Trying out a new thing, because I write a lot about TV and never publish it. Spoiler warning: This is only for people who have seen the whole thing, or don’t care about spoilers.
True Detective gave us the eery, bleak landscape of Louisiana depicted in drawn out, silent shots. The brooding nihilist VS the hardened misogynist. An instantly intriguing flip between past and present timelines. Stories within stories within stories.
The build up to the finale of True Detective was one of the longest ever, as we watched the first half at quite a fast pace, caught up with America, and then had to break for two weeks right at the end, amidst lots of people alluding to things on Twitter, because the last episode aired during the start of Sam’s work trip, and I had to wait for Sam to get back before we could watch it.
Anyway, straight down to the important parts. Rustin Cohle, played by Matthew McConnaughey. I spent the first few episodes thinking “Definitely not”. Then “Actually, quite fancy him”, back to “Nope. Definitely can’t cope with moustaches”. It was really quite confusing.
True detective doesn’t particularly portray women in a good light. But I don’t see that as it’s objective. Female characters are little more than plot devices. This is a show about men. About two men specifically, and their journeys.
Apparently a lot of people were disappointed that the show didn’t tie up all the loose ends of the case. Neither Sam or I felt like that, but then, neither of us are particularly into the detective/crime genre, so we weren’t searching for tiny details in every scene, we were more interested to see where the character development was going. The things we discussed at the end of each episode were the characters actions and reactions, and their world views. Writer, Nic Pizzolato, had warned that we wouldn’t see a traditional ‘whodunit’ ending. There would be no tricks or fancy twists. True Detective is first and foremost a character study.
Whether intended or not, there have been some interesting parallels between viewers and narrative. By some accounts, Reddit went a bit crazy dissecting every bit of murder case evidence, searching for symbolism and meaning – Theorising who or what the Yellow King was – incident the ‘king in yellow‘ was revealed to have originally been a story about a story that drives people to madness when they read it.
The series ends up with Rust – our obsessive nihilist – attaching some sense of meaning to life – is it a human affliction that we seek meaning? Just as viewers needed more clarification about the murder case?
After the final episode aired, some criticised a sophisticated screenplay’s demise into a simplistic light VS dark” conclusion. But for a writer who intentionally set out to deeply entrench ‘stories’ as a central narrative theme, what could be more fitting than a retelling of the most classic thematic device of all – light VS dark, good VS bad?
The ending surprised me. I thought one or both men would die. I thought Rust wanted to die. I expected him to wake devastated that he wasn’t dead. His near-death enlightenment, his newfound willingness to consider that there perhaps is life after death, or more to life than he had convinced himself, SHOULD have been mega-cheesy. WHY did I not find it cheesy?? (Sam did, but then Sam didn’t think Rust seemed particularly optimistic at the end). All I can think is that it’s a testament to good acting – Matthew McConaughey does a brilliant job with such a challenging turnaround – Rust’s converting to optimism.
And yes, there was an odd sense of Marty and Rust as a bit of a comedy odd couple/bromance that didn’t quite fit with anything we’d seen in previous episodes. But I found the last scenes pretty touching. His daughter had shaped the landscape of the case from the start – her birthday on day one of the case, to the conclusion and Rust’s near-death perception of her. Now there was hope where there had only been loss and bleakness.
As Marty said “We can’t get them all, but we got our guy” – in this particular case, a study of two men and the events that shape their life, light wins the battle that we assumed had long been lost to dark. The real twist was the note of hope we were left with right at the end.
True Detective didn’t “wow” me whilst watching it. But I found my thoughts kept returning to it long after we finished watching.
The miniseries – a great opportunity to carve out a strong, evocative mood and sustain it in equal measure throughout a small number of episodes. A neat little package with a distinct pace. A standalone, statement piece of drama. Two vividly drawn main characters. A Bildungsroman of sorts. The whole thing worked very well, and has stayed in my mind.