- Is that McConaughey on The Island?!
After I watched the penultimate episode of HBO’s beguiling new series True Detective, whose first season concludes Sunday night, I googled in vain for “true detective two hour finale,” hoping I’d somehow missed the announcement that the last installment would be double-length. Particularly once you get lost in the subreddits dedicated to the show, it seems as though its creators have posed too many questions to answer in fewer than 60 minutes, have revealed too many tiny details—captured in screenshots and capable of being dissected at length—to hope they could all be explained in what little time remains. (Each season of the show will feature all-new characters and stories, like FX’s American Horror Story, so the second season won’t do any good.)
Of course, it’s naive to expect that they would: the show’s heroes are (deeply) flawed people whom no one should expect to be able to dismantle an enormous overarching conspiracy so they can find redemption for the trouble they’ve brought their own families. Matthew McConaughey’s character isn’t going to march into the Capitol Building surrounded by federal agents, turn to a member of the FBI and say, “Arrest the senator from Louisiana for his role in a Satanic, pedophiliac death cult” and have the law-enforcement official do just that! But, you know: who are the people dressed in animal costumes? Why did Woody Harrelson’s character’s daughter pose her dolls just like the people in the horrifying Marie Fontenot video? Why is the painting in his bedroom the same as the painting on the wall of the mental hospital?
Plus all the myriad other questions the show’s plotting and design have posed. My modest hope is that showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, with director Cary Joji Fukunaga, crafts a satisfying finale, that’s all—solving the mysteries it can, acknowledging the ones it can’t, and having the wisdom to know the difference, or something. The show has proven so haunting, so icky and creepy and addictive in its mood and art direction and storytelling, that to have its finale fall kerplop, to be too matter-of-fact or literal, would feel unfulfilling. Even the fact that we have a pretty good idea of who the killer is at this point feels a little disappointing: True Detective‘s tone has made me crave a character a la BOB from Twin Peaks, one that makes the evil men do at once comprehensible (ew, Leland!) while also maintaining an eerie air of otherworldly mystery.
One potential problem with mysteries is when their creators become too good at telling the story without the talent to write a story worth telling. The classic example is Lost, the last show that had me so fascinated with what would happen next; I’d kill afternoons poring over Lostpedia theory-pages in advance of the following episode, and the one after that, and the one after that, until there were no more episodes to watch, and we still had no solid understanding of what The Island was or who Jacob was. That series’ showrunners were so good at parceling out details and crafting cliffhangers—of keeping us guessing as to what cabins freed from the spatial laws of physics and monsters made of smoke could mean—that they let us down so terribly when they didn’t really have the answers. It was all form, no content.
Troublingly, True Detective‘s last episode is called “Form and Void.” But hopefully—and probably—the show will end differently than Lost did. (It’s so much shorter, for starters, with a much sharper focus!) Its creators have emphasized that this is a character-driven show, that its mystery—as Twin Peaks‘ was meant to be—mostly serves as a launching pad into the lives of the people it touches. But Pizzolatto and Fukunaga have proven themselves too adept at plot-point unknowns that make us want explanations. The mystery’s the thing here: I would find it strange if anyone, say, preferred Woody Harrelson’s scene in his ex-wife’s home to the one of him and McConaughey in the storage locker. If there isn’t a comprehensive list of answers forthcoming, that’s totally fine, as long as there’s something satisfying in the not-knowing—as long as the show doesn’t just spiral down into a substantively empty core.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart