‘True Detective’ Season 1 Finale Recap: “Form and Void”

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Well, there you have it. Eight episodes and a case spanning over 15 years, and we finally get our answers. The first season finale had much of what you would expect: a creepy murderous duo, a violent battle, blood and disgust and philosophizing and reconciliations. Yet the season didn’t end with a bang — not a loud one, at least — but a whimper. It was a predictable and simplistic ending to a mass conspiracy that has turned us all into obsessive detectives, combing every inch of episodes for clues and using our blogs as the internet version of Rust’s crazy wall. So, was it worth it?

I’d say so. “Form and Void,” the season finale that launched a million HBO Go complaints, was a great ending to an amazing season of television. I loved it. Truth be told, I was never too invested in who the actual murderer was. I wanted to know, of course, but I knew that we would get there eventually. Mostly I enjoyed the chase, the fantastic storytelling, the creepy twists and turns. I liked poring over speculations, laughing at the parodies, playing F/M/K with the 1995, 2002, and 2012 versions of Rust Cohle. I loved the endless questions, the fun theorizing, and the wonderful Louisiana aesthetic — this has been, without a doubt, the most beautifully shot show on television this season.

“Form and Void” opens on the grotesque, in the Childress household, where the men are scarred and the dead are left tied to beds to rot. It’s creepier than everything we’ve seen before and designed to make us uneasy and to disgust us but mostly to let us know: Here is our killer. Creator Nic Pizzolatto’s reason for ending last week’s episode with that eerie scene featuring Errol Childress was to debunk the popular theory that either Rust or Marty was the killer. He wanted no confusion about that going in the finale. They are the good guys (in the loosest definition of the word “good”), and they are on the hunt for this killer. Opening the episode with Childress and making it deliberately explicit that this is the guy was a nice move. We are not going to spend the better part of an hour obsessing over mysteries; we’re going to spend it following our detectives as they come to the correct conclusion and nail this creepy fucker.

In “Form and Void,” the conflict between Cohle and Hart is basically nonexistent. They are now on the same side, forcing Steve to watch the disturbing video from the last episode (Marty can’t watch it again; he drinks beer on the front of the boat) and later blackmail him, ready to release information of this conspiracy at the drop of a hat — or if anything is to happen to either one of them. And damn, Rust’s calm sniper attack was flawlessly executed from both a directing and an acting standpoint.

But the real breakthrough isn’t from talking to Steve, but from the realization that they’re looking for a painter — you know, for a talk about a Yellow King, there sure is a lot of green happening in True Detective. Some quick detective work lands them at the earlier house, Rust taking point outside while Marty tries to weasel his way into the Childress household. Eventually, Rust spots Errol and chases him throughout a true creep show: tangles of branches, disturbing graffiti, darkness and tunnels. It’s the Yellow King’s version of a castle, and it’s a castle that will definitely show up in a few nightmares.

There is a showdown. Even this feels a little fantastical as it begins with Rust having a vision, staring up at a hole in the sky, before Errol stabs him in the gut. Rust manages to get a few headbutts in and dazes Errol long enough for Marty (who has been busy searching for a phone) to shoot Errol — right before getting an axe to the chest. Then it’s Rust’s time to shoot and gets Errol right in the head. Both have saved each other’s lives, but now both have to wait to be saved. There’s a beautiful scene of our barely alive, bloodied heroes, Rust laying on Marty’s leg, looking up at that same hole in the sky and waiting for help to arrive.

This scene is reflective of some of the very basics of True Detective: the reluctant partnership between two guys who went to hell and back, the complete destruction, the slow crawl to death because they’re so committed to solving this crime and to settling their debts. A man’s gotta pay his debts, even if it almost kills him.

Cut to the hospital, where Marty is fine and Rust is in a coma. The detectives bring Marty up to speed on what happened — Errol has been linked to dozens of missing people and, yikes, his girlfriend is a relative of his (did anyone else get some X-Files “Home” vibes from the Childress’ house?). There is also a brief reconciliation between Marty, his ex-wife, and his children, but it’s short-lived. That’s fine, though, because this was never a story about Marty’s family. It was always a story about Marty and Rust.

Rust is OK, much to his surprise. In Carcosa, he was convinced that he was going to die. He could feel it and he could feel his daughter waiting there and he knew that if he let go, he could go be with her, so he let go and let himself be surrounded by his daughter’s love and fall into the idea that they’d all be together again. But it didn’t work; he woke up. Rust, as Marty puts it, is “unkillable.” It’s news to me — who else was expecting Rust to die this episode? But True Detective needed that final reconciliation between them, and to see them shuffle away together. They were assigned partners from the beginning and they’re going to become partners by choice at the end.

That’s why I loved “Form and Void” and True Detective as a whole. I thought it was only tangentially about Dora Lange and Yellow Kings and conspiracy theories. I had the same reaction Marty had in the hospital when the detectives tell him the details: I don’t want to hear it. The focus was always on Hart and Cohle’s relationship, the light vs. dark (light won when they killed Errol; dark prevailed when they realized how many they could’ve saved had they done the right thing earlier). It was about their obsession with this shitty notion of masculinity (how telling is it that when Marty and Rust talk about the night they fought, it isn’t exactly about Rust having sex with Marty’s wife, but rather about Marty’s concern that Rust was “holding back” in the fist fight?) and the recurring idea that time is circular. The mystery-thriller was aspect was great, but I would have kept watching the show if it was just Detectives in Cars With Flasks featuring Rust’s crazy ramblings and Marty’s withering stares.

In a way, True Detective seemed like an experiment: how quickly and thoroughly can we become invested, how creative and outlandish can our theories get only to have the ending be the simplistic one that we should’ve seen coming. There is no doubt that some people will be disappointed in this straightforward finale, but it worked because it was still such a great story. Everything that came before “Form and Void” was a hell of a ride; it didn’t need to complicate its ending.