Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
That’s the surprisingly upbeat end of the story. And, as anyone who has heard me pontificate on Angel knows, it’s one I am ok with.
I wanted a “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown,” moment. I expected one. I thought it the logical end of the story. And that was only if both lived. I would have been fine with both detectives dead; or my anticipated scenario, Marty dead and Rust forced to live on.
Not a lick of it. They survived, and reconciled with each other, with their families, and with the Universe itself even. It was a buddy flick all along, about two men finding that in a messed up world, all you have is each other.
All of that worked, and worked well.
Unfortunately, it seems Nic Pizzolatto subscribes to the current belief that the character arc is all, and the plot doesn’t actually matter except to get you the character beats you want. It’s a common mindset these days, and it certainly does seem to satisfy the majority of audiences, but it sits uneasily in any genre where the plot and world building details are actually important. (Which is why I think things like Battlestar Galactica and Lost went so terribly wrong in the end.)
Here it was the mystery itself that failed to match the promise of its build up. On one level, that was the point.
They were only ever going to get a small piece of the puzzle stopped. But it just felt… sloppy. They get a stereotypical backwoods psycho (although one with an admittedly awesome mini-labyrinth aqueduct). One who conveniently seems to be the one who killed both the girl in 1995 and the one in 2012. And has hundreds of other bodies on his land, even though he never publicly displayed them, just the two needed to get Marty and Rust into the case those two times. There’s no evidence any of the extended family they’ve implicated have ever been there, ever associate with this lone nut, and no sense of an old shrine or anything else that implies the larger conspiracy.
I don’t mind they couldn’t get to the larger conspiracy, but this just felt like an excuse to give them a fight scene, and to indulge in some creepiness from an evil hillbilly. It felt lazy, not clever. They needed to have a climactic fight to have their near death experience. They needed to stop one part of it in order to feel they lit one star against the dark. So we got that, and just sort of dropped the rest. Yes, I can construct a backstory that fits the plot holes if I really try (although some are a pretty serious stretch) but that’s not good writing. That’s adequate to get to the part he wanted to write, and nothing more.
So call it a solid B. It’s not the blow away story it could have been (and not just because it wasn’t what I would have done) but it failed on that final test of weaving the plot arc and the character arc together to a climax that reinforces both.
Even more disappointing however was that in the end, the women really were just props in the story of Marty and Rust’s friendship and internal growth. I really had hoped, in the careful way it was obvious that the show was critiquing Marty and Rust’s inability to see the women in their lives as much more than props to support them that we were going to make that blind spot important. The hints at something having happened to Marty’s own daughter, in particular, seemed relevant – that the detective’s curse of not seeing the evidence right under your own nose would matter because what was blinding them was their own views of masculinity.
But we got none of that. The family briefly shows up to sort of reconcile with Marty the hero, and frankly didn’t need to be there at all for all they did. Nothing came of it, it was just refrigerating for their personal growth. It’s justifiable in that the whole show is really all about Marty and Rust, but it’s tired.
There have been rumours that season 2 will feature women leads, which would be nice, but I get the feeling that Pizzolatto doesn’t really get why it’s an issue. The main characters had their catharsis, and that’s what matters – mood and emotional beats for the main characters. If he ends up writing women, I do suspect we’ll get two good female characters out of it, but that again everything else will just be built the same way.
Final recommendation – it’s worth watching, especially for the two lead performances, but in the end it falls short of its potential greatness due to some glaring blind spots in the writing.