Obviously, don’t read this if you are trying to avoid spoilers.
It’s been a while since a show stirred as much discussion as True Detective (the Red Wedding was what, six months ago? And then there was the finale of Breaking Bad. Anyway.) So when it came time for the finale, I don’t think there was any way it could live up to the expectations, the dreams, and the crazy conspiracies of True Detective‘s finale. Sure enough, lots of people were disappointed.
I’m not all that concerned with the mainstream reaction. I am, however, interested in the way fans of H.P. Lovecraft–and adherents of weird fiction writ-large–reacted. For some, it was not pretty.
To understand why, you’ve also got to understand the not-so subtle division that drives through the center of the Lovecraftian community today. Lovecraft is defined, in part, by something called “cosmicism.” More or less, cosmicism posits that mankind is insignificant in the face of a vast and uncaring universe.
The problem with “cosmic indifference” is that it easily turns into nihilism. Mankind doesn’t matter. Life doesn’t matter. Nothing anyone does matters. It’s all fated to fail. What you might call hyper-cosmicism is very much in vogue these days, and given the cynicism of the current age, that’s no surprise. In fact, one might call hyper-cosmicism atheism’s first literary movement.
If all that sounds like gobbledygook, then think of it this way. You know all that existential, nihilistic philosophy Rust Cohle spouted for the first five or six episodes of True Detective? That’s hyper-cosmicism. (If you want more of it, Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron are often thrown out as examples of this style of writing. I’ve read Barron and enjoyed it quite a bit. I have not read Ligotti, who is apparently deeply pessimistic.)
Now, you gotta understand, there are people who take this VERY seriously. There’s a not insignificant portion of the Lovecraftian community who believe that every story must end with everyone dead or insane. Hope is absurd, any notion of good vs. evil, anathema.
I reject this view, but it sure seemed like the creators of True Detective didn’t. And the hyper-cosmiscists ATE IT UP. But if you’ve seen the True Detective finale, you know what happened.
I give you the last lines from the show, after Rust has his catharsis, his epiphany.
COHLE: “It’s just one story: the oldest, light versus dark.”
MARTY: “I know we ain’t in Alaska. But it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”
COHLE: “You’re looking at it wrong, Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”
I can’t tell you how much I loved that. Mostly because it fits exactly with my view of the subject and with what I strive to accomplish in my writing. But I gotta tell you, I also got a little kick out of the fact that around the country, some of my Lovecraftian friends were throwing things at the television. They saw that ending as the ultimate betrayal. One person actually told me that they had hoped the show would end with Marty and Rust dying.
But it didn’t. It was much better than that, much deeper, much more complex, much more fulfilling. True Detective was always a story about people. It was the story of relationships, and of two men growing and changing. Two men obsessed with truth, with putting away the bad-guys, with making the world just a little bit better than it had been before.
That character arc was completed in the finale. Were Rust and Marty able to completely conquer the evil they faced? No. They were not. As Marty says, they were never going to be able to get them all. The evil was just too big for two men to defeat. But they were able to win a small battle. They faced The Yellow King in his home territory of Carcosa, and they defeated him.
Nihilism is easy and it’s trite. What True Detective managed to do was not. It should be celebrated, and it should be emulated. The darkness may have more territory, but surely, the light is still winning.
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