THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT! This article will be discussing, in detail, the finale of True Detective. If you do not wish to know what happens in the finale, or indeed the rest of the series, then stop reading this article now. Unless, of course, you're one of those sadists who likes spoilers, in which case come on in.
Last Sunday saw the finale of True Detective, a new show which finally got people to shut up about how awesome Breaking Bad was. True Detective blew away audiences and critics alike, aided by incredible performances from Hollywood stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and a seemingly cerebral and expansive story encompassing religion, philosophy, infidelity, and of course, lots of detective work.
It didn't take long for news outlets and television enthusiasts to start using the words 'greatest show ever' in sentences concerning True Detective. However, although the first seven-eighths of the season certainly stood up to this grandiose accolade, I have to admit the series dropped the ball in its pivotal and essential finale episode.
Finales are always tough, but with detective and mystery stories, they are imperative to the overall success of the season. If the final reveal does not work, then the entire story that preceded it is somewhat redundant. As The Stake's Andrew De Young states, classic detective stories operate on two kinds of plot: an apparent plot and a revealed plot. The apparent plot is the vast majority of the story, the collection of evidence, the interrogation of witnesses, the character development etc. The reveal plot is how these elements tie into a satisfying end to the mystery. Personally, I feel True Detective fails in this essential regard. It does not solve the mystery.
In the run up to the eighth episode we heard tales of deep-rooted corruption, murder and religious organizations used to essentially farm children for sacrifice in a mysterious cult. However, the grand finale we saw did not address any of this. Instead we met an incredibly cliched 'inbred-Texas-Chainsaw-esque-swamp-dweller', who lured Rustin Cohle through a kind of final boss level before ending in a cliche battle in which the partners take turns to save each other at the last moment. It wasn't their canny detective skills that saved the day, it was luck, headbutts and their good ol' fashioned trusty sidearms.
You see, cliche is something which runs through the entirety of True Detective. Both Rust Cohle and Marty Hart are characters we've seen time and time again. Grizzled detectives who wear their ties down to their third button and are nursing a broken heart and bottle of whiskey. They hang around in bars, they talk in gravelly tones and they're constantly being jerked around by their ball-busting chief who continually threatens to "take them off the case". They are classic film noir detectives. The thing is, you forgave these cliche characters for two reasons. First, because they were performed so well, and secondly because it made True Detective feel like a classic throwback of a well-loved genre. It was less of a cliche and more of a homage. All of this is totally fine.
However, if you play by these rules and build up expectations you should either deliver a classic ending which satisfies the story OR deliver a completely unexpected and contrary one which plays with these expectations - such as, for example, Hart dying in the final battle leaving Cohle to go down for the crimes. Instead, True Detective does neither. It flirts with a reveal but ultimately delivers a horror-cliche bad guy, an action-cliche shoot out, followed by a lazy exposition-cliche news report before cutting to a triumphant-cliche hospital conversation between the wounded heroes.
All this would have been fine - as I said above - if it hadn't been done at the expense of actually finishing the story and the entire experience in the 'correct way'. Instead, the conspiratorial side of the story is left unanswered. We kind of know the killings will stop (or will they?) but for the most part the head-honchos have escaped judgement. This wouldn't be so bad, however the show had done a good job of showing Cohle and Hart as detectives who'd stop at nothing to crack the case. Instead they just shot some hick dude who may or may not have even been the one who killed the girl in the video - an act which elicited such strong reactions from our justice seeking mavericks. Given this, Hart's excuse that they had 'got their man' just wasn't enough to satisfy this viewer. It's an ending made all the more disappointing by the consistently excellent quality of the bulk of the series.
One defense of the series could be that it was always about the characters. That the case was merely a McGuffin to forward the story and relationship between Rust and Marty. This could stand up to some scrutiny, indeed the only real 'conclusion' or 'revelation' was Rust's transformation from stone-faced nihilist to teary-eyed quasi-religious-convert. However, True Detective was ultimately a mystery story, and how you solve that mystery is of utmost importance. The question we asked as the audience wasn't: "What will Rust's emotional state be this week?" It was: "Who killed these people and will they be caught?" Other conclusions are of course allowed, but they shouldn't be used in lieu of satisfyingly solving the central mystery, either positively or negatively.
What do you think? Did you find the finale to True Detective disappointing? How do you feel about the series as a whole? Let us know in the comments below.