‘True Detective’ wrapped up its eight-episode storyline this week… and I’m still not sure how to feel about it. After teasing viewers for weeks about hidden connections and even possibly a surprise villain, the finale turned out to be rather pedestrian in nature. Yes, we still got some great dialogue between the two leads, but the resolution to the case turned out to be a rather by-the-numbers affair.
Confirmed almost immediately in the final episode is the fact that, yes, the lawnmower man, Errol Childress, whom we saw at the conclusion of Episode 7, is indeed our “Yellow King” and the killer Rust and Marty have been searching for. Actually, for my tastes, we spend a little too much time in this final episode with the killer, as we get to see the trashy old house he lives in, his equally creepy wife (or girlfriend, or live-in pal… who knows, she might even be a relative), and what appears to be the rotting corpse of his father tied up in a shack next to his house. (Again, who knows who the guy is… we just know that Errol calls him “daddy.”) Even “Buffalo Bill” from ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘ would be creeped out by this guy.
Meanwhile, Rust and Marty interrogate Steve Geraci on the boat. Holding him at gunpoint, Rust makes Steve watch the videotape that shows the rape and execution of a young girl. Geraci seems just as horrified by the video as Marty was last week, and claims that he didn’t have any idea what was going on – just that a report he filed was dismissed by Sheriff Ted Childress and he didn’t question it. It was all “chain of command,” he insists. Cohle and Hart let Geraci go, but Cohle makes it clear that if he tries to come after them legally, or if they should suddenly disappear, he’s got all the evidence ready to go out to both the authorities and the local media. He also tells him that he’s already paid off a sniper to take care of Geraci if anything happens. Steve isn’t buying that, but soon realizes that Rust is not joking when a hail of bullets rains down on his car. What Steve doesn’t know is that Rust’s hired gun is just the owner of the bar where he works.
Back at Marty’s P.I. office, Hart has a lightbulb go off in his head when he wonders if the “green ears” seen on the “spaghetti monster” they’ve been trying to track down aren’t from leaves but, in fact, from paint. Pulling out the file from the corresponding incident, Marty notes that a nearby house was freshly painted green during the time period of the crime. They track down the former owner (an elderly woman who’s now in a nursing home) and learn that the paint company that worked on the house was owned by a member of the Childress family. Marty then tracks down the son of the owner and gets the name Errol Childress. Our two lead detectives have finally found their man.
Before heading off to check out Childress’ residence, Rust talks to the owner of the bar and gives him a stack of different envelopes, each containing a copy of the videotape along with all the evidence he and Marty have collected to date. If the owner doesn’t hear back from Rust in 24 hours, he’s to mail them all. Meanwhile, Marty meets with one of the two detectives that interviewed him. He wants to know if he can call him if and when they have confirmed that their lead is the man they’re looking for. After some back and forth between the two, the detective agrees that, yes, he wants that phone call.
We now get to the climax of our story, and one that I have some mixed feelings about. After seven episodes of breaking the mold for police procedurals (if ‘True Detective’ can even be pigeonholed into such a genre), the final standoff between Marty, Rust and our killer seems to rehash every single movie thriller cliché in the book. First, Marty’s cell phone doesn’t work when they arrive at the scene. Then, when Rust has his gun pulled on Errol and a clear line of sight to shoot him, he lets him slip away. Chasing him, Rust winds up in some type of spooky underground lair with all sorts of weird ritualistic structures. He constantly hears the killer taunting him as he tries to make his way through the dark maze, but of course Rust can’t locate him. Somehow, our redneck killer has obtained the ability to throw his voice.
Finally, Rust enters a huge, domed room with a circular opening at the top. Looking up, he sees what appears to be a spiraling galaxy in space (at least that was my interpretation). Before we can wonder if Rust is really seeing this or if it’s another hallucination from his past drug use, Errol jumps out of nowhere (as killers tend to do) and stabs our hero in the gut. Just when it looks like Rust is a goner, Marty arrives to confront the killer – only to get an axe buried in his chest. When Errol goes for the fatal strike on Marty, Rust pulls out his gun and blows his head apart. Both our detectives are in pretty bad shape as the police arrive. (I guess Marty tracked down a phone after all.)
Marty wakes up in the hospital to the two detectives from his interview, who thank him for finally solving this case and inform him that Rust has been in a coma since the incident. Not long afterwards, Marty gets a visit from Maggie and his two daughters. They ask him how he’s doing, and Marty replies that he’s fine – but then breaks down in tears. It is, no doubt, a release of everything that’s happened to him over the past years, and the knowledge that this case is finally over.
Rust finally comes out of his coma, and Marty spends the next few weeks visiting him in his hospital room. When Rust laments not being able to bring the rest of the Tuttle family to justice, Marty tells Rust that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way, but that, “We got ours.” More time passes and Rust is about ready to leave the hospital. One evening, when Marty is wheeling his friend around outside, Rust breaks down and confesses that when he was close to death and in the darkness, he felt another, even deeper darkness. There, he could feel the love of his dead daughter, as well as his father.
Rust, the man who spent his whole life thinking that there was nothing beyond this world, now believes that there’s an eternal battle going on between light and dark. Marty looks up at the night sky and says that it appears that, “The dark has a lot more territory.” Rust replies, “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”.
And so ends one of the best seasons of a TV series we’ve seen in a long time. (HBO has not yet officially renewed the show, which will introduce new characters and a new storyline if if comes back). Unfortunately, it’s not without some controversy. All those red herrings about either Marty or Rust being involved in the murders were just that. There was apparently no connection with Marty’s oldest daughter and the murders, despite all the clues throughout the first seven episodes. For a series that seemed to be wrapped up in so many dark, unspoken secrets, in the end there was very little simmering underneath.
With that said, ‘True Detective’ was loaded with great performances, a dark storyline, and some of the more interesting (and quotable) dialogue we’ve heard on television. Regardless of the future of the series, this season will go down as one of the more enjoyable I’ve ever had watching a television show, even if the conclusion was a little too neat and tidy for my tastes.
So, what was your reaction to the finale. Did you walk away satisfied or disappointed?