The Obligatory True Detective Post

Over the last two months the television world has been overtaken by the perverse and thrilling story of True Detective (season 1), which I would label The Yellow King Mystery because it’s easy and obvious, and because this is as far as this story will go. Like many of you (I hope) I watched the finale last night, and while watching it I knew that many would be dissatisfied with the lack of specificity in certain areas of the plot. As far as I’m concerned, I feel that those complaints are coming from people who didn’t get what the show was going for. And furthermore I think that even in the areas where people were left unsatisfied, the show said exactly as much as it needed to. My full, spoiler-filled reaction follows:

It seems that the biggest complaint would probably be the “Lost-esque” lack of mythology resolution in the end. After eight episodes of buildup, the lack of info regarding the cult of the “Yellow King” -and how exactly that cult indoctrinated Errol Childress- will be a major point of contention for those disappointed audience members. But in my mind, I find that complaint to be somewhat shortsighted and a very surface-level reaction to the story (which is a perfectly valid way to respond to any story, I just find it disappointing in this case).

For starters, while the complaint is that they didn’t delve enough into the cult or its tentacled reach, I feel that the revelation of the killer’s identity was the perfect end result to the mystery that they set up. The creepy thing about it for me is that this twisted demented hillbilly is all thats left of this huge family of cultists and look how much damage he did alone in the security blanket they left him. Imagine how much else is out there hidden in the bayou from time gone by, or how many cousins of his lurk in their own dens of evil. The fact that there is no grand coordinated conspiracy anymore, but that there could be others like Childress killing at random in pursuit of their own perverse ends, is even scarier in its own way.

Furthermore it seems pretty clear to me that the series’ focus has been more about the characters than the mystery (which was the primary defense of Lost as well but in that case I feel its a harder argument to make). There was at least as much emphasis placed on the toll that their work takes on Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (Woody Harrelson), and what toll they take on the people around them. In fact, I see a parallel between the effect Marty’s behavior has on his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and daughters, and the poisonous influence that the Tuttle/Childress clan had on Errol Childress. Errol is the end result of decades of terrible, inhuman behavior, someone who was nurtured by evil people and then set loose on the world. And while Marty is clearly not that fucked up a person, his lechery and temper drive his family away and push them into their own brushes with “unsavory” actions. The real resolution of the series is that Marty’s family seems to have finally balanced out and found some peace (without him), while Rust completing the case allows him some closure with the demons of his personal past.

Perhaps the only downside to the understated nature of the show is that a lot of the layers about family and religion and how we pass our dysfunctions down to our children are all lost in the Yellow King mythology, when they should be emphasizing each other. The end result of who Errol Childress is and where he came from should illuminate the (potential) legacy of Marty, and the dangers to Rust’s soul, and serve as a reminder what can happens if we lose ourselves to the dark… the ones we love could get dragged down into the void with us.

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