Tuesday, March 11, 2014

True Detective or defective? Last episode sets off a (bleep) storm

If you got into the show True Detective on HBO, you were treated to one of the most compelling TV experiences in quite some time. The acting by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson was off the charts. The side stories were bizarre and disturbing.  The underlying darkness and constantly evolving grips on reality made it a terrific viewing experience.

Until the finale, which drew widespread criticism on social media. It left questions unanswered. Some of the plot points came out of left field. In the end, the story wasn't what we thought it was at all.

In the end, the story was pretty simple: It was a buddy series. The final scene was reminiscent of the end of Lethal Weapon 2, with a shot up Riggs and Murtaugh waiting for the cavalry. Darker? Yes. More bizarre? Of course. But in the end, that's what the whole thing was about.

The driving force is McConaughey's Rust Cohle. His path through the years is tied to a dark past and a cynical metaphysical approach that develops. As he and Marty (Harrelson) develop through the years, their characters become more alike.

The first five episodes threw conspiracy theories and hints on who might have been the real killer. There was a sinister "group" out there and the question seemed to be how deep did it go? Hints were everywhere.

Viewers speculated the show was full of "Easter Eggs;" in truth, they were all old school red herrings. In fact, they were really butterflies. We would chase them and get nowhere, then chase the next after it was released. They were creatures that were distractions.

The last two took a significant turn; the older detectives team up to solve the case they failed on years before. In the end, they solve it, become close, and find some form of redemption -- Marty with his family, Rust with a somewhat hard to believe spiritual  connection with his dead daughter. Marty even finds the key clue, when it was Rust carrying him for most of the show. They caught the monster -- one that had eluded police for years and clearly finally wanted to be caught -- and won.

And that was that.

All the side stories were just that; butterflies. That frustrated a lot of viewers, who expected more.

The conspiracy theories were dismissed in one exchange late:

Cohle says, we didn’t get them all. But they got a branch from a big rotten tree, and Hart says, we got ours, and basically, the rest of the tree is up to other people.

One of the most brilliant movies  ever made was Fight Club. One of the things I used to teach was see things on deeper levels. On level 1, Fight Club is about angry, disillusioned young men who create secret fight clubs. A person with a basic understanding can understand the movie on that level and enjoy it.

But people who dig deeper see it for what it is: A metaphor for existentialism, where the main character has to destroy everything and rebuild -- "it's only when you have lost everything that you are free to do anything." On that level, as well as the socio/economic conflict and psychological levels, the movie is much more enjoyable. Every word is critical. You can enjoy Level 1, but on Level 10, you are seeing a perfect work that delves deep into philosophy and consciousness.

(This is not a new concept. The Gnostic Christians believed it about Christianity in general).

True Detective at times took us to those levels, but in the end, brought us back to level 1 and its most simple form. I can understand the frustration, but let's also consider the simple brilliance of it; the show constantly surprised us and kept us guessing. At the end, none of the wild conspiracies came through. It was much more simple than we all thought.

There's something to be said for that, because it was clearly intentional.

Years from now, I think people will appreciate this ending more, much as they did with the Sopranos.  I understand the frustration, but I also see the simple brilliance of the show. The ending wasn't what people expected. I have yet to hear a ringing endorsement for it, just a lot of acceptance. Maybe that's all this post is about.

I do think in time, critics will realize the last line was meant for them:

"You're looking at it wrong. To me, the light is winning."

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