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'True Detective' ends well, but bails on its mysteries

It’s been a couple of days since HBO aired the finale of “True Detective,” but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, be warned there are spoilers below.  Click away now to remain unspoiled!






I thought it was a slightly disappointing conclusion to an excellent series.  The supernatural elements were handled perfectly.  There’s no need to believe we were watching anything more than the takedown of a particularly vile serial killer who somehow managed to form a murder cult, but if you prefer to believe he had some otherworldly inspiration – or that the Matthew McConaughey character’s very inconveniently-timed hallucinations were more than just random lightning storms in his brain – you can believe that, too.  

Mighty interesting that he hallucinated what appeared to be a cosmic wormhole in the sky over the killer’s recreation of the alien city of Carcosa, no?  Could that be the sort of conduit that decades of worship and blood sacrifice to the King In Yellow would create?  I hoped the show would end with precisely this sort of vague, tantalizing “make of it what you will” nod to cosmic horror.  Well-played!

And you can’t beat the sheer tension and suspense of Rust tracking the killer through that bizarre, low-fidelity recreation of his nightmare mythology.  Somehow I don’t think the Little Carcosa Amusement Park will ever be listed as a top attraction by AAA or the Louisiana department of tourism.  Which is a pity, because I’d pay money to stroll through it.  They could serve all sorts of yellow refreshments at the end: lemonade banana slushies, lemon pie…

But it’s a bit disappointing that just about all of the peripheral mysteries built up during the previous seven episodes were tossed aside in the finale.  The show’s creator, Nick Pizzolatto, has given interviews where he seemed slightly annoyed that viewers were obsessively combing through every scene of the show to weave elaborate conspiracy theories about the Carcosa cult, saying he always meant the show to be an intense character study of the detectives, with the serial killer case merely the plot thread that held them together over two decades.  If he really “couldn’t care less about serial killers,” he deserves all the more applause for creating such a memorable one, conveying much of the character’s evil through second- and third-hand impressions capped by a few brief – but very bizarre – point-of-view scenes.  

Still, the show’s bigger mysteries – how did this crazed cult get started?  How did the filthy slob we encounter at the end manage to get so many people, including wealthy and powerful people, to accept him as a guru?  What was the deal with Marty’s daughter seeming to know so much about the case? – were abandoned in the end, a cruel deed Rust and Marty themselves lampshaded by talking about it at the hospital: we’ll never get to the bottom of all this, but we got the guys who did most of the actual killing, so case closed.  

It has an uncomfortable whiff of “Lost” about it, although on a far smaller scale.  “Lost” spent years throwing mysterious developments at us, with the creators bouncing through interviews and assuring the world it would all make sense in the end… only to wrap things up with a wizard in a cave.  “True Detective’ was seven episodes of build, plus one episode of mixed relief and dismissal.  However, I remember the “Lost” crew using the same excuse about how their story was always intended to be “all about the characters,” and who cares about the plot if the characters are cool.  Character closure without dramatic closure seems to be the paradigm, and while “True Detective” had a far more satisfying ending and briefer run than “Lost,” that paradigm will always seem just a bit… lazy to me, especially when I’ve enjoyed such superb writing from the bulk of the episodes.  The people who create a brilliant series should be able to come up with resolutions at least as good as the wild theories on red-hot fan forums.

Although, to put my cosmic horror aficionado’s hat back on one last time, it might be creepier if the early days of the Carcosa cult remain utterly mysterious… because how does a slovenly backwoods hoarder get so many people to join a murder cult, and hold them in thrall for decades?  If it was a crazy thing they grew to regret, his associates should have long ago concluded he was one hell of a loose end, and gotten rid of him… but they didn’t.  Perhaps bloated Errol stumbled across a certain play, a play that consumes the mind of everyone who reads it, and shared it with enough people to begin a work of performance art that stretched across decades, piling up dozens of brutalized corpses along the way..

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