Why the Season Finale of ‘True Detective’ Will Disappoint (and Why That’s a Good Thing)


True Detective has only one hour left in its first season to amaze us. I’m here to tell you the finale is guaranteed to disappoint.

But that’s the point.

This show has captivated audiences in a way almost unseen since Lost. Say what you will about the passionate fan bases of The Wire and Breaking Bad, they weren’t hunting down literary allusions from the 19th century in a effort to better understand the show’s underpinnings.

That hype of it, though, has raised expectations to an unfathomable level. Viewers want next week’s episode to simultaneously leave their mouths agape and their hearts filled and their minds satiated. Theories explained. Answers received.

But it won’t happen Sunday night. How do I know? Because people disappoint. That’s what this show is about. It’s a story of people’s lives. And in people’s lives, closure is a myth. You don’t get answers. You get disappointment. You get failure. 

Think about the two main characters and how much they have wrong in their lives right now. Marty no longer has a family. Rust no longer a life. There’s not a redemption narrative to be had. Not because our characters aren’t redeemable. They’ve aren’t bad people. But life, it just sometimes doesn’t work out.

This is a show explicitly about that. Not pagan murders and child abuse cover-ups. Just life, in it’s rawest, most damaging form. The captivating scenes aren’t about the crimes. Not at all. They’re about the people. Marty killing in a fit of rage. Rust’s relapse into alcoholism. Maggie staying with her husband against her better wishes.

The three of them are looking for answers that in the back of their head, they know don’t exist. That’s why Marty and Rust’s investigation will end in futility. They won’t find the Yellow King because again, all of us fail.

Yet, there’s beautiful depth in these characters’ failings. We aren’t the sum of what we revolve our lives around. There’s bluntness to us, but there’s nuance as well. And there’s no real melding the two.

Or is there?

That’s what True Detective is trying to show us. Marty can be both a good husband and a bad husband. And you can separate those two things if you want or you can’t. It is only us who see people for what we think they are (think scars on a face).

Take Rust’s drinking. The most powerful scene for me in the whole series was not the six-minute tracking shot everyone fawned over (although that was amazing). It was the scenes before that, when Rust starts drinking again. He pulls out that bottle of Jameson from his case of guns and grenades and you can feel a conflicting morass within him. He needs to do this, he needs to drink to do a job, even though he knows by drinking he will destroy his life.

So what is he? A hero or a horrible person? How do you weigh the two? Would finding the killer of (at the time) two girls merit ruining his own life? What about the lives of those around him?

The same goes for Marty’s cheating. He felt it kept him saner, a way of being a better husband. Of course, it eventually sank his marriage. Did it improve it at all at the time?

What True Detective is is a wonderful microcosm of the decisions we face every single day. It’s not theories about Satanic rituals. It doesn’t matter who does the killing. It matters what drives us. What we do and why. What makes someone drink, cheat, kill. Why do we have the obsessions that pull us in the direction they do? It’s about the unanswerable questions, which is why the Yellow King won’t be explained, because that’s never the question the show has been asking.

It’s not who killed those girls. It’s why do we do the things we do? Are our passions and pursuits justified, or are they only justifiable?

That’s why, however the show ends, if questions go unanswered (and they will), it won’t be a failure. It will just be life, as inexplicable as ever.

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