‘True Detective’s’ Deleted Scene: In Praise of Minimalist Narrative

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There’s not a great deal more to say about the True Detective finale at this point — either it lived up to your expectations or it didn’t, and either way, it’s become clear that the internet read a lot more into the show than its creators intended. But here’s one thing I will say: the fact that people could read so much into True Detective is a testament to the way the show was written.

Clearly, this is a matter of personal preference, but I’ve always liked a story that makes you think and fill in the gaps yourself. It’s why the ending of Infinite Jest made me want to read the damn book again (after I’d retrieved it after throwing it out the window, of course), why David Lynch’s films are endlessly intriguing, why I liked the film adaptation of American Psycho more than the book. One of True Detective‘s many charms was that it brought a pretty minimalist narrative approach to TV, a medium that has (with certain exceptions, of course) largely been been devoted to showing you exactly what’s going on.

Part of the tension in True Detective was in the idea that there was a disconnect between the narrative Marty and Rust were relating to their present-day interrogators and what you were seeing on screen. The implication was that you couldn’t trust everything you saw or heard, and that it was up to you to work out what was real and what wasn’t. All of this perhaps goes some way toward explaining why the deleted scene that surfaced yesterday was left out of the final cut. We don’t need to be shown why Rust broke up with his girlfriend; by now, we know the character well enough that it’s painfully obvious. Exposition like this adds nothing; indeed, it’s subtraction by addition, because it makes explicit the answer to a question that might have otherwise led to deeper insights about the character.

On this note, I’m also fascinated by the idea that perhaps more ended up in the show than its creators intended. Pizzolatto, Fukunaga, and the rest of the True Detective creative team seem rather taken aback by fans noticing things they apparently hadn’t noticed themselves — most famously, the fact that the scene Audrey set out with her dolls mirrored the scene of one of the show’s ritual murders, but also the recurrent flower motifs and the crowns. And the ties. Oh, the ties.

It was interesting to read what the actress who played Audrey had to say about all this: “If you got a hold of all the scripts and broke them down, there’s even more symbolism than I think a lot of readers are aware of.” And, indeed, perhaps even more than than Pizzolato intended. I guess what this all goes to show is that the more spaces you leave in a narrative, the more they’re filled in, and that sometimes, what gets filled in might be a whole lot more interesting than even the narrative’s creators intended.

This is the thing about art — once you put it out into the world, you lose control of it, to an extent. It becomes the property of those who are consuming it, and if they happen to be a bunch of obsessive internet types, they might take it to all sorts of fascinating places.