True Detective

I’m not all that savvy a telivision critic. My first stop after watching each of the True Detective episodes was twitter or the AV Club, to see whether my own theories were shared (yes!) or if other people were following threads that were smarter and way over my head (damn!). I can’t say that I will add anything all that revelatory to

what’s already been written about the series – that I will shine any new light into the darkness. I can say that as I watched last night’s finale, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat. From the moment they followed that dusty road to Errol’s torture and arts and crafts farm on the bayou, I was ready for something incomprehensibly and engrossingly horrifying to ensue. Others have pointed out that this ending was a simple one, wrapped up neatly with the culprit taking the form of the predictable crazy hick who loves to torture people. But that didn’t change my sense of enjoyment in the moment, nor will it affect the stand-alone value of the moments in the series that were so different and so captivating.

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When I reflect on the series, I don’t think anything was as exciting for me as the end of episode five, when Cohle ventures out to Light of the Way school and finds all of those little twig structures hidden amongst the Katrina wreckage. I liked early Cohle, 1995 Cohle, with his wavy hair and his clean-shaven face and the certainty he held in his pessism, a much harsher worldview than even the Nihlists of Lebowski fame. I liked the way that his investigative strategy matched his firmly upright posture and his deliberate stride (“who walks that fucking slow?”) and the way his arms never moved, never wasted motion, never gave anything away. I was fascinated by the contrast he stood to his 2012 self, interviewed by the two black detectives so inconsequential to the story in the end that I can’t even recall their names. (Emily Nussbaum would like to add a word about the absence of meaningful female characters as well, and you should go read her critique of the show as a fetishized world for rugged males without any kind of meaningful central thesis.)

It was exciting to wonder what happened to Cohle between ’95 and ’12 that caused so much crazy shit to go down, that caused him to let his hair out and grow a fierce stache. I was truly underwhelmed by episodes six and seven, which filled in all the gaps of those long years and did so in too much of a hurry. Looking back, I can say it was a bummer for me as a fan of the show that Cohle walked out of that interview room in episode six, and I wish the whole story had been written in just such a way that it could come unraveled with his telling it after the fact, carving up beer cans and guiding the story in a philosophical yet collegial way with the two skeptical but curious CID veterans in the room. Of course, that’d have changed the plot too much and forced it in a different direction and I’m not even sure where it ought to have gone, or why I even feel I have the right to use the word “ought” in describing the plot of a fictional narrative.

I do know that I didn’t like the reunion of Marty and Rust in the present day, and I didn’t like seeing ragged Rust on the old beat without the same clean look and deliberate manner he had back in ’95. I wish the story had maintained that consistency – let those two guys solve it together despite the flaws they cultivated in their personal lives. I wanted young Hart and Cohle to be the ones to flag this thing down without letting other shit, especially absent time, get in the way. In Pizzolatto’s telling, the “other shit” really didn’t advance the story at all except to allow us an explanation for why we were fastforwarding seventeen years. Too much to tell, I guess.

And too much to solve, too. In the end, who can say who the Yellow King is? Or why the ’02 convenience store robber killed himself in jail after receiving a mysterious call? We’ll never know what possessed Ol’ Errol to string up Dora Lange on that big tree and burn the cane fields in the first few seconds of episode one, or why he mimicked the same murder at Lake Charles in ’10. Where was the big cover up? The Tuttles? The task force? The conspiracy?

I suppose you hope for a show to jump up and surprise you in the way that it weaves these mysteries together and in the way that it aims to solve them. Lost was terrific at creating mystery and abysmal at providing solutions; I’m convinced I’d have been better off never seeing that show all the way through, Sawyer’s charm notwithstanding. But here, there were just eight episodes and they were such a whirlwind of adrenaline and excitment and suspense that I don’t feel like I was cheated by the entertainment. I quite enjoyed myself watching these episodes, in fact, and the ending provided rare closure even if it wasn’t as intellectual as it could have been.

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