An Unabashed Rave About The True Detective Finale

The finale of HBO’s True Detective was as awesome as any fan of the show could have hoped. It was an acting, storytelling, and philosophical tour de force that left us wishing this show and cast would go on forever.

We found out who The Yellow King was, and he was every bit as creepy and appalling and deeply, fundamentally disturbed as we anticipated. As is true with everything about this fabulous series, the finale gave us only a glimpse as the life of this terrible serial killer of children and left so many questions about him unanswered that you could write whole books providing the explanation. I liked that they left things unanswered and tantalizing — it suggests the creators of the show respect their audience rather than patronizing them. Like the rest of season 1, the finale really made you think.

Spolier alert: I’m also thrilled that Hart and Cohle survived. I thought they would be killed off, and in some sense that would have taken the easy way out. When characters survive, you have to think about what they will become, which is harder.

In this case, I think we can conclude that — as terrible as their long experience was, and the many points of anguish they suffered, and inflicted on each other and Marty’s family — they ended up as better people. Marty obviously learned that his family is what is really important and that he has deep feelings for the iconoclastic Rustin Cohle. Cohle, on the other hand, reconnected with his daughter and his father, and now is allowing a dash of optimism to enter into his unique and bleak view of the world. Marty and Rust would make a formidable team going forward, but of course we don’t know whether that will happen, just as we don’t know whether there’s a glimmer of hope that Marty and Maggie get together again — which Kish is hoping for.

I thought it was great that Marty showed that, for all of Cohle’s dismissal of his skills when they ended their partnership in 2002, Marty prove to be a damn good investigator whose hard work and insight led the pair to the Yellow King. I liked that Cohle remained judgmental and inflexible about Marty’s self-destructive philandering. I especially appreciated that, at the moment of death, Cohle thought of and sensed his daughter, who had been an important start of the back story at the beginning of the series but hadn’t been mentioned recently. Reintroducing Cohle’s devastating loss of a child made the powerful closing scene even more powerful.

And what about that gripping, stunning closing scene, when both Cohle and Marty bared their souls? It showed what an epically well-acted series this was, because both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson absolutely nailed it. McConaughey gave a titanic performance as Cohle shaken and struggling and uplifted by his visions at the moment of death, and Harrelson was brilliant as he showed the layers, and changes, in a character who went from a cheating good old boy to a good man over the 17-year arc of the story.

I’ve long been a Woody Harrelson fan, and McConaughey matches him talent for talent and nuance for nuance. I loved the camaraderie of their two characters, the humor they brought to the roles, and the absolute credibility of their artistic creations. Harrelson and McOnaughey are simply two of the best actors around.

And if this posting isn’t enough of a rave already, let me end with a plug for HBO. For years, Kish and I have been saying that HBO has the best original programming on TV. From The Sopranos to Deadwood to Game of Thrones — and a bunch of other great shows in between — HBO has produced a huge collection of incredible TV programming. If you don’t subscribe to a network that produces a show like True Detective, you’re just cheating yourself.

The Mystics Among Us

Kish and I really enjoyed watching True Detective on HBO — more on it later, I think — but one aspect of the show that I really enjoyed was Rustin Cohle. Matthews McConaughey was fabulous in depicting Cohle as one of the mystics among us.

My guess is that you’ve known some of these mystics, just as I have. They’re offbeat characters. What’s more, they know they’re offbeat, and they don’t care. They usually work at jobs that leave them plenty of time to explore the world and their varied interests. They’re freed from all standard societal constraints, and are open to just about anything. And yet, there lurks a certain skepticism beneath the oddball veneer, too. They’re willing to consider just about any religion or philosophical construct, but they’ll do so thoughtfully and after some very careful consideration.

The mystics think seriously, and at length, about things like the possibility of life after death and the concept of the soul. They might accept part of Buddhism, or animism, or Taoist beliefs, incorporate it into their worldview, and reject the rest. They usually read avidly, and their choices are wide-ranging. They’re not afraid to tackle some of the tough scientific or philosophical texts, and often they’ll want to talk to you about it.

Some people don’t like to hear their thoughts, as was the case, initially, with Woody Harrelson’s terrific Martin Hart on True Detective. The rush of ideas and the connections between them are just too jarring. But if you can get beyond the initial jangle, the conversations with these mystics can be fascinating. I remember being entertained for a beer-soaked evening, listening raptly to one of these modern-day mystics during the summer I worked in Lake George, New York. I don’t remember, now, exactly what we discussed, but I do remember coming away with the distinct understanding that there is more than one way to look at the world. It was an important and very useful realization.