Despite all the elaborate predictions and end stories being cooked up by fans, the finale of HBO’s “True Detectives” Sunday sidestepped most of it.
The identity of the killer was rather clear at the end of last week’s episode, after all. So, much of the last episode was given to the do or die ultimate battle that usually occurs on the season cappers of serial stories from “24″ to “Dexter.”
And that’s not to denigrate how the story’s two detectives took down the bigger than life killer, who was revealed to live in the most fearsome, gothic horror of a bayou shack filled with junk, books, old dolls, a dead guy, all manner of strange, organic geegaws. The art director and set dressers deserve their own set of Emmys when “True Detective” is remembered later this year.
While not quite on par with the singular drug raid midseason — a one-take adrenaline run that was unlike anything on TV — director Cary Joji Fukanaga managed to create a final confrontation both gripping and epic. And it seemed at the end that the two cops turned private detectives would absolutely meet their end.
If that happened, though, we wouldn’t be treated to more of the deep philosophic musings that set Nic Pizzolatto’s show apart from the rest of the TV landscape. Set up like a classic cop buddy story, it was steeped in the Southern mystery of its bayou setting and structured so we’d see the two mismatched cops in action — and then a dozen years later as grizzled, older, and in the case of Matthew McConaughey’s character, seemingly way off the deep end, setting up multiple timeframes and questions: Who was the serial killer, yes, but also: Why were the two cops being investigated years later? What happened in the interim to turn them out this way? And once the killer was charged, what was still missing?
The darkness of life haunted both of them; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle lost a daughter in a car crash and his world fell apart. He brought her up again in the finale as he felt in one great, weird cosmic moments in the killing, at one with her since he did have a knife in his gut and was seeing his own life trickle away.
Woody Harrelson’s character Martin Hart had quit the force after seeing a dead baby in a junkie’s microwave. He yowled in pain after seeing the child torture videotape that Rust found in a powerful man’s safe. He somehow survived a hatchet to the head and improved enough to see his family for the first time in years, who visited him, and to reconcile with the guy he had never quite agreed with, Cohle, bound by the truth they pursued and the horror they faced in stopping it.
Next season, we are told, will feature a new cast, a new case and sadly, another setting, just as we were getting used to the weird old South. That it will still be written, top to bottom, by Nic Pizzolato, and directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga, will guarantee a set of singular visions rare to even the best of today’s quality TV.
And achievements throughout the first season of both McConaughey (who earned his first Oscar just last week) and Harrelson will help lure the best of the acting community to take part.