“This is Carcosa.”
Well, it’s over folks. HBO’s anthology series “True Detective” has reached the end of its first season, and it may just stand as one of the greatest eight hours ever put on television. Writer Nicholas Pizzolatto should be extremely proud, and director Fukunaga has helped craft a hell of a thing here. After eight episodes, the King in Yellow has been unmasked (perhaps), Carcosa has been revealed (partly), and the horror is finally over (not even close).
In “After You’ve Gone”, Cohle reveals the fruits of his recent investigation to Marty. After compiling all his evidence, and testimony from former students of the Goodsprings program, he deduces that there’s some far reaching conspiracy involving the kidnapping, and molestation of children. He connects the cover up to the Tuttle family, and a cult.Marty agrees to help Cohle after finding a tape of one such ritualistic rape and murder and uses his P.I. offices as their new HQ. Together they find a relative of Ledoux, who confirms the existence of “the man with the scars”. Later, talking to a former employee of Sam Tuttle, they discover he had “other families” and that the scarred man may be an illegitimate grandson, named Childress. The employee gets hysterical when “Carcosa” is brought up. Later, the detectives question the deputy who handled Marie Fontenot’s case in the 90s, and find out that the cover up was orchestrated by (former) Sheriff Childress.
In “Form and Void”, the finale, Cohle and Marty confirm the cover up of various missing persons cases by Sheriff Childress. After a rather large leap of logic, Marty suggests the green ears on the “spaghetti monster” suspect sketch may have come from clumsily painting a victim’s house. Upon looking into some old tax records, they uncover the Childress family painting business, and an address for Errol Childress, the scarred man. We find Errol in his family home with his girlfriend/sister, and his father’s corpse in the shed. Cohle and Marty arrive; Cohle knows immediately that they’ve found their killer’s home. Cohle gives chase to Errol, while Marty subdues the girlfriend.
“He’s all around us. Before you were born, and after you die.”
Soon, Cohle is lead deep into “Carcosa”, an old, overgrown bunker in the hills off the property. Inside are twig sculptures, and evidence of countless victims. Errol taunts Cohle, luring him into a ritual chamber of some kind, where Cohle is plagued with visions of a great spiral void in the sky. Errol attacks, wounding Cohle and then Marty. Cole manages to shoot, killing Errol and ending the horror. The case is taken over by police, who explore the connections between Childress and the Tuttles. Both men heal and discuss the job they’ve done outside the hospital, Cohle explaining how he had accepted his death in Carcosa, and found peace in it before waking up. He tells Marty the story is the oldest of all: light against dark. Marty suggests that looking to the night sky, the dark has more territory. Cohle corrects him, saying “once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
The two final episodes both take place entirely in the present, so now we have no idea what may happen. This ups the tension considerably. The antagonistic chemistry between Cohle and Marty is back with a vengeance, and McConaughey and Harrelson play off each other perfectly as former friends turned sworn enemies turned reluctant partners. The pair bring their top game for the big finish and deliver stellar performances, particularly during the finale’s “epilogue”. Glenn Fleshler’s turn as Errol Chuldress is both remarkable and chilling. The man just oozes terror and psychosis. Not a word is wasted, as his ravings give us the slightest glimpse into his madness.
“You know what they did to me. What I will do to all the sons and daughters of man.”
One minor complaint I had going into the finale was the writer’s refusal to explain the meaning behind the Chambers’ reference. Why “King in Yellow”? Why Carcosa? We never know. There is no real closure to the case, especially given that the majority of the conspirators are likely still at large (Cohle and Marty seem to accept this fact). However, the show was never about the case itself; it was about looking into the heart of these two broken men, and trying to find some sort of hope for either of them in the dark, twisted world they surrounded themselves with. Even after seventeen years neither man could find peace or happiness, and both jumped right back into the hell of the case with ease. While we don’t see much of a change in Marty (a man doomed to repeat his past mistakes), we see a massive change in Cohle’s character.
While some may scoff at his instant-Christian about-face in the closing minutes of the show, I must disagree. I think there’s more to be read from his explanation of his pre-death moment and his new perception of the light in the world than just spirituality and religion. This is a broken man who has found the tiniest semblance of purpose in living now. To “get his man” and make the world slightly less dark is good enough, even if he had to destroy himself to do it.
“Come die with me, little priest.”
Overall, I say “Bravo!” HBO has truly outdone themselves this time. “True Detective” is the new benchmark for not only crime drama, but serial television in general. A stupendous cast (that should sweep awards season), a gripping mystery, shocking revelations, and two instantly classic performances make this one of the greatest seasons of television in recent memory. “True Detective” might actually do well to just stop here and quit while its ahead. A second season with new characters and stories could always be interesting, but it has a hell of an act to follow, and a big shadow to step out of. Hopefully Pizzolatto has a few more tricks up his sleeve and will repeat his successes here. After all, time is a flat circle.