For over fifteen years a conspiracy and myth has haunted Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), one involving a yellow king, a man with scars and the mysterious destination of Carcosa. An evil had spread its branches across Louisiana, something pervasive, powerful and for the longest time untouchable. The name of God was used as a cover for unspeakable crimes and killings, and Rust, Martin and anyone else who touched that darkness, found it touching them right back. “All my life I wanted to be nearer to God. The only nearness? Silence,” Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham) said in episode six, “Haunted Houses.” But in “Form And Void,” that silence has answers.
For much of the season, Rust has largely been presented as the visionary of the detective duo, going about his job with philosophical underpinnings to almost every aspect of an investigation. His interrogation technique is unparalleled, and even as Martin chased skirts and avoided the problems in his marriage, Rust followed up on every lead and kept digging. The widening gap between the pair tore them apart, however, watching Rust and Martin come back together has been one of the greatest satisfactions of the final act of the show. “I find it touching when Cohle asks about Marty’s life—that’s something ‘95 Cohle would never do,” Nic Pizzolatto told Buzzfeed about a scene in episode seven, “After You’ve Gone.” And indeed, Rust and Martin have never been more simpatico than they are here.
“The story was entirely planned around them reuniting to try and resolve this serial murderer case,” Pizzolatto also said, and there is something poetic about watching Rust and Martin working so well together here. In 2012, it’s Martin’s investigation techniques and intuition that lead the detectives from Steve Geraci’s (Michael Harvey) revelations about the “chain of command” above him who hushed up the Marie Fonteneau case, to the home of Errol Childress aka The Man With Scars. He lives in squalor, speaks of “acension” and there is a sense he’s long been prepared to make one final stand for his life’s work of murder. And Rust knows they finally found his man, thanks to his synaesthesia. “That taste, aluminum, ash….I tasted it before…,” he intones with gravity before they get there. And it’s a taste that nearly brings them to their demise.
Errol leads Rust into Carcosa, an underground warren of tunnels, twigs and branches, with Martin following his partner a bit of a distance behind. He’s been busy trying to find a phone to call Detective Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles) to send backup. And after being taunted in the darkness, Rust comes face-to-face with Errol in a clearing, but he’s first distracted by a hole revealing the night sky above, one that in his eyes becomes a swirling void. It’s almost as if Rust has made peace with ending his life (remember, he once said, “My life’s been a circle of violence and degradation, as long as I can remember. I’m ready to tie it off”), and with Childress attacking him by surprise, that nearly happens. Rust is deeply wounded in the gut, before Martin arrives to help only to get critically wounded as well. And as Errol towers over Martin to finish him off, it’s Rust who springs into action with what he has left, to shoot Errol in the head. In the distance the police arrives, a flare is sent up as beacon of hope to Rust and Martin (a beautiful visual moment) and it looks like case closed.
But this is where “True Detective” becomes so much more than just a procedural concerned with finding the killer (who was revealed anyway, in last week’s “After You’ve Gone”). When Detective Maynard Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania come to visit Martin in the hospital to share details of what their investigation has discovered about Childress, the Lake Charles murder and the web of people involved, he waves them off. Martin would prefer not to know. And as the audience hears via news reports, it looks like the Tuttle family will remain unscathed too. So what was this all about then, if not the killers? Mortality and meaning, perhaps, among other things. “It’s just one story, the oldest,” Rust says about everything that’s happened. “Light versus dark.” And Martin replies, “…it appears to me, dark has a lot more territory.”
And it’s a bit of a role reversal, and a fitting view for Martin who this long on the job, has seen the worst the world has to offer. But In 1995, it would’ve likely been Rust to side with such a dark view of humanity, but something changed him. In a coma following surgery after getting stabbed by Errol Childress, Rust reveals to Martin that during that time, he not only felt the presence of his daughter, but her love too. “And then I woke up,” he says in tears.
“Death is not the answer, rejoice” an elderly woman declared in last week’s episode, and now Rust knows it himself. “If you ask me, light’s winning,” he tells Martin before the credits roll. And it’s a beautiful moment in a show that ends on a note of hope, instead of a neatly tied resolution. And it’s stronger for it. “True Detective” has never put the mystery first, and it’s something telling that the weakest episode of the season was also the most straightforward, “After You’ve Gone.” Instead the show is about two men, one presented in darkness, who after losing his family, plunged headfirst into the darkest corners of his job, and the other a seemingly happy family man.
And the darkness of the case consumed them in different ways. Martin continually edged away from his family into bad habits, while Rust had an outlet for the sense of injustice he felt at God or the world or whoever was in charge of damning him to his fate of pain and loss. But the pair’s trajectory found them trading places. What Martin saw on a continual basis of the force, caused him to drop the job. Whatever traditional notions about police work he might’ve had were eradicated by the details of this case. For Martin, that’s why the “dark has a lot more territory.” But for Rust, the mere fact that love can sustain as strongly as it does in his heart for his daughter, and having his own ideas turned around about the finality of death, gives him enough hope to start seeing the edges of light on the horizon.
It’s a moving and soulful closer to “True Detective,” which has solidified itself as one of the best shows of the year. Nic Pizzolatto created a rich, intelligent, dangerous but beautifully textured world. Far more than just an eight episode procedural, “True Detective” is about what happens when horror comes to our doorstep, and the people we become after that encounter. [A]