In the end it seems the darkest shows conclude with a hint of optimism. It is something I have noticed in other series I have loved over the years – characters were sent to hell and back only to find a kind of peace in the end – see Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe or Breaking Bad. I am not a fan of happy endings if they have not been earned but in those series they totally were and usually there is a bittersweetness to their fates which balances it out nicely.
So the conclusion to True Detective was pretty much everything I wanted and needed and yet it surprised me, whilst I’ve grown used to characters fighting against all the odds and somehow winning, whilst I know that has become quite a common way to end a series I wasn’t sure whether Martin Hart and Rust Cohle would be allowed that fate.
Yet I am delighted they were because it meant to they got to break the flat circle of time. Both Martin and Rust stopped being the men they were and found some kind of peace.
In many ways Martin Hart was never as intriguing as his partner simply because he was more straight-forward and for a lot of the series not a necessarily likeable man. Yet his character shifted in After You’ve Gone, the moment he saw the video tape and realised the truth of what had been happening he became a better person, a good man like Maggie always insisted he had once been.
For a long time I figured his daughters were abused by the Yellow King (and maybe they still were but it has never been explicitly answered) and that in the final episodes Martin would find this out and this would be the reason he went back on the case with Rust. It is actually way more satisfying that his motivation in the end wasn’t an act of personal vengeance but an act of justice. He needed to find the killer because it was right thing to do.
Martin became a much more complex and intriguing character once this happened and the scene in the hospital as he recovers and his family visit him really showed that whilst Matthew McConaughey will surely win all the awards for the show, Woody Harrelson deserves that same acclaim.
Martin is genuinely shocked to see Maggie and his daughters, he really didn’t expect to see them ever again, he went into that show-down with the Yellow King knowing his fate would most likely be death and knowing that his years of adultery and inattention meant he didn’t have a right to be reunited with is loved ones again.
Yet he broke the flat circle, he stopped himself from being doomed to repeat everything again and again because for once in the 17 years the show has followed him (and maybe in his entire life) he focussed on his job rather than his personal life. He showed the audience and Rust that he was actually a good detective, able to find clues and track people down with tax records. He became the good man once again.
But I could still feel her love there. Even more than before. Nothing. Nothing but that love. And then I woke up.
Rust Cohle is one of the most interesting characters in recent years not because of what he says necessarily but what he does. In the early episodes we would hear 2012 Rust talk about the futility of mankind, whilst 1995 Rust had an equal amount of disdain for people finding comfort in faith or well for people existing period.
Yet his actions always spoke the truth, if he cared so little why did the mere thought of having to meet Marty’s family upset him so? Why did he try and find justice for 17 years in order to help the nameless missing women and the forgotten missing children of Louisiana? Why did he fall so easily for Maggie’s seduction and then get angry when he realised the truth of her actions? Rust Cohle cared too much about the world, never too little.
This is what makes the conclusion of Rust’s story so beautiful, he admits to being on the edge of finding his dead daughter again and the sadness when he awakens and realises he is alive and yet as Martin tries to comfort him it is the once self declared pessimist that offers a optimist ending to their journey.
“Once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning”
The future for Rust and for Martin can be anything they want it to be. Whilst is unlikely they are ever going to be completely stable and sane they are no longer bound by their pasts. They could spend the rest of their lives drinking themselves to death; they could continue with Martin’s P.I. firm, they could spend their later years fishing or drawing.
It doesn’t matter what they do because they broke the flat circle of time and changed for the better.