‘True Detective’ Complaints: Calm Down, Internet

'True Detective' Complaints: Calm Down, Internet

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.”

Also read: ‘True Detective': The Yellow King References You've Missed (Video)

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?

Also read: What ‘True Detective’ Creator Learned From Co-Writing That Despised ‘Killing’ Finale

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.

  • Sean Murdock

    Has there really been that much backlash? I haven't read any online reviews yet, but I suppose there will always be people who overeat and then blame the food for their stomachache. It was apparent to me early on that “True Detective” was really about Marty and Rust, and not necessarily the case. Perhaps the title is a clue? It's not “true crime” (a literary genre) but rather “true DETECTIVE” — as in, “It's about the characters, and not the mythology.” (Sorry, LOST haters…)

    One of my first observations about the show, in the premiere episode, was that Marty and Rust reminded me of one of my favorite cop teams — Pembleton and Bayliss, from “Homicide: Life On The Streets.” Funny thing about them is, aside from the “big” multi-episode, multi-season cases, I don't really remember anything about the criminals they caught. I remember their debates in the car, I remember how they interacted in the box, and I remember how their differing worldviews rubbed up against each other and changed both of them.

    It was the same for me with “True Detective.” Oh, I definitely liked the CASE — I liked the multi-layered way the story was told, and the crimes were appropriately disturbing and horrifying. But I never really tried to figure out “whodunnit”; other than hoping it wasn't Rust, I really didn't CARE — I trusted that it would be solved in the end. I was more interested in Rust and Marty, and how the case changed them, and how they changed each other. It also seemed obvious to me that the 2012 cops were trying to play them off each other, and that it was inevitable that Marty and Rust would have to overcome their differences to solve the case together.

    So, for me, the ending was almost completely satisfying. Yes, I wanted to see a Tuttle go down — but who couldn't predict the most powerful being able to escape this? — and yeah, I wanted an explanation for Audrey's disturbing Barbie diorama and middle-school doodlings, but other than that, the show ended very well for me. That Childress house instantly took its place next to the Jamie Gumb house (in “Silence Of The Lambs”) among the creepiest domiciles in storytelling history, and the climactic showdown with the scarred giant was almost as terrifying as Clarice Starling's chase in the dark with Buffalo Bill inches away from her at all times.

    Who was the Yellow King? I guess we don't know. Does it matter? To me, what mattered was that Rust, the atheistic nihilist who was willing himself to die after being stabbed in the gut, was able to return and decide that “the light's winning.” And that Marty, after surviving the horrors of the case, and repaying the “debt” he owed Rust, was reduced to tears in the presence of the wonderful family he lost along the way. Both of them started the show as “false” detectives — quit or retired, lying to themselves and others — but in the end THEY were the “true” detectives.

    And the countdown to Season Two starts …. NOW!

    • RYCBAR

      Outstanding commentary, for what it's worth. Thank you for your overview.

  • Cyclops

    Interesting. Pizzolatto was involved with the ending of the first season “The Killing” also. (I would have thought that, as he implied earlier this week, that he had learned something from that fiasco.) Yet the critics condemned that ending while they are [overall] defending the ending of “True Detective.”

    • morganlefey

      Pizzolatto was only a staff writer for The Killing. He had nothing to do with the actual story outline; that was all Veena Sud.

  • prinmurr

    I thought the finale was awesome…so does my review count?

  • seth willenson

    Good comments as a summary of a critical perspective and insight about the economic change of television as millenials who don't believe they should pay for content get access

  • Rocco

    So, America love it or leave it is Malloy's take on this self indulgent melodrama. You have no right to criticize because he likes it. Correction, his affection borders on the sexual. I guess it's not possible that he's wrong (infatuated) and we're right?

    • tim.molloy

      It's Molloy, not Malloy, but everything else is dead-on. Great work!

  • justsayin66

    I didn't read this article. Why not? Because I'm AFRAID that Tim Molloy will be giving away the ending of a series that I was not able to watch live because I was out of the country. Why do I have that fear? Because he completely RUINED one of the greatest television series, “Breaking Bad” for me by gratutitously giving away the ending in a story that wasn't even about the series. So, no, no way I'm going to read anything by him because there are still a few series out there that I haven't quite caught up with yet.

    • Mackavelli96 .

      boooohhhhoohhh go cry in a corner you little man!