I’m not a huge fan of the open letter conceit except in an ironic sense, but by addressing you specifically, Mr. Pizzolatto, I’m hoping that you’ll stumble across this as you’re writing your script for season two of True Detective and keep these thoughts in mind. Let me just preface this by saying that I was a little disappointed in the season finale earlier this month, but this is not a criticism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a celebration of the entire series.
See, the reason why I was a little disappointed in the finale is that I’m one of those “theory guys.” I jumped down deep into a rabbit hole and ultimately ended up creating expectations for the series finale that couldn’t probably be fulfilled. Among the theories I wrote about was the Five Horsemen theory, which turned out not to be entirely wrong, just not really the focus in the end. I actually do this sort of thing for several shows, notably Breaking Bad and Mad Men, because like True Detective, they’re smart, profound, and deep enough with subtext, allusion, and symbolism that they lend themselves to this kind of theorizing.
But here’s the thing: I get the sense that, in the beginning, you were having a lot of fun with the way the Internet was creating all of these theories, about Carcosa, and The Yellow King, and the Spaghetti Monster, and how we were overthinking the sh*t out of it. But as the series neared the end, I think you got a little hesitant about it, maybe a little worried, concerned that it would all backfire on you. This is why, I think, you pointed to the piece written by Uproxx’s own Andrew Roberts about how the point of the show was the characters, and not the mystery. The week before the finale, you also told Dan Harmon that you were contemplating leaving the country if the finale tanked. That wasn’t necessary.
Harmon was right in that interview to say that there’s “no way” for the True Detective finale to go wrong because, no matter what happened, we had an amazing, mind-blowing ride through seven episodes.
Some will say that chasing theories can be harmful, but I want to say this: For seven episodes of True Detective, I’ve rarely had more fun experiencing a television show. I learned so much about Robert Chambers, The King in Yellow, about H.P. Lovecraft, and Cthulhu. I learned about satanic cults, and I learned about the culture of Louisiana, and I read an amazing piece by Ethan Brown on the Jeff Davis 8 that rocked my worldview (a piece that will soon be expanded into a book). Like many on the Internet, I might have gotten carried away, but in getting carried away, I learned more about literature, and movies, Louisiana, and filmmaking, that it didn’t matter in the end that I was a little disappointed in the finale. True Detective was like a really f**king awesome college course taught by yourself, McConaughey, Harrelson, and Cary Fukunaga. And there were even boobs. Best. College Course. Ever.
I could say the same thing for Mad Men and Breaking Bad, too. Like True Detective, they allowed us to use those liberal arts degrees that have sat dormant. All that literature we read and studied finally seemed to be useful, because it allowed us to make connections within those shows. Those connections didn’t always line up correctly in the end, but that was hardly the point. Instead of watching television, we get to experience it now. We engage with it. I learned more about Sergio Leone from Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad than I learned in all my college film courses. When you can bring literature, and movies, and color theory, and archetypes, and cultural allusions to bear on television show, it brings so much more to the experience. It makes it more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding. This is why television is so great now, because it asks us to f**king think.
It’s been close to a month since the True Detective finale, and already my disappointment in the finale has waned. This is what I remember most about the series: Matthew McConaughey’s amazing performance, that incredible tracking shot, Carcosa, the Yellow King, Patton Oswalt’s obsession with the series, and everything I learned about Louisiana, and about gothic literature. But mostly, what I remember is what a goddamn blast I had watching the series, and staying up at nights thinking about it, and getting dozens and dozens of emails from other people who couldn’t sleep because they were working on their own theories.
So that’s what I want to say, as you prepare for season two: Don’t hold back. Don’t worry that the viewers are going to take something that you wrote and turn it into something else. Don’t worry that we’ll make the wrong connections. Don’t hesitate to get heavy with literary references (although, it’d be nice if you referred to something better than The King in Yellow because that was kind of an impenetrable, boring mess). We’re probably going to chase theories no matter what you do, as long as the show is good enough, smart enough, and deep enough to lend itself to it. It’s OK if the finale falls flat. We’re not going to blame you for that, we’re going to celebrate you for continuing to raise the level of television, and for continuing to make it so engaging for us at home.