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Dan Barreiro

A Salute to True Detective

 
A Salute to True Detective
Posted March 10th, 2014 @ 1:30pm

The way I looked at it, I had two choices today: I could write about a delusional state representative setting his testicles on fire, or about one fine TV show wrapping up its final episode.


To paraphrase Rust Cohle, today I choose the light.


Which might seem like a strange thing to say about a character, a TV show, that could get unremittingly, and gloriously, dark.


But it isn’t.


The last time I remember being this profoundly sad about a great, if flawed, TV show ending one rich chapter was when Barney Fife left the Andy Griffith  Show. On the face of it, Andy Griffith and True Detective would not appear to a whole helluva lot in common. Mayberry may have had a dark side -- Floyd always worried me a bit -- but if it did, its Carcosa was not quite as obvious.


Yet in the end, the epoxy that made True Detective so damned satisfying for me was not merely the dialogue, the atmospherics, the rhythm and blues of the bayou or the subtle comedy, it was the relationship between two different, in this case, damaged souls who tended to be better at their jobs than they were their lives.


The way they talked to each other. The way they hammered on each other. Or jabbed each other. Even the way they discovered each other as they investigated, or ignored, the case: One moment incredulous of the theory advanced by the other. The next, a nod or an admiring look that said, "OK, I gotta give you that one. That took some brains."

The way they fought, and ultimately in a final episode that had its flaws and holes but that I still felt absolutely did the job, the way they loved.

I never needed the mystery to be resolved with some utterly shocking, mind-blowing, how-did-they-come-up-with-that-boogie-man-plot twist which folks had speculated upon and demanded for weeks. (Actually I found the Yellow King creepy enough anyway.) I didn't need it because better than the mystery, which we have seen in one measure or the other before, was that gorgeous relationship.

Just as I never needed the comedy to be all that inventive in Andy Griffith. I just needed Andy and Barn riffing off each other.

Yes, turns out True Detective is, more than anything else, one helluva buddy movie.

You simply can’t take Barney away from Andy, and in fact, once they did, that show was dead. Gone. Irrelevant. If you watched True Detective, you simply could not imagine Rust without bent straight man Martin -- for all the praise McConaughey has received, I think Woody Harrelson was even better in a tougher performance that needed more subtlety and didn't have most of the best lines -- or the show would die and unraveling the mystery of Carcosa becomes almost beside the point.

Hell, I even think there was an Andy Griffith moment in the final episode. For those who have yet to see the climax, I will not give it away. But I will offer one hint.

In one of the greatest Andy Griffith episodes ever, "Opie the Birdman", Opie accidentally kills a bird with his slingshot, leaving the baby birds on their own. Andy is furious, of course, and requires Opie to take care of the baby birds, because Andy always has another object lesson tucked beneath that badge. Opie reluctantly locks in, but eventually, he gets so into the job that he wants to keep the baby birds in the cage. Forever. Andy gently points out that forever is a long time, and reminds him that when they are ready, the birds" will have to be set free. And when they fly away, Opie looks at the cage and notes how empty it looks.

Andy looks at his son, smiles and says: “Yes, son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?"

In the final moments of True Detective, I'll be damned if Rust Cohle, now fully connected to his partner, the same Rust Cohle  who has already told us, in one of the greatest lines of dialogue in TV history -- "The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door" -- doesn't look at the stars in the night sky, and offer a message every bit as hopeful as Andy's.

Even bad men need a hint of light.

 

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