‘True Detective’ Finale: The Big Twist or the Obvious Killer?

Season one of HBO’s bayou crime drama True Detective draws to a close this Sunday, leaving the series in a unique position: It’s been renewed for a second season, but its stars — Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey — only ever committed to eight episodes. The show goes on with two new detectives and a new mystery to solve, says series creator Nic Pizzolatto, which means that questions about a Yellow King and a murderous cult will (hopefully) be answered this weekend.

Not since the days of Lost‘s smoke monster and four-toed statue have we speculated this much about the conclusion of a TV series. In the spirit of Marty and Rust’s car conversations (albeit with more exclamation marks), two Culture Binge editors consider what’s in store for True Detective.

Kadi Hughes: Are you all caught up?

Laura Dannen Redman: I am, finally. The man with the scars…drives a lawnmower.

KH:  He is also the spaghetti monster.

LDR: It’s like a Scooby Doo prelude. Never suspect the gardener/housekeeper/butler.

KH: Old Man Withers! From the Amusement Park!

LDR: So clear something up for me. What exactly is Carcosa?

KH: Carcosa is a place — it’s the place that the rich men go, and perform the rituals with the hoods and the whole bizarro ceremonies.

LDR: Right, the masks and the chanting…

KH: The snuff film! The photos! The children! The evil Tuttles!
How awesome was it to see Rust and Marty back together again?

LDR: Amazing. Marty has that one line that sums it up, when he tells Rust: “Father Time has his way with us all… Looks like you must have pissed him off.”

KH: I always forget how funny Woody Harrelson is. He has great timing and delivery. So…what do we know for sure? And what do we predict is going to go down in the finale?

LDR: We know the Tuttles are evil. And the Tuttles seem to own most of the Louisiana bayou.

KH: The Lawnmower Man is a Tuttle half-brother and the man with the scars. Plus the Tuttles have been around “for a long, long time.”

LDR: Was the Lawnmower Man the same one from earlier in the season?

KH: Yes, he was. How creepy was that end shot/pan out? The lawnmower circle and that silent barge?

LDR: It was like an alien/occult circle he was mowing into the grass, like a scene from Signs. So if the Tuttles have been around for a long, long time, then conceivably they’ve been behind many missing children for…decades. Which brings us to…the video. I also don’t know why I keep using the … (dot dot dot). So much suspense that needs to be conveyed.

KH: The video. Props to Woody for his reaction.

LDR: Seemed like an authentic reaction, an Everyman or Every Father response to seeing the rape of a young girl.

KH: I also like how, thematically, it came back to one of my favorite lines in the series: “We’re bad men. We’re the bad men who keep the other bad men from the door.” I’m misquoting slightly but it was early-days Rust philosophy in the car, and chilling!

LDR: It speaks to the best part of the whole show: the complex characters of Rust and Marty.

KH: Marty and Rust are clearly broken and with faults, but maybe their ‘badness’ is what makes it possible for them to stop the Tuttles. Perhaps ‘better’ men wouldn’t be able to do so, because they wouldn’t see it, or understand it, or get so obsessed with it.

LDR: As Rust shows, you need to be as obsessed as the villains you seek out. Walk their walk. I also like how you could conceivably suspect Rust or Marty of murder. The show creator said in an interview that by episode 7, it should be clear that neither did it.

KH: I agree with that. Although for most of the season I was CONVINCED Marty was evil. While we are talking about complexity, the show has gotten a lot of flack recently about the female characters (ex. Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker) — arguing that they aren’t complex, that it’s “shallow deep talk” and male fantasies, etc. I’m a bit torn on it.

LDR: I read a good defense by show creator Nic Pizzolatto in EW that it’s such a strict point-of-view show that to deviate much from it would seem peripheral. But that Marty’s wife Maggie is the most emotionally astute character on the show.

KH: I agree with that and I hope the rumor about season 2 having two female detectives is true. Because Michelle Monaghan [who plays Maggie] is KILLING it.

LDR: Oh man, killing it.

KH: Also, it has been established, multiple times, that these narrators are not reliable. So that girl Marty ‘saves’ from the bunny ranch and then sleeps with later? When she is in front of the mirror, it’s pure male fantasy. Probably because it is! That is what Marty is thinking!

LDR: It’s an Anthony Weiner sext. It’s straight out of Hustler. Which might be the only reading material Marty has.

KH: I have noticed a trend with female leads in these types of shows. They are often so understated that people don’t realize how amazing they are. See: Robin Wright in House of Cards.

LDR: Remember the episode when Rust meets Marty’s family? I loved how Maggie basically tapped into Rust’s psyche before dinner was served. She had him sharing more than Marty got in months of car conversations.

KH: Michelle is just a lot less flashy. I think her character is a manipulation queen, between that and the sex trap. But she is also clearly a good mother and a woman with an internal struggle. The sex trap was brutal. She knows that will destroy Marty.

LDR: It raises her up to “bad woman” status. So how do we think this will all play out in the finale? How do they track down the Lawnmower Man? They must get some key information from the sheriff they’re holding hostage on the boat.

KH: Agreed. He gives them a clue and I think we escalate quickly. I think they go to “Carcosa.”

LDR: The preview of the finale showed them guns out, reinforcements on the way.

KH: Does everyone die?

LDR: I kind of think so…

KH: I think at least one of them will, right?

LDR: Why else would Maggie say this in the penultimate episode? “Marty, are you saying goodbye?”

KH: What about the two detectives grilling Rust and Marty? How are they involved? Do they bring them into the fold?

LDR: They probably help invade Carcosa. Rust and Marty die knowing they’ve been vindicated, but the two cops take credit for solving the case. Bleah, eh? Ha, I meant to say “bleak,” but “bleah” works, too.

KH: Or will there be a darker twist?

LDR: What do you think?

KH: The creator said that there will be no supernatural elements. It’s pretty clear Rust is far gone, so him dying would be a bit of a mercy killing. I think we might see Maggie’s father again, and find out he did some sick shit to his granddaughter. I would like to know more about the mythology of the cult. Why the antlers? Why the human sacrifice?

LDR: Was it a Tuttle family tradition, passed down for generations?

KH: Is it a bit of voodoo?

LDR: Maybe the dreamcatcher sculptures are voodoo objects. Who is the Yellow King?

KH: How confident are you that our questions will be answered?

LDR: WHO IS THE YELLOW KING? Not very.

[Said at the same time] LDR: Like with Lost, origin stories don’t necessarily get tied up.
KH: Because by the time we got to the end of Lost, I knew there was no way it would all be accounted for.

KH: Though I think that True Detective will tie most things up. The structure of the series dictates that a bit. Also people (ie. me) were rabid at the end of Lost. I had invested so much time and emotion into all of these clues and mythologies and theories, and most of them were just bullshit. If True Detective does that to me, I am pulling a Rust and heading to Alaska. Even though I, like him, do not like the cold.

LDR: And they were mostly bullshit because — in my humble opinion — there was a writers’ strike halfway through the series. How do you write for a show that could end tomorrow, three months from now, or three years from now? True Detective does have the added benefit of one season and boundaries for the narrative. By the way, don’t go to Alaska. You’re a vegetarian. You’ll starve.

LDR: So…who is the yellow king? I kind of think he’s part of the mythology — the spiritual chief.

KH: Top three guesses:
1. Governor Tuttle.
2. An unknown we meet in the last episode.
3. The viewer.

LDR: The viewer.

KH: Yeah, I said it.

LDR: Meta.

KH: POST MODERNITY. I rabbit holed down an iO9 comment thread one day. This one guy had a great theory on how meta the show was. “Time is a flat circle” repeating over and over again = DVD. Rust becomes aware that he is a character on a show and that we are The Yellow King because we want more. People keep dying, bad things keep happening, to entertain us.

LDR: So they blow up the fourth wall.

KH: While I don’t really think that is what is going on. If there is a Neverending Story moment when Rust turns to the camera and calls out for “Bastian” I will lose. my. shit.

LDR: Ha!

KH:  Okay, who are your three predictions for The Yellow King?

LDR: 1. The god of the cult. Not actually a human, but someone the group pays homage to. 2. Governor Tuttle. 3. The Lawnmower Man. Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer is usually the right one. Though the show creator is a pretty sharp guy and now I’m liking your fourth-wall-gone theory. It goes along with the philosopher-king style of the show.

KH: There was a great retweet from The Millions on an article posted a year ago about how all detective fiction is the same — or at least that there are only a set number of outcomes. It’s completely applicable to True Detective, but I still am going to watch and then be emotionally adrift when it is done.

LDR: Great article. So essentially, we’re waiting for The Big Twist or The Obvious Killer. And then we cry.

KH: Exactly.

Any other conspiracy theories out there? Join the conversation in the comments section below. True Detective’s season one finale airs Sunday at 10pm on HBO.
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