Each and every year, television network executives roll the dice and take a chance on a myriad of new shows. Some fail miserably and are cancelled within their first season, while others find their footing and remain on for years. Every once in a while you get a show that rises above the rest to become must-watch television and if there was any doubt about it before this week, “Form and Void” proves that True Detective deserves its place among TV’s elite.
We’ve spent eight episodes with Detectives Hart and Cohle, learning along the way what makes each of these fascinating men tick. My slight worry that after last week we may not have enough time to get a satisfying conclusion to the story was completely unwarranted in the end. There never really should have been any doubt that the finale would be just as well put together as the journey leading up to it. I’ve praised stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson over and over again in the past, but special praise should go to creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga, along with the rest of the team for crafting such a wonderful story from start to finish.
What a magnificently bizarre start to proceedings in this episode. We got a glimpse into the home life of “the lawnmower man” a.k.a. Errol Childress. Appearing previously in just two scenes, it quickly became clear that Errol would indeed be True Detective’s “monster at the end of the book.” The scenes involving Errol and his lady friend (later turning out to be his “sister-wife,” yuck!) were a special kind of chilling as the two of them “got intimate” while Errol recalled old tales of incest. Even worse than this was the man Errol had tied down to a bed outside in his very own torture shack. While Errol barely had any screen time throughout this entire season, the time we spent with him here instantly elevated him up into a suitably terrifying foe for our two detectives.
Hart and Cohle’s interrogation of Geraci wasn’t as brutal as we might have expected. Hell, Cohle didn’t even have to use those jumper cables! After getting all the information they could from him, they simply let him go… after threatening him with exposure and sniper fire. Not a bad motivation method at all. I must say though, I loved that the real break in the case came from Hart noticing something and not from Cohle. Cohle’s a fantastic character who has at times overshadowed Hart, so it was great to see Hart noticing the fresh paint work in one of their photos which eventually led to Errol.
We’ve known since before the show started that McConaughey and Harrelson wouldn’t be coming back for a second season, and as Cohle and Hart approached Errol’s backwoods house, I started to wonder would either of them make it out alive. That feeling of anxiety only intensified as Errol watched on from the shack while Hart approached the house. Things only escalated from there. As Hart forced his way inside the house, Cohle caught a glimpse of Errol and set off after him through the fields. Quite soon he found himself descending into the depths of “Carcosa’s” dark, decrepit hallways full of wooden sculptures, all while Errol’s voice taunted him from the shadows. Further and further into the darkness Cohle went until he found the final chamber where “The Yellow King” awaits him.
An ill-timed hallucination looked like it may be Cohle’s undoing in the end as he quickly found himself stabbed in the gut by a rather large knife. Hart rushed in to save him, but promptly found himself stabbed in the chest by a hammer. In that moment it looked like both our detectives may have met their maker there as Errol looked to finish off Hart, only for Cohle to put a bullet in his head from where he laid on the ground. As Hart cradled his partner, shouting out to the distant sirens that signified the arrival of the police led by Gilbough and Papania, Cohle really looked like he was in really bad shape, but it turns out that True Detective’s biggest twist was that it would have a semi-happy ending.
We catch up with Hart in the hospital a day or two later, as Gilbough and Papania fill him in on the details in the aftermath of the encounter with Errol. Hart’s had enough though and tells them to stop. The case is over for him now; finally after all these years he has truly put it to bed. As Cohle said last week, a man has to pay his debts and that’s exactly what Hart has done. When his family arrives, he initially puts on a brave face but eventually he just lets go and breaks down in tears. Powerful stuff indeed from Harrelson. In that fleeting moment I’m sure he was delighted to have his family back together, while also realizing just how much he has thrown away due to his selfish behavior in the past.
One little touch here that I thought was great was Hart describing Cohle as his friend while telling Gilbough and Papania about those final moments down in “Carcosa.” They’ve been through a lot over the years, including not talking for a decade, but in the end they’re both the only friend the other has got. That was evident with their banter as Hart sat in a wheelchair beside Cohle’s bed. Of course the fact that Cohle survives will be the biggest talking point as people look back on this season of True Detective. The whole story seemed to be set up for him giving his life to close this case. In the end though, we got something a lot more interesting. As Cohle sat with Hart outside the hospital, he talked about his near death experience, about giving up and letting go. In that moment he felt all the love of the people who he cared for, most significantly his young daughter who has passed away. He wanted to be with her but ended up waking up in the hospital, alone but with a renewed outlook on life and death. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a character who was incredibly dismissive of any sort of afterlife in last week’s episode. The performance from McConaughey here is absolutely astounding as he rings every single ounce of emotion out of this near broken man.
As Hart and Cohle’s story ends with them leaving the hospital together, they discuss the dark night sky full of twinkling stars. “Once there was only dark,” says Cohle, “you ask me, the light’s winning.” And with that, Season 1 of True Detective comes to a close. It’s very rare for a show to come along and be able to tell a story from start to finish without making a single misstep, but that’s exactly what happened here in my opinion. From the very first moment of the show we were sucked into the lives of these characters and taken on a journey chock full of twists, turns, and incredibly intense moments. Everybody involved both in front of the camera and behind it deserves a huge amount of credit for crafting such a wonderful show.
No pressure for Season 2 then…
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