‘True Detective’ Season 1 Finale Review

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Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in True Detective Season 1 Episode 8 True Detective Season 1 Finale Review

[This is a review for True Detective season 1, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]


Aside from its labyrinthine story structure (winding its way back and forth between nearly two decades); the painstaking effort that was taken in crafting and maintaining its sullen yet gorgeous atmosphere; and especially the quasi-deep, philosophical digressions of co-protagonist Rust Cohle, one of the most intriguing aspects of HBO’s True Detective was the response from the audience. More to the point: the manner in which its central mystery was appropriated between Sundays by an audience eager to pour over details and fill in blanks, hoping to head the program off at the pass. The endgame of Nic Pizzolatto’s intricate story about two broken men chasing an elusive truth became the Internet’s favorite obsession, and as a result, discussions about the show nearly became as much about the way we watch things, as it was about the series itself.

The response to the series seemed to be two-fold: There were those who were ready to call it an instant classic after the premiere episode, and defend its honor against any naysayer who might have rightly taken issue with its representation of female characters or the generally narrow assortment of personalities surrounding Rust and Marty. And then there were those who initially were turned off by Rust’s theoretical diatribes and overwhelming misanthropy, only to become excited at the possibility that the sometimes-impenetrable cop show spawning outlandish theories about Cthulhu monsters, yellow kings, and mind-melting descents into darkness would wind up revealing itself to be an insanely detailed, but nonetheless refreshingly traditional example of the kind of story from which the series took its title.

Discussing the True Detective season finale, ‘Form and Void,’ means discussing the importance of the show’s meticulousness and attention to detail. That aspect, the idea it was somehow laying Easter eggs everywhere for eagle-eyed viewers and True Detective theorists to point out on message boards is why new life was breathed into an obscure collection of 19th century horror literature, and why the program itself somehow managed to become the most poured over mystery since Lost. And yet, the remarkable thing about the mystery and the way the audience responded to it, was how, in its final hour, Pizzolatto’s story acknowledged itself in a sort of meta observation about the inherent repetitiveness of storytelling.

Woody Harrelson in True Detective Season 1 Episode 8 True Detective Season 1 Finale Review

There’s “just one story,” Rust tells Marty in the waning moments of season 1; it’s “light versus dark.” That remark not only sums up True Detective‘s search for the Yellow King, the examination of Rust and Marty’s lives since the series premiere, and certainly, the violent showdown with Errol William Childress (Glenn Fleshler) to close this chapter in the anthology, it also serves as a kind of foreword for any chapters to come. When Rust discusses time as a “flat circle” and how everyone is destined to “relive the same aspects over and over again,” he was talking about his own drug-addled brain attempting to make sense of the world around him, but, in a sense, he was also talking about fiction and the idea that there really is just one story. As True Detective established – and the audience reaction wound up validating – a narrative can march right up and have one of its main characters acknowledge the existence of a single story being told over and over again, as long as the details are as strong and as compelling as there were here.

I remarked in the review of the premiere, ‘The Long Bright Dark,’ how, through its use and acknowledgement of genre convention, it felt as though the series was responding to the over abundance of dark serial killer dramas on television. And the show was, in turn, attempting to combat that profusion by becoming the definitive dark serial killer drama. Reading it that way, there’s a considerable amount of subtext to be read into the way Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga imbued the series with a sense of self-awareness about television trends and crime fiction in general, while having its two co-leads occupy opposite ends of the self-awareness spectrum in the most extreme sense. “What happened to my head is not something that gets better,” is a good example of Rust’s tendency toward extreme self-awareness, while Marty’s hilarious inquiry of “What’s scented meat?” sums up his relationship with questions regarding his own consciousness. While it further defines who Rust and Marty are as characters, the conversation during the long car ride to a suspect’s location is also prime crime fiction convention; it’s one thing cop shows have to do well, regardless the larger story at hand.

That level of awareness meant that despite everything going on, True Detective was essentially (and perhaps only) about Rust and Marty’s perception of themselves as unwitting participants in a much larger narrative, and how that changed over the course of nearly 20 years. Arguments have been made that the show is only about Rust and Marty, so the other characters (including Maggie and Marty’s estranged daughters) are deliberately one-dimensional. Whether that’s true (and, more importantly, somehow meaningful in the context of the show) or not will likely require a repeat viewing to determine (cue, HBO Go). But that just means in addition to supplying a satisfying conclusion to the central murder investigation – i.e., answers to the identity of the Yellow King, as well as what and where Carcosa is – ‘Form and Void’ had to provide some sort of closure to the shattered lives and relationships of Rust Cohle and Martin Hart.

Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohle in True Detective Season 1 Episode 8 True Detective Season 1 Finale Review

It’s hard to argue that the detectives’ confrontation with Errol Childress amongst the accumulated detritus and appropriately labyrinthine corridors of Carcosa was anything but satisfying – finding and punishing Dora Lange’s killer was, after all, the initial goal of the narrative. But the secondary goal of the narrative might have actually worked out to be the more satisfying endeavor of the series. During the past seven weeks, True Detective has asked its characters over many, many years whether it’s possible for men like them to change, or if they must simply reconcile themselves with who they are – like it or not. Fittingly, that’s the question the series doesn’t have a direct answer for; instead it leans more toward the suggestion that a person’s perception can change, affording them the comforting illusion of transformation.

When Marty visits Rust in the hospital, there’s an unexpectedly comical interplay that ends with Marty saying, “Don’t ever change,” while the men exchange vulgar salutes toward one another. Strangely, both the comment and the salutes are instilled with a sense of endearment, rather than the vitriol that permeated their relationship previously. It’s a surprising bit of levity and optimism in an otherwise intensely dark program that accentuates Rust’s final line quite well: “Once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.” Perhaps in its heart, True Detective chose to believe that even after tremendous damage is done, the truth is: perceiving some sort of change is the only remedy, and the only way out of the darkness.


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  1. Anxious to see what next season will bring. Also curious as to who will be cast as the new leads. January brings Banshee and True Detectives.

  2. So I guess we all know who the winners of the Emmys this year will be ,amazing television .Take a gene that has been done to death and actually do something fresh. To have an evil vile store-line and have end with change and hope in this day and age amazing television.

  3. Can someone explain the space/universe/big bang thing that Cohle stared at before getting stabbed?

    My initial reaction was: “Aliens?”

    • Regarding the space thing Cohle saw, the most popular theory is that it was a hallucination. Earlier episodes mentioned this.

    • Rust hallucinates on a regular basis due to prior drug use, however that was quite an inopportune time to have one…

    • Consider the previous hallucinations he’s had. Of the one’s we have seen, they aren’t exactly out of left field and play into the narrative in some form or another.

      One theory to go with is the theory of “universal evil”, universal on a cosmic scale, which also plays into the works of H.P. Lovecraft (who frequently referenced cosmic evil in the Old or Ancient Ones, the Elder Gods, of cosmic good, and those of cosmic evil).

      Take into account that Lovecraft was also influenced by Robert W. Chambers (The King in Yellow) and certain pieces of dialogue from both the killer and Cole’s musings that reference these things and ideas, it could lend a bit of perspective on what Cole was seeing and why he was seeing it in that moment.

      There is also a belief that conflict on Earth is caused by cosmic evil (outside of Lovecraftian references).

      While I doubt anyone will be able to come up with a definitive answer for you short of Nic flat out telling us, perhaps this will give you some idea of perception to go with when forming your own.

      • I think the fact all of this discussion has come up over these plot point is a testament to the above average writing of this show. As complex as some of the narrative has seemed I think that like how Childress was overlooked not once but twice by all four detectives working the related, the answer to some of these questions might not be so deep.

        My take on most of what came up from the cult members is that all of their depraved behavior was influenced by the Lovecraft and Chambers mythologies, but at the end of the day they were just a sick cult following a manual they made up to justify their actions.

        Looking at some of the characters Rust and Marty crossed paths with during the entirety of the investigation, it seems to me that most of them were not smart enough to read and comprehend the works so often quoted by them. My theory is that the higher status members like Tuttle used the lore of these writers to sweep the less intelligent drones up into their game. It’s not unlike Manson or Jim Jones, getting weak-minded people to buy into anything is more powerful then any magic.

        • Oh, it’s beautifully written and there’s no argument there, but I wasn’t suggesting that the mythos played directly into the narrative, more that the ideological aspect of them certainly does: that conflict on earth is influenced or directed by cosmic evil.

          That’s not to say any particular character used specific mythology to their gain or that they actually worshiped anything other than their own desires.

          That Cole’s hallucinations were shown to be an abstract of his thought rather than out of nowhere or unconnected to anything, as shown a number of times, and that he’s quoted as referencing the idea (not the specific mythology) of a cosmic evil, also a number of times, it may give Kofi a point of reference for that particular hallucination at that particular time in the ideological sense.

          Or we could just say that Cole’s hallucinations were totally random but remarkably similar to specific things at specific points- that would be a little too coincidental, though.

  4. A very good season in all aspects of the show,but i can`t help to think the finale was unsatisfying…i don`t think shows are better/badass for leaving loose ends. When this series raised so many questions along the way (including in the finale) it bugs me that they did not bother to answer all of them.

    • I was just curious as to what loose ends that really mattered where left? The pharmacy killer who committed suicide was more than likely contacted by the same people who killed Billy Lee Tuttle. We found out why all of the missing persons reports came up a “Made In Error” in the database.

      • I think some people suffer from Lost Syndrome whereby they soak in even the smallest references and apply meaning to them even where there is no meaning to be had. As a meta-statement on mass entertainment in today’s viewing audience, a lot of people have been conditioned to look for these things and make something of them.

        We pick apart episodes because we figure this reference and that reference must mean something. The current state of our viewing experience allows us to retain the episodes for a period of time, re-watch them, pause them, back them up, and generally obsess on any implied connection.

        As such, when we see flower drawings by one of Harts kids that matches the mural in the asylum episodes later, a drawing in the kitchen that looks like the famous spiral that we’ve seen in the murders, or a doll setup that seems eerily similar to the videotape we see a handful of episodes later, people’s brains go haywire and impose meaning on them that leads to theories about Hart’s oldest daughter possibly being a victim or his Father-in-law possibly being a perp.

        When none of that is ever dealt with (because it never had anything to to with the core mystery except the importance that the viewer has assigned to it) then people feel like it’s a loose end that wasn’t tied up. The problem, of course, is that it never was an end to begin with.

        Right about here is where we recall Cole’s own existential nihilist statements about people assigning value to things that have none (in so many words) and then believing in the value they themselves assigned to it.

        The viewer that feels a loose ends exist in the narrative has done exactly what Cole has stated humans all do early in the show.

        • Sorry, there is no comparison to be made between the writing of True Detective and Lost. It’s like you’re trying to give Lost undeserved praise by mentioning the two shows together. T.D. had one central mystery which was resolved by the end and two characters with intense, relatable development arcs. Lost had roughly 20 abandoned mysteries and character development that consisted of, “This week electromagnets make me time travel because of reasons.”

          Aside from that, I agree: Hart’s daughters were not involved in any of the Yellow King stuff.

          • You should be sorry. What I said was that Lost, more specifically how Lost went about laying things out (regardless of whether those things were answered or not- which I didn’t even touch), has conditioned an entire generation of viewers to analyze and pick apart every little thing and thus, because of that, they tend to assign meaning and value to erroneous details. Nowhere in my statement did I compare the writing between the two shows or their endings.

            It’s kind of like how we have an entire generation of internet commenter who want to take issue with something and so they go about misconstruing what you have actually said, even going so far as constructing rebuttals to things you haven’t even mentioned as if you had, just so they can take the contrary position.

            I was speaking of the social impact of how we watch these kinds of shows, as in those containing a central mystery. Thank you, though, for making your apology right off the bat.

            • @Chance- I would agree that Lost was a major catalyst in the “Easter Egg” convention used in a lot of television and movie stories right now. But it really is just the same old misdirection trick magicians, carnies, and con-men have been using forever. Many writers these days seem to relish in pulling swerves on viewers to make themselves seem more clever and to a certain extent conceal a lack of substance at times. It is easy the string people along using their own expectations because they never have to be addressed one way or the other.

            • Then you agree with me. Lost was a directionless waste of time, written by hacks and not even in the same zip code of narrative quality as True Detective.

              • I did not follow Lost long enough to have strong feelings on it one way or another. I saw it for what it was and moved on long before any hard feelings developed.

                I think Chance was just talking about how viewers read into plot points and write their own scenarios, only to either get mad or be disappointed when and if it doesn’t come to pass.

                • Consider yourself lucky, Slayer. You missed not a thing.

                  Maybe Chance is saying the people who still to this day think Lost is a brilliant show because they ascribed their own meaning to it are the same types seeing too much in very brief scenes of True Detective, like with the Barbie dolls. If so, I agree and apologize for misconstruing his comment. Lost is totally meaningless and the show’s creator didn’t even care enough about it to stick around more than a couple of seasons.

                  • No, Chance never said that at all.

                    Chance was saying that people these days are somehow conditioned to look at every detail, pick scenes apart piece by piece with analysis of objects, actions and dialogue that is actually meaningless and plays no part in the narrative but which some viewers insist has some kind of meaning.

                    The only reason he brought Lost into the discussion was because that was the show that started everyone picking apart every scene for details on where the plot might go. It has nothing to do with one fanbase or another calling it brilliant, it’s about turning viewers into detectives of their own.

                    I hope you see this reply because we only had the TD season finale tonight (I’ve had to watch a repeat at 12:40am) and didn’t want to read any articles about the show before seeing the episode in question.

    • It’s important to remember that the show is about seeing the narrative through the eyes of Rust and Marty. From their perspective, those questions wouldn’t have been answered, and they’d have no way of knowing many of those things so we’re not going to know them either.

  5. Those eight episodes had it all. Television simply doesn’t get any better than that. Excellent, excellent season.

    • I agree, best series I have seen in years. Banshee was going that way until this came along. Still great though.

  6. I have to admit that the last thing I expected was any sort of hopeful ending but the way I “seem” (I say seem because there’s a lot of people who see it differently) to be interpreting the episode that’s what it was.
    Looking back over the 8 episodes I see a mostly simple story of 2 men who have opposite views of the world we live in but over the course of 17 years find a way to meet in the middle.
    I don’t think Chole now believes in God or even an afterlife but he experienced something powerful enough to make him now think those things could be possible and after living an entire life believing the exact opposite he’s forever changed.
    To allow any sort of hope to penetrate a worldview that was once so closed off to it has to change a person and even though it may only seem slight to someone else for someone like Chole it’s a complete shock to the system.

    I could be way off base in my interpretation and how I see it so I’m really curious to read other opinions here. I tried reading comments on other sites but to my surprise there were mostly complaints.

  7. I thought the finale was the epitome of television perfection. There were no real loose ends, just answers that weren’t explained.

    The beauty of the ending is that we, the audience, fully expected Rust & Marty to die…because that’s what the characters expected. It’s rare to be completely on board with the same consciousness as the characters we’re watching.
    Same with the hopeful ending: It’s hard for us to digest, because it was difficult for Rust & Marty to digest.

    I love how the show made us & the detectives believe evil like this can only be done by massive conspiracy or even supernatural, but the truly terrifying horror is that evil exists in the mundane. Childress will haunt me, along with Lector & John Doe (se7en).

    The message of the series is beautiful: The darkness may be dense & the future seems bleak…but “the light IS winning”

  8. So why did the 1995 Dora Lange killer light the cane fields on fire?

    • I thought the field burning scene happened immediately following the final scene of the series; I thought that was Rust & Marty burning it down.
      They can’t catch them all, but they can burn down their playing field

      • I thought the same thing. I believe that would be the final scene.

        • Even the show runner has stated that the killer set the field on fire to lure the police to Dora’s body. You can even still see smoke when Cole and Heart first pull up and while they are coming up on the body, not to mention one whole section of crops having had the green sapped out of them from the heat. It amazes me how many people have ignored that small detail.

          • Thank you. I haven’t rewatched yet & am excited to discover all the things I’ve missed.

            • Oh, I caved to herd mentality when it came to that. When I first watched the premiere I hadn’t interpreted the opening scene any other way. Then, as time went on, people started on this idea that the show would end where it began and how that must have been one of our leads carrying the other before burning something- that the beginning scene would be the end scene.

              I figured that I must have missed something and, the more I looked, I even started questioning myself on the wisps of smoke coming from the crops. Finally I had to ask myself where people were getting the idea from, but I think that plays into what I mentioned in my previous comments on here.

              I think, because these kinds of shows are more common, people forget that sometimes what you see is exactly what you see, not some profound abstract.

              • Very very true…especially with this show

  9. I’m a huge Tool fan. For anybody who has listened to or interpreted any of Tool”s music, you’ll understand why this is relevant. It’s all about peace, not quite spirituality, but that’s probably the best word for it. Older than Christianity or the idea of an afterlife or any of that. What Rust experienced was the same story that Tool’s journey has been. From a nihilistic view of the world to a sort of inner peace. He felt that his daughter is there, his daughter and his Pop. They’re still there, somewhere, a collective consciousness, still a part of everything. I think it’s beautiful. It’s the way that I see it.

    I’m not Christian in the slightest, I believe it’s as far from reality as you can get. But, I can see how some people may interpret it like that, seeing as how McConaughey himself is a fundamentalist Christian. But I think to view it like that is missing out on something. It’s deeper than that. For a man to have a complete 180 degree turn in life like that is quite beautiful.

    • Further along with the Tool reference, is the spiral. Which represents our universe and the way that life can be. Spiral out.

    • Good…I’m not the only one who felt the series was likened to Tool.

      • That’s good to hear man. Lateralus album and 10,000 days. Vicarious, watch the whole world die. Spiral out, Wings for Marie. Beautiful.

    • Excellent comment. I am a fan of tool and you are quite correct.

  10. Great ending to a great show. Matthew M. Has had an incredible run with Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, to this and with the Nolan project coming next it’s safe to say he will be on a roll for a while! Looking forward to the next mystery and cast.

  11. I am glad the finale of this show did not go off the rails with some crazy X-Files ending. All of the speculation about demons or aliens showing up kind of had me dreading the show, but they played it straight and it paid off. The two detectives finding some redemption and ending one chapter in what was clearly a bigger conspiracy felt right. The swirling hole in space Chole saw while searching the killers maze was probably just his long-standing hallucinations manifesting themselves due to the intensity of the situation.

    As for loose ends not being tied up, the shows narrative explained itself early on. The things Cohle and Hart said during the course of the show came to pass during the story. Hart observing that the detectives curse was not seeing the answer right in front of them played into both detectives looking right past Childress in 1995, only to have to hunt him down years later. The idea that there is a cult involved that might still be active is what the show was built on, since the original murders were filed away as solved even though they had just scratched the surface. Like Cohle said, nothing is ever over.

  12. This was a great ending to a great series, all the more because it was so unexpected that both Rust and Marty survived their showdown with Errol Childress. The fact that the detectives did not get all the perps was also a nice, realistic touch. Outstanding in so many ways, True Detective truly is great television, and I for one will be quite surprised if season(s) to come find a way to equal or top this first go round.

  13. The previous 7 episodes were great leading up to what I felt was going to be some kind of huge conspiracy the way it was built up. I assumed the two would encounter some kind of fringe group in the middle of a ceremony.

    What happens…


    He looks at a picture and correlates it to the description of their suspect. Solved.

    Lol… way to discount everything that happened previously in the story. Seriously… everything they did was a total waste of time and meaningless. All he had to do was look at the picture & it took what 15 years or something like that in their storyline.

    Anyways…. enjoyed the series but as usual the finale was a limp dick.

    • I see what you mean.. but that’s detective work in a nutshell.. Ive studied a lot of cases in school, and its usually some random clue like that.. Think about son of sam, it a parking ticket that ended up doing him in, and initially he was considered only a witness, nota suspect. And Capone gets put in prison for what, tax evasion?? That’s just how it goes.

    • I have had one person say they knew who the killer was because they recognized the actors name from Boardwalk Empire. Aside from that I never really heard anyone else mention the guy on the lawnmower because they never really focused on him at all. They shot the scene so that the audience would not really notice him, and Marty stayed in the car so he never even saw him. I did find it odd that someone was mowing the lawn of an abandoned school, but they populated the investigation with so many shady people it was easy for one crazy not to stand out.

      Like Marty said during his interview, the detectives curse is that the answer is right under their nose and they miss it.

      • The mowing of an abandoned lawn was just above suspicion. I’ve seen plenty of abandoned properties where either the state, county, or even volunteers contribute to the upkeep of at least the greenery and lawn for appearance.

        Near where I live, there is an abandoned cemetery in the middle of woods that was once next to an old church that burned down almost 100 years ago. One has to literally hike to this place, and yet there are no trees or wild two foot grass because a local church hikes up there to maintain it even though that forest is now within the boundaries of a state operated wildlife preserve.

        It’s generally something someone may not think twice about if they saw it, especially, if you’ll recall, after Marty’s own warning about latching on to an idea and then your narrative starts to bend to fit your theory rather than the other way around.

    • “everything they did was a total waste of time and meaningless. All he had to do was look at the picture & it took what 15 years or something like that in their storyline.”

      So, good. You picked up on one of the major thematic points of the story. As a “true detective” genre story, one of the main character says “you pay attention to the wrong clues when the answer is right under your nose” (I’m paraphrasing).

      I realize you’re trying to complain but you actually ended up describing one of the cooler things about the story.

  14. After watching the first episode I was very curious on how they would turn this incredible drama into a series with multiple seasons and the finale answered that question.

    The fight sequence at the end was full of suspense and horror. I did not know who would actually die or live. The creepy scarred face man was a great first season villain and there are ties to the rest of the Tuttle family that allow for future seasons. The subtle news broadcast about two P.I.’s cracking the case will bring them clients and money to sustain the business and these two will be great partners with many options to open Season Two.

    I was pleasantly shocked of the high quality acting performances from both Harrelson and Mcconaughey. Can not wait to see what is in store for a future Season Two.

    • New cast, New case for season 2.
      It’s an anthology show.
      Rust & Marty will not be returning.

      • I did read about new actors after the fact. very sad. I thought it was such a great dynamic. But still looking forward to season 2

  15. Perhaps season 2, with the new cast & new case, will also be a part of the larger conspiracy…but not straight out say it. It’ll be the detectives journey & again, one case one story, but maybe it’ll be linked to the tuttles somehow. It’ll be us, the audience, that only sees the big picture…not the characters or even the scope of a single season.


    • I agree. As a viewer who invested time into this season, I wouldn’t mind then giving us a glimpse into a world bigger than the characters. Again, I loved the first season and wouldn’t change it but when they start season two I would like it to tie into Season one and have some pay-off for viewers.

  16. He said “sentient meat.”

  17. Very well written…you know Kevin, the Screenrant podcast could use you as an addition to help with its quality. It deperately needs a ‘mature’ figure that can stop some of those clowns from rambling about sad theories and rumor-masterbation.

    Well done.