If anyone who reads this blog (Mom? Maybe?) hasn’t seen True Detective yet and plans on watching it, skip this. I will be doing my best to ruin it.
Still with me? That’s good. Let’s talk about True Detective and its finale. I have some issues with it, as many do, but have recently read some responses on the internet that defend the finale and argue that perhaps people not enjoying it like they wanted was their fault. The gist of the argument is that in an age where everyone has an opinion, and people freely theorize and build on their favorite shows, that the expectations people build often ruin the finale before they’ve even watched it.
Maybe. I’m sure a lot of people feel disappointed by something because it doesn’t live up to the ending that is in their heads. It’s impossible to please everyone, and dissenters are often much louder than those who quietly enjoyed it, even if those who quietly enjoyed something are the vast majority.
I don’t think True Detective had a terrible finale. Just like I don’t think the Lost finale was bad. Nor Breaking Bad. The problem with the True Detective finale, and the reason the people defending it are focusing on the wrong argument, is that it subverted everything it had been about for seven hours. It didn’t respect its audience, and in the end succumbed to what I thought was just poor storytelling.
I’m not necessarily talking about the show not wrapping up its central mystery, although it is related to that. Leaving an ambiguous ending or focusing solely on the character arcs (as Lost tried to do) is fine, if you’re not disrespecting your audience in the way you do it. I personally felt like True Detective hates its audience and Nic Pizzolatto committed some storytelling sins.
As an example, take the hints that Marty’s children were somehow involved with the central mystery. The way his eldest daughter arranged her dolls as if they were in the middle of a rape, the sexual drawings she did, and the extended sequence in the middle of the series with the crown in the tree. If you think that this all happened to show that Marty was inattentive to his family and therefore it’s already been explained, why did it have to be so specific to what was happening with the central mystery? If you explain that by saying that we were experiencing these things from his point of view so it might not actually be what we were shown it is, I say when else has that happened on the show with Marty? There was never any indication that he hallucinated like Rust, or that the case was coloring his personal worldview. So if it was deliberate to make the audience think one thing only to call them stupid for thinking that later, that’s disrespectful to the audience. And if it did have meaning but was never expanded on, that’s bad storytelling.
Another example: Rust’s hallucinations are all but forgotten until they’re needed to create dramatic tension. I don’t think there is a mention of the hallucinations, nor do we see Rust hallucinate, from the third episode until the last one, at which point the audience is reminded of it through exposition and then it happens at the most inopportune moment. Not great storytelling.
Some point to the shows final speeches as to why the storytelling ended up the way it did. That the story is a reflection of how we look at stories, and how we subscribe meaning to things that don’t necessarily have any. This may be true, but at the same time the point of storytelling is to find meaning. We tell stories as a way to find a deeper truth in the things that rule our day-to-day lives. So to create an engrossing story and then say, “Just kidding, there was no point because stories are pointless!” is a slap to the face of your audience.
This is all very negative, yes, but I did love the first seven and a half episodes of the series. It was engrossing, tense, dramatic, and inventive. But man, I wish Pizzolatto would have shown a bit more regard for his audience and the conventions of storytelling.