I’m a spoiler? You’re a spoiler. This whole article is a spoiler!
Throughout its first seven episodes, “True Detective” has divided its attention between two different elements of a traditional noir tale. There’s, of course, the mystery that propels the story forward with all of its suspects, twists and red herrings. Then there’s the aspect that “True Detective” has used to separate itself from others series with similar imagery and themes: its characters.
The sad, circular lives of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart have occupied more screen time than any occult murder or meth cook in a jock strap ever has and over the course of the series thus far, the former Louisiana CID partners have crept past the search for Dora Lange’s killer as the show’s top dramatic priority. But as the series approaches its final hour, time constraints are forcing viewers to wonder which half of “True Detective” will get the most attention and the most closure.
The end of Sunday’s penultimate, entitled “After You’re Gone,” provided a major answer for the central mystery of “True Detective.” Errol, the man last seen mowing the lawn outside Light of the Way in episode three, appears again, this time clean-shaved and with facial scarring around his mouth. With Errol seemingly identified as the Man with the Scars a.k.a. the worst child abuser of the bunch a.k.a. the man Rust believes this whole affair ends with, “True Detective” may finally have its endgame in sight. The only problem is that Cohle and Hart are on a boat holding a sheriff hostage. They’re not exactly hot on the tail of Errol the lawnmower guy.
With a little under an hour until the story of Hart and Cohle is over forever, the ending of the most recent episode makes you wonder if they will ever catch Errol. As two former police officers with no jurisdiction, the pair has backed themselves into a corner by taking Steve Geraci hostage. They’ve got a long way to go before nabbing their man, but if they are able to get off the boat in one piece, all the evidence they need to get to Errol is there.
Steve Garaci came under suspicion because he was the deputy — under Sheriff Childers (or Childress, but I’m sticking with the former) — who handled the disappearance of Marie Fontenot. The ’95 Erath sheriff told Hart and Cohle that Childers knew the family and never followed up based on the notion that the little girl was better off with her father. We know that not to be the case anymore, in light of the video tape Cohle found in Billy Lee Tuttle’s house. The official case file told a different story, but the most important detail here is the name Childers.
The name has popped up before both on the show and in forums posts of the viewers who comb each episode for clues. One of the prison guards that escorted Guy Leonard Francis back to his cell was named Childers, a detail that sent up mild red flags because of its recurrence, but after tonight’s episode, the red alert should be going off loudly.
That’s because when 2012 Hart and Cohle interviewed a former domestic work for Billy Lee Tuttle’s father, she said that the Man with the Scars was injured by his father, a bastard child of the elder Tuttle and possibly named Childers. That makes three Childers men from two generations, all of whom have a connection to the case.
So there it is. (And by that I mean it’s one possible explanation.) Cohle and Hart have everything they need to solve the mystery and finally bring the right men to justice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the finale of their story will take them. Rust made his intentions to kill himself once the mystery was solved clear in his conversations with Hart, who himself doesn’t have too much to live for in 2012. Now that they’re on a boat holding a sheriff at gunpoint, the future somehow look even less bright.
By putting everything out in the open before the last episode, writer Nic Pizzolatto has cleared himself from any accusation of committing a cardinal sin in the eyes of mystery show fanatics by not delivering answers. With an hour left to go, he has already provided the audience with an acceptable answer to the question “Who killed Dora Lange?” It was very likely Errol with help possibly coming from his father and brother. Now Pizzolatto is free to end of Cohle and Hart’s story on essentially any creative note that he wants. And it could, in theory, have absolutely nothing to do with arresting anyone.
If anything is clear by the end of this penultimate episode, it’s that the fates of Cohle and Hart are not the only things hanging in the balance ahead of the finale. The ultimate meaning and philosophy behind “True Detective’s” rapturous first season — unlike Errol — has yet to show its real face.