True Detective comes to a close on Sunday, which means we will finally get some answers about The Yellow King, Carcosa, and the Spaghetti Monster. Or not. This finale has a the potential to piss a lot of people off.
The HBO show written in its entirety by Nic Pizzolatto has become Reddit/TV blogger catnip. People have ripped the show to threads trying to parse out its imagery. Who is the Yellow King? Maybe it's a boat! The trouble is a show that inspires this many theories could also inspire major disappointment. Lost has already come up. Here are four ways the show could really make people mad.
We already know what we're going to know
There's so much riding on this finale that it's going to be frustrating if basically the final episode simply confirms what we already know: that the murders were perpetrated by network involving the Tuttle and Childress families, who are participating in ritualistic sexual abuse. If the entire season comes down to a realization that Billy Lee Tuttle is a bad man covering up his crimes and having Errol, the man with the scars on his face, do his bidding, it's going to feel like something of a letdown. A revelation that Tuttle is The Yellow King would be fine, but it would also be predictable, and the audience of this show doesn't want it to be predictable. Would that be a better resolution that some sort of mythological mumbo jumbo? Yes, probably. Would it satisfy a ravenous audience? Probably not.
Rust/Marty/Maggie is the killer/Yellow King/involved somehow.
Rust (Matthew McConaughey) or Marty (Woody Harrelson) will not be the killer, according to Pizzolatto. He told BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur just that:
"The possibility is built into the story, as it has to be credible that the 2012 PD suspect Cohle. I just thought that such a revelation would be terrible, obvious writing. For me, the worst writing generally just 'flips' things: this person’s really a traitor; it was all a dream; etc. Nothing is so ruinous as a forced 'twist,' I think."
So even the show's creator admits that such a revelation would be ridiculous, disappointing, and lazy. True Detective won't mess up in this way—unless you want to read into the fact that Pizzolatto did not actually mention Marty's name—but oh boy would it be a disaster if it did. The remaining wild card, then, is Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), Marty's ex-wife. The notion that Maggie is The Yellow King and involved in the murders is simply an easy explanation for why she hasn't been given that much to do over the course of the last seven episodes.
There is of course also the possibility that Rust and/or Marty are involved with the crimes in some way, without actually being the killer. That too might seem lazy and weak, but could also be true. We won't repeat it here, but Alex Blagg over at Grantland has an actually great theory that we genuinely believe could be true, which surmises Rust's involvement in an indirect way.
The biggest complaint lobbed against the finales of Lost and Battlestar Galactica was that they never really bothered to explain some of their biggest mysteries past the vague catch-all of “it was magic.” What made the island so magical? All that magic! What brought Starbuck back from the dead? I dunno, magic? Now, True Detective doesn’t have several seasons of mythology to wrap up for us, but there’s no doubt it’s been playing in a seriously fantastical sandbox, especially the layered references to Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow, was a major inspiration for Lovecraft’s work. Some fans have drawn a connection between the feared “spaghetti monster,” with scars on his face, and Lovecraft’s mind-bending, tentacle-faced Cthulhu monster, but it might just turn out to be that creepy guy on the lawnmower.
It’s not a problem if the show ventures further into supernatural territory. But the explanation for the Yellow King can’t just be that it’s some evil monster that drives everyone crazy because it’s evil. If it’s a metaphor for evil, fine. But if there’s an actual monster called the Yellow King? That’s gonna be a harder sell without some detail.
The worst fate of them all. What if we wrap things up with Rust and Marty driving into the distance, off to confront some further enemy, leaving us with only a bluegrass score playing over the closing credits? What if, like that reviled first season finale of The Killing, Rust and Marty think they get their man and then realize at the last minute that they were wrong? Now, this is the least probable ending of them all. The whole point of a limited series is to wrap things up satisfyingly. Even if it just turns out that some random dude called Ray-Ray who we’ve never seen before committed all the murders, at least we’ll know something. That’s the least you can give us, Nic Pizzolatto.