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'True Detective' culminates in fantastic, frightening finale

HBO

By Alec Stern, Senior Arts Editor
Published March 13, 2014

There aren’t many first season dramas that have the power to elicit such fervor, but in fewer than eight episodes, HBO’s “True Detective” has achieved enormous success. Amid a highly successful awards run for his turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Matthew McConaughey continued to reinvent himself as the irascible Rust Cohle, alongside Woody Harrelson as philandering detective Marty Hart. Together, the pair spends 17 years uncovering the occult conspiracy surrounding the murder of Dora Lange. In the series’ final hour, “True Detective” ’s complex camerawork and riddle-ridden imagery juxtaposed a simpler narrative — one that the series’ dense build-up might not have suggested.

In the final seconds of its penultimate episode, “True Detective” reveals its missing link, identifying the mysterious “spaghetti monster with green ears.” After weeks of intense calamity, watching Rust and Marty’s personal lives wither in favor of dedication to their case, “Form and Void” resembled “True Detective” ’s premiere more than anything else. Its focused narrative reverted back to the series’ original setup, following two detectives as they investigate the single murder of a young woman. In the end, Rust and Marty finally find what they’ve been looking for: the yellow king, Carcosa, justice and — unexpectedly — hope.

Whereas similar shows like “The Killing” obsess over murderers and suspects — even donning the tagline, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” — “True Detective” was more significant than that; the beauty of “True Detective” exists way beyond Dora Lange. Boasting an aesthetic so easy to get lost in — amid the exceptional visuals, complex timelines and six-minute tracking shots — “True Detective” transcends its investigation, inspiring viewers to not only forget about Dora Lange, but also question the significance of who killed her.

Potentially to the disappointment of many hoping for a last minute twist, there’s an uncharacteristic simplicity in “Form and Void” — a jolting come down from its highly complex build. In the days leading up to “True Detective” ’s finale, the Internet was abuzz, with everyone from Marty’s father-in-law to Marty himself implicated in intricate conspiracies. Thanks to shows like “Lost,” “Homeland” and “Scandal,” we’ve been conditioned to expect finales that subvert our expectations; the idea that nothing is what it seems is a driving narrative factor all across television.

Despite chasing the dream of bringing down the entire cult — and never having the satisfaction of seeing every man responsible in cuffs — Rust and Marty get their guy. The man they have been chasing for 17 years.

As Marty tells Rust, “We ain’t gonna get them all. That’s the kind of world it is. But we got ours.

“Ours” was Errol Childress, who — in “Form and Void” ’s chilling opening sequence — quickly proves to be a villain worthy of “True Detective” ’s frightening brilliance. A product of inbreeding and abuse, Childress is a nightmare-inducing creation, complete with multiple personalities and a deep labyrinth of spiritual paraphernalia and evidence — the elusive “Carcosa.” And within Carcosa is where Childress meets his end, following a rather traditional, yet entirely exciting chase between he and Rust.

Thanks to the help of Detectives Gilbough and Papania, Rust and Marty survive their dangerous showdown and are finally able to uncover the truth. And after almost two decades of investigative and personal standstills, each is able to move on from the looming shadow Dora Lange had cast over their lives. Marty’s tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife and daughters reaches a stage of reconciliation, while Rust’s near-death experience changes him far more drastically.

In the series’ heartbreaking final scene, Rust sheds his layers of pessimism and dread, embracing hope and inviting an unanticipated sense of optimism. Unlike everything else, “True Detective” didn’t need to rely on revelations and shock. As Rust and Marty limp off screen, McConaughey’s performance and the lingering words of Nic Pizzolato’s smart script give “True Detective” all the spectacle it needs.

While the narrative failed to deliver any unexpected turns or perpetrators (unless a happy ending can be counted as a twist), Cary Fukunaga’s direction continued to surprise in “True Detective” ’s final chapter. Especially in “Form and Void,” the director’s imagery tells its own story, bringing to life the gorgeous Louisiana scenery and tapping into the minds of both Errol and Rust — the latter of whom experiences a spellbinding, ambiguous cosmic hallucination deep inside Carcosa.

Every so often, a show comes along that changes the game. And for its beauty, intelligence, performances and complexity, the legacy of “True Detective” will live on. As a police procedural, it subverted genre tropes in favor of complexity and realism. As a story about love and marriage, it was a tragic uncovering of human flaws and emotion. And above all, as a story about the relationship between two detectives fighting for Dora Lange and countless other victims, it showed that people have the ability to change, that we should live with hope despite the evil that exists in the world and most importantly, that in the battle between light and dark, “the light is winning.”