I’m always behind the trends, so I probably don’t have to worry. But if you are among the dozen or so people who haven’t yet seen HBO’s atmospheric True Detective, spoilers follow.

The climactic struggle with the serial murderer takes place in a cavernous, horrifying graveyard of children, which has been decked out to resemble an infernal shrine to the “yellow king.” Both detectives are wounded, Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle with a knife to the side that draws a fountain of blood. He finally shoots the murderer - who has been called a “giant” throughout the show - through the head. 

Cohle goes into a coma and comes back to life. I wouldn’t be surprised if McConaughey grew out his hair just to get the pieta shot of his face reflected in the hospital window.

As if that weren’t enough, the series ends with Cohle, as rigorous a nihilist as one will find on TV, describing to his partner Marty (Woody Harrelson) how in the darkness of the murderer’s lair he suddenly felt a darkness deeper than the darkness, a darkness filled with the love of his dead daughter, whom he is not sure he is going to meet again someday. There’s a love deep down things. 

They talk of stories about stars, the “one story” that is the “oldest” story of light v. darkness. Marty thinks that darkness has most of the real estate. Cohle initially agrees, but as he limps off with Mary’s help, hospital robe draped across his chest, he says “Once there was only darkness. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

Cohle’s final optimism is cheaply bought. There are precious few signs of light in the brooding world of True Detective. I suppose one could defend the suddenness of his conversion (and that’s what it is) by observing that surprise is the way of grace. 

Despite the unevenness, the show’s conclusion casts a layer of allegory over an already heavily layered series. The final episode was entitled, “Form and Void.” Turns out, True Detective was pretty good Holy Week viewing.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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