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Debate Emerges Over “True Detective” Finale; Was it Successful?

How come we never found out whether Marty’s disturbed daughter Audrey was molested? Why did not we not get the big reveal that a drunken Rust actually ran over and killed his daughter? Since last week’s episode effectively fingered Errol as the killer, where was the twist that negated that reveal in this week’s episode?

As you peruse the Internet for thoughts on Sunday’s “True Detective” finale, expect to come across numerous iterations of those questions. Expect to, alongside praise from some reviewers, find rants from those who felt that the HBO original ended with a whimper. Bank on viewers accusing the compelling “True Detective” of leaving too many questions unanswered and too many ends untied.

Your reaction to them will determine whether you saw this series for what it truly was or for what you wanted it to be.

No one should attempt to declare this a perfect finale. The phenomenal performances from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson aside, it was decidedly limited in scope and rote in execution. Rust and Marty found their bad guy. They caught their bad guy. The system prevented them from taking down the whole network. They, after years of estrangement, lightly bonded in search of silver lining in a conflicted situation.

Nothing played out with much imagination. Nothing caused viewers to loudly react to what they were seeing. Nothing caused viewers to reflect intently on the final hour.

Marty and Rust got their man, who could be compared to any backwoods killer from any creepy horror movie. They took some blows along the way, but they ultimately lived to see another day. They could not bring down the entire Tuttle network, and their lives–despite solving the case–were not on the road to perfection. They will never fully understand what inspired the cult’s crimes. But they will live, and their road to betterment will continue.

It was an exercise in exposition rather than inquisition or completion.

One who expected a bit more development, spark and ingenuity has every reason to feel the finale was inferior to some of the season’s stronger episodes. He has every reason to question whether this finale served as the optimal ending to a season many are already calling one of the best achievements in television history.

What one cannot justify, however, is an opinion that this was the wrong finale.

“True Detective,” from day one, was a character study. It was an exploration of the intersecting–and separating–journeys of two detectives played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It was a tale of how this one case was simultaneously responsible, on multiple occasions, for giving their lives purpose and for stripping those lives of everything that mattered.

It was never a “whodunnit.” It was never an investigation into the mind of a serial killer. It was never an exploration of a certain mythology. It was always about a trip around the existential circle occupied by Marty Hart and Rustin Cohle.

Consequently, it was never supposed to have viewers guessing about the killer’s identity–and whether a character like Marty’s wife Maggie, let alone Marty and Rust themselves–had any particular involvement in the orchestration of evil. It was never supposed to devote significant energy to characterizing the killers.

It was about illustrating how the exploration of static evil–molestation and murder–impacted a pair of detectives.

Attempting to dazzle viewers with a twist or keep viewers guessing from start-to-finish (about anything other than what happens to Marty and Rust) would have transformed “True Detective” into a different show. It would have made this about the crime and the killer rather than the detectives. It would have made this an exploration of action rather than an exploration of character.

It would have undermined “True Detective.” And if it had been the focus through the first seven episodes, it would have assured the show never became the special, award-worthy series it became.

Throughout the season, there absolutely were questions that seemed like they were going to be answered. Between the drawings, the recreation of the scene on the video and her later sexual conduct, Audrey gave tell-tale signs of being molested as a young girl. It did seem like we were going to learn that she was either sexually assaulted by the Tuttle’s cult itself or, as some online commentators speculated, by her grandfather.

It, similarly, did seem reasonable enough to anticipate a reveal that Rust was the driver responsible for his daughter’s death.

But while the answers to these questions (particularly the latter) could have framed the season-long development of Marty and Rust if introduced early in the going, they became irrelevant once the show approached its final narrative arc. Putting down a man responsible for death and molestation was enough incentive to explain Marty’s happy-ending. Making it personal would not have added anything; it actually would have undermined and reduced the importance of the investigation and what it did to rekindle his relationship with Rust.

Rust’s touching reveal about welcoming the opportunity to join his daughter in death, meanwhile, trumps any fleeting value that would have been gained by revealing that he was responsible for it. Rust’s journey was never missing emotional motivation or gravitas, and there was thus no need to introduce a bombshell reveal in the eleventh hour.

These questions, like so many of the discussions relating to Rust’s theories and apparent literary allusions in the story, made for fun items of speculation. They encouraged additional engagement, debate and investment from viewers. They gave every viewer an opportunity to voice what would happen. They confirmed “True Detective” was immersing audiences in its haunting universe.

In that sense, it is no surprise that their lack of incorporation into the final hour felt disappointed. It is no surprise that people started to think this was a show built on a complex mythology and all kinds of epic twists and turns.

But that is not what the show is, was or wanted to be. And when looking back on the excellent first season of the “True Detective,” viewers will hopefully remember that the achieved its objectives and excelled in its execution. It showcased a story of two detectives more gripping than any television series has the right to be. And it featured two lead performances more captivating than any television performances, outside of a select few elite ones on “Breaking Bad,” have any right to be.

If one is accusing “True Detective” of an egregious lack of answers, it is because he was watching the wrong show and asking the wrong questions.

Written by Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002.

Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj.

Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]


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