This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 1 Episode 8
True Detective’s final episode, “Form and Void,” breaks the cardinal rule of show business. Leave ‘em wanting more. Oh sure, I’d love to watch this every week for the rest of my life, but this was satisfying. True Detective satisfied me as a supernatural suspense thriller, as a monster movie and as a worthy entry into the Satanic Detective genre. And it was a good cop show, with grit and humor, that could sit atop any list with Joseph Wambaugh in it. I am sated. It was a great meal that started with antipasto and had a monster course of spaghetti, albeit with green ears. True Detective even had a little acting cadence at the end like one might serve pastries with espresso and Sambuca. Cohle and Hart reach an understanding. That’s dessert. There is a monster at the end, but there is also hope. When you look up at the stars and you see that the darkness outweighs the light, a little hope from a nihilist goes a long way.
First of all, I want to backtrack to why I started watching this in the first place. I thought True Detective was going to be fun. Matthew McConaughy and Woody Harrelson, veteran actors, veteran stoners, kicking back and having fun chasing demons in the woods and swamps. I thought it was going to be a blast. Maltese Falcon on the bayou. Mio mayo. I get a steady kick out of both of these actors, I figured, cool. Sit back, get bent and enjoy the ride.
A little bit about stoner clarity, because it does play into True Detective. Those who partake know how they can get lost reading something and blow through whatever’s available out there to read on it to get to the ultimate conclusion. It’s fun getting lost in anything that remotely interests you and you’re not scared that they eat time in Carcosa. Think about the excessive detail the Beatles brought into their music after it became verdant. That clarity tunes right in to the abyss of unlimited potential. Nic Pizzolatto’s excessive compulsive attention to detail mirrors the detective work. It relies as much on chasing down clues and doing research as it does that leap of intuition. True Detective captures that unquenchable need to know with pincers and a magnifying glass. Rust and Marty are two cops who know how to get down when they need to. Woody and Matthew are two actors who always know how to get down.
So, I thought, wow, what fun. I never expected it to be this much fun. Sure, Zombieland is a rollercoaster breaking at forty five laughs per second, but True Detective was a full on immersion into everything I love in film or on TV. Fuck the acting. Fuck the technique. It was spooky shit with a truly dark harrowing core. I laughed a lot. Not just at the intended timing or lines, but at the brilliance of the darkness. Out loud I laughed. Inappropriate belly laughs at the most horrific of moments. Not because I’m a sadist, but because of the art that went behind them. The venom of the lingering camera after a devastating epiphany.
The rattlesnake unfolds in the deep woods. The lawnmower man and his dogs, his sister and his daddy, waiting for his daily water, if he’s good. We don’t have to see the old man on the bed to know, he probably doesn’t need water. Maybe watering, maybe a hosing down, but not water. There’s something painful and twisted going on.
Childress, the spaghetti monster with the green ears, does a mean Cary Grant, well maybe not Cary Grant, but this backwoods cracker with the Charles Laughton drool has his droll drawl too. It looks like Childress has MPD and one of his personalities is Aleister Crowley, the left hand path mystic and ceremonial magician. It looks like he went through the same dark spiritual journey that drove uncle al crazy. The great beast went a little off doing his last great work and Errol Childress has that kind of light in his eye that just gleams ascenscion. Sure, he can whistle Mozart (sorry, also did The Simpsons tonight so I’m calling all music Mozart), design a backwoods Wewelsburg Castle and he’s achieved the highest level of illumination that the grand architect had blueprints for and insight into the infernal dimenstion, but you’d think he’d vacuum the living room, just once.
But True Detective, they delivered on that monster. Errol Childress joins the ranks of legends like Hannibal Lecter and Leather Face in horror history. Kids should fear him more than Freddy, Jason and Mike Myers, even if he is playing the Cat in the Hat. Childress was conjuring something in that cavelike temple, Carcosa, the one that comes after the drive past a forest of what looked like little Jesuses (Jesii?) on trees, petrified, just off Highway 287 South. The Childress Monster, the man with the scars, the spaghetti monster, The Yellow King, he taunted and he teased before he came at Cohle like mommy’s dearest in Psycho. He is a sadistic sorcerer who can conjure interdimensional storm clouds for a flashback visionary, but he’s also a sick serial killer who’s really good with a knife. If only we had the eyes to see what he’s up to, he’d be past us and onto something else with a knife in our gut and a hot poker up our ass. Evil geniuses, and the half-sisters who love them. Diabolical denizens of the bayou swamp. An invocation to below with the power of innocent blood behind it.
Just as much as True Detective reveals the possibilities of power from below, the show gives one of the most realistic depictions of power from above crushing whatever gets underfoot. The conspiracy theory nut in me was cheering as True Detective entered Parallax View territory, the conspiracy genre. I don’t believe most conspiracy theories, but I am a fan. Here is a conspiracy that is being solved right before us. It’s as ugly as anything that’s rumored to be out there and it can only be accomplished by people who are in power. Who stay in power because of these kinds of conspiracies. True Detective gives the most compelling arguments for lying. Because everything is a conspiracy.
That psycho bit that Cohle puts on may not scare the Sheriff of nothingman, but the Breaking Bad sniper dude in the woods knows how to make a point. You kind of hope the Sherriff is going to come on board the plan when the detectives show him the videotape on the boat, but he’s still an arrogant bully cop who doesn’t want to get wet. That tape moved him, but there was still something missing. He is aware of the conspiracy, even with whatever he saw on that tape, he’s still hiding something. He is still wearing a mask. He is still answering to something bigger.
The detectives who are interviewing Cohle and Hart, (Michael Potts as Det. Maynard Gilbough and Tory Kittles as Det. Thomas Papania, or “suck and fuck” which I’ll never get out of my head), are toes in the foot in the boot on the throat of discovery. When Hart reaches out, he is just as likely to be grabbing at a cinderblock as a lifesaver. These guys are still going on the theory that Cohle might be the killer. The reason they think that is because it might behoove their superiors to kill two birds with one nest, or of course devil trap.
Pizzolato, who wrote the script without interference, without anyone looking over his shoulder, without paranoia, has a freedom to follow an individual vision that’s almost unprecedented on TV and it pays off. With dividends, as we see a horrific conspiracy to keep a powerful magician masquerading as a simple contractor protected by the highest levels of state power. All it took to see it was simple eyes looking at the paint. It ties up the ends of the conspiracy with as much mystery as if it was written by Edward Witten, the guy who tied up all the strings and came up with the unifying “M-theory,” which looks great when it’s projected in 11D, of course, you have to wear the special glasses.
Pizzollato does look away. When the new detectives are telling about Childress’ family history, that the woman was at least his half-sister, about the DNA, Marty doesn’t want to hear it. You know why? Pizzolatto didn’t want to write it. He didn’t want all that shit to have to come out of Hart’s mouth. You know it’s disgusting. You know it makes “sordid” look like a trip to Disneyland. You don’t really need to hear the rest. Why go into details you can fill in with your own imagination? Pizzollatto lets you fill in a lot on your own. That is his brilliance. And it’s not like these are written to spare expense. This ain’t Joe Papp. Everything is laid out with elaborate extravagance. The stages are set with wonderfully horrible images and backgrounds. The atmospheres are nightmarish and full. You feel the presence of evil. You smell the stench. True Detective paves it, pays for it and dresses it, but they still take the time to look away at exactly the right moment for you to fill it in.
True Detective downplayed as a rule. They build suspense by getting smaller. There’s nothing spectacular, nothing big in the series. The gore is implied. The universe is full, but the attention is a pinpoint of light shone in a dark swamp. Detailed magnificence without room to blink. The establishing shots show you the immense sprawl, but what you’re looking at are the twigs. The acolytes that Errol William Childress displays are magic tricks of distraction.
As usual, the performances were real, riveting and witty. Acting can be nothing more than delivery. Cohle’s “fuck you man” is a complement purely because of intent. The words obviously don’t say it, but coming out of McConaughey, it’s impossible to misunderstand. Harrelson probably has the bigger arc, in the end. Cohle broke down, but Hart saw the stars. Hart’s “never change” is a full on embrace of pure love. Love saves all. In the end, there’s something past death, a murky substance of loving nothingness you can disappear into.
True Detective’s final episode, “Form and Void,” was directed by Cary Fukunaga and written by Nic Pizzolatto. They are a great team. This is going to be hard to beat. I hope HBO lets them do whatever they want in the next season. Whatever.