THE GENIUS OF TRUE DETECTIVE: “IT’S JUST ONE STORY”

Film Crit Hulk loves the finale of HBO's smash show.

THE GENIUS OF TRUE DETECTIVE: “IT’S JUST ONE STORY”
"Well, start asking the right fucking questions..."

DETECTIVE RUST COHLE COMMANDED US TO DO SO RIGHT AT THE END OF THE PILOT, BUT, OF COURSE, MOST PEOPLE IMMEDIATELY STARTED ASKING THE WRONG ONES.

TO BE FAIR, TRUE DETECTIVE HAS UTILIZED A LOT OF TROPES AND TEXTURES THAT WE HAVE SEEN IN DETECTIVE FICTION TIME AND TIME AGAIN, SO PERHAPS IT WAS IN OUR NATURE TO START PRODDING AND PROGNOSTICATING AS WE ALWAYS DO, AS IF THE ANSWERS WERE PART OF PUZZLE THAT WILL SNUGGLY LOCK RIGHT INTO PLACE... BUT WE WERE SIMPLE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS. THIS SHOW WAS NEVER A WHODUNNIT. IT WAS NEVER ABOUT THE MYSTERY, NOR WAS IT EVER PRETENDING TO BE. FOR ALL THE TALK OF "YELLOW KINGS" AND UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS THAT LAY BEYOND OUR GRASP, YOU MIGHT NOTICE THAT THE SHOW NEVER ONCE USED THE STORY LANGUAGE OF A MYSTERY. SERIOUSLY, NOT ONCE. IT NEVER ONCE RELIED ON REVEALS. NEVER ONCE USED A PIECE OF INFORMATION FOR DRAMATIC CATHARSIS, NOR DEPENDED ON AN UNKNOWN TO CREATE DRAMATIC TENSION.

INSTEAD, THE INFORMATION BEING TOLD TO US WAS OF A MORE THEMATIC KIND... ONLY WE KEPT GETTING ALL OF THAT WRONG TOO. FOR IT WAS NEVER THE KIND OF SHOW THAT WOULD REVEAL MARTY HART TO BE THE BAD GUY. NOR WAS IT THE KIND THE KIND OF SHOW THAT WAS GOING TO DO A COMPLETE 180 ON MICHELLE MONAGHAN AND MAKE HER AN ACCOMPLICE TO HER FATHER. TRY AS WE MIGHT TO MAKE THE LOGISITCAL JUMPING JACKS, NONE OF THESE THINGS WERE EVER REALLY IN PLAY, THEMATICALLY AND TONALLY. IT'S JUST THAT OUR MINDS, EITHER CONDITIONED BY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES OR DESPERATELY HUNGRY TO TIE THE STRINGS TOGETHER, (JUST LIKE RUST COHLE IN HIS STORAGE LOCKER) ALLOWED US TO GET LOST IN THEORIES AND THE NONSENSE AND EVERYTHING THAT DIDN'T ACTUALLY MATTER... NO, THIS SHOW WAS INTERESTED IN MUCH A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH: A PHILOSOPHICAL TRUTH OF EVERYTHING ELSE. IT WASN'T ABOUT THE ANSWERS...

IT WAS A SHOW ABOUT THE IDEAS BEHIND THE ANSWERS.

WHICH IN A FUNNY WAY, MEANS IT'S ONE OF THE ONLY SHOWS OUT THERE THAT WAS INTERESTED IN THE REAL ANSWERS AND IT SOUGHT THEM OUT IN A WAY THAT NO OTHER SHOW REALLY EXPLORES...

"This. This is what I'm talking about. This is what I mean when I'm talking about time and death and futility. There are broader ideas at work, mainly what is owed between us as a society for our mutual illusions. 14 straight hours of staring at DBs, these are the things you think of... And they saw in that last nanosecond, they saw what they were, that you, yourself, this whole big drama, it was never anything but a jerry-rig of presumption and dumb will. And you could just let go. Finally know that you didn't have to hold on so tight. To realize that all your life—you know,  all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain—it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream. A dream that you had inside a locked room.  A dream about being a person… And like a lot of dreams there's a monster at the end of it."

BOTH THE WHOLE "DEEP THEMATIC INTEREST" STUFF, AS WELL AS THE AMAZING EXECUTION OF IT, HAS TURNED THE FIRST SEASON OF TRUE DETECTIVE INTO ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE BITS OF NARRATIVE ON THE PLANET. HULK WAS KIND OF GOING NUTS ABOUT THIS SHOW FROM THE PILOT, SENSING WHAT THEY WERE REALLY GOING TO DO IT EVEN THEN. BECAUSE EVERYTHING WAS ABOUT THIS GRANDER PURPOSE. DETAILS WERE NEVER JUST DETAILS. THEY WERE ABOUT THE GRANDER PLACEMENT OF THESE MOMENTS IN A LARGER STORY. NOT JUST THE DETAILS OF 1995 OR 2002 OR 2014, BUT THE DETAILS OF A STORY AS OLD AS TIME. WHICH MEANS THE DETAILS OF MARTY'S DAUGHTER AND THE IMPLICATION OF THE SEXUAL MEN DOING BAD THINGS TO HER WERE NOT SO MUCH A CLUE, BUT NOR WERE THEY A RED HERRING. IT WAS A DETAIL ABOUT A LARGER STORY. SAME GOES FOR MARTY'S AFFAIRS OR RUST'S TRAGIC LOSS, BOTH JUST OUR INABILITIES TO CREATE BRIDGES WITH OTHERS. NO, IT IS ALL PART OF THE FOREVER STORY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS AND SEXUAL IMPULSES AND UNFAIR EXPECTATIONS AND EVIL ACTS, ALL WITHIN ARMS REACH, ALL LEADING TO THE MENTAL BARRIERS WE CREATE TO PRETEND THEY ARE NOT SO CLOSE. NO, WE SEPARATE THE STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES FROM THE ACTIONS OF A PSYCHOPATHIC MURDER. WE TELL OURSELVES THAT THESE THINGS ARE FAR OFF, SOMEWHERE DISTANT, SOMEWHERE ABSTRACT, WHEN REALLY THEY ARE STARING AT US FROM THE WOODS CLOSE BY, OR EVEN STARING BACK AT US IN OUR FAMILY'S EYES.

IT IS NOT A STORY OF WHICH DETAILS WERE OF CONSEQUENCE AND WHICH WERE NOT.

... INSTEAD, EVERY DETAIL WAS ACTUALLY PART OF THE SAME THING.

AND AS MUCH AS HULK WAS DOING CARTWHEELS ABOUT THE FACT A SHOW ACTUALLY HAD THE COURAGE TO APPROACH STORYTELLING IN SUCH A THEMATICALLY-PRESCIENT AND BRAVE WAY, SOME PEOPLE DIDN'T SEEM SO CRAZY ABOUT IT. TRUE DETECTIVE, FOR ALL THE FASCINATION AND INTERNET HOOPLAH (WHICH HULK WOULD ARGUE WAS DRIVEN BY BOTH MASTERFUL CRAFT AND AN IMMENSE SUBCONSCIOUS INTEREST IN SAID THEMES), WAS ALSO A SHOW THAT WAS SUSCEPTIBLE TO A WEIRD AMOUNT OF CRITICISM (OFTEN INARTICULATE) FROM PEOPLE WHO JUST DIDN'T GET THE BIG FUSS. NOW, HULK'S NOT ARGUING THAT EVERYONE HAS TO BE INTO A PHILOSOPHICAL DETECTION SERIES, BUT THERE WERE AN ODD NUMBER OF CLAIMS THAT IT WAS DOING NOTHING ALL THAT INTERESTING. LIKE THAT IT IS JUST APING HANNIBAL (WHEN IT WAS ACTUALLY GOING BEYOND PULP AND AESTHETICISM), OR THAT IT WAS JUST STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE (WHICH HULK HAPPILY ADDRESSED HERE), OR THAT IT WAS JUST THE SAME OLD BULLSHIT GUY ISSUES WITH FEMALE SEXUALITY (WHEN IT WAS REALLY DOING SOMETHING INFINITELY MORE COMPLEX WITH IT).

AND IN ALL THIS TIME, HULK'S LEARNED THAT THE ONE THING HULK WILL GO SMASHY ABOUT IS WHEN PEOPLE SO READILY TOSS ASIDE SOMETHING OF SUBSTANTIAL MERIT, JUST BY CAUSALLY REDUCING IT INTO SOMETHING MUCH LESS THAN IT ACTUALLY IS. HULK PROMISES NOT TO GO OVERBOARD HERE, BUT IT'S UGLY AND CALLOUS THING TO DO WITH ART. WHICH ISN'T TO SAY WE CAN'T HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT IT, OR THAT ANYTHING IS BEYOND CRITICISM. FAR FROM IT. IT'S JUST SAYING THAT IT CAN'T START FROM A PLACE OF THAT KIND OF DISMISSAL (LIKE WHEN HULK TALKS ABOUT HULK'S PROBLEMS WITH FINCHER, HULK HOPES THAT THE RESPECT AND APPRECIATION FOR HIS KINDS OF BRILLIANCE ARE ALL THERE, AND THEN AIMS FOR A DISCUSSION ON THE SUBTLY AND NUANCE ON THE TERMS OF WHAT THE WORK IS CLEARLY AIMING FOR). POINT IS, TO NOT ENGAGE A SHOW ON THE LEVEL OF ITS INTENTION IS TO SORELY MISS WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT. BUT LIKE THE FAN THEORY THING, MAYBE IT'S JUST THE SET OF EXPECTATIONS OR PREEXISTING CULTURAL CONTEXTS THAT CAUSE US TO MISS IT. WHY AFTER THE FINALE HULK LOGGED ON TO TWITTER AND EVEN SAW SCORES OF FANS AND ARTICLES ASKING "That's it!??!" WHICH INADVERTENTLY JUST REVEALS THEM AS PEOPLE WHO NEVER REALLY UNDERSTOOD THE SHOW THEY WERE WATCHING... THAT MAY SOUND LIKE AN AWFULLY UGLY THING TO SAY, BUT TRULY...

THIS WAS ALWAYS WHAT THE ENDING WAS GOING TO BE.

* * *

"It's like in this universe, we process time linearly forward but outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective, time wouldn't exist, and from that vantage, could we attain it we'd see our space-time would look flattened, like a single sculpture with matter in a superposition of every place it ever occupied, our sentience just cycling through our lives like carts on a track. See, everything outside our dimension that's eternity, eternity looking down on us. Now, to us, it's a sphere, but to them it's a circle."

RUST COHLE'S NOW INFAMOUS SPEECH ON METAPHYSICS CAME IN A GAME CHANGER EPISODE OF THE SERIES, WHICH BASICALLY CLUED US INTO EVERYTHING WE WOULD NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS WAS ALL REALLY ABOUT. NOT JUST IN TERMS OF THE DETECTIVE CASE, BUT THE LARGER TRUTH OF APPROACH AND STORYTELLING, AT LEAST IN VARIOUS WAYS THAT WE PERCEIVE IT. AS A TELEVISION AUDIENCE, WE ARE EFFECTIVELY THE FOURTH DIMENSIONAL BEINGS WHO CAN FOLLOW, CRISS-CUT, AND EVEN PAUSE BETWEEN 1995, 2002 AND 2014. WE CAN SEE THE SEAMS. THE THEMATIC DETAILS THAT BIND. THE DEEPER REASONS. IT'S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE CAMERA LENS IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS "GOD'S EYE," FOR IT IS THE OMNISCIENT OBSERVER OF OUR CINEMATIC WORLD. SO PERHAPS IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE THAT WE MAKE THEORIES. THAT WE CAN CONNECT STRINGS. WE WOULD BE ABLE TO DO WHAT THOSE INSIDE THE SHOW COULD NEVER, EVER DO. BUT AGAIN, OUR FOURTH DIMENSIONAL VIEWING SPACE DOES NOT EXIST SO THAT WE COULD UNDERSTAND THE LOGIC OF THE MYSTERY AND WHO THE YELLOW KING WAS...

IT WAS SO WE COULD UNDERSTAND WHO THE YELLOW KING IS IN A MUCH BROADER SENSE. IN THE SENSE OF WHO HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN. CONRAD CALLED THEM "THE HOLLOWMEN." THE MEN IN BACKGROUNDS AND BOARD MEETINGS WHO DECIDE THE FATES OF COMPANIES OR YOUNG MEN GOING OFF TO WAR OR HOLDING A WOMAN'S FATE, ALL BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, ALWAYS UNKNOWN. AND THE INTENTION HERE IS TO SEE THE WAY THEY CONNECT TO ALL THINGS. WHETHER IT WAS A CROWN BEING TOSSED INTO A TREE. OR AN OLD WOMAN TALKING ABOUT CARCOSA. OR WHY MAGGIE'S FATHER WAS ONLY A SYMBOLIC MEMBER OF THE HOLLOWMEN (THE OLD MEN COMPLAINING ABOUT THE SAME THINGS OF YOUTH FROM THE DAWN OF TIME). THE CONNECTIONS HERE ARE ALL A THEMATIC ONE, ALL THE SAME DETAILS OF A LARGER STORY. SO OF COURSE IT IS THESE KINDS OF CONNECTIONS THAT WE SEE IN THE FINALE. COHLE DREAMS OF DEATH AS HELICOPTER SHOTS DANCE OVER THE SITES OF OUR VICTIMS. HE SEEMINGLY PROJECTING OUT IN A FOURTH DIMENSIONAL SELF, CONNECTING TO THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE IN HIS STORY, CONNECTING, BUT ALSO NOT... AND THERE'S OUR METAPHOR FOR THE WHOLE THING RIGHT THERE... TRY AS WE MIGHT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF OUR OWN LIVES, WE ARE EARTH BOUND.

AND THAT'S WHY WE STAYED WITH OUR CHARACTERS IN THE END.

THAT'S WHY WE NEVER LEARNED WHO EVERYONE WAS IN THE MASKS WERE. THAT'S WHY WE NEVER SAW THE SEAMS IN A TECHNICAL SENSE. EVEN AS COHLE WAXES ON ABOUT HOW MANY OF THE RITUALISTIC MURDER CULT WERE NEVER CAUGHT, MARTY MAKES IT CLEAR:

"We got our man."

FOR IT WAS THE ONE THING THAT THEY COULD DO. A LIFETIME OF SEARCHING AND ANGUISH AND SACRIFICE. AND THIS WAS THE ONE THING THEY COULD MAKE RIGHT; WHICH THEY BEGIN TO SENSE IS AN ACHIEVEMENT OF GREAT IMPORTANCE, FOR THEY HAVE EXTINGUISHED A BEING OF TRUE DARKNESS. BUT IN ORDER TO SEE THIS TRUTH AND ACCEPT IT, THE TWO OF THEM HAD TO WANDER OUT INTO THE STARLIGHT...

IT'S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE HEAVENS ABOVE IS WHERE WE, AS FOURTH DIMENSIONAL BEINGS COULD LOOK DOWN FROM THE STARS AND SEE THEM AND ALL TRUTHS OF THE SHOW. BUT HERE INSTEAD, IT IS WHERE OUR CHARACTERS MUST LOOK UP INTO THE HEAVENS, UP INTO THE UNKNOWABLE... UP INTO US. THEY ONLY HAVING A MERE FEELING OF THEIR EXISTENCE, PERHAPS SENSING THAT THEY ARE JUST DREAMS. JUST STORIES IN A LARGER WORLD. ALL PART OF THE SAME THING. AND THAT'S WHEN COHLE OUTRIGHT SAYS IT...

"It's just one story."

AND FOR ALL OF US, IT IS THE ETERNAL ONE OF LIGHT VERSUS DARK. FOR ALL WE MAKE OF LOVE AND LOSS AND THE GRAYS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, THE HUMAN ENDS ARE STILL DEFINED BY TANGIBLE GOODS AND TANGIBLE EVILS WE CREATE.

SO AS COHLE AND HART LOOK OUT INTO THE NIGHT SKY AND SEE SO MUCH DARK EXISTS, THEY WORRY... BUT THEY ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT YES, WE DID START IN DARKNESS. WE WERE ANIMALS. CARNAL. BASE. VIOLENT. AND WITH BITS OF CONSCIOUSNESS WE GREW, BUT STILL TRAPPED IN CRASS FORMS. WE UNDERSTOOD CAUSE AND EFFECT, BUT THIS WHICH CREATED EMPATHY INSIDE US ALSO CREATED FEAR AND THE PRESERVATION OF SELF. AND THUS OUR VIOLENCE MERELY BECAUSE A MATTER OF RITUALISTIC SACRIFICE, OFTEN THE NAME OF SOME HIGHER GODS, OR LATER THE IDEAS OF MILITARY AND MIGHT IN THE NAME OF TRIBE. BUT FROM THERE WE GREW CONSCIENCE, WHICH GNAWED AT OUR GUTS AND SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING AND PURPOSE, CREATING DOUBT AND THE NOTION OF A SOUL TO LOSE.

AND FROM OUR CONSCIENCE WE CREATED THE HUMAN SPIRIT, WHICH IS BOTH QUITE DIFFERENT AND THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT STEP OF OUR MENTAL EVOLUTION. FOR THE HUMAN SPIRIT IS THE GREATEST TRIUMPH THAT WE CAN KNOW. THE NOTION THAT A TANGIBLE GOOD IS A THING THAT CAN ERUPT INSIDE EVERY ONE OF OUR PLEASURE CENTERS, THAT CAN CONFIRM IN US A SENSE OF PURPOSE. THAT CAN CONNECT US TO OTHERS AND MAKE US FEEL LIKE ALL OUR TIME ON THIS ROCK ISN'T FOR NAUGHT. THE HUMAN SPIRIT IS THE ONE THING THAT CAN STARE BACK AT THE VOID, MUCH LIKE COHLE DID LITERALLY IN HIS FINAL CONFRONTATION.

AND THERE IT IS.

FOR ALL THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF THIS SHOW, IT IS ACTUALLY THAT CORE IDEA THAT DRIVES EVERYTHING. IT CERTAINLY DRIVES OUR DETECTIVES, AS THEY IN TURN TRY TO DRIVE THE ARCHAIC WAYS WE HANG ONTO OUR ANCESTRAL AND VIOLENT SELVES, WHETHER IT IS THE WAY SOCIETY TREATS WOMEN, THE WAY THEY DO, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THOSE TREATMENTS, AND ULTIMATELY THE WAY WE TREAT OURSELVES. THAT'S WHERE ARE TRUE STORY LIES. WE MAY LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE MURDER STILL EXISTS, THAT WOULD BE MURDER IN THE TRUEST SENSE, BEING SENSELESS AND ANCIENT AND SOUL-CRUSHING. EVERY DAY THOSE TANGIBLE EVILS STILL CRAWL ALONG THE WOODS AROUND US. BUT WHEN WE THINK OF HOW FAR WE HAVE COME SINCE THE DAYS OF MAYAN SACRIFICE AND MEDIEVAL TORTURE OF YORE, THEN WE CAN LOOK UP AND SEE A NIGHT SKY AND SEE THAT IT IS NOW FILLED WITH STARS. AND THAT'S WHEN COHLE MAKES THE REALITY OF THIS SITUATION CLEAR TO US:

"The light is winning."

FOR ALL THAT WE CAN DETECT ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE ON PLANET EARTH, IT IS THIS "BREAK" IN THE LARGER CASE OF HUMANITY THAT IS EVERYTHING TO US. HECK, IT'S PROBABLY THE REASON MOST OF US CAN EVEN SLEEP AT NIGHT. AND THUS TO MAKE ONE CONTRIBUTION TO "THE LIGHT" IS PERHAPS AS GREAT A THING AS A HUMAN BEING CAN DO: A MIRACULOUS CONTRIBUTION OF SOME TANGIBLE GOOD, A SINGLE STAR IN THE SKY.

ITSELF, A TRUTH.

AND MAYBE THE ONLY ONE WORTH KNOWING.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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