Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Written by Nic Pizzolatto. The Yellow King is here as the first season of True Detective brings it all home in the final episode. SPOILERS everywhere.
So Episode 8 is here and the story of Cohle and Hart is coming to a close. Sorry that I missed the 7th Episode but I got trapped in a desert cave with a witch and no steady internet access. Know where Clico is? Cause 411 sure doesn’t.
Last week saw Rust Cohle and Martin Hart reunite. Both have mellowed over the years and in their old age actually make a fantastic team. Cohle has retrieved evidence showing the Tuttle’s involvement, they are hot on the trail, and at the end of the episode, we finally see the man with the scars on his face. The freaking lawnmower man. Remember? That one guy that they talk to once outside the kids school that is shut down. Mothereffer had a beard! That’s how he hid! Boom. At the end of Episode 7, there he is. So in a way, whether or not it’s actively supernatural, the time that this cult has been operating has made them so. They are an institution, going back for years. A huge family, able to cover their tracks. As the camera pans up and we see all those graves, we begin to suspect this might be an unstoppable force.
And then we open on Form and Void.
In its simplest form, Cohle and Hart find Errol Childress and in a struggle, they kill him. Hart’s family comes to visit him in a moment of tenderness he thought he had lost. Cohle had a near death experience and has somehow come out of it with more hope. But the layers present in this last episode are so thick it’s almost reached the molten core. So we ask what all men will be asked on the day of Judgement; was it a good end? Hells yeah it was and surprisingly uplifting. It’s one of the best ends I have seen and I’m still working through it. Is it satisfying for our big question about the series, is it actually Weird Fiction? It answers that but it purposely keeps the line blurry, making sure it takes a back seat to the character study of Hart and Cohle. In fact that positive ending might be the biggest argument against the weird fiction description. It doesn’t leave Hart and Cohle with the sense of cosmic horror or hopelessness that is the trademark of the genre. But for a general audience that may not be as engaged or comfortable with that genre, this ending was the best way to conclude it.
Season 1 has a fantastic villain that we finally get to meet in full in this last episode. He is the strange, larger than life Errol Childress, a hill-billy pedophile who can slip in and out of eloquent speech patterns with ease. He carries an unsettling confidence and charisma that explains how he could gain such a following. He works a little of that on his wife who with her childlike mind and clearly abused state is completely under his control. He is equal parts Charles Manson and Leatherface, a true evil for our flawed heroes to have to fight. The setting is even better. An old decrepit house in the middle of the bayou. Then the labyrinth ruins that serve as Carcosa. Mummified bodies and piles of childrens’ clothes, the little details created a space that felt so dirty, you can smell the years of decay and human refuse. To boot, this is all during the daylight. True Detective has never resorted to using the dark for atmosphere. It instead takes away the safety of the light, like the day is under siege.
In a lovely bit of symbolism, while Cohle is lost in the labyrinth with his focus on Errol, Hart is behind enough that we worry whether he is going to be able to help Cohle in time. It is this fight at the throne of the King in Yellow where we get the closest to that supernatural horror that has been lacing the whole season. Earlier Hart asks if Cohle still gets visions. He confirms that they never really went away. The show has just given itself a logical out for what will follow. Hart’s visions can always be written off as hallucinations and if the audience chooses to attribute what is seen at the end as such, then they are free to. As Cohle enters the throne room, the ceiling darkens and suddenly he sees a blue worm hole. It spirals toward him. At this point is when Errol attacks him.
So why do I believe this is a real moment and not just a hallucination from stress? Up until this very moment Rust has never gotten visions in response to stress. In fact, his visions have never interfered with his case work. He has always been on point, even when on drugs like at the biker bar, he is focused and present. No one has gotten the drop on him. But at that very moment, he suddenly sees something that we have heard others refer to, including Errol earlier in the episode. And it is so present that he gets taken by surprise. This is the moment the show tells you something big is going on. It may not play the biggest part in this story, but there is something moving in the background. The end fight scene is a wonderful bit of choreography. It’s both engaging and rife with symbolism. Rust acts as an extended Christ metaphor, being pierced through the side, held aloft, then dying and coming back. It is handled tastefully. There but not the center piece.
Our two heroes live, surprisingly. They each get some degree of closure for what has been haunting them in their lives. This thing has haunted them for years and they had to pay the price for fighting it. Rust has no personal connections nor life outside of solving this case. Marty has lost his family. Without realizing it he brought this evil home with him. It permeated their lives, eventually to where they had to separate themselves from others. The cost of fighting evil is a sacrifice. Yet they are both better people because of what has happened. Marty finally understands his mistakes with his family and learns to be less of a self centered jackass. Rust finally experiences something beyond and gains a new hope for life. It’s even symbolically expressed when he decides to leave all his belongings in the hospital. And they both have hope that the light is slowly winning over the dark.
Now, as stated, this is a very positive end for a Weird Fiction story. There is a moment where you worry Cohle might be sucked into this cult and become part of it. The happy tone might be a disappointment for some or ring false. Also, with the implications of such a large conspiracy we are left unfulfilled that only one man really is brought down for the crime. In a way though that is the horror. The minds at the top of this cult have managed to keep themselves clear of it. This thing is still happening elsewhere. It’s been phrased that this is a Chinatown ending. Somethings are resolved, but the real problem is too big to change. But this is also just the first season. The series is supposed to function like an anthology, with a new story each season. But if the link ends up being this cult we could see more of it being exposed. And, potentially, more of the portal and the King in Yellow being exposed. A smart way to go about it would be to introduce the more fantastic elements gradually, with each season having more. The best thing though is if that isn’t the case, the thrill and horror of what man is capable of, is so well written, it’s cosmic horror no matter what.
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