In its final hour, “True Detective” served both aspects of its personality — the mystery of Dora Lange’s murder and the lives of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart — without ever betraying the series’ soul. The Yellow King, the Man with the Scars, Carcosa, the Tuttles, Reggie Ledoux, Marie Fontenot and every other string on the cork board pushed the story forward for eight hours, but in the end, the ultimate, most satisfying conclusion amounted to nothing more than two men having a conversation in the parking lot of a hospital.
The answer to the central mystery of “True Detective” was simple, even by the standards of a police procedural. Errol Childress was really nothing more than a lunatic capable of unspeakable evils. Sure, he had connections to a senator and a powerful pastor, but what Errol did to Dora Lange and the rest of his victims was just the workings of a messed up dude.
And it never had to be anything more than that. (My sincerest apologies go out to the Lovecraftian conspiracy theorists out there. Perhaps Cthulhu and the “Cloverfield” monster for #TrueDetectiveSeason2.) The writings of Robert W. Chambers and “The King in Yellow” added color to the scenery and painted a layer of dread over the proceedings, but what made “True Detective” a week-to-week phenomenon was always these characters and the performances by Woody Harrelson and Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey.
If there is a complaint to be had, it has to be about the beginning of the final episode and the time spent exclusively with Errol and his next of kin. The show has never been about a villain — outside of our heroes, of course — and wasting even a little bit of time peering into their backwater world felt like the show conforming to the standards of lesser series within the genre. Did we need to know what happened to Errol’s dad? Probably not. Did we need to see the half siblings “make flowers”? Absolutely not. The scenes — Cary Grant cameo aside — served a purpose that the rest of the series didn’t care for all that much and as a result felt out of place.
Having gotten its genre obligations out of way, “Form and Void” thrived where “True Detective” has always been at its best. Director Cary Fukunaga once again showed off his cinematic mastery with the insanely tense chase sequence through the branch-filled tunnels that Errol identified as Carcosa.
The entire suspenseful stretch could have been from a classic horror movie with exceptional build up and a worthy payoff. You could almost feel Fukunaga behind the camera thinking, “I’m going to be able to do literally anything I want after this.”
When Rust and Marty wrapped the case up with 20 minutes to go, it was a good sign of where the real climax would lie. Both former detectives somehow managed to make it out of Carcosa alive, but as we learned in the parking lot, that wasn’t exactly the happy ending Rust was hoping for.
Is it possible to get “and ’True Detective’ ” inscribed on McConaughey’s Oscar next to “Dallas Buyers Club”? Because Rust’s emotional breakdown was equal to, if not greater than, any single piece of acting that he’s done throughout the McConaissance. The moment was the pinnacle of eight stellar hours, the only downside of which is that Harrelson’s understated performance will get shoved into the Supporting Actor categories and the implications that come with them.
It’s hard to imagine that HBO won’t approve of whatever second season Nic Pizzolatto is currently writing, but while the future of “True Detective” is uncertain for the time being, maybe that’s for the best.
Maybe it will give everyone the opportunity to think about what we’ve spent eight hours watching. In its first series, “True Detective” was something unique even in what is, in all honesty, a golden age of television. It was pitch black, philosophical, unabashedly entertaining, thoughtful and ultimately hopeful and human storytelling that trusted its audience’s intelligence and their capacity to be challenged.