The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

True Detective: The Light is Winning

spiral_birdsThere be spoilers for True Detective here. 

Like all of the spoilers have come home to roost.

Seriously, turn back now if you don’t want to know the truth about Carcosa and the green-eared spaghetti monster.

Last chance, dude.

Okay. Here we go.

The biggest twist in True Detective wasn’t a picked-at plot thread coming undone at the last moment to reveal a behind-the-scenes tapestry of truth, but rather the revelation that the whole skein of knotted yarn was never as tightly wound as we’d all believed. In the end, all of our wild imaginings and careful deconstruction of the show’s visual elements and occult monologues were stripped away and we were left with a straightforward story about what our heroes gained and lost in their pursuit of evil.

And I don’t know how to feel about that.
On the one hand, True Detective delivers a very solid story about Rust and Marty and how their relationship and this one horrible case redefined them as men. It’s a powerful, sometimes touching, portrait of two bad men trying to do the right things. Sometimes they succeed, mostly they fail, and in the end we see them as grainy reflections of what they’ve lost. They got their bad guy, but the justice there is incomplete because there were so many more involved in the Carcosa conspiracy that have escaped their grasp. They dealt with the last of the broken Tuttle lineage, but it cost Marty his entire way of life and Rust was denied even the cold comfort of his nihilism.
On the other hand, True detective seemed to promise us something more. There were hints, overt and subtle, that the darkness surrounding the Dora Lange case had seeped into everything. Marty hinted over and over that this case was haunted by the detective’s curse, the inability to see things right in front of them. Dark hints were strewn over the scenery, pointing us toward a twisted familial cult that had somehow risen to rule over the bayou. As it turns out, none of that was the point and none of it was really important.
The abrupt turn seems to be a matter of the audience’s point of view. For most of the series, we’re seeing the world through Rust’s eyes. His hallucinations and paranoia are presented to us as having substance, because to Rust, they’re objective truths.
But as the past and present merge within the story, we find ourselves sitting in Marty’s head, and he has no time for this metaphysical bullshit. Marty wants to wrap this case up and put the crazy fuckers behind the cult in the ground. He also wants to see Rust made whole and he’s willing to go way out on a limb to put the nightmare that’s haunted them both to rest.
That’s what the finale gives us – closure for these two men, the chance for them to move on, and a glimpse of hope. There is a darkness out there, but it’s not complete, and the light is winning.
What it doesn’t give us is the satisfaction of seeing how all the tantalizing tidbits and horrifying fragments fit together. Why were the girls staging a rape scene with their dolls? What did the prisoner who knew about the King in Yellow hear during his phone conversation that was so horrible he had to kill himself? What about the spiral drawing on the wall in Marty’s house?
True Detective was an amazing piece of work, I don’t mean to take anything away from that. We were given exactly what we were promised, even if that wasn’t really what we thought we were getting. I have the utmost respect for Nic Pizzolatto and everyone involved in this season for creating a truly amazing eight hours of television.
But as with anything good, I wanted more. I wanted to know how deep and how high the conspiracy ran. I wanted to know the significance of Carcosa and how the sprawling Tuttle clan used it to manipulate and control their world. I wanted to know why Dora Lange was killed, as the rest of the Yellow King’s victims all seemed to be children. I wanted to know what happened to Audrey. I wanted to understand how Maggie ended up so much better off without Marty. I wanted to understand the significance of the crown Marty’s girls left stuck in the tree. All of these things and many more seemed to point to some deeper underlying story, some wider-reaching mystery that would be revealed to us in the finale.
And that isn’t fair of me. That wasn’t the story that True Detective set out to tell, it was the story I constructed from all the bits and bobs left lying around in the wake of Marty and Rust. Like many of you, I like my stories twisty and dark with plenty of nooks and crannies and unexpected revelations. As a writer, I like to sprinkle in little hooks that come back later on in my stories to drag the reader back and show them that, yes, you knew this was coming all along.
True Detective was amazing for what it was, and a triumph of storytelling by any measure.
It just wasn’t the story I thought I was getting, and I can’t help but feel a pang of loss for what might have been.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.

  • Christopher A Clark

    First of all I think the ending was surprising in that I, and most people, was sure 1 or both men would be killed. Since they both lived, the answer to all your questions is simply season 2. Yes!!!!!!!!!

    The point of the ending was in fact to heal both these men so they would be strong enough for the bigger fight. Rust now will believe in something. Marty will be able to move on from his broken family. And the pair will soon be kicking some ass! I can’t wait.

    By the way, check out Pizzolatto’s novel. It’s not too bad

  • Sam

    But there isn’t going to be a season 2 for Rust and Marty. True Detective is like American Horror Story – a different, self-contained story each season.

    I keep meaning to read Pizzolatto’s novel. Thanks for the reminder! Throwing it on the Kindle now.

  • Chris

    This was my feelings minus the swear words.