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How the 'True Detective' Finale Demonstrated That It's Great Small-Screen Cinema, But Lousy Literary TV

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | March 9, 2014 | Comments ()


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Even putting aside all the theories that didn’t come to fruition in the season finale of True Detective — and the expectations borne from them — there still has to be some lingering disappointment with the straightforwardness of the ending. As Rust Cohle noted in the coda, it’s all about lightness and dark, and that’s essentially what it came down to in the series: A very black and white, good guy vs. bad guy ending, and as if to reiterate who the good guys were, Marty Hart’s doting family — with whom he hasn’t had any real contact in two years — visited him in the hospital to show him support, lending even more credibility to the arguments about the thinness of the female characters all season long. Yes, it turns out, they were ornamentation: Boobs and pink panties and sexual conquests and doormats with which the ultimate male heroes could step upon and exploit.

But that’s not my biggest disappointment with the True Detective finale. My chief argument against the series was that it simply wasn’t literary enough.

Anton Chekhov was a major proponent of the economy of storytelling, which is to say: An author should not introduce elements into a story that are not necessary to it. Once Nic Pizzolatto introduced Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow, many of us had it in our minds that True Detective was more than simply two outstanding performances set against the backdrop a mystery. The King in Yellow invited literary comparisons, and once you invite those into the equation, it seems to me that you should be held to the standard of a great, efficient storyteller.

Pizzolatto didn’t meet that bar because much of what Pizzolatto introduced into his story wasn’t picked up again. Why, for instance, introduce Maggie’s father? Why include telltale signs of sexual abuse in Audrey? Why make such a huge deal out of the Yellow King? Why introduce the mystery behind the people who murdered Reverend Tuttle? Why include Rust Cohle’s hallucinations? Why were so many other details introduced and then never picked up again?

That is literary inefficiency, and while it’s easier to understand in the context of a longer season in the midst of a longer series where it’s often necessary to pad out the episodes, and where showrunners are often forced by more demanding production schedules to wing it along the way, Pizzolatto had only eight episodes to write and the ability to plan out the entire season in advance. The irony, of course, is that he still had all the ingredients necessary to create a more compelling ending, and yet he still he chose to stick with the simpler, “There’s a Monster in the End” storyline. It’s a shame, too, because Pizzolatto obviously has a deep understanding of literature, and yet he chose the television ending over the literary one. Unfortunately, it seems, he knows how to introduce literary allusions, but he doesn’t show us he knows how to utilize them.

Ultimately, the first season of True Detective works neither as great literary television, nor even as a great mystery. After seven and a half episodes and 17 years of investigating the same case, it’s something as random as the color of a painted house — something never introduced into the story before — that allowed Cohle and Hart to crack the case, only to spend the next 25 minutes engaged in a conventional manhunt that ended like so many movie and television shows do: In a trite, violent confrontation with a boogeyman that resulted in serious injuries but no deaths. It was noir with a fairly happy ending, one that saw Rust Cohle finally conquer his inner demons and feel something again. It was not entirely ineffective on an emotional level, but from an intellectual standpoint, True Detective fell short.

Still, while True Detective fails as great literary television, it nevertheless succeeds in fine cinematic TV, buoyed by remarkable performances from its two leads, outstanding direction, nice set pieces, and well-staged fight sequences. No doubt True Detective works very well as an eight-hour movie, albeit one with an anticlimactic ending, but many of us expected more. We expected the production values and talent we see in film, and the kind of mind behind it that we associate with great literature. Maybe television simply hasn’t evolved to that stage yet, which is a shame because it’s clear based on the reception and expectations of True Detective that we’re ready for it. Viewers not only want to be wowed by what they see on screen, but challenged by richer, more complicated and layered storytelling. The audience threw down the gauntlet, but the only thing Pizzolato could think to do with it was to use it to bludgeon the villain to death. In the end, True Detective was only surface deep, but a mighty shiny surface it was.



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  • David Allred

    You're missing one thing about all this... the literary "purpose" of this script was to show how human beings craft stories to deal with reality and establish identity. The absence of the painted house and Marty suddenly finding this clue, I believe is intentional. It goes to show how far we as viewers go to craft our own narratives around the unknown.

    "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." ~ Sherlock Holmes

    In my opinion, you missed it here in this review. And missed what makes it great literature. We deceived ourselves with the stories we created. And it takes a solid script, and a great writer to do that to millions.

  • Looking at True Detective from the perspective of a TV series fan, I agree we're talking about great-small screen cinema, and even there was some disappointment in the last episode because of the high expectations we had about discovering who was the Yellow King, finding Rust Cohle guilty, or getting into a “Twin Peaks 2″ paranormal final, the end is about the transformation of the human being, the mirror of Good and Evil, and this is what I like the most. Also agree Nic Pizzolato used took advantage of the buzz created by the yellow king rumors, but I sill believe this is one of the most relevant series of the last years. I'm the founder of Suxinsu, a creative studio designing t-shirts and stuff for movies and series fans. We created with the team our little tribute to True Detective, hope you like it even if you're disappointed after the end of the first season... This is the Roots of the Evil: http://www.suxinsu.com/blogs/n...

  • Cojocaru Cosmin

    Lol, in the second or first episode we see Rust photographing that green house. So, stay calm, the writers are smarter than you.😁

  • citizen

    I'm glad that I am a garden variety dufus, because I loved the show, and felt that the "inefficiencies" in story-telling, or under-utilized elements that were never used properly, were necessary and actually added to the story, because, like in life, especially a detective's life, many details amount to nothing of consequence. The show kept us off balance with those details, but in my opinion, never ventured from its core purpose - to tell the story of two men, and how they escaped their own personal Hell.

  • Here is the quote that I think sums up the finale from Se7en from Morgan Freeman:
    William Somerset: If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations, but he's not the devil. He's just a man.

  • trueblu8

    I think what ultimately was the most disappointing is that they gave us all these clues but then never touched on them again. The four horsemen in the picture, the tin men Rust makes, the barbies, Marty's older daughter throwing her younger sister's crown into the trees, her nude drawings, Maggie's grandfather, Rust talking about the sprawl of it all and the Tuttles so much and how there's rich, powerful men involved, I mean why introduce all these things if they weren't going to tie them into the story somehow? I know they made some attempt at the end mentioning on the news broadcast that people were asking about the Governor and the Tuttles and then Rust saying we didn't get them all and Marty saying yeah but we got ours and you don't always get them all because that's not the way it works, but I mean come on. I at least wanted to see them make some kind of effort to go after the powerful men that were behind it all, maybe even getting killed in the process but to at least make the effort. Instead, as someone said, we got "Deliverance". Lol.

  • trueblu8

    Is there anybody else that thought Marty realizing the green ears thing could've come from a freshly painted house was dumb as hell? I mean I've painted houses before and I've never seen anyone be so sloppy a painter as to have painted both of their ears. It is utterly ridiculous. The green noise reducing ear muffs would've been so much more believable. And I think someone mentioned it before, Harrelson seemed like he was reaching on that one and even had hard time convincing himself. Lol.

  • People are only disappointed with the ending because they had built up the crazy theories out of nothing. We were to a point where we were looking at the show's "poster" trying to determine if Woody Harrelsons hair being cropped made him the "Yellow King". This show never offered or hinted at any of the stuff WE made up. We took a very well done police drama and tried morphing it into something it never was. The show was one of the best I have seen in a long time, I think its only failure was an 8 episode run where things couldn't be as fleshed out.

  • Biot Nu

    Not everyone who was disappointed with the show had theories that were crazy, or feverishly pored over the King in Yellow, or expected some bizarre twist, so please quit trotting out that strawman to defend the writing.

    I'm someone who enjoyed the show, especially the acting, directing, and the flashback structure but doesn't think Pizzolatto deserves a pass on some flabby writing. Please don't group me in with people who were 'reading too much into it.' I think I read into it what Pizzolatto initially invited me to. Then he dropped the ball.

  • I too was a bit disappointed with all the stuff that was thrown at us that was left hanging out there. Sometimes it felt like this guy wanted to do a show that went on for a full season or multiple seasons but it was cut short in its infancy. 8 episodes was not enough nor maybe any number of seasons to touch on all the little things he gave us. But for those damn 8 we had, it was the best 8 I have ever seen and if that stems from all the little things with no conclusions then so be it. We knew as we watched it that there couldn't be resolution to all of it in 8 episodes. Tell me you didn't think to yourself by episode 6 "there is no way this can be over in two weeks" but we enjoyed it just the same.

  • Biot Nu

    I read some interviews with Pizzolatto midway or so through the series where he seemed aware that people were expecting a lot of the stuff in the show to come together in the end, and was (a bit desperately) trying to prepare viewers for disappointment. So I figured the ending was going to be roughly what it was.

    Pizzolatto is not Chekhov but there's a reason most writers are aware of the principle of "Chekhov's gun." It's an art to include what's important and skip what is not and because 'important' includes not just plot but characterisation, mood, setting etc., it's always going to be a judgment call, and different viewers like different things. I can understand why people think it's the greatest show ever, I can understand those who think it turned out to be dreck, and I can understand everyone in the middle. There's no need for: 'If you loved it, you must be ____, if you didn't, you must be ____.

    Yes I enjoyed it. I looked forward to each episode. I guess what disappointed me was that, had he gone another way, I might have rewatched this season a few times in future. The way he went, I doubt I'll revisit it because so much of it seems empty noise from the perspective of seeing the whole thing. I'm interested in whether the reaction to how he did things will affect what Pizzolatto does next season.

  • trueblu8

    Yeah I'm actually kind of mad at myself for that. I'm wondering now if I would've enjoyed the final episode more if I hadn't read all the theories online such as the green noise reducing earmuffs thing. Lol.

  • I think this quote from Se7en sums it up to me:
    "William Somerset: If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations, but he's not the devil. He's just a man."

  • Romantic Placebo

    If you guys really wanted to talk about a weird and disappointing ending we'd be discussing the final moments from Jane Champion's "Top of The Lake."

  • Christopher Webster

    You have it flip-flopped. The ending was literary in that it followed it's natural course and focused on the resolution of it's main characters' journey. It appears what you wanted a TV ending, which would rely more on plot reveals and gimmicky twists.

    The whole thing with Audrey was not at all about sexual abuse. It was the result of her father's negative influence on the household. It was a character thing, not a plot thing.

  • Sherry Doane Flynn

    AT THE END: Being portrayed as looking somewhat like Jesus, as he wakes
    up, he is suddenly knowing where his Daughter and his Pop are (in their
    afterlife) After being reduced from a poppas non believer....He sees "the
    Light" Very Good ending,
    ........especially after all the controversy over his statements on how he felt
    .....(more or less) about ~ southern Christianity and how those folks all had
    such a low IQ ...................GOOD SAVE TO THE WRITER !!!!!!!!!!

  • Crabpaws

    Dustin Rowles, you nailed it. Except we have every right to expect better of Pizzolatto.

    The endings of the Sopranos (86 episodes), 6 Feet Under (63 episodes), even Deadwood (36 episodes) -- now they were great TV, and did not claim to be literary. Each of the series had plenty of ups and downs and lot of ends to tie up, and their creators managed to do it, making each series as a whole a fully realized creative work.

    Even the trashy pulp fiction referenced by the title of his series
    followed literary conventions -- Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and
    Ray Bradbury, as well as H.P. Lovecraft were pulp writers, for God's
    sake.

    After all of his pretensions, not to mention his actual background as an expert in literary device, after a great start, Pizzolatto boggled the third act. His much-touted first season of True Detective turned out to be nothing but ephemeral TV eye candy. He's got to do better in season 2 -- much, much better.

  • Evan

    Having given it some thought over night - I am curious why the execs at HBO did not guide Nic better in terms of managing his episodic real-estate and if it was indeed obvious this could not be wrapped in 8 done well -- expanded the order to 10 to protect the shows brand integrity.

    If you look at American Horror Story which invented this new seasonal anthology format - Ryan Murphy who is a very seasoned television writer manages the storyline and mythology so it can be told and concluded in the intended limited episodic lifespan.

    Nic was a newbie and while his creative vision should be encouraged and protected - since this single eps airing the shows freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have all fallen. It has gone form "groundbreaking" to "over-rated" in a single episode.

    A little thinking out of the box like AMC did with Breaking B - giving him an expanded order to get it right rather damaging the brand with a hack job finale would have been worth its weight.

    HBO does 10 ep orders and TD has very few built sets to carry so the only real issue would have been scheduling with Woody, Mathew, Nic and Cary all of whom are EP's and thus would have an extra inventive to make it work.

    Unless Nic was totally unwilling to budge and this was his vision and was not willing to compromise - then - enjoy the learning curve sir.

  • Dale Hill

    I totally agree with this review... but still enjoyed the season right up to the end.

  • I didn't have as much of a problem with the ending as everyone else seemed to, but Pizzolistaccatto has been bugging me throughout the show's entire run. Honestly, if you have to constantly berate the audience into understanding what kind of story you've written, might it be possible that you're the one who's wrong?

  • RilesSD

    Yeah, he does seem like an arrogant prick. Talented for sure, but self-important.

  • Gil

    My take is that a good many people simply weren't sufficiently seduced by the Rusty & Marty character arcs to overlook the weaknesses of a truncated, tonally awkward third act, while a good many other people apparantly were.

    I think the real stars of True Detective have been the director and cinematographer, along with the every-once-in-awhile assist of the composer. For a stretch there True Detective was able to coast on style alone, but then the actual story…well, Catholics do have a thing for martyrs to other people's suffering.

  • trueblu8

    So true. Loved the hauntingly beautiful background music they used in episode 7 when Marty and Rust were talking about what they've been up to and then showing the scenes of them, Marty eating tv dinners and looking at online dating sites, and Rust taking out the garbage and then sitting outdoors watching the sunset while drinking a few beers.

  • John C

    So I guess this author missed the interview with the creator of this show many weeks ago, stating that there would be absolutely no twists..then gets mad when the ending is straight forward?

  • Evan

    I personally think Nic was doing some serious back peddling in all his interviews since the show hit - he can say everything is straight forward but what they shot and aired up until ep 8 was far from it. You make a contract with your audience who is investing in you with their time. You have to give them a pay off worthy of it. Ep 8 was not that.

  • Ben

    I honestly think that people got way too focused on The King In Yellow. As soon as that came into play that was all that anyone focused on. It was a story of two detectives chasing down a psychopath. The people who came referring to the King in Yellow also bordered on psychotic. Don't agree...normal people don't kidnap and torture women and children. By the way, The King In Yellow brings about madness in those who read the play. Perhaps the men like Reggie Ledoux and his partner were driven to madness by Errol who came from a family of people who had their own psychotic tendencies.

  • Seagrl25

    Bullshait. Here is what it actually boils down to, those that like the series but disliked the finale, probably disliked it because their love of the series was based on internet invented theories and 'twists', perhaps the daring parts of it as well. That wasn't what this show was about and it never presented itself as anything more than the lives of these two detectives for 17 years. Some stories are nothing more than the ordinary cycle of how a life is lived out. The writer blatantly stated there would no twists, no supernatural, or no hidden meaning, yet internets sleuths ran away with the idea of it being opposite of what he said. As Rust said, most stories are based on light & dark, and we got that with this story through the men that told it.

  • URnotright

    True Detective: Meet Rust, a dick. Meet Marty, also a dick. They think each other are dicks. Partners not by choice. They tolerate each other.
    They catch a shitty job. Time to get to work. Bosses: "Hurry the fuck up! Media is circling!" The partners reply: "We got this."
    The boys wade into stink that doesn't wash off. Searching, detecting. Life gets in the way. Stop to make right. Just makes a mess.
    Introduced to the demons, Rusts copes, Marty explodes. Each a scary dude.
    Partners are familiar now. Never friends. Chance to get ahead of the case. Go dark. Rust knows, Crash goes. "Don't ever speak of this" A Break!
    Closing. Can smell it. Lets go get this over with. Holy Fuck. Partners have their backs. "Only told the one way."
    Life moves on, time for a beer.
    Boys still tolerate. Respect. Never friends. To be the undoing. The one unforgivable sin. Thanks Maggie. Each had a choice.
    Blood spilled. Never friends.
    What did we miss? Rust thinks. Unwanted attention. "Start asking the right fucking questions." Long time. Pay the debt. THIS is why.
    Partners get to work. Big, scary people to catch. Too wide a net. What the hell have we got into? Keep 'yer head down Sheriff. What now?
    Dumb fuckin' luck! Cover the asses. Just in case. Is this the sum'bitch? Need to be sure. Hello nurtured evil. Worst kind. Gotcha now. Rust knows, Crash goes. Into the lair. Crash sees! Rust pays. Partners have their backs.
    Partners at the end. Each thinks the other is a dick. Doesn't matter. Never friends...better.

  • Evan

    Here is where I weigh in. Nic set up enough in ep's 1-7 to launch an entire multi-year series that would have been great and two characters that in one season have become television icons. Amazing. And to try and wrap all that up in one ep was impossible. But it is what it is.

    That said - my problems with the final ep are not with what was or was not wrapped up -- it was with the creative choices made in the final episode both plot and visual, which I did not like at all. I felt like I was watching a different show. Too much felt cheap, divisive and cliche. Especially coming from the genius that preceded it.

    The boat scene with Steve was a big nothing and Steve's performance was uneven and blackmailing him with finger prints on a video tape and a hired sniper - come on. The character had lost a kid - he was living representation of the horrible victimization of this cult, now he's "I have a very unique set of tools" and "mail these envelopes to every press outlet if I don't come back" - a plot devise both of which I have seen a bunch of times elsewhere and better.

    The clue about a random house that was painted causing green ears came out of nowhere and you could see it in the performance - Woody was reaching as far as he could to sell it, no cell service so we're in trouble was meh, the house that Errol lived in felt totally psycho-loony cliche - with dolls no less. Errol was all over the place and never came into focus and felt like a desperate attempt to make him different some how but in ultimately in a bad Cable Guy way. The dad, I am assuming was someone who was not really his dad but an avatar he could torture for the abuse he was put through and the blood room he was in was GOOD and the highlight of this set piece location cause it actually told me about Errol even though the whole thing reminded me of an X-files ep called Home, the endless chase of Rust's through the bushes and then into Carcosa cave was so long and not interesting especially after we have seen what they can do with 6 minutes of a chase, the final battle with Errol, Rust and then Marty doming him at the last second - seen it too many times in that exact choreography. Then--

    :::INSERT MISSING SCENES:::

    -- and jump to the final scenes to the hospital felt abrupt. it was like an entire sequence was missing. It made it really hard to get into Rusts final arc that he actually believes in something. I was asking myself again and again - where is the flawless everything we have seen up until this point. Again - I have no problem with not wrapping things up - but not like this.

    No question Nic is a huge talent that when given the time to let things slow burn is simply masterful but when put in a box and asked to wrap it up -- had a stifling effect everything that is great about his work. I am very excited about season two. I am sure he has learned a lot about what he is great at as it formats into a new medium for him - television - and I know he is smart enough to understand it and apply. I think his greatest surprise was US - the audience. See yall next season. Same place.

  • I call it "kids with crayons"...I have always felt that when anything ends the way TD did, the producers, directors and writers turned the ending over to "kids with crayons" and let them finish it up. "Look pretty colors" "Wow! a rainbow!" TD is by far the best show I have ever watched (no hyperbole) but I agree that the ending was a bit cliche but for the love of God, why was this show only 8 episodes long? There has to be a happy medium on TV between the TOO LONG feel of Breaking Bad and the QUICK BURN of TD. What I saw in the first 7 episodes was pure genius, the final episode just gave up. Why have these detectives live? If they are never coming back, why give them the happy go lucky ending? Why? Kids with crayons...that's why.

  • trueblu8

    Dude I thought there was no way in hell Rust was going to live after being so nastily skewered through the gut like that. And then, how many hours were they waiting to be rescued? And weren't they far as hell away from any hospital and way out in the boonies? I thought for sure they were both goners, but especially Rust. Oh well, I'm okay with it either way I guess. They did make Rust's eye and wounds look pretty nasty up in the hospital afterwards so whatever.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Hit the nail on the head.

  • TryHard

    "As Rust Cohle noted in the coda, it’s all about lightness and dark, and that’s essentially what it came down to in the series: A very black and white, good guy vs. bad guy ending, and as if to reiterate who the good guys were, Marty Hart’s doting family — with whom he hasn’t had any real contact in two years — visited him in the hospital to show him support, lending even more credibility to the arguments about the thinness of the female characters all season long. Yes, it turns out, they were ornamentation: Boobs and pink panties and sexual conquests and doormats with which the ultimate male heroes could step upon and exploit."

    If that's what you took away from the coda then you weren't paying attention. Marty's family coming to show their support was just that—they were showing that they cared. It does not show that the female characters were thin or two dimensional, it demonstrates their humanity. If they had spewed some gushy lines about loving him, and his wife wanting to get back together with him, then yes, it would marginalized their roles. The other women that were portrayed throughout the season, e.g. prostitutes and the adulteresses, were intended to be insignificant. This wasn't done because it was written by a misogynist who thinks little of women, rather, it shows the real world we live in. Our patriarchal society consumes women in so many facets, and then it justifies this expenditure because women are submissive, and weak(not my opinion, just generalizing how women are treated). Then you have women portrayed in another way, as victims of molestation, rape, and murder. Again, all of this reflects what really happens everyday unfortunately. Granted, this kind of trope isn't that creative but it does its job in establishing a believable world that we can relate to; it also helps in driving the action of the characters, giving them purpose. I imagine next season will have one of the detective be a strong woman. And Marty is by no means a hero, and neither is Cohle. They are both broken
    men who find some sort of direction in their lives to do something good,
    regardless of the horrible mistakes they have made. If you feel the show
    painted them as heroes, well, I think you may need to find a show that
    spoon-feeds you a bit more.

    "But that’s not my biggest disappointment with the True Detective finale. My chief argument against the series was that it simply wasn’t literary enough. Anton Chekhov was a major proponent of the economy of storytelling, which is to say: An author should not introduce elements into a story that are not necessary to it. Once Nic Pizzolatto introduced Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow, many of us had it in our minds that True Detective was more than simply two outstanding performances set against the backdrop a mystery. The King in Yellow invited literary comparisons, and once you invite those into the equation, it seems to me that you should be held to the standard of a great, efficient storyteller."

    Your disappointment stems from having expected too much from a television show. If your main argument is that it wasn't literary enough then the solution should seem pretty obvious: go read a book. Your application of Chekhov's theory is not a golden rule that all storytelling must follow; it certainly isn't true within books, so why demand it from anything else? As for Pizzolatto, he was continuing a tradition—one that was apparently lost on you—by telling the story of The King in Yellow. It wasn't a mystery, and the show never set itself up to be contrasted with the literary counterpoint. It was introduced as a back-story to the psychos, molesters, and murders. If we suppose these sickos are evil, and they are committing horrible acts of violence, then it makes sense to have them being driven by such a story. I think you are grasping at straws with your emphasis on this, and again missed the point. At the very least, you could have argued that this back-story was a red-herring, most people would buy that.

    "Pizzolatto didn’t meet that bar because much of what Pizzolatto introduced into his story wasn’t picked up again. Why, for instance, introduce Maggie’s father? Why include telltale signs of sexual abuse in Audrey? Why make such a huge deal out of the Yellow King? Why introduce the mystery behind the people who murdered Reverend Tuttle? Why include Rust Cohle’s hallucinations? Why were so many other details introduced and then never picked up again?"

    What they introduced was necessary to paint a complete picture. All the points that you listed helped push/develop the story further, and in some ways fill in the gap. I already explained why they made a big deal out of The King in Yellow, and there wasn't much of a mystery behind Tuttle's murder. As for Cohle's hallucinations, well that's simple: they allowed for supernatural events to be scientifically/rationally explained. Take the last episode when Errol stabs Cohle with the knife. Right before that happens, Cohle sees a rift in time and space(a black hole, void, etc). Now you can believe that this was either a hallucination or it really happened. I suggest you re-watch the season so you can pay closer attention to what you obviously missed.

    "That is literary inefficiency, and while it’s easier to understand in the context of a longer season in the midst of a longer series where it’s often necessary to pad out the episodes, and where showrunners are often forced by more demanding production schedules to wing it along the
    way, Pizzolatto had only eight episodes to write and the ability to plan out the entire season in advance. The irony, of course, is that he still had all the ingredients necessary to create a more compelling ending, and yet he still he chose to stick with the simpler, “There’s a Monster in the End” storyline. It’s a shame, too, because Pizzolatto obviously has a deep understanding of literature, and yet he chose the television ending over the literary one. Unfortunately, it seems, he knows how to introduce literary allusions, but he doesn’t show us he knows how to utilize them."

    Literary inefficiency? Do you know how pompous you sound? Again, your expectations were/are set so high that I can't imagine any ending satisfying your ego-driven criticism. Pizzolatto's ending should have been more literary? Why? Is he writing a book? Do novelized endings always have to translate to the medium of television? I suppose that your questioning of his ability to "utilize" literary allusions suggests you could have written something better? More so, you are the expert on allusions and how they must be put to use in order to be successful?

    "Ultimately, the first season of True Detective works neither as great literary television, nor even as a great mystery. After seven and a half episodes and 17 years of investigating the same case, it’s something as random as the color of a painted house — something never introduced into the story before — that allowed Cohle and Hart to crack the case, only to spend the next 25 minutes engaged in a conventional manhunt that ended like so many movie and television shows do: In a trite, violent confrontation with a boogeyman that resulted in serious injuries but no deaths. It was noir with a fairly happy ending, one that saw Rust Cohle finally conquer his inner demons and feel something again. It was not entirely ineffective on an emotional level, but from an intellectual standpoint, True Detective fell short."

    I am still unsure why you believe this show is suppose to be working as "literary television." The story wasn't based on a book, and just because it includes literary references doesn't mean it has to follow the same structure. And never once did the show, its creator, or anything building up to its release paint it as being a "great mystery." That was made up in your own mind. The fact that you mention the painted house only being introduced later in the story demonstrates your inability to understand storytelling, character develop and arc. It was a small, simple detail that was overlooked, something that happens in real-life detective work. Yet it was that one little detail that broke the case because they were looking at it with different eyes. How else could it have it gone down? They magically stumble upon Errol like the other detectives by driving along a road? Cohle remembers talking to Errol when he was at the school? It unfolded much like it would in real life, not some fictional fantasy world you were hoping for. As for the ending, with Errol and his Carcosian palace: that was intellectual enough. Oh wait, you probably wanted some kind of arm-chair, pseudo philosophy being discussed. Maybe exploring some Jungian archetypes?

    "Still, while True Detective fails as great literary television, it nevertheless succeeds in fine cinematic TV, buoyed by remarkable performances from its two leads, outstanding direction, nice set pieces, and well-staged fight sequences. No doubt True Detective works very well as an eight-hour movie, albeit one with an anticlimactic ending, but many of us expected more. We expected the production values and talent we see in film, and the kind of mind behind it that we associate with great literature. Maybe television simply hasn’t evolved to that stage yet, which is a shame because it’s clear based on the reception and expectations of True Detective that we’re ready for it. Viewers not only want to be wowed by what they see on screen, but challenged by richer, more complicated and layered storytelling. The audience threw down the gauntlet, but the only thing Pizzolato could think to do with it was to use it to bludgeon the
    villain to death. In the end, True Detective was only surface deep, but a mighty shiny surface it was."

    Typical cop-out summation. Your entire criticism bashed the show for failing on all your countless expectations, yet it succeeded in making fine cinematic TV? You should consider taking some literary courses, specifically ones that deal with criticism. Maybe then you will actually learn how to produce something more compelling.

  • Cowtools

    After reading a few online reviews and the comments, I've realized a dividing line is between people who identify with Rust's nihilist philosophy and see the final scene as a happy-ending cop-out, and those who recognize that Rust's nihilist speeches were just a mask he wore, and that his realization that 'the light is winning' is proper character growth for him.
    Basically, between people who can appreciate a well-written, earned, bittersweet-but-upbeat ending, and those who can't.

  • Evan

    I agree with your comments on Rust's character growth - it was where he needed to go and I am happy Nic made the choice to take him there. Rust was worth saving to me. I just thought the plot in the final ep leading up to it was weak.

  • RickJames33

    why does every tv there is in existence need a strong female character? is this to make everything level and fair? pc? there isn't some weird standard that says all races and sexes need to be equally represented in all shows. get over it! go watch 'girls'!

  • How does TD get such a bad wrap for female character portrayal and yet I don't hear a peep about Game of Thrones? GOT has strong female characters but 90% of the women cast on that show are nothing more than nudity quota filler for HBO.

  • trueblu8

    True that! Lol.

  • Aidan Harr

    Complaining about a TV show not being literary enough is kind of like complaining about a car not being able to fly.

  • pthalio

    But I'm still waiting for my flying car!

  • pluiedenovembre

    It is what it is, and it's not the show's fault that it turned out to be different than what you expected it to be. They said all along (Pizzolato and Fukunaga) that they were less concerned with the murders and the mystery than with the story of these 2 men. Why were you (or anybody else) expecting anything else? And why does it have to be literary? It's a TV show, and a very good one.

  • Jennifer

    Am I missing something? Wasn't this a season finale, not a series?

    Why would the writers be expected to tie up an entire series worth of questions in a first season finale?

    I got the clear impression that this villain was the tip of a much larger, more complex and corrupt iceberg and that Russ and Marty are still merely gnawing at its jagged edges.

  • pluiedenovembre

    Season 2 will have new characters and a new plot, Marty and Rust's story is over.

  • e jerry powell

    "Why were so many other details introduced and then never picked up again?"

    Trying to be fair in making what probably isn't a fair comparison, but I find that many times television writers take on way too much with limited time to resolve any of it. Somewhere between a Shonda Rhimes (e.g. Lisa Kudrow/Josephine Markus) and a Ryan Murphy (all of Coven, ignoring the fact that he likely didn't give a damn about continuity). Not suggesting that Pizzolato wrote himself into a corner, but that perhaps he let his mind wander a bit too broadly for eight episodes. More likely, I imagine something like Daniel Knauf with "Carnivàle," where things weren't progressing quickly enough for HBO's liking, and they ended up cutting the whole thing short just as Knauf was accelerating the pace of the show to make the network happy. I think that here, given five more episodes, some of those hanging threads might have been resolved (I'd say more satisfactorily, but that would be saying that they were resolved at all in the show that exists).

  • Not everyone can be Vince Gilligan. It's OK.

  • e jerry powell

    A far more concise answer than mine.

  • Mark Lloyd

    So...basically you're mad because the show didn't follow specific rules that you feel must be followed, basically you're mad because the show wasn't predictable.

    "he chose the television ending over the literary one." This is where you're 100% incorrect and the biggest fault in your so called "review".

    I think you're just bitter, sounds to me like you maybe consider yourself pretty clever and you thought you had it all figured out...only to realize at the very end you weren't even close. Sorry champ, we can't all be winners.

  • Matt Murphy

    Cohle died in the Yellow King's lair and, since the end is not the end, went to another dimension where there is less animosity between he and Marty and Marty and his family. Hence the portal he sees before he is stabbed. Also his fascination with the stars. Do they look different to him now?

  • Drumond Ofthe Funk

    like they said, they did not get all the bad guys they got their bad guy. do we really see the rest of the remaining group rounded up as more revelations come out about the murders.

  • Absintheminded

    I can't say I care much for 'literary television' (whatever that is). I agree that the strongest part of TD was the set-up, the mystery. The last two episodes were weak to the first ones. Part of the problem for me was the break of form with the retrospective narrative style & showing the scarred face man too early and using his point of view, rather than sticking to the two detectives like they did previously. As viewers, we're just waiting for Rust and Marty to catch up rather than investigating with them.

    That broke the 'rules' of the show itself for me... Still excited about next season though.

  • Drew Morton

    A collection of links regarding the finale:

    How the finale's spiritual epiphany was cribbed from Alan Moore:
    http://www.vulture.com/2014/03...

    TV Scholar Jason Mittell on TRUE disappointment:
    http://justtv.wordpress.com/20...

    THE ATLANTIC roundtable: "That's It?"
    http://m.theatlantic.com/enter...

    And Alyssa Rosenberg on the simplistic and predictable finale:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

  • Luis Oliveira

    The thing is that most people was expecting Seven and we got Zodiac.

  • Drew Morton

    If only! We were expecting ZODIAC and got RED DRAGON.

  • becks2point0

    Thank you so much. I specifically said "Guess I shouldn't have been holing this to the Zodiac standard" when the show ended last night.

  • Drew Morton

    ZODIAC ends without definitive resolution. How anyone could apply that narrative criteria to TRUE DETECTIVE is beyond my comprehension. Maybe if Rust and Marty had confronted Childress painting a house, had a stare down, and left without saying anything... ;)

  • becks2point0

    When I started to realize a few episodes before the finale that this was not going to be a show that delved so much into the case and instead was almost entirely about Marty and Rust and what the case did to them I began preparing myself for a much more ambiguous ending to the cult murder storyline. I thought Zodiac set a standard for how to present a case that drives its investigators a little mad and ends up unresolved so my mind immediately started filling in the rest of the narrative as if that was where we were headed. I was totally wrong.

    There were definitely no similarities past tone and some kickass acting and cinematography.

  • The Pink Hulk

    If you do five minutes of research on Carcosa, The King in Yellow, Chambers, and Lovecraft, you'll find this little summation:

    "Lovecraft borrowed Chambers' method of only vaguely referring to supernatural events, entities, and places, thereby allowing his readers to imagine the horror for themselves."

    Chambers, in his work "The King in Yellow," only refers to the fictional play (of the same name), which is a "forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it." Only excerpts of the play are revealed. The whole of the story of The King in Yellow is left for the reader to imagine.

    So...maybe Pizzolatto paid amazing homage to a work he loved and told a fantastic story in the process. Maybe we aren't supposed to know what happens in the fictional world of Carcosa. Maybe we would go mad if we saw what happened on that videotape. That's what I choose to believe.

  • Less Lee Moore

    Nice analysis!

  • manting

    Later on in the Cthulhu mythos the play The King in Yellow is actually written. It's not very good. Also the same way Lovecraft borrowed from Chambers, Chambers borrowed from Bierce.

  • icecreammang

    I don't know how to better phrase this or better connect the dots of my thoughts, but watching True Detective makes me wish more people would watch Rectify.

  • Wild Rumpus

    I was hoping for another Twin Peaks or X-Files, and all I got was a (very well-performed) buddy cop show. So I'm a little disappointed. I kind of wish the whole Yellow King and Carcosa lit bait hadn't even been introduced, because that was what hooked me initially.

  • Quality Gibberish

    That's the best evaluation of the series I've seen. Kudos.

  • Bennetttt

    This has been my favorite show, and the ending wasn't lousy at all. I had no disappointment with a straight forward ending, and in fact I fully embraced it. Of course we all have opinions, but I've grown weary of the traditional lingering mechanical twists that have plagued cinematic, and television screens with over the top narrative, and incomplete stories. In my opinion it seems careless to present characters repeating a narrative that has to reinforce telling me what to think. In reality most people react with nuances of their truest thoughts, unless you're Cohle whose ideal life was broken. I know many might disagree, but I want more Pizzolatto's who have an end game that resolves as best as possible staying true to reality. Too many have become too comfortable trying to be Kubrick's

  • codyfunk

    in defense of dustin's perspective (and others): the discussion seems to be very black and white, either (1) none of the loose ends were resolved and should have been, or (2) none of the loose ends were resolved and shouldn't have been (and that was the point).

    i'm in the latter camp, but have one foot squarely in the former's (dustin's) direction, if i'm honest with myself. the audience had been conditioned through the first 7.25 episodes with a heavy dose of texture, detail, and very earnest clues towards something "else" going on. it provided a baseline of constant second-guessing and "what ifs". as soon as they got to the house, however, that rug was swiftly pulled out from under us and it felt, i don't know, awkward. it felt like an entirely new team of writers and directors had taken over the show or something, and we were left with basically a copshow chase.

    it's no wonder, then, that my mind kept looking for that richness and depth that was no longer there. the clues/texture DID have something to do with the outcome, but the difference is what some people saw as critical clues that needed to be explained, were simply textural elements that, while certainly adding to the depth of the case at hand, were just there.

  • Bennetttt

    That rug was our own uncertainty, our curiosity, our own imaginations at work. The finale begins with showing us what's behind that veil, that creepy world in which they dwell in daily.
    For me it did not feel awkward as a copshow chase because for me that is what it had always been consistently from the beginning. The differences from just any copshow chase is that it didn't stick with traditional copshow toolbox, but instead used reality as much as possible, hence - True. Throughout the entire series there was a sense that much of the horrors could be taken right out of a newspaper murder story. The real life horrors we usually avoid reading because it is too graphic, too much to deal with daily. Police lie, cover it up. Something about True Detective struck me as more real, unwilling to accept traditional crime drama devices, but depend solely on today's modern horrors.

  • John G.

    Why do people treat it as though the ending folds everything that came before it up into itself?

    It doesn't change the joy I experienced theorizing about what each thing could mean, just because they didn't mean that in the end. The show was great for the journey. It's not about the destination or about being right.

  • codyfunk

    i agree with you, but am also admitting that a small part of me was hoping one of the dozens of easter eggs found a creative conclusion....the journey was awesome, in fact i'm likely going to watch the series over again in the next couple days as i'm fairly certain i missed some of the dialogue (as we all likely did), etc.

  • Less Lee Moore

    This is the only valid critique I've read yet.

  • StellaOliver

    I liked the show, I liked the ending. Watching the moments leading up to Rust and Marty driving to Carcosa and the two of them leaving the hospital, it struck me that this was also a story of love between the two characters. Not romantic or anything. Granted, I also chuckled as they walked off into the night because their relationship struck me as kind of a dark version of the Odd Couple or Grumpy Old Men.

  • Scott

    Totally worth checking out Film Crit Hulk's opposite take on this one:

    http://badassdigest.com/2014/0...

    I have to say, I disagree with Dustin here, and it's for all the reasons Hulk mentions.

  • Three_nineteen

    That article crystallized things for me. I wasn't that impressed by the finale, and hadn't really figured out why. Almost everyone else was telling me it was because I wanted all the loose ends tied up, and that I wasn't getting the point, but that wasn't it. Hulk made me realize that I just didn't buy all the (IMO) ridiculous philosophical bullshit Pizzolatto was selling,

  • codyfunk

    holy caps-lock batman. will read that when i've had a bit more coffee, but the first paragraphs seemed worthwhile.

  • Three_nineteen
  • nobcarajo100

    The Yellow King was wooden idol, an effigy that they worshipped, it was actually shown. Marty's daughter problems might have been caused by Marty not being there and not paying attention to his family. Rust's hallucinations are part of his character and have nothing to do with this case.
    People who enjoyed this show for what it was and the finale are in denial? What?

  • codyfunk

    yeah, i thought the thing in the room was the yellow king as well. not obvious-bright yellow, but certainly yellow enough, and clearly the object of worship.

  • codyfunk

    the end actually seemed supernatural to me. the hallucination was different than the others we'd seen, the unanswered "take off your mask" left open all kinds of questions....and when rust was stabbed, and eroll literally picked him up with the knife and bounced him up and down, twisting the knife all around, i was sure rust was dead. nobody could survive that. then rust starts headbutting him? seeing the light (flare) from above as they waited for help? the show was never supposed to be "robocop", so i'm going to go ahead and figure they actually died. the hospital was a little creepy to me in that fluorescent bulb, hospital-horror kind of way, maggie's face pale and expressionless. rust not dying suggests purgatory.
    and yes, i'm making shit up again...but there's no flipping way rust could have survived that.
    all the "unanswered questions" were simply fantastic texture and detail, which is ironically much more realistic than a straight-ahead cop show. they added substance and nuance to the characters, motivation, and misdirection. not a dishonest one, but a realistic one, in that nothing added up neatly. in a way, it was a perfect reflection of how most people took the show - focusing and obsessing on all the details, not looking for the obvious.
    while the set of carcosa was magnificent, the whole scene up to the confrontation bugged me. i need to rewatch it, but it seemed like 10 minutes of rust picking his way through, with eroll's slippery, lizardy voice somehow amplified through the whole thing, like he was wired with a mic through some sonos speakers. saying things like "thisssss isss carcosaaaa" in a kinda goofy way.

  • manting

    What was the song Errol was whistling twice?

  • WAS

    I agree with all the commentors who believe the loose ends didn't need to be tied up. The point was they couldn't be. I think TD explored a lot of the same themes as the Wire. Both exlpored how characters dealt with insurmountable material and moral decay. As David Simon has often said: "If you have ever read Albert Camus's Resistance, Rebellion, and Death on existentialism and morality, in that book in so many words, he makes the argument that to commit to the fight against injustice in a world in which that fight is almost certain -- or certainly more probable to lose -- is an absurdity. But to not commit to making the fight is equally absurd and only one choice actually offers the choice for human dignity, and dignity matters." I think Rust learned this in the end and watching it happen was great. On the other hand, I think Marty knew this all along, but was unable to live it out until the end, after he had lost everything else.

  • I think Camus is exactly the right type of reference to make - specifically with the whole 'nihilism to absurdism' transition thing clearly going on in Rust's head - and I'm actually quite surprised that I've seen no-one on the vast internet opinion plains mention him yet.

  • becks2point0

    Is Rust transitioning to absurdism though? I took Rust's encounters with the spirits of his daughter and his father as more of a religious rebirth sort of moment more in line with Camus' rejected "leap of faith" option for the confrontation of the absurd ( which Camus would consider a form of thought suicide, I believe.).

    I may have misinterpreted what Rust was trying to say.

  • John G.

    I took it that way too, but I suppose it could also be read as an adaptation of his earlier ideas of timeless beings existing outside the flat circle peering down on the beings forced to experience time, and that we are all part of those beings and only remember that when we exit the time loop.

  • I suppose it may well be the kind of thing where the situation acts as a mirror for the audience's beliefs.

    Me, personally - though I wouldn't claim that Rust's change was following Camus' words to the letter, there did seem to be some broad overlap. The simple fact that he conceded to himself that following the initial and total dominance of darkness in the universe he could now see some light, well - that to me sounded like a man who might just have realised that a meaning can be found just by reaching for one, rather than it existing in some objective, external way.

    But that's just me, and I've attributed an absurdist tone to a punch-drunk crackhead before, so: who knows?

  • becks2point0

    You're my favorite.

  • Less Lee Moore

    They're too busy reading Chekov and shaking their fists at the sky.

  • manting

    The only thing I found really problematic was Rust's final speech. He is an avowed militant atheist who holds believers in contempt and yet at the end he is as Jesusy as an evangelical preacher.

  • John G.

    I agree totally. I understand that was supposed to be his arc, but it kind of ruined him for me.

  • D.

    Isn't it too unrealistic if the show gives us all the answers?

  • Guest

    Isn't it too unrealistic for the show if it gives all the answer?

  • Christian

    Errol speaking in a british accent at the beginning was interesting for sure

  • becks2point0

    The way that scene was styled, the house, the decor, no phone, the sister/wife, the dirty giant monster man with a damaged face all taking place in the Southern backwoods, was a bit too Texas Chainsaw Massacre for me. When she says something to the effect of "He's gonna get you and he's really mean" I think that might be a direct quote from Texas Chainsaw.

    I really liked Carcosa though. That was one of the more frightening places the show took us.

  • manting

    He picked it p from the TV characters he was watching at that moment.

  • Kayla

    Why, for instance, introduce Maggie’s father? To show an aspect of strain in Marty and Maggie's marriage.
    Why include telltale signs of sexual abuse in Audrey? Because she likely was sexually abused or at least exposed to something inappropriate (porn maybe) and emphasize how, despite Marty's desire to appear like a good family man, he was actually extremely inattentive which lead to his daughter's unhappiness and eventually his divorce.
    Why make such a huge deal out of the Yellow King? Because the Yellow King was the deity or god like figure that the people in this cult of murderers and rapists worshiped.
    Why introduce the mystery behind the people who murdered Reverend Tuttle? Was this a mystery? The powers that be needed him dead to retain their power.
    Why include Rust Cohle’s hallucinations? To those that don't know him, this makes him unreliable. Which makes it easy for them to pin the murders on him. Also he likely had ptsd and he was a drug abuser for years. Its just an aspect of his character.

  • Kayla

    Why question these things? True detective is about two true detectives. Everything that this review questions are easily answered by watching the show. The answers are there if you consider that the show is about two broken men. Not about a cult or Cthulu or whatever... two men who are a cog in a very messed world who spend 17 years haunted by a very f'ed up case and did their small part solving a piece of it. It's never going to be fully solved. It's too vast and too powerful. As soon as Rust went on about time being a flat circle and evil repeating itself and such, I understood the themes of the show. From that scene on, the mystery for me wasn't "Who did it and why?" it was "Will Rust and Marty find the killer or the answers to any of the questions?" I was pleasantly surprised they got the Spaghetti Monster and not at all disappointed that they didn't break open the whole cult. Of course they didn't. That's all consistent with the story we were told. if everything was resolved, I would have been pissed that the show betrayed its own themes.

  • Drew Morton

    I completely agree, Dustin.

    A lot of us watched TD because it undermined and revised certain conventions of what the cop show was. In the end, it simply embraced and became those very conventions.

    The folks who want to defend TD on the basis that it somehow landed the buddy cop angle. Congrats, you're basically acknowledging just how banal and conventional the show ended up being. Defending TD for landing the buddy cop aspect of the genre is like defending McDonalds for having good french fries.

    I'd love to do a psychological study of denial in the wake of series finales.

  • DarthCorleone

    That's right. Now the french fries are good. :- )

  • nobcarajo100

    I can't understand people who get so upset about some things being introduced and never shown again. For example how on earth can you get the idea that Maggie's father is in any way relevant to the case at all. He was shown for a bit, Marty doesn't get along with him, and that's it.
    No but he was part of the cult! He abused his granddaughter! Seriously?
    For me it was a superb season, brilliant acting and direction. And a great ending. I'm looking forward to the next one.

  • Al

    I'm really sorry you were left disappointed, Dustin. I know you loved the show as much as I did. I wonder if part of it was because of your frustration with HBOGO?

    All I'd say is: In any investigation there are thousands of pieces of evidence when ultimately only a handful matter. We were given a tiny amount of information compared to what Rust and Marty "saw" over their 17 years. Piz showed us things to keep us interested, and it worked. Just because we didn't get resolution doesn't mean they didn't matter, nor do we know they weren't related. We don't KNOW Maggie's dad isn't involved or that Audrey wasn't abused. The entire show was from Marty and Rust's perspective so I never expected resolution to things that happened outside of theirs.

    Thanks for all the work you put in on the show. It certainly added to my enjoyment of the show.

  • John G.

    I think many people miss the point when they talk about whether this story was supposed to be about supernatural events or a single, twisted psychotic. The point isn't who predicted the ending correctly. The point was that the author of the story created a space for us to theorize and get lost in our own thoughts around the story he created, regardless of what direction those thoughts took. The ending was always going to be a disappointment to someone, but the ending isn't the point. Everything has to end, and when it does, it closes that space the author has opened up for us to play in. You can pat yourself on the back if you're a Marty, someone focused on the base instincts and simple logic of a straightforward universe, who never saw more than there was, and was rewarded with being right. However, the fun isn't in the end, but that entire universe between beginning and end where anything could happen. Time is a flat circle.

  • Skyler Durden

    As someone who watched all 8 episodes over two days and did NOT take breaks to read internet theory and speculation, I liked it. I thought it was fine. I sat back, watched it unfold, and didn't try to predict where it would go.

    And I have the feeling that whiny pieces like this will be the order of the day today, which is a bummer. There is no pleasing people. It is not the writer's fault that you set your OWN expectations and were mad when they weren't met.

    There is no winning against the hand-wringing rage of the internet, For fucks sake, a show recently ended and The Internet whined that it was too perfect.

    I'm taking my ball and going home on this one.

  • tiffanymadison

    Details were introduced av not picked up again because you were along for the ride. Following each detail with them, some important and some not.

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