Lost in the Movies: True Detective: Conclusions (w/ final images)

True Detective: Conclusions (w/ final images)

This post will include spoilers for the entire series - as will the 25 images collected below.
For a round-up of the entire viewing diary, visit the True Detective directory.

"Then it finally dawned on me, as it probably should have long ago, that True Detective is not going to be a series of unrelated miniseries under the same authorship. The characters will change, but the underlying storyline and backdrop will continue to expand. I suspect we haven't heard the last of the Tuttles (although I assume we will be relocating along with re-casting for season two) and I'm positive we haven't heard the last of the Yellow King. At least, I hope..."
Those words were published by me a week ago, but they were written back in March - immediately after I finished watching the final episode of True Detective. As I recorded that viewing diary I stayed away from coverage of the series, trying to avoid not only spoilers but a sense of wider context. Only after I was done did I read articles and reviews and interviews, watching the special features on the disc and discovering how other people reacted to the material. One of the first things I discovered was that, by almost every single account, True Detective IS going to be a series of unrelated miniseries under the same authorship. And yeah, I definitely consider this a disappointment - one which has caused me to look back on the series with at least a touch more bitterness and frustration than I expressed in my final review.

The brush-off given to the wider context of Dora Lange's murder was quite dramatic after the big scene early in episode 7 (which I had thought was a kickoff rather than a conclusion for those elements). I assumed Nic Pizzolatto had to be withholding information for future seasons, so that different detectives in different locations could pick up various threads of this bigger mystery. Not only was I apparently wrong about this, it isn't even something that feels like a problem to a lot of other viewers - many of whom argue that the information we got about the Yellow King, the Tuttles, and everything else was sufficient to lead us to Errol Childress and give Cohle and Hart a much-needed victory.

Frankly, I'm not sure why it was necessary to drag in that mythology if it was only meant to decorate an absorbing but relatively routine procedural. It seems like a bait-and-switch - "here's this ghoulish crime which is going to lead us into a deeper understanding of a secret web of power and the uncanny visionary states that accompany it" somehow turned into "oh no, you had it backwards - the shadowy conspiracies, and murky intrigues, and mystical mumbojumbo were just tools to help us solve that ghoulish crime." Pardon me, but I don't find that approach quite as rewarding.

Ok, I've vented. I still think True Detective was marvelous television, superbly performed and directed and - despite my frustrations with some of Pizzolatto's choices (with characterization perhaps even more than world-building) - a screenwriting tour de force. Recently I was compelled to watch the opening credits on YouTube and I was instantly swept back into the intoxicating mood and atmosphere of the show, into that feeling of eager anticipation I felt every time I popped a disc into my player. If I don't think the ending was fully satisfying, it doesn't invalidate what came before; it just makes me feel that maybe a richer conclusion is out there in the ether - and maybe we will see it yet (True Detective has at least one more season to go after this next one, and it's always possible Pizzolatto will change his mind - or that he's had some connective tissue up his sleeve all along).

Finally, a word on director Cary Jo Fukunaga, whose overarching voice will be missed on subsequent episodes (not only because he won't be present, but because no other seasons will be supervised by a single director). I think his role in making this series a small-screen masterpiece has been underrated and I also wonder if, at times, he wasn't an effective and necessary counterbalance to some of Pizzolatto's more precocious and/or pat dramatic turns. My favorite episodes of the series were 5 and 6, when plot took a back seat to character development, and their magnificence owes so much to Fukunaga's raw, subtle, complex treatment of relatively simple scenes (like Hart confronting his daughter or Cohle extracting a confession from the killer mom). Pizzolatto was a man with a plan, and he gave True Detective its tight, cogent yet ambitious narrative path, a relief in a landscape littered with shows that overstayed their welcomes. But my favorite moments of art are often moments of unexpected discovery and I'm glad that, however briefly, True Detective made room for these too.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to watch the new season and I hope I can avoid spoilers, even the general kind (already I'm hearing whispers that it will be disappointing, but I suspect that sophomore-slump backlash was inevitable, regardless of actual quality). I will probably post a season 2 viewing diary in a year or so, maybe right before the next (and final?) season is ready to air. I hope I will be watching much sooner than that, but we'll see. Anyway, the first season will be a tough act to follow.

Speaking of which, my next episode guide will be a resumption of my Neon Genesis Evangelion series (begun and abandoned in 2012, but now completed and ready to unfold over the year of its own apocalypse). This subject will be quite different - an animated rather than live-action show, two decades old rather than contemporary, an entity I've already seen several times rather than one I'm experiencing with virgin eyes. The form of these posts will be different too, incorporating conversations with other bloggers. As for similar features, Evangelion's ending is also quite controversial but in this case at least, I feel the conclusion is the best part - especially when the film is included in that judgment. And I will be covering that film as well, quite extensively in fact.

That all starts next Wednesday. For now, let's take a final stroll through the haunted halls of True Detective, soaking up those unforgettable images one more time...


Steve Morgan said...

I recently rewatched this season, as well as following along with your excellent episode guides (killing time before the return of you know what).
I believe the quality of the show holds up well - the writing, direction and acting are all absolutely superb. Season 2 suffered because of wild inconsistencies in all three of those categories, but this got it just right.
But what really struck me is things I believed were flaws first time around did not bother me second time round.
The things I felt were incongruous, like the excursion to Texas, seemed more like part of the overall structure. And crucially the finale, which I was very disappointed by first time, worked a lot better. Perhaps it was because the things I felt let down by (the lack of discussion of the identity of The Yellow King, the failure to explain why some murders, like Lang's, were public yet others conducted in secret and covered up) didn't seem to matter so much.
I also thought Carcosa and Childress were cartoonish before but genuinely creepy this time.
The final scenes seemed better for me too. First time round I was cynical about Rust and Cohle's emotional resolutions with their family (alive and dead) but now I felt moved - with two young daughters perhaps I am becoming sentimental with age!
I probably had all sorts of expectations and hopes originally and felt disappointed that they were not met. Now that I knew what to expect I was able to just enjoy it all for what it was.

Joel Bocko said...

Interesting - I've still only seen it the one time. It's kind of amazing that when I wrote this, True Detective seemed like a potential cultural juggernaut with the upcoming season two and here we are not even a year and a half later and it's been forgotten. Very similar to Twin Peaks in that sense, though different in many others.

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