(Spoilers for True Detective, but not The Leftovers, below)
During the first season of True Detective, back when creator Nic Pizzolatto used to give interviews (instead of hiding out in shame, as he seemed to do during season two), he would often insist that the series wasn’t about “who” the Yellow King was, or the identity of the killer. In other words, he was saying, True Detective wasn’t a “mystery,” it was a “character study,” and by saying as much, he could hedge his bets if the internet figured out the “mystery” early on. Many on the internet, indeed, figured out who the Lawnmower Man was long before the reveal, and since Pizzolatto assassinated his best character by giving the existential nihilist Rust Cohle some bullsh*t hope in the end, many were disappointed overall in the True Detective finale.
In season two, Pizzolatto did create a mystery surrounding the identity of the “Bird Mask Killer.” However, he resorted to pinning it on a nobody character who had all of one-and-a-half scenes in the entire season in order to maintain the surprise. The mystery was a big nothing, because he didn’t play fair. It wasn’t earned (and yet, as absurd as the reveal was, many of us had still figured it out).
Pizzolatto was the victim of this new era where the internet always seems to be one step ahead of the writer. It’s almost impossible to create a successful mystery in a television series, because the internet has become so good at tracking down clues and picking up on foreshadowing. We scrutinize every episode. If a writer has done his or her job correctly, there should be a trail of bread crumbs that we should be able to follow to figure out the mystery. Writers can’t outsmart the internet.