Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson
[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's True Detective finale. Read at your own risk.]
Although HBO's True Detective spent the last eight weeks setting the Internet on fire with crazed fan theories about "The Yellow King," the anthology drama series ended much like it began: with two men arguing about the ways of the world while trying to catch a killer.
Yes, the finale offered a couple long car rides with Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and his former partner Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), who used the time to debate Rust's judgmental nature and perhaps finally bury the hatchet with regards to why their partnership dissolved 10 years before. As for their killer, the elusive Yellow King? Well, it turns out the color that really mattered was green.
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After Rust and Marty's master plan to squeeze the truth out of Steve Geraci (Michael Harney) by making him watch the awful tape of Marie Fontenot's murder yielded no real results (Geraci's boss, Sheriff Childress basically shut the investigation down, and Geraci followed the chain of command), Rust suggests he and Marty pore over the case files with fresh eyes. Marty's fresh eyes land on a picture of a house they came across during the canvass after the Dora Lange murder. The house had a fresh coat of green paint on it. Could the "spaghetti monster with green ears" Marty and Rust have been looking for be the man who painted the house?
Turns out he could. After a little digging, including visiting the lady who owned the house in 1995 in a nursing home, Rust and Marty learn that Childress & Son Maintenance was hired to paint the house. A check of their work records put them all up and down the Louisiana coast, adding credence to Rust's sprawling map of seemingly disconnected missing persons and murder cases. However, the company's owner, Billy Childress, stopped renewing his business license in 2004, and Marty and Rust can't find any proof that Billy had a son.
But we know he did have a boy: our friendly lawnmower man Errol (Glenn Fleshler), who splits his days between staring at schoolchildren between paint strokes, taunting his "daddy," who is chained to a bed, and strangely alternating between a Southern drawl and a British accent while "making flowwers" with his wife/lover/half-sister. Fortunately for Marty and Rust, Errol is still living at Billy's old place, which the detectives track down. (Before they pay him a visit however, they make arrangements. Rust makes sure all the compelling evidence they have will make it to the media should they fail, while Marty makes sure Papania (Tory Kittles) will come to their aid should they find what they're expecting.)
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And find it they do. While Marty tries to gain access to the house to call Papnia (damn spotty cell phone service!), Errol refuses to surrender and lures Rust into a terrifying, winding maze of horrors. (Serious props to the set design team.) "This is Carcosa," Errol hisses (presumably from an invisible P.A. system). Once Rust makes it to the center of the labyrinth, however, he is distracted by one of his visions (of a dark cloud or tornado, it seems) long enough for Errol to sneak up behind him and stab him in the gut. "Take off your mask," Errol yells as he holds Rust, impaled, off the ground.
Rust headbutts Errol several times to free himself just as Marty storms in and shoots Errol in the arm. But Errol throws a hatchet into Marty's chest to stop the assault. But just as Errol is about to finish Marty off, Rust blows off the top of Errol's head. (His crown, perhaps?) Perhaps Marty did find a phone in the house, because Papania and the cavalry arrive in time to save both men, although Rust remains in a coma for a period of time while Marty is briefly reunited with Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) and his girls and is told by Papania and Kilbough (Michael Potts) they found enough evidence to link Errol to the Lake Charles and Dora Lange murders, among others.
So, that's it? Just one crazy dude with a super-creepy backyard funhouse? What about all the occult rituals and the government conspiracy with the Tuttles? (Don't worry, that bothers Rust too, who laments both that he saw Errol way back in Episode 1 and that the other men on the videotape got away. "We didn't get them all," Rust tells Marty, who replies, "We ain't gonna get 'em all. That ain't what kind of world it is. But we got ours.") That those threads were left dangling is fine by me, personally. The level of engaged theorizing this show inspired is admirable, but perhaps, in reflection, it was misguided. Although the show was trying to solve a mystery, the show itself wasn't necessarily a mystery to be solved. Instead, I look to what was always at the core of Nic Pizzolatto's creation: the relationship — and philosophical debate — between Marty and Rust. And fittingly, that's where this story ends.
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While visiting with Rust outside the hospital, Marty has to suffer through one final speech from his big-thinking friend. Rust describes the feeling he felt when he almost died as a "deep, warm" darkness beneath another darkness. He felt his daughter's love there, and even though he tried to let go of this world, he still felt it. And then he woke up. As he asks Marty to sneak him away from the hospital, Rust still seems to believe time is a flat circle. And he believes the story he used to tell himself about the stars in the Alaska sky is the same story that's always existed: light vs. dark. But somewhere along the way, he's become a bit more optimistic. As Marty reflects on Rust's most recent philosophical babbling, he looks into the sky. "The dark has a lot more territory."
"Yeah, you're right about that," Rust concedes. "But you're looking at it wrong. ... Once there was only dark. Ask me, the light's winning."
While listening to those final words, I was instantly reminded of something Pizzolatto told me during an interview before the season began. "While it appears this is a story going straight to the heart of darkness, and it very much does, I'm also more interested in how people wait out the darkness ... and what it's like to emerge out of the darkness," he said. It's hard to think of this episode, which was tautly terrifying at several points, as a "happy ending." But it seems Rust has perhaps begun to emerge from the darkness — and maybe he's pulled Marty out of it too. With this show, that's about as happy as it could get.
What did you think of the True Detective finale?