SPOILERS, BUT YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNEW THAT
If you were lucky enough to not have to depend on HBO Go last night (March 9) for your “True Detective” fix, you were treated to the conclusion of Rust and Hart’s story. The final hour of the anthology’s first tale laid its optimistic philosophy out on the table — the episode’s only honest twist — and finally closed the case on Dora Lange’s murder.
The only problem is that philosophy wasn’t what theorists wanted. They wanted to hear their own personal conspiracies validated.
The monster at the end of Rust’s nightmare was just a man, Errol Childress, something the penultimate episode clued us into. His evil wasn’t supernatural. The secret didn’t lie hidden in the pages of Robert W. Chambers. There was no connection to Hart’s ex-father-in-law. Or to his daughter. Perhaps most importantly, neither detective turned out to be involved. And at the end of it all, they didn’t catch everyone involved.
So what was all of the weekly conversation about? It seemed like everything in the show was a clue to something larger and more complex. Were we all misled?
It’s a particular kind of disappointment that many “Lost” fans are familiar with. Scores voiced similar complaints after the ABC show also decided to hang its resolution on the lives of its characters rather than its mysteries. Obviously there are very big differences between the ways “True Detective” and “Lost” ended, but the most popular criticism is unfair for the same reasons.
The biggest difference between the two shows is how they each handled resolving their mysteries. “True Detective” made its answers simple. The killer was a man who had been raised within a powerful, abusive and occult-obsessed family. The series had the benefit of only running for eight hours. “Lost,” on the other hand, had to extrapolate the mystery over the course of six years, and in the end, chose to ignore many of the lingering questions. Because how could the story ever address everything?
The problems for both shows arose when viewers did more with the window dressing then they were intended to. In the case of “True Detective,” Carcosa and the Yellow King became keys to unlocking the show’s real meaning. When in reality, Pizzolatto added them for color.
The scattering of “clues” left just enough room for people to develop elaborate theories, which are ultimately just another form of unrealistically high expectations. When Hart doesn’t turn out to be the Yellow King because of how his hair looked in that one scene (something only you noticed), you’re going to be let down. But that disappointment happens outside the context of the actual show, and to judge it based on that simply isn’t fair.
If you find yourself let down by “True Detective” today, my recommendation to you is to give it some time. Let the conspiracy theories fade to the back of your mind, and then watch it again from the start. Take time between episodes to let the beats sink in, and remember why you liked the show so much during its first seven weeks. Hopefully, what you’ll have left are two characters, expertly written, shot and performed and a simple story, the only one there’s ever been, light against dark.
Be sure to read Alan Sepinwall’s great interview with Nic Pizzolatto if you want to know more about why things ended like they did.