

One of the classic moves in noir and hardboiled stories -- the ones that aren't written by plain nihilists, which are boring anyway -- is the partial victory. The big guy in the house on the hill often does get away with it: what kind of world do you think we live in? But saving what can be saved, making the effort and making some kind of difference, is nevertheless shown to be worthwhile.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the first season of "True Detective."
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the first season of "True Detective."

Which is why "True Detective" hits a perfect final note in focusing Rust's understanding of, as they say, what just happened. In a recent interview, creator and show runner Nic Pizzolatto summed up the POV of the show as follows: "Optimism is no more an illusion, necessarily, than pessimism." Rust gets to this in his own way, in the final line of the final episode of one the best TV shows ever produced: "Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."

"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown," is the easy way out.

This article is related to: True Detective, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, TV, TV Reviews, TV IS THE NEW CINEMA, Television


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.