Cohle: “We didn’t get ’em all.”
Hart: “And we ain’t gonna get ’em all — that ain’t what kind of world it is. But we got ours.”
In an interview earlier this week, “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto shot down any notion that there would be a big twist to the end of the mystery, and the finale stayed true to that. Not long after the show clued us into Errol the lawn-mower man being the killer of Dora Lange and who knows how many others, Hart and Cohle figured it out as well. It was only a matter then of how the final confrontation would play out, and whether all the powerful people they believed were also involved would go down.
The answer to the last question? No. But that feels entirely appropriate to a show with as bleak an outlook on humanity as “True Detective” often had. You could even argue that Rust still being alive isn’t even a happy ending — as he did in a quiet but emotionally devastating scene at the end of the episode, describing to Marty how when he was comatose he felt the presence of his daughter and wanted desperately to join her, only to come back to the living world.
The endgame to the mystery may have been straightforward — Marty and Rust hit upon Errol through solid detective work, nothing more — and the trappings of Errol’s chamber of horrors (the dolls, the piles of junk) may have even felt a little overly familiar, thanks to 20-plus years of serial-killer movies and TV. But Glenn Fleshler also delivered an utterly chilling portrayal of a monster; the scene that opened the episode, with Errol turning accents on and off and “making flowers” (shudder) with his lover/sister is going to fuel weeks worth of bad dreams, as is his wordless contemplation of the young boy at the school he’s painting.
The physical place that Carcosa turns out to be is nightmarish too, a maze of oversized devil traps and desiccated bodies, with Errol leading Rust into the bowels of it before attacking him, and eventually Marty, with terrifying strength* (also, Rust has extremely terrible timing for that last hallucination).
(*Seriously, how does Marty come out any better than Rust after being HIT IN THE CHEST WITH AN AX?)
That part of the finale, we’ve seen before, from “Silence of the Lambs” onward. What has set “True Detective” apart from a bunch of other serial-killer shows and films is the depth with which Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukinaga have explored the two leads. The final quarter of the episode is given over to their recovery and a last look at how this case and their partnership have affected them.
What it doesn’t do, though — probably to the disappointment of some people — is expose the wider forces at work in Errol’s case. There’s one line, delivered by a newscaster, that law enforcement is “discrediting” idea that Errol is related to the Tuttle family; there’s no revelation about Marty’s daughter Audrey despite what looked like hints of a bad end for her; and nary a mention of the Yellow King, meaning that if it’s someone other than Errol, we’ll never know for sure.
Instead, we see Marty taking comfort in the fact that Maggie and the girls have come to see him (before breaking down at the notion that he’ll ever be “fine” again) and Rust repeatedly saying “I shouldn’t be here” before revealing why, beyond the grievously bad knife wound in his gut, in the scene mentioned above.
Given Marty’s penchant for extramarital affairs and volcanic temper, it’s not hard to see his life falling apart even if he’d never met Rust. But his time with Rust seems to have made him both more self-aware and more pessimistic about life — not exactly a recipe for a healthy outlook following the trauma he just went through.
Even more miraculously — and thanks largely, it seems, to his comatose epiphany — Rush comes out the other side a little less down on humanity. The Rust we met in 1995, at the start of the season, would never have uttered a final line like “You ask me, the light’s winnin’.” It’s in no way a happy ending, but there’s at least a small shard of hope for him.
HBO has yet to give the formal green light to a second season of “True Detective,” but given its success — the HBO Go app crashed during the finale, for Pete’s sake — it’s more a matter of waiting until Pizzolatto is ready and HBO has a line on casting than anything. Given all Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey had to play with this season, there should be no shortage of interest among high-profile actors.
What did you think of the way “True Detective” ended, and of the season as a whole? What do you hope to see from future seasons?