“You attach an assumption to a piece of evidence, you start to bend the narrative to support it. You prejudice yourself.”
The reaction to Sunday night’s True Detective finale has been swift and kind of insane. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to avoid it. If you have (a) here’s a brief summary, and (b) I’m sorry: IT WAS TOO NEAT AND TIDY IT WASN’T DEEP ENOUGH IT DIDN’T LIVE UP TO MY EXPECTATIONS IT DIDN’T ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS IT RAISED DURING THE SEASON IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER I’M UPSET I’M DISAPPOINTED IT LET ME DOWN.
Now, there are certainly some fair points tucked inside the hyperbole I just shouted at you, and we’ll get to those in a minute or two. But first, I’d like those of you who didn’t like the finale to get really introspective for a second and ask yourself one question before you keep ranting about this. Ready? Okay. Promise you won’t get mad.
Have you considered that maybe it was your fault you didn’t like it?
Have you? Because it could be that. Maybe you just got so wrapped up in all the Yellow King this and “BUT HIS DAUGHTER DID THE SPIRAL THING” that, and you laid your own elaborate, intricate, unattainable expectations over a show that never claimed to be something more than a character study of two cops losing their way and finding each other at the end. (Or, if we’re being less charitable, a hyper-literate, eight-hour buddy cop movie, which is still not by any means a bad thing in my book.) I mean, not to say I told you so, but here’s what I wrote Sunday afternoon before the finale:
Are you, like, so excited?
I am. It’s been a hell of a seven-hour ride to this point, and I’m really interested to see how it all wraps up. Although I’m a little concerned that two solid months of build-up and theorizing may have put the expectations at an unreachably high, unfair point for a lot of people.
Well, I’m worried that some people are expecting a MIND-MELTING, EARTH-SHATTERING, MEDIUM-CHANGING conclusion tonight, and if what they get instead is a well-constructed finale that ties up loose ends without turning the whole universe on its head, they’ll flip all the way out about it. That would be a shame. Community showrunner Dan Harmon actually touched on this at SXSW recently, while promoting his new documentary, Harmontown:
I don’t care if they just walk into a warehouse and it’s a birthday party that the chief was throwing them. Like there were never any murders and this was all part of the surprise. […] There’s no way for the finale to do me wrong because what’s for sale with that show isn’t the pay-off, it’s smelling the roses along the way. […] It’s just sort of unfolding like a flower and, at this point, enough of the flower is unfolded that if the last petal is a kazoo, I’m not going to go “this is a bad flower.” I really enjoy it.
I don’t know if I’d go quite that far (unless, like, Boyz II Men is playing the birthday party, in which case, yes, fine), but it is a good thing to remember going in. It’s been super fun for the past two months. Nothing that happens tonight can change that part of it.
Okay, let me pause here to say two things that I am not saying.
First of all, I am not saying the finale was without fault, or that there is no possible reason you could have disliked it that doesn’t place the blame entirely on you. Our own Cajun Boy addressed two such troublesome issues in his next day recap — 1) The lightning quick leap from looking at a house’s paint job to zeroing in on Errol Childress as the killer, and 2) Noted atheist/nihilist Rust Cohle getting all spiritual at the end — that could have rubbed you the wrong way, and left you feeling a bit unsatisfied. Reasonable minds will always differ, and that’s okay.
Second, I am not saying that I think all the in-season theorizing and plot deconstruction was a bad thing. On the contrary, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. That’s one of the fun parts of a weekly series, as opposed to Netflix’s all-at-once model. Instead of flying through it because ConsumeConsumeConsume, you have to, like, sit and live with an episode for seven full days before you get more answers. (Sometimes you even have to wait 14 days, if there’s a big fancy party in Hollywood one week where the show’s star wins an award for pretending to be a rodeo cowboy with AIDS, which happens every now and then.) Filling that void with lots of wild predictions and examinations of things viewers may have missed was fun as hell for me, because it made me more passionate and excited about a show I was already passionate and excited about.
The key is to keep all of that in perspective. It’s not the finale’s fault that you were wrong, or that you built the show up into something it never promised us it was. If I had a dollar for every time showrunner Nic Pizzolatto told an interviewer or an audience that all the conspiracy theories may have been off base, or that the show was more of an examination of the relationship between Hart and Cohle than it was a core-deep search for meaning like a Bayou Twin Peaks, I’d have something like $12 or $13. Hell, he even retweeted a post written by our own Andrew Roberts way back in mid-February that said exactly that. So make it $14. Wait… you know what? I don’t have change on me. Let’s just call it $15.
Mike Ryan at The Huffington Post summed this up pretty well today in a post titled Your TV Series Finale Sucks (Even Though It Probably Doesn’t), which I highly recommend:
The finale of The Sopranos was criticized for its ambiguous ending. But, when a series shrouds its finale in ambiguity, at least it allows us to shoehorn in our preferred resolution. Did Tony Soprano live? Did Tony Soprano die? Whatever you wanted to happen in that particular scenario, well, a case can be made either way. People love to say that they hated the Sopranos” ending, but I suspect even those people secretly love it because we are still talking about it seven years later. Today, I really do think people get upset when a finale doesn’t give a viewer enough to talk about.
By giving us a straightforward finale, True Detective didn’t let us have our moment. “But what about that crazy theory I read last week? I liked that! You mean this show was only about the relationship between two detectives?” It’s as if everyone wants everything to end like The Sixth Sense.
But anyway, here’s why I bring all this up: While it’s probably too late to go back and save the True Detective finale (the horse named Think Piece is already out of the barn, if you will), we’ve got a few more notable finales coming up in the next year or two, with Mad Men probably being the biggie. And Matthew Weiner is so screwed already. He can’t win. Critics and HOT TAKERS with their HOT TAKES are going to rip whatever he does apart from every angle like a modern-day literary drawing-and-quartering. But there’s still time for you. You can choose to just, like, enjoy it. That’s an option you have. Again, feel free to theorize away in the interim (God knows I will be), but maybe consider this whole thing a test run for the next time. And when that next time comes, try to remember the lesson you learned today about not getting too carried away and falling in love with your own ideas at the expense of the thing you’re trying to enjoy.
Can we all do that? Please?