The show didn't resolve the mystery you built up around it. Don't blame the show
Reviews for the “True Detective” season finale were mostly good, but the complaints about it came down to this: Rust Cohle and Marty Hart's investigation didn't resolve the vast mythology fans ascribed to the show. We never figured out the deal with the Yellow King. And this turned out to be a story about odd-couple cops — a story we've seen many times before — albeit with an unusual amount of philosophy thrown in.
“I Really Did Not Like That,” said Slate's Willa Paskin, who deserves points for honesty. “I am a little in awe of how totally snookered we all were. 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.”
The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber felt that show creator Nic Pizzolatto didn't pay off all of his promises. He said the show proved to be “a letdown: a high-budget genre retread with the false veneer of profundity.”
“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,” Kornhaber wrote. “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.”
But is it the fault of “True Detective” that it turned out not to be everything we, the viewers, decided it should be?
The show's title doesn't exactly over-promise: This is a story about detectives solving mysteries. Rust and Marty weren't anthropologists trying to understand the complicated beliefs of a Louisiana cult. Despite the comfort Rust took in 1995 in calling all human experience meaninglessness, he wasn't a philosopher. Rust and Marty wanted stop as many bad men as they could, and they did.
Yes, the show gave us lots of red herrings. So do all mysteries. That's what makes them mysterious.
Rust and Marty had to use good-old Encyclopedia Brown-style deduction to get their man. The green-eared monster had green ears because he'd been painting a house. Elementary, Encyclopedia Marty. There's a real joy in watching people solve problems with ingenuity, logic, and great guesses.
We shouldn't blame “True Detective” for not trying to tie up the mystery of the Yellow King. No one told you to go out and make an 1895 collection of weird fiction into an Amazon bestseller. It was very cool that you did, but you didn't need to.
The title of that bestseller, “The King in Yellow,” refers to a play in the story collection that makes all who read it go mad. We never see the actual play. This is only the first season of “True Detective,” which is planned as a series of standalone stories — kind of like “The King in Yellow.” Perhaps the Yellow King will be the thread that runs through every season.With Rust and Marty presumably not coming back, it would be nice to have some familiar ideas from one year to the next.
The complaints that the show didn't give away the whole store in its first season feel to me like a symptom of our Twitterfied culture, one that demands fast gratification and appeasement: Why isn't this the show I want it to be? I went to the trouble to make a YouTube video about this. The show owes me. (This video is a very funny look at the more obsessed theorists).
The sense of entitlement was apparent in the mass outrage about HBO Go being overloaded during Sunday's finale. Why was it such a big deal that the online version of HBO wasn't available? The show was right there on the TV, too. Couldn't fans watch it there?
Well… no. Because the dirty little not-a-secret of HBO Go is that lots and lots of people who use it aren't HBO subscribers. They're using their parents’ or friends’ log-ins and passwords. So Sunday we saw people getting mad at HBO for not giving them the show they aren't paying for… and then getting mad that it didn't go exactly as they wanted.
Pizzolatto is saying what he wants to say, and we have a perfect system in place if you don't like what he's saying or how he's saying it. Just change the channel.
Or, you know: Stop watching the show for free with your mom's log-in.
But I'll be back next season, and I'm going to keep using my mom's log-in. (Thanks!) I like being surprised and confused and confounded. Do I want to know who the Yellow King is? Of course. But not as much as I don't want to know. Not just yet.