The Locked Room at the End of True Detective

True Detective
HBO

“Death is not the end,” or so an elderly African-American woman informed Rust Cohle and Marty Hart in the penultimate episode of the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Tonight, however, is the series finale for our heroes, the “red light,” our last glimpse of Rust and Marty as they walk hand-in-hand into the permanent midnight.

Death is not the end. The director’s cut DVD is.

In just nine short weeks—the show took a hiatus on Super Bowl Sunday; perhaps it went to Alaska? – True Detective has become the most analyzed show on television. In fact, we are all of us Rust Cohles, obsessively combing through clues in our barren apartments or storage rental facility to the exclusion of family, friends and faith.

Perhaps Maggie was right.

Then again, Sundays are our nights off. And on our nights off, we watch True Detective. You don’t get to interrupt that.

So pardon me as I wax elegiac on a few observations, unanswered questions, and predictions about what I expect to see tonight in the final chapter of series creator Nic Pizzolatto’s brilliant visual novel.

To begin, True Detective is less a murder mystery than it is a classic buddy movie. The type in which the two characters detest one another at first, or at least keep their distance, until a bond is forged over common values or a common goal. An alliance of ultimately like-minded souls.

I’m thinking Andy Dufresne and Red in The Shawshank Redemption. Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa in the Rocky series. Jack and Jonathan in Midnight Run. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If you want to reach back far enough, Rust and Marty are redolent of Spin and Marty from the eponymous children’s serial that appeared on the old Mickey Mouse Club telecasts.

Is not the evolution of Rust and Marty’s friendship, or at least their partnership, the most satisfying aspect of the series? We have gone from Marty scolding Rust for his views on faith – “From now on, let’s make the car a place of quiet reflection” – to his risking his career and freedom, if not his life, by assisting in the kidnapping of a sheriff.

I vividly remember the first time I saw the chance of a friendship there. Three detectives from the task force had entered the police station to peruse the case files. Marty walks into work carrying breakfast for both himself and Rust, who does not cotton to others meddling in their case. “I don’t know what two dead cats have to do with a homicide investigation,” Rust spits, “but that’s me. I’m from Texas.”

The camera pans to Marty, who elicits a brief chuckle.

They are brothers, actually. Marty rarely misses an opportunity to admonish his partner (“You are the Michael Jordan of being a sonofabitch”), while Rust picks at his partner’s flaws more subtly. “That a down payment?” Rust asks after Marty hands a teenage hooker a hundred dollar bill and advises her to find another career (as it turns out, Rust was correct. It was). And yet, when they need each other most –when Marty needed someplace to dwell after his wife booted him, when Rust needed a rescue from a crack house burglary gone awry – they are there for each other.

“If you were drowning, I’d throw you a (bleeping) barbell,” Marty told Rust at the outset of last Sunday’s installment, and yet by the end of the episode he has thrown himself all in on Rust’s crusade.

True Detective is a buddy film. The question is whether Mary and Rust will go out like Butch and Sundance or Andy and Red.

As for clues, one of the more portentous comments made during the series occurred when Marty spoke to the two detective in 2012 and noted the detective’s curse: “the solution my whole life was right under my nose.” What, as an audience, has been right under our nose?

The series begin with an unseen figure clutching a torch at night, then an entire field up in flames. The following day a female murder victim (Dora Lange) is posed in an unnatural way. Why? Why have so many women and children allegedly disappeared, while Lange’s corpse was put on display?

There are no shortage of questions. Why was a devil catcher found in the shed behind the home of Marie Fontenot’s uncle? Why did Marty’s daughters pose their dolls in a fashion redolent of the way in which Marie was murdered? Should we assume that Marty’s father-in-law is involved in some way –and what was Maggie’s maiden name?

I don’t accept for a moment, despite the tell-tale poster design, that Marty is a suspect. Recall, it was Marty who discovered the abandoned church at the end of Episode 2. Besides, he just seems like too much a prisoner of his own appetites to be that cunning.

What will happen tonight? Well, Marty and Rust will interrogate their prisoner, Sheriff Geraci. You will recall that in Episode 1, when all three were detectives toiling in the same parish, Rust slapped Geraci across the face after a caustic remark. There is worse in store for Geraci now.

It stands to reason that Marty and Rust will obtain the information they seek from Geraci (just ask Ginger) and will finally have a location upon which to focus. At some point,  Gilboux and Papania will also arrive at the scene, either coincidentally or as allies.

Marty and Rust are both broken men. A resolution of this case is their Carcosa, as each man has little else left to live for. This case has haunted them for 17 years, and we, the audience, for nine weeks. The locked room will be opened tonight.

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