When Stephen King ended his epic Dark Tower series he gave his readers a choice – they could conclude their 4000+ page journey with a “happy” ending or they could turn past King’s afterward and follow Roland into the Dark Tower. It was a ballsy move, something that only a genre king like King could pull off. Who could possibly be happy with a single narrative solution after the epic commitment they’d just made to the series? Inevitably most of us read to the last page, and as it turned out, for Roland, time was a flat circle. But what King did was remind many of us why we read – it’s about the journey, sometimes through strange and dark places, with characters you relate to, sometimes you’re not sure why.
Take Rust Cohle for example, I’m sure no one ever wants to hear, “you remind me of that character from True Detective,” any of them for that matter, but there are days, mostly commuter mornings on the subway, when I hear his dialog in the back of my head and I know exactly where he’s coming from. The seven hours I’ve spent with Cohle have been mostly uneasy, they’ve made me feel strange inside, mostly because sometimes I can see his POV, but the journey through his world, from a narrative, visual, and metaphorical perspective has been fantastic. I work in TV, and film, schooled in visual arts, love genre fiction, and True Detective, like a car battery and two jumper cables, has jolted my enthusiasm for all of the aforementioned. The misdirects, the illusions, both visual and written, the performances, the dialogue (sorry Emily Nussbaum, you’re not even wrong), the show is a prime example of not just what TV can be but what a good narrative can achieve when it is focused, detailed, littered with references, social commentary, subversive ideas, the stuff that has you lingering in the staff kitchen, talking until your tea is lukewarm.
Sifting through the daily dirge of content this show is generating, from Pinterest boards to poignant articles, I can’t helping feeling how great it is we have popular art that instigates such in-depth analysis. Even the show’s detractors are using the content to draw attention to their own little end of the universe. Most critiques chide TD for not having what the reviewer themselves wants to see, but I don’t know anyone who would go to a ballet and expect break dancing. The show is dark. It is about two broken men dragging themselves through the mire of a world made by even more broken men. And that’s what I expect each week. If I want a unique feminine perspective I watch Girls, it’s great. But all this speculation, detraction, invention, praise, around a single piece of entertainment, it’s the stuff powerful popular culture is made of.
No doubt the next few days will be filled with spec spoilers and conjecture as to how the show will end, incidentally Charlie Lange outlined the entire plot when he gave up Ledoux, so there should be no surprises. But I’ll wager that people expecting a Weird Tales-esque reveal are going to be woefully underwhelmed. Pizzolatto’s references are nothing more than window dressing, an homage to predecessors who have influenced the tone and atmosphere of the show. They have added a massive amount of intrigue but the truth is the plot has more in common with The Wicker Man and Timothy Findley’s Headhunter than it does with Robert W Chambers. And that’s cool. For me we’ve already been provided multiple satisfying conclusions like a bullet in the head for Ledoux, Marty and Rust reunited, Tuttle’s “suicide”, justice is getting served along the way, alas, I highly doubt our investigators will be venerated a second time.
Which brings me back to the beginning. No matter what happens next Sunday night, it probably won’t meet everyone’s expectations. Harrelson and McConaughey’s perfect performances, Pizzolatto’s deft pen, and Fukunaga’s flawless direction have delivered an impeccable season of TV and storytelling, they’ve taken us on a journey we seldom get to take in this medium. What a dream, regardless of the monster at the end of it.