True Detective Finale Review

Spoilers are ahead for those who have not finished the first season of True Detective. 


First of all, plaudits to Mcconaughey for his acting, truly a masterclass. In fact, the casting by Alexa Fogel (who cast Oz, The Wire, Tremé, Generation Kill) was excellent. The detail with the scenography was excellent, Cary Fukanaga did a sensational job of making the tension of the show feel palpable: each week I couldn’t wait for the week after.

And unfortunately that’s where True Detective hit a snag, in the week-to-week transition. Writer Nic  Pizzolatto spoke after the show premiered, “Like, why do you think we’re tricking you? It’s because you’ve been abused as an audience for more than 20 years. The show’s not trying to outsmart you. And really if you pay attention… if someone watches the first episode and really listens, it tells you 85 percent of the story of the first six episodes.”

“Why do you think we’re tricking you?” This stuck with me. Pizzolatto is a man who grew up watching The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood, three of the greatest shows on TV, all on one network at one time. Pizzolatto wrote his story with the framework of those shows in mind, but his execution fell short.

Rustin Cohle’s philosophy of Nihilism seems really fancy and incredible, except for the fact it’s a fairly common point of view held in an introductory to philosophy course. Not to bemoan simple philosophy, it’s just that Cohle’s bastardization of Nietzsche had some real potential. The scene about walking arm and arm into the sunset instead of reproducing came across as genuinely empty and resigned, but by the end of the show, Cohle is suddenly not only as reasonably skeptical as he was of life before, he’s suddenly of the belief that the light is beating the dark. For someone with the life-view Cohle was espousing, even if a man tried to beat you to death with a knife and hammer, that philosophy doesn’t go away.  This bothered me, as Cohle became the “diet” version of his own ideology. Cohle could have died, as he wanted to, but much like Dexter, Cohle came back and said and did some shit that re-aligned the final perception the viewer has of him. It’s a heavy-handed storytelling move, and it doesn’t sit right with me.

So again, I come back to the “Why do you think we’re tricking you?” Well – because you are, Nic. Well maybe not you, exactly, but what you’ve made. Pizzolatto created this show, an excellent cop show, that was seemingly breaking all the rules. Mcconaughey has different accents for different parts of his life? There is symbolism in the #5, the depth of the case that you can get into from episodes 3-7, the fact that the case is so sprawling, all of these point towards a complex and intricate ending.

That’s not what happened though, as the finale fizzled out like a Michael Bay movie. Carcosa, finally revealed, looked simply sinister, the mood around the last half hour was edge-of-the-seat. But I draw issue with the fact that they didn’t DO anything with this mood, – it ended in the most cliche of finale’s: bad guy rushes out from a dark corner when hero is distracted, they fight, partner saves partner, then other partner saves other partner.

But then they Dextered everyone, and brought Cohle back to ruin his nihilism. Why? What did the hospital scenes add to the story? Very little. Oh, we wrapped up Michelle Monaghan’s plot line. Harrelson’s daughters are now OK with him since he cried in his hospital bed. WHERE IS THE INTRICACY?

Why did in the final episode, subtlety be damned? Why did a cop show turn out to not be tricking us at all? Pizzolatto was right, True Detective is a cop show, it’s just that based on his filmmaking idols, his attention to detail, and the tenseness of the script that this would veer off in another direction. Perhaps next season will be that wild-move we were looking for.

But again, Pizzolatto wasn’t trying to trick us. He spoke in an interview with the Daily Beast: “I was going to use certain conventions of the procedural crime novel—and I don’t say those things with any kind of haughtiness. I love these conventions. I love them. I love a good plot. But I wanted to use them to try to write a literary police novel that also kind of encapsulated 17 years in the life of South Louisiana.”


I just wish he didn’t love the conventions so much. It makes for a more fulfilling experience.




About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

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