(Spoiler alert: Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the Season 1 finale of “True Detective.”)
The first season of “True Detective” ended as almost no one would have guessed: with both of its lead characters alive.
It was the closest thing to a happy ending we could have expected from Nic Pizzolatto‘s moody, funereal thriller. Rust Cohle and Marty Hart caught their green-eared, spaghetti-faced monster, exposed as the lawnmower man Rust briefly encountered 17 years before.
It was the detective’s curse: He had been right in front of Rust (Matthew McConaughey), though not all along. The villain, Errol William Childress, was revealed to be an incestuous monster of a man, as well as a gifted actor (So is Glenn Fleshler, the perfectly named actor who played him).
Rust and Marty knew they didn’t get everyone involved in the season’s repugnant conspiracy. And the show didn’t come close to explaining its mythology, including the mystery of The Yellow King. Did anyone think it would?
Fortunately the show will be back, with a new storyline that may very well elaborate on the mystery. In the 1895 short story collection “The King in Yellow,” which inspired the Yellow King references, the title refers to a play that makes all who see it go insane. Perhaps the Yellow King will be a similar motif through “True Detective.”
But the show has never been just about mythology, or murder: It’s also about the metaphysical, and the horrible possibility that we have no reason to be here. In the show’s final moments, Rust and Marty seemed to find one.
Rust revealed that as he lay dying in Childress’ labyrynthine kingdom, Carcosa, he felt a “vague awareness in the dark.” There was a warmth, “like a substance,” and he felt his daughter waiting for him in death. He felt his father’s presence as well. They seemed to be waiting.
“All I had to do is let go — and I did,” Rust said. “I said darkness, yeah-uh — and I disappeared.”
But even in the moment he most wanted to die, he didn’t.
The season ended with Marty wheeling Rust out for a smoke, and eventually helping him escape his wheelchair and the hospital. They talked about the stories Rust used to tell himself about the stars, including the oldest of all — “light versus dark.”
“It appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory,” said Marty.
Rust, once the darker-minded detective, was more hopeful.
“Once there was only dark,” he said. “You ask me, the light’s winning.”
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And so it did. And the season ended with what could be a manifesto for the whole show.
Rust and Marty’s story ended with them knowing each other even better than they know themselves. And the bad men turned out not to be so bad after all.