the recap recap

The Best of This Week’s True Detective Season 1 Finale Recaps

Photo: HBO

A lot of questions went unanswered in Sunday’s much-anticipated True Detective finale. As Vulture recapper Kenny Herzog wrote: “As far as answers, to once again parrot Marty — who even Rust begins to acknowledge knows a hell of a lot —‘We ain’t gonna get ’em all.’” In general, perceptions of the finale fell neatly into one of two camps: some critics and recappers were disappointed at the failure to resolve key questions, while others saw it as an appropriate conclusion to a show that was, ultimately, much more about the journey of its two heroes than about the monster lurking at the end. Your recap of the recaps:

“Boy, did we overthink this thing! The Internet’s theories about the case were so much more ingenious and captivating than what happened in tonight’s episode. They so much more neatly and plausibly tied up loose ends that the finale had no interest in. Maggie’s father-in-law, Audrey, even the Yellow King—not really relevant! Instead, we got a mansion out of Grey Gardens-meets-Deliverance deposited next to the largest catacomb this side of Europe. (Can you build that deep in the bayou? Or doesn’t the water come up? Or was the whole thing constructed just so Rust and Marty could stare up at a flat circle?) Also, it finally happened: Someone made Cary Grant super creepy. Worse was the last character beat. I think maybe True Detective ended with Rust Cohle finding God? Talk me off the ledge.” —Slate

True Detective talked a good game — well, it certainly talked — about the nature of the universe and the systemic rot of evil and horror. But the finale reduced all of those high-minded observations to production design: the artfully scribbled incantations, the haunting sketches of antlers, the broken dolls and accumulated filth that are cinematic shorthand for incest and villainy. In the end, Marty and Rust got their man but what mattered more was that they got each other. Through their reckless, self-harming actions our heroes were able to achieve not justice but closure: Marty reconnected with his family and his mojo, Rust tied off the emotional time-loop on the loss of his daughter. True Detective chose the most ambitious way possible to tell what was, ultimately, an extremely conventional story” —Grantland

“For me, however, the best part of the show was Harrelson’s performance. The wonderful scene in which he stumbles upon the house clue was invigorating but also bittersweet; for just a moment, we see that he would have been a good cop if he hadn’t wasted his prime years on sex and booze. (He also knows just what to say to McConaughey once the latter starts crying in the final scene of the show.) Marty emerges, then, as a deeper creation than we were at first led to believe: wounded, wasted, but ultimately not a total stick. (Harrelson also had a terrific, alternately comic and tense scene with McConaughey, where they are driving and discussing his ex-wife.)” —The New Republic

“I don’t think this was necessarily about atheist Rust literally finding heaven. It might have been, or it could have been one of the hallucinations he was prone to; it could have been the sort of hallucination we’re all prone to, facing the end. If he didn’t get religion, he got where religion comes from. Then, having found whatever kind of peace he did, he was pulled back into the world, and in one last tour de force performance, Matthew McConaughey’s shattered face conveys his devastation at losing his daughter one more time” —Time

“I am certain there are people who found all this experimental and profound. To me, it was a near-total wash. And what was most striking was that every one of show’s gross-out victims—the dead ‘prosts,’ the raped little girls with the blindfolds, the genderqueer hooker who had been raped as a boy and filmed for porn movies, Marty’s own screwed-up daughter—were just there to ease our heroes into these epiphanies. After all that talk about how the two men hadn’t “averted their eyes” to evil, the show did just that. And it ends with stories told in the stars? We’re in Successories territory here, and even great actors can’t pull that off.” — The New Yorker

“It’d be easy to launch into digressions about the show’s aesthetic choices and its ambitious metaphors, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll remember most about ‘True Detective’ a month or a year from now. To watch the show was to revel in Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s wily good ol’ boy chemistry, and without question, the high points of the finale revolved around scenes that those two knocked out of the park.” — The Huffington Post

“Marty and Rust may have unhealthy relationships with women. But “True Detective” doesn’t actually show any more interest in the vanished women than they did. The show took time to demonstrate that the stories Rust and Marty told other detectives were lies, and even to linger as Marty narrated his way through a public records database. But it couldn’t make space in its eight episodes to give these women’s lives more purpose than as catalysts for Rust and Marty’s redemptions. Dora Lange emerges only in stories her ex tells about her. Prostitutes, domestic workers and chemical plant employees offer links in an investigative chain and are never heard from again.” — The Washington Post

““Form and Void” brought together both sides of what has made True Detective so engaging.  The emotional and relationship aspects still outshone the murder mystery, but it was given its own creepy, fitting due. Errol remained the crux of The Yellow King story (making the mystery as sick but straight-forward as many predicted), and it was up to Marty (of all people) to make the connection that put their detective work on warp speed to find him. From there, the satisfaction of the whirlwind procedural that brought them to that nightmare house of death was augmented by familiar moments like Rust and Marty back in the car, the former waxing philosophical while the latter sat in confusion.” —Collider

“As Rust and Marty stood under the stars, and it dawned on me that no, there won’t be a sudden morbid reversal and that, yes, these guys may actually have healed somewhat, I wondered what it was I had needed? All day I’d mumbled to my wife, “It’s going to be a dark one. It’s going to be grim.” And, to be fair, this was a dark and grim show. We weren’t nuts for assuming it would end badly for everyone. Tonight my own cynicism surprised me, however. In the hospital, Maggie and the girls surrounded a wounded Marty, asking how he was feeling, and he sputtered, ‘Fine, I’m fine…’ Satisfied with my season-long judgment of Marty, I pounced: “He’s still the same guy! He hasn’t changed at all!” Then Marty Hart broke down crying and finally stopped pretending.” —Wall Street Journal

“Conspiracy theorists, Reddit users, fans of thorough writing: you’re not wrong to be disappointed. Even Rust and Marty note how the Tuttles got away. Carcosa turns out to be Errol’s psycho playground – a frightening place but lacking the depth it seemingly had. The Yellow King was Errol, probably, as he called Rust a ‘little priest’, and referred to Reggie and Dewall Ledoux as his minions; but how Errol seduced countless victims, or persuaded them to his cult, remains a mystery.” —The Guardian

“Did Rust Cohle just get religion? Am I actually going to get my wish for a spinoff about odd couple housemates Rust and Marty play-bickering into their sunset years? Did we watch eight hours of a beautifully directed, superbly acted show with maddeningly inconsistent writing only to be reminded that all of human history boils down to a struggle between light and darkness?” —Atlantic

“The twist ending of True Detective’s bleak first season: a bracing refutation of its baroque pessimism. Cohle and Hart slayed the decadently dandy slumdog (schizo?) psycho at dream’s end, spent a good chunk of time processing their feelings and baring their souls, then exited, stage right, to star in The Odd Couple sitcom we’ll never get to see. They were as stunned by this turn of events as we were. Cohle and Hart, flawed heroes and failed men, expected to be destroyed by their bid to pay the debt they owned the world, because these felt they deserved to be destroyed — and so did I. If you had told me four episodes ago, after Rust’s ugly car-Crash vigilantism and Marty’s complete unraveling, that we’d get a happy ending in which they’d be laughing and hugging and telling stories about the stars — like myth-making bards of antiquity — I would have thought you were a sauce-knackered tent preacher. What does say that about me? Perhaps a lifetime spent consuming stories has shaped my imagination to assume the worst. Or maybe I’m just, like, a really hideous person.” —Entertainment Weekly

“The killer is present tonight, and his presence is terrifying. Glenn Fleshler, previously seen cutting grass in ‘The Locked Room’ and ‘After You’ve Gone,’ cuts an intimidating figure in the finale, lording over untamed acres, a queen who might be a blood relative, and a father who don’t feel much like moving these days—the better to make sure no one challenges the younger Childress’ reign. Like True Detective’s other glimpses of genuinely evil people—Reggie Ledoux, Ginger and his biker buddies—the opening scenes of ‘Form And Void’ go a long way toward illustrating the difference between someone who’s come into close contact with darkness (like Rust and Marty) and someone who’s full of the stuff (like Errol). For all of Rust’s bad-man posturing, he couldn’t be the genuine article, because the genuine article has found ways to hide in plain sight. The Childresses managed to work their way up and down the Gulf Coast in the guise of handymen, jacks-of-all-trades who were given easy access to their victims via student bodies and church congregations. Errol marks his latest hunting ground in a shade of yellow as noticeable as any totem he’s left at a crime scene, and yet no one pays him any mind. He’s as much a part of the landscape as the darkness that creeps in after the sunset fades from Cary Fukunaga and Adam Arkapaw’s view. The monster at the end of the dream only lets the real chaos flow forth when he’s at home, in an environment he’s convinced himself he can control.” —A.V. Club

“But sadly, we never did really find out who the Yellow King was, although the pile of skeletons and skulls in the haunted tunnel of enlightenment is looking like a pretty good suspect. Certainly Errol William Childress, whose full three names are used on the broadcast news segment toward the end, which is how you know he’s a real-deal serial killer, was an acolyte of the mysterious all-encompassing evil figure, but something tells me that he wasn’t the big bad. Rust knows it, too, and he’s as disappointed as the rest of the fans complaining right now online that not every circle was closed off. ‘The Tuttles,’ Rust says. ‘We didn’t get them all.’” —Esquire

“‘Death is not the answer, rejoice’ an elderly woman declared in last week’s episode, and now Rust knows it himself. ‘If you ask me, light’s winning,’ he tells Martin before the credits roll. And it’s a beautiful moment in a show that ends on a note of hope, instead of a neatly tied resolution. And it’s stronger for it. ‘True Detective’ has never put the mystery first, and it’s something telling that the weakest episode of the season was also the most straightforward, ‘After You’ve Gone.’ Instead the show is about two men, one presented in darkness, who after losing his family, plunged headfirst into the darkest corners of his job, and the other a seemingly happy family man.” —Playlist

“No matter what you think of the finale, you can’t argue that spending time with both Harrelson and McConaughey in these roles was anything less than fascinating. If the show didn’t give you the monsters and interconnected conspiracies you hoped for then maybe you, like Rust, should turn your gaze inwards. What kind of storytelling are you looking for? Isn’t the exploration of two broken men who dash their own lives to pieces, and crawl their way back from isolation, a story worth telling?” — Vanity Fair

“At the same time, because I cared so much more for the men than the story, the fact that so much of the finale dealt with a bogeyman in a haunted house was disappointing. Not enough to reduce my feelings about the season as a whole, but enough to remind me of some of the show’s flaws, and to make me wish that somehow Pizzolatto had constructed the entire thing as a story being told in those interview rooms by Cohle and Hart. As was the case throughout these eight episodes, Cary Fukunaga did beautiful, darkly original work shooting the Carcosa sequence — the way, for instance, Cohle’s hallucinations returned at the absolute worst moment — so that it never felt exactly like a rehash of the denouement of every serial killer movie ever made. But it still felt more simplistic and formulaic than previous episodes had suggested. After the fact, Rust and Marty talk about how they didn’t get all the members of the conspiracy, and the TV news reports suggest that the Tuttles have already shut down any attempts to connect them with the Childresses, but in the moment, a show that had been so very complex and strange so often boiled down to unkillable Rust Cohle in battle with the superhumanly strong monster Errol Childress.” —HitFix

“So this is what is at the heart of Rust Cohle after all. He’s not a nihilist. He’s a man who has been suppressing the deepest grief of his life, because he couldn’t locate the love he lost. And here’s where we realize that it isn’t the Dora Lange case that damaged these men. They were already broken. What happened in the past seventeen years was all leading up to this: the moment where they were finally able to take off their masks. To reconcile with their fathers and children. To remove their own knives. Strangely, through their descent to Carcosa, Marty and Rust have been healed.” —GQ

“This, I think, was the greatest trick the show ever pulled. A colossal bait-and-switch wherein a hardboiled crime thriller turned out to be a supernatural horror story would have been fun, sure. (A twist ending less so, and this episode took those theories out back and hatcheted them in the head like Errol’s dog.) But how often have you seen a crime drama that, however briefly, made you suspect that the killer’s delusions, though they were in fact delusions, might have been real? That’s a goddamn achievement.” —Rolling Stone

The Best True Detective Season 1 Finale Recaps