TV Review: ‘True Detective’ Finale: Now That’s How to Do an Anthology

true detective finale woody harrelson

If “True Detective” is still running years from now, as it probably should be, the filmmakers and HBO can thank the incredibly fortuitous timing of casting Matthew McConaughey (yes, the Oscar-winning actor, not the “Failure to Launch” dude) and Woody Harrelson in the central roles – a pairing that not only elevated interest in the series, but which suggests the sky’s the limit for finding new players for future seasons. Indeed, such speculation has already become its own Twitter meme, although personally, how could you beat Matt Damon and Michael Douglas in “True Detective: Behind the Candelabra?”

All kidding aside, perhaps foremost “True Detective” – which wrapped up its eight-episode run Sunday – lays out the template for an anthology approach that helps reinvent, or at least invigorate, one of the most tried-and-true genres TV has ever produced. Think “Police Story,” the 1970s classic, stretched to miniseries form, with all the latitude pay cable provides.

Frankly, the build-up to the finale (and spoilers lurk ahead if you haven’t watched) practically ensured some would view it as a letdown. That’s because writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga had cooked up such a succulent brew of weirdness and eccentricity till now that anything providing closure was destined to feel slightly pale in comparison.

The solving of the mystery and faceoff with the creepy killer more than anything brought to mind “Psycho” — with the tension of following him through that bizarre maze, followed by what amounted to an extended postscript, delivering back story to putty in some of the blanks. Not that they really matter, since this was all about the journey.

Although McConaughey has closed the door in regard to reprising the role, the way the filmmakers left the mismatched, reunited pair was perfectly satisfying – with McConaughey’s Rust still spouting his half-assed philosophy, and Harrelson’s Marty acting like he was stark raving nuts, albeit (with all they’ve been through) in sort of a bemused way.

While McConaughey obviously had the showier role, it’s worth noting Harrelson has been every bit his match, with both men doing some of the finest work of their careers.

Admittedly, the series anthology – with each season operating as a self-contained unit – has already surfaced in the form of commodities like FX’s overrated “American Horror Story.” Conceptually, it’s a clever means of keeping a franchise alive while being able to see a story through to its conclusion, and as a bonus a means of enlisting actors who might not want to commit to five or seven years.

Whatever comes next, there’s no way to view “True Detective” as anything but a rousing success, with a glitch pertaining to HBO Go merely demonstrating the rabid appetite for it. Because if cop shows have become TV’s answer to McDonald’s, this was the equivalent of LudoBites – springing up to deliver unexpected treats for a refined, upscale palate, and poof, just as quickly moving on.

As for those lamenting that we won’t get Harrelson and McConaughey in future editions, hey, who knows? If the show is running 10 years from now, by then McConaughey might just be ready to meet that future version of himself.

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  1. jim in texas says:

    “till” now? Was plowing involved? “until” or “’til”. (Snarky editorial comment.)

  2. QQ says:

    I’m replying because my opinion is universally important and I wanted to make sure to radiate my superiority to the world by picking apart others work with condescension, sanctimony, and heavy doses of ‘missing the point’.

    Just kidding. I loved literally everything about this show. It is as close to flawless as I can imagine TV getting. There is nothing to complain about. It is – as of today – the greatest TV series I’ve ever seen.

  3. Analysis of the finale on this week’s podcast: http://www.untemperedtv.com/?p=589

  4. kathat0 says:

    I thought the ending was a nightmare….it wouldn’t get over. I would have been happy with them laying wounded in the cave as the ending, but no, they endings just kept coming one after another.Totally unnecessary….do they think we’re stupid?

  5. Sharon Jenkins says:

    The show was great; hate to see the season come to an end. I don’t watch much TV, but when you hear McConaughey & Harrelson are teaming up for a series you have to tune in and after one episode I was hooked. The writing for the show was excellent, but the way that McConaughey & Harrelson complimented each other in their performances shows that casting knew what they were doing as well. I would love to see the two of them together again somewhere down the road; they are a perfect acting pair; rarely do you see two actors that work together so well. The only problem I see with it is how will HBO ever be able to top or even compare to this season. I will tune in to see, but this was perfection – two actors being this good together, a story line like this; I don’t know how that can be repeated.

  6. David says:

    People complaining about loose ends clearly did not pay close enough attention to the entire series. This is not a spoon fed story, never has been, and the finale was no different. But, if you paid attention, here’s all you need to know to have closure with the story: The Tuttles were corrupt, evil and weird. There were offshoots of the family tree that resemble something out of Deliverance. They killed people. They did LSD and meth. They hirt children and conducted rituals. They were influential, so things got covered up. Regarding the Yellow King references – did you see all those books in Errol’s house? Ever stop to think that just maybe his inbred, drug-laced brain latched onto that work of fiction and played it out in real life. That’s it, folks. That’s the story. Backwoods, Satan-worshipping child murderers. Rust and Marty got the worst one still alive. The cards will fall where they may. The real beauty of the show was the relationship and development of these two wonderfully written characters. Period.

    It’s frustrating to see so many viewers hungry for that CSI show of the week finale where everything is nice and tidy. This wasn’t that show! And guess what, having worked in law enforcement, real life investigations are not like that either!

    • tony rinaldi says:

      David, excellent concise assessment.

    • Dale says:

      Well said, David. I couldn’t agree with you more. I did have a few moments of the “Oh God Rust…don’t go in there!” but a good solid piece of storytelling. And the entire series was about the “story” of these to men we came to know and love.

  7. C says:

    Beautiful acting, beautiful scripts, beautiful music don’t make up for lazy writing and loose ends. What a waste of my time. Extremely disappointed, won’t be watching season 2. All form but also completely void, no substance that is… Give me a good story anyday.

  8. Julie says:

    We all loved the series until the finale. The script and the performances were impeccable; the entire series ended with Rust Cohle’s epiphany at end and catching “their guy”. That’s nice but what about all the other loose ends that made this series intriguing in the first place? They may have caught “their guy” but all the rest of us caught a big disappointment.

  9. Gary Stott says:

    I was left with mixed feelings, but overall enjoyed the finale. I appreciated they didn’t want to do things conventionally. It’s been an intelligent show, of course it was going to end in a slightly different way that what we’d expect, but part of me feels that some of the satisfaction has been robbed as a result. Nonetheless, it’s going to be a fascinating show to look back on, theorize about, interpret etc. Not having any real answers makes it perfect for that kind of thing. And Rust’s breakdown as the end was touching. I appreciate the finale for what it was, and what is was trying to do. Bring on the next season! :)

  10. Robin Thomas says:

    WTF–where did he learn of carcosa, was he the yellow king, how did he get the women to follow him at the church, why kill them and children, why all the sacred feminine imagery, how did he get his scars, what about Marty’s daughter, is there a cult—- tooo many things unanswered and now unnecessary since he was just a freak. I feel cheated.

    • Steveo_013 says:

      Maybe this will help… 1. He had some 10,000 books in his house stacked everywhere… one could assume he learned of everything known to man… especially if he concentrated his interests (which I think he DID!) 2. He abducted/drugged/concussed them. 3. Why does any serial killer kill? Power, control, gratification, revenge… take your pick. 4. The imagery was just that… who knows what was going on inside that ultra-sick brain? 5. The scars were presumably from his dad abusing him as a child… isn’t that obvious? Marty’s daughter… A cult? Maybe. You want all lose ends wrapped up? Which show/movie/book EVER gives you that these days? Sorry you feel cheated. It is a fairly complex storyline and up for personal interpretation. Maybe try watching again… that’s the best advice I can give.

  11. Julia Lazar says:

    Great review, thanks! Nothing but positive things to say about this show, the actors, write filmmaker, I do hope it continues for years to come as you said.

  12. tom says:

    I think the fantastic acting and directing masked some of the huge flaws in the show, particularly the inconsistent and sub-par writing. Too many loose ends and deliberate manipulations of the viewer. The ending exposed too many plot holes and not enough answers. It was a Prometheus ending.

  13. Siobhan says:

    The show was never about the crime but about the relationship between the two men and it was brilliantly done. It can never be recreated and I for one hope they don’t bring these characters or this story line back as it would taint and detract from perfection, but would love to see future projects from this team because this was extraordinary

  14. Harris says:

    Think there’s any chance Marty and Rust were both killed and the last 15 minutes were a purgatory/afterlife scene where Rust got a chance to open up while Marty got a chance to “see” his family one last time? I mean…they were pretty badly stabbed/axed….

    • Taoceti says:

      I like this possibility. I mean: Gut-stabbed and axed in the neck (carotid artery anyone?), waiting who knows how long to be rescued, how did these two not bleed out in minutes?

      • Steveo_013 says:

        People do survive horrific injuries EVERY DAY… Impaled upon 2″ posts and drilling through their own heads, and lived… so, why not here? The axe shot was NOT in the neck, it was clearly in his upper chest below the shoulder, well to the side of the carotid artery. Got any other rebuttles? Oh yeah, I forgot to say, it’s a show… the writer decides, not YOU.

    • mvpnis says:

      Don’t think too much into this show, the writers certainly didn’t when it came to the finale

      • Gary Stott says:

        It doesn’t matter what the writers though. All art is open to interpretation, especially if the work in question refuses to spell anything out. I definitely think the ending can be interpreted that way, though I’m not sure if that’s the reading I’d go for. The ending seems in line with the realism they’ve built up over the previous episodes. They don’t live in a world where they can catch all the bad guys, but every victory is a victory nonetheless. That’s what the whole idea about the ‘light winning’ was, despite the fact that most of the night sky is comprised of darkness.

  15. I like the series, for the most part, but Psycho didn’t drag politics and religion into it. It was more pure. This was more lazy. I thought the fifth and last episodes were best. The sixth and seventh the worst. Dragging in Marty’s back story was really shallow. It could have been more interesting for them to delve into the trail. The fifth was great when Marty and Rusty are telling their story as the reality was revealed. There seems to be a compulsion to denigrate family values too.

  16. I’m all about an open and shut anthology series, but this finale was certainly a letdown. It seemed like the show was setting out to be something more and then lost steam in the closing weeks. Finale review: http://www.untemperedtv.com/?p=556

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