Warning: Major spoilers ahead so if you haven’t watched the series stop reading.
Not since Lost had I been so engulfed in a show like I was with True Detective. It was so much fun piecing together the clues each week and delving into the literary references that flooded us in almost every scene of every episode.
Then something happened in the finale; all of those clues became irrelevant.
I understand that the story was always meant to be a straight-forward good vs evil battle, but why give us all of these clues and symbolic hints with no intention of them actually paying off? Don’t get me wrong, the acting throughout the season was stellar and the directing was a work of art, but all of that feels tarnished when everything you’ve been following leads to little or nothing. There will be plenty of people that praise the season and consider it a great piece of work, but it’s hard not to feel somewhat betrayed. Let’s look at five questions that True Detective clearly gave us and then abandoned completely:
1. Who is the Yellow King?
The burning question of the entire series was answered in such a passive and unexciting way, it almost seemed like it didn’t even matter. After taking out the infamous “Spaghetti Monster” in very satisfying fashion, the duo spends some time chatting in the hospital and ironing out their past. And that’s it. Again, I didn’t expect Rust and Marty to kick in the door of Senator Tuttle’s office and start firing off automatic weapons in bullet time, but why make such a huge deal out of something that, not only goes unresolved, but essentially doesn’t matter. Rust mentions how he’s still free to which Marty reminds him that you can’t get them all. Oh cool. So basically you can hype a mystery for an entire season and then resolve it with a shrug and a freeze frame of our two heroes high-fiving in a freeze frame?
2. Why did we meet Maggie’s father?
A popular theory during the season was that Maggie’s father was involved with the killings and disappearances. While it may seem like a bit of a stretch, it would have explained hints like this painting in Dora Lange’s house:
Of course you recognize that image from Rust’s beer can art project:
His correlation to those images will be explained in a moment, but why even introduce this character and add so much mystery to him, only to never mention him again? I’m sure you remember seeing those figures another time, which leads us to our next question:
3. How did Marty’s daughter know about the killings?
One of the most shocking moments of the first act of the season was when Marty spotted this in his daughter’s room:
If Marty isn’t involved and Maggie isn’t involved, the only other character that would have access to their daughter is Maggie’s father. Just to recap, there was a painting in Dora Lange’s house showing five men in this position, Rust arranges his beer cans in the same formation, and Marty’s daughter put her Barbies in the same position, but we never find out why? Audrey, Marty’s daughter, shows constant signs of abuse including her drawings:
This would make sense if her grandfather was abusing her or allowing her to be abused, but it’s never mentioned. Not only that, but look at the drawing hanging on their wall, presumably done by Audrey:
Things like that aren’t just assumed as coincidences. A set designer didn’t wander in and toss an random drawing on the wall that matches the same symbol on the back of a murder victim and say, “Huh, I didn’t even notice that!” You can’t put all of these images into each episode then never develop it whatsoever. Why was Audrey drawing and acting out these things? It would be like if Breaking Bad ended with Walter White walking out of the nazi’s camp without anyone noticing him and then he goes home and no one ever mentions his meth cooking ever again. That may be a bit dramatic, but the reason so many of us invested in True Detective was to try and solve the mystery. It’s cheap to suddenly announce to everyone that there is no mystery.
4. How deep did the cult go?
So we get all of these ominous, dark hints at the depths and reach of this cult, but just as we begin to scratch the surface to its true power, Marty and Rust realize they’ve done enough and decide to Rush Hour 2 it out of the hospital together. It was frustrating to see all of this investigation and research accumulate to so little. As Pajiba points out, after years of searching and exhausting every lead, the whole mystery is solved by a coat of paint on a shack and some shockingly detailed tax records. True Detective didn’t necessarily need a supernatural twist, but after everything from Reverend Tuttle to that terrifying cult snuff film, ending everything with a lackluster pep talk about light battling darkness was not the grand finale that it seemed had been building for the entire season.
5. Why was Rust’s sexual stamina so terrible?
I know it had been a while, but Rust seemed to be a little more than….rusty. Did his sexual stamina improve over the years? Did that glorious ponytail give him more endurance with every year that it went untrimmed? Maybe Rust is a sexual Sampson and found the secret to follicle-related longevity. I believe in you, Rust.