Instead, both main characters got a fair amount of vindication in the end. Marty’s family doesn’t seem to hate him quite as much anymore. Rust believes in the afterlife now. They both go backslapping into the night. All of this comes from them catching a killer of women and children. So for the zillionth time in Western pop culture, men (straight, white ones at that) get psychic rewards for valorously risking themselves on behalf of the weak.
I suppose that Pizzolatto and/or his defenders will argue for True Detective’s subtle profundity by pointing to the fact that Rust and Marty didn’t totally “win.” The wider suspected conspiracy involving the Tuttles and the government lives on. As Marty says, this isn’t a world where you get all the bad guys. OK. Fair enough. I truly wish that that observation really were mind-blowing. But the pervasiveness of evil shouldn’t come as a revelation to anyone, especially anyone who recognized Rust’s sniper-as-insurance trick from a certain other highly hyped TV drama.
A True Detective true believer might also argue that the show’s big, brave message is that men do terrible things to women—whether it’s Marty or whether it’s Errol. But that just feels like more stating of the obvious, in distinctly uncomfortable ways: This juicy, angst-filled thriller created a lot of its juicy angst through the portrayal of, yup, men doing terrible things to women.
Right now, the best defense of episode and the show I can come up with would have to do with the “get religion” ending that has you sputtering, Amy. That final scene, with Rust talking about sensing his daughter’s essence and Marty asking him to tell stories about the stars, was egregiously hokey—but maybe it was meant to feel that way. Rust scoffed at tent worshippers, and the Carcosa cult’s belief in the supernatural had terrible consequences, but Rust ends up joining all of them by buying into comforting, irrational mumbo jumbo.
So perhaps Rust’s nihilism over the course of the series was just the setup for one big, cosmic punch line about the human yearning for meaning. In which case the joke is as much on Rust as on the viewers who obsessed over the clues in the narrative like so many divine omens. Kind of rude, Pizzolatto.
Speaking of which, how’re you feeling, Chris, our resident obsessive omen reader?
Orr: Wait, so you guys didn’t get the coded message in that final shot of the stars? Really? If you connect the stars in sequence from brightest to least bright, you get an anagram that, when unscrambled, reveals that “Sheriff Tate is the Yellow King.”
I mean, seriously. Try to pay attention.
Okay, did I perhaps succumb to an unhealthy—if widely shared—case of obsessive over-reading? Yes, I suppose I did. (See here.)
And it’s true that Pizzolatto had been warning us, in increasingly strident (or perhaps nervous?) tones, not to expect some mind-blowing twist at the end. But maybe he could have offered at least a gentle puff on the cerebral cortex? Something? Anything? It’s as if he scrupulously combed through version after version of the finale script, carefully excising anything that might constitute even a moderate surprise or revelation. I have mixed feelings about the very end of the episode—maybe more mixed than you guys—but let me work my way up to them with a few more close-read observations.