True Detective: Natural Supernatural

Eight episodes and done.

Which, by the way, is a great way to do a TV show. The story was told. The story is finished.

We are getting a True Detective, Season 2, though one supposes it’ll be more like American Horror Story — different cast, different narrative, maybe some shared territory. Or, given the events in season one, maybe we’ll see some aspects of the case continue somewhere else?

Anyway. Gonna talk a bit about the show here. And the finale.

Which means: spoilers are incoming.

I’m gonna put some spoiler space here

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CAUTION CUIDADO VERBOTEN

SUH POY LURS

Ahem.

I think that’s good enough.

All along, folks were looking, I think, for a twist — a whodunit-style pivot where we find out Marty is the King in Yellow or Carcosa is really a strip club in Des Moines or all of this has been inside Rustin Cohle’s nihilistic little snowglobe all along. And we did indeed get a twist — but I suspect it wasn’t the twist folks were imagining.

We got a happy ending.

All signs pointed to a Se7en-style conclusion: men driven mad by their exposure to the horror of the world, a Lovecraftian sanity-loss as they pick apart the rotten layers of mankind’s ugly soul until they stare into the unblinking void-eye at the center. And certainly it looked like it was moving that way. Wandering the labyrinth. Into the pit. To the throne of the Yellow King. Through a world far more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than we perhaps figured on. And then both men locked in battle with a monster, attacked and victorious but seemingly left to die in a charnel house pit. Grim, grisly stuff. And we were all but assured one of those men was dead, if not both.

And yet —

We got a happy ending.

We got a happy ending.

Not like — ha ha, shiny happy, ponies raining from the sky, but both men passed through that unblinking void-eye and emerged with souls somehow not rent to ribbons. In fact, these two patchwork men — in what is the most cantankerous, nihilistic bromance perhaps ever conceived, a friendship truly earned — have come out possessing something resembling enlightenment.

(I won’t spoil the end conversation between these two men, but even if you never watch the show, it’s probably worth digging that up and watching it. Writing and acting in a one-two-punch.)

I think what’s most fascinating to me about the whole show — aside from it being an intense character study more than it is a detective story — is how the story-world is supernatural-adjacent. By which I mean, the supernatural would not seem to exist (we have no direct evidence), but it has left its mark just the same. This is a world where metaphysics matter, where the cuckoopants geometry of the cosmos has injured men’s souls. We are given no evidence that the bird’s nests and antler skulls and ritual markings have any physical effect on the world around these characters, but the point, perhaps, is that they don’t need to. These rituals have spiritual implications. They have power over these people emotionally, intellectually. The supernatural here is natural. Unreal. Impossible and unseen, yet evident just the same. The killer is like a minotaur at the center of a maze — human, but monstrous. Cohle is truly affected by realms beyond, even though we can’t see them or touch them. The Bayou is still married to old magic, and though the magic doesn’t seem to work in the classic sense, it still twists the family trees.

And of course, the conspiracy of the Carcosa cult is still out there. We know they found their killer, but we also know that he’s just one notable branch of this rotten tree. (Again, I wonder if a follow-up season will continue to pursue this storyline, just with new characters and a new timeline.)

Fascinating stuff that culminated in a potent, if too easy, finale. (I say too easy because some of the logical leaps are a bit strained. The “green ears” — which could’ve and should’ve perhaps been a reference to the ear-muffs worn by a dude mowing the lawn — felt like a hasty conclusion that frankly didn’t rely on much of anything from the rest of the investigation. It seemed random and convenient and for me is perhaps one of the only real mis-steps the series has taken. A mis-step that is pretty forgivable given the strength of the writing and the acting.)

Great show.

Looking forward to season two, whatever it may be.