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Filtering by Tag: True Detective

Hope: Small and Large

Drew Trotter

True-Detective-Recap-Video-and-Review-Season-Finale-Form-and-Void If you have not seen the Emmy-winning HBO series True Detective, it would be impossible to bring you up to speed on who the characters are who engage in a final dialogue as they are leaving the hospital at the end of the series. Suffice it to say that the principal character, Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, has articulated a dark view of the world throughout the eight episodes. He and his foil, Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson, regularly engage in discussions in their car (they begin as police detectives and eventually end as PIs), which invariably end in a despairing take on whatever the subject might be.

All this changes in the last scene, when Cohle is fleeing the hospital in his patient’s gown. After a moving discussion of a vision Cohle had while he was in a coma, he returns to a theme the series often centers on—the theme of story. Cohle says he now believes all stories are just one story: Light versus Dark. Hart looks up at the sky and says, “…it appears to me ‘dark’ has a lot more territory.” Cohle agrees with him.

After a moment’s reflection, though, Cohle changes his mind:

Cohle: “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.”

Hart: “How’s that?”

Cohle: “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

The camera then tilts up to a pitch-black sky in which stars begin to appear as the music comes up and the series ends.

There are many appeals to Genesis 1 in this dialogue; the episode is even entitled “Form and Void”. But one doesn’t have to look far to find the most important thing about this final statement. It is the sea-change in Rust Cohle from despair to hope, and it is as encouraging an ending to a story as I have seen in film or television in a long time. Cohle’s statement of hope is a big one. One feels a strength and an optimism about life, when this man who has endured so much and has been so self-destructive ends his story so optimistically. I didn’t know whether to shout or cry when I watched the episode the first time.

Contrast that with the way Marilynne Robinson ends her quiet novel, Gilead. The novel consists of its main character, John Ames, writing a memoir for his young son to read when he grows up and Ames is gone. Ames is a pastor in the small and dying town of Gilead, Iowa, and the portrait drawn by Robinson is of a man who is both scholarly and caring, but often despairing of the worth of his life and ministry.

Bleak as Ames’s vision is at times, Robinson includes this in his last ruminations: “This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope.” Ames then affirms his love for the town and thinks of his own burial as a “last wild gesture of love,” promising to pray for his son that he will grow up “a brave man in a brave country” and, in his characteristically understated way, that he will “find a way to be useful.” Ames closes his memoir (and Robinson her novel) with the poignant, “I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.”

Rust Cohle’s hope is a large one, that in all the universe, the light is winning. John Ames’s hope is a small, localized hope—a desire that his son will “find a way to be useful.” Don’t we need both in our lives? Doesn’t God provide both?

Theories and Bragging Rights

Alissa Wilkinson

mad-men copy

I've long been a fan of the AMC series Mad Men, which looks at America in the 1960s through the lens of Madison Avenue at the time. The seventh season started in mid-April, and I've been writing recaps of each episode. To prepare, I watched the fifth and sixth seasons again and was struck this time by how carefully written they are. There is far more going on in a season, or even a single episode, of Mad Men than meets the eye: metaphors, allusions, symbols, all the elements of a good literary novel are present in the show. It rewards a re-watching.

I've also been reading a lot about the show, and one thing anyone who's read seriously about Mad Men knows is that fan theories abound. Last season, they were mostly about whether Megan Draper, Don's second wife, was in fact a sort of Sharon Tate character, destined to be offed in a manner like Tate. Speculation arose because Megan wore a shirt that matched one in a photograph of Tate, and so, fans reasoned, perhaps Matt Weiner, the show's head writer and executive producer, was dropping clues about her eventual demise.

Fair enough. But the show has been dropping hints about everyone's demise right from the start, because the show is at least sometimes a show about mortality (though one popular fan theory last season posited that Don Draper himself was already dead, with screenshots and symbols to back it up).

Such theories treat the show as a puzzle to be unlocked, a sort of trail of breadcrumbs that might lead a savvy viewer down the road toward guessing what happens in the finale, set to air in 2015 along with the back half of the seventh season. Now the race is on: who will guess first, or best? Who will get the bragging rights?

A similar phenomenon happened when the HBO show True Detective (which I loved) aired earlier this year. Viewers scoured the show for clues: who was the Yellow King? Why did Rust Cohle wander around quoting esoteric philosophy and poetry? What was actually going to happen? I think of this as the Lost school of television watching: the goal of a close reading is to follow the hints dropped by the show in order to unlock the mystery and win arguments in comments sections on articles.

True Detective disappointed some fans by having a rather straightforward ending that didn't satisfy any theories, though by my lights it was a satisfactory ending. And I'm fairly confident that Mad Men, though it is dropping ostensible clues left and right (some of which I've pointed out in my recaps), won't end the way anyone expects, either. I have more faith in the writers than that.