Published on March 16th, 2014 | by Dave Scaddan


True Defective

Was the ending of True Detective anti-climactic and Contrived?  Do we have a right to be bothered?  We pull apart the final episode to decide.

I stake no claims to my right to be entertained — anyone in this age who can’t find a way to keep himself entertained is a sad case indeed.  I can watch, read, and listen to whatever I want, whenever I want, or at least with a freedom and accessibility that I never could’ve imagined was possible as a theatre ticket-buying, broadcast TV-watching, library book-borrowing, radio-listening child.  I have no right to be indignant about media’s inability to satisfy me, because media today is about satisfying oneself, and knowing where to look to do so.  A failed search is the failure of the searcher.

Yet I find myself unsatisfied, because one of my favourite shows of the winter, HBO’s True Detective, is now over, and its eighth and final episode is bothering me.  I know, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to put my heart out there so far that I would care very much about a television finale, but last weekend I did.  I anticipated this finale in ways that embarrass me now: concocting theories, rewatching the previous seven episodes, asking everyone at work where they were in the series before indulging in way-too-specific conversations.  I invested quite a pathetic amount of fervour into appreciating a TV show, but I did it all because it really felt worth it for seven solid weeks.

If the series would’ve ended after seven one-hour episodes, I’d feel mildly empty, but not like I do now.  If writer Nic Pizzolatto had just ended the story with an eerily familiar lawnmower man dropping an eerily familiar line, revealing the killer while we imagine Rust and Marty performing car battery atrocities, it might’ve resonated as an odd, but bold ending with an unsettling effect.  That eighth hour though, it really unraveled the tightness and mystique that had taken a lot of great writing, acting, and directing to create.  How can a series hit seven consecutive home runs (maybe episode six was more of a base on balls) only to strike out swinging at a slider in the dirt when the game is really on the line?  Let’s break it down.

First, after teasingly, gradually building a spectre of evil that’s so ominous and potentially far reaching, (far-sprawling, as Rust would say) True Detective ‘solves’ its crime with a shot of Woody Harrelson squinching up his face at two photos of a house.  One’s drab, the other a fresh green, so . . . holy moly, our green-eared suspect must have painted the house, because who’s ever painted a house without getting latex topcoat all over his ears?   I had heard it suggested last week that maybe our Lawnmower Man from episode seven had green ears because there was grass flying around his face all day.  I thought that was a decent explanation, but now it seems like a Shakespearean stroke of fifth business.  I painted the north side of my two-storey house a couple of summers ago.  I didn’t get any paint on my ears.  None.  And Lawnmower Man is supposed to be a professional.  I mean, that creepy evangelical conglomerate paid him to paint all their schools, right?

Then there’s the large number of elements that anyone faithful to the show ought to be curious about that were never answered or addressed.  Carcosa is a place, which is fine, but other than how it looks, what went on there besides what we could see on a grainy VHS tape in the episode before (if that, even)?  Does everyone who goes there see a crappy CGI nebula twirling overhead?  Who built it?  Surely the origin of this intricate maze of brickwork, archways and earthen floors is an important part of the dark legacy of the show, but the script treats this issue like it doesn’t matter, as long as we remember that it was dark and creepy.  It looks like horrible stuff could’ve happened there over the years, so that’s good enough for ’em I guess.

And our killer, our bogeyman, our bad guy.  Our lawnmowing, home-and-school painting, scar-bearing monster “making flowers” with his (at least) half-sister in their palace of decrepitude.  Was this a terrible delivery on a brilliant build up, or what?  There were so many things that could’ve nurtured curiosities we’d naturally come to have about this character.  What is the specific story behind his scarring (apart from the, “his daddy done that” we got in episode seven)?  What is his connection to the Tuttle tapestries of both blood and evil?  Why was he chasing a girl through the forest, possibly while masked?  Is he the Yellow King?  And when, oh when, will he learn to keep that paint from getting on his ears?  I mean, a serial killer might as well leave a trail of breadcrumbs if he can’t keep those ears paint-free, because broken ex-cops tend to notice these things when they’re staring at old photos of houses, right?

We got a decent enough killing of our villain, I suppose.  It was no Clarice Starling reacting to the sound of a gun being cocked in inky darkness.  It was no Will Graham smashing through the bay window in perfect time with ‘Inna Gadda Da Vida.’  And who didn’t see it coming that Rust would commit the prone-kill just before Marty got the coup de grace?  That moment, the moment we had all been led up to with so much anticipation, it played out exactly the way it felt like it was going to when the tension was at its greatest.

And last, and least, the intervention of a near-death epiphany to wrap it all up in a buddy-buddy hospital escape.  Never mind the fact that this was a sell-out on the lovably cynical dark horse character that this show made many of us love.  An ending like this is just lazy writing.  Any series could end this way and the scriptwriter could claim closure and catharsis in the final act.  Walter White has a near-death experience and realizes he’s got to live to see Molly grow up.  Don Draper has a near-death experience and realizes he’s got a family to nurture.  Fred Flintstone has a near-death experience and needs an equally proportional knock on the noggin to bring him out of it, and when it happens everyone is happy.  This is not exactly the kind of storytelling True Detective primed us for previously.

Not that it wasn’t still fun to watch the great performances of Harrelson and McConaughey right until the end.  Maybe this was really what was so great about True Detective right from the start, but my still fresh memories of watching the early episodes for the first time ring with the feeling of discovering a show that’s immaculately planned and well-executed.  The question now is, well planned for what?  Well planned for another stereotypical last-second take-down of another stereotypical movie monster with little more than a horror movie set to prove the depths of his evil?  I know, I know, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to put my heart out there so far, but damn it if it didn’t seem for a while there like this bird was going to make it to the sun.  This summer, when I paint the west side of the house, I’m getting some plastic ear covers just in case.

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is a teacher who enjoys writing and talking about movies, music, and books.

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