Seeking God in All Things Geeky
True Detective Finale: Not Quite
True Detective ends its first season tonight. If you haven’t seen the show, on the surface it sounds like yet another cops-investigate-serial-killer series. But in the hands of creator Nic Pizzolatto, the piece became instead a strange, looking-into-the-heart-of-darkness-and-maybe-losing-your-mind character study of the two cops forced to deal with an ever more awful situation.
I’m sure the coming days will give me a lot more to think about with regard to the conclusion, but just a couple initial thoughts:
Wait, Is This the Last Episode of Lost?
Nic Pizzolatto made it abundantly clear in multiple interviews, this was first and foremost a character study, not a whodunit. And don’t expect a big twist.
And yet, he inserted some elements in the season — most especially the repeated enigmatic “Yellow King”, but also the clear indication of a much broader, sick conspiracy at work — that demanded a bigger, WTF-style ending. Many online suspected Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) was in fact either the Yellow King or in on the bigger conspiracy. I’m not sure it needed to go there to succeed, but it did need a bigger finish than just taking down Spaghetti Monster. (Who by the way, really does not seem to be the Yellow King— and I suspect a rewatch of the season will make that only more clear.)
Pizzolatto challenges those who dismiss Rust’s philosophical babblings as dismissing Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I was definitely willing to go there for a while. At some point, though, I think we all got the point, and it was time to move on.
Which Pizzolatto did, until this last ep, where suddenly we get another few minutes of how false and dead the universe is. It was very much a “greatest hits of the bromance” moment, a last bow to one of the major elements of the story. I can accept the desire to have that nod, but it didn’t feel organic, especially coming from the 2014 Rust.
Having said that, by far the strongest element of the episode (and perhaps the season) was the unexpected evolution of Rust’s philosophy, after Rust (SPOILER ALERT) has a near death experience of his daughter’s still living presence. McConaughey is going to get an Emmy no matter what, but that moment where he describes being with his daughter is about as profound a moment as you’re ever going to see on television. Kudos to Pizzolatto for building to it so well and unexpectedly.
And also, for shame that he followed that moment with McConaughey telling Harrelson that in the battle of light vs. darkness, light seems to be winning. No matter the spiritual experience he’s had, the last eight episodes have if anything confirmed exactly the opposite. We’re talking about a decades-long conspiracy of powerful people— most of whom do not get caught, as far as we can tell— engaged in a pedophilic cult that has led to the rape and murder of dozens and dozens of children. It was a situation so awful that any time a character was able to witness up close what had happened—such as the sheriff they held hostage in the finale—that character responded with horror of the worst kind.
You can’t present that for eight weeks and then end with, “I think things are getting better.” It’s not only not earned, it’s not right. And to put those words in the mouth of Rust, who has spent most of the last 20 years staring into that darkness, seems like a pretty fundamental betrayal of his character.
Keep it Freaky, Nic
Maybe I’ll feel different about all this when I rewatch it. I think the show has done some really interesting work, and hopefully can offer new life to the soul deadening procedurals of network television. I applaud Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga for creating such a compelling world and characters. A lot of this will be very hard to top in season two.
But for the moment, the finale feels — maybe unavoidably— a let down from the buildup. And if I could wish for one thing in season two, it would be to stay weird and uncomfortable, but let the ending be just as strange and cosmically horrifying as all that has come before.
House of Cards Season 2: A Review
I can’t tell whether I’ve actually been sick the last few days, or I just couldn’t stop watching Season 2 of House of Cards. (I’m going to go with the former, but the latter has definitely also been true.)
I’ve got a couple comments on the series, and they’re going to be broad strokes that avoid spoilers for now, but still, if you haven’t finished the season yet, you might want to wait.
One of the things you begin to know in a very intimate way when you binge watch a show is the title sequence. I can’t tell you where every shot from the House of Cards opening takes place —and there are more such shots this time around to fit the growing cast of the show—but the one thing that unifies them is their total absence of living breathing things. Yes, we see cars drive by, but always at breakneck pace. Never do we see an actual person.
There’s a way in which this captures the Ozymandius-like cast to the show. In the end, the sequence hints, nothing lasts but the edifices of Washington, which watch over all our efforts with a cold detachment. Frank can scheme all he wants; but baby, some day it’s all gonna crumble.
But the other effect of these credits is to make the world feel empty, unpopulated, lifeless.
And that is in truth encapsulates much of House of Cards. For a show as focused on treachery, villainy, and other words that end in -y and sound like they should be uttered by characters in Shakespeare, there’s not much heat here. People are fighting for their lives, but it all feels so buttoned up.
In season 2, creator Beau Willimon and company have done a good job of increasing the risks to Frank, putting him in situations that are harder for him to control. But it all still feels a bit safe; even when people are on to him and call him on his darkness, they still succumb to it pretty darn easily.
And Frank never really loses in control. Even more than last season, every moment of his seems calculated — even the timbre of his voice is conceived. (And there’s one wonderful moment of seduction where that voice changes so dramatically and yet so quietly — bravo to Kevin Spacey for that.)
Claire for her part is so damn cold most of the time she belongs in a Disney princess story. I swear every time someone touches her she withers inside. (Kudos to Willimon, though, for one great scene for Claire in the final episode, and for what I suspect will be this season’s most talked about scene, in episode 211. Seriously, yo, can we get more of that in the Oval, or what?)
I’m hesitant to use religious language when talking about a secular TV show, but honestly, at some point I couldn’t help but think what I was watching bordered on Rosemary’s Baby Satanic. The way Claire and Frank divide and conquer, the level of undermining that they’re about, the ways they seduce people (and then toss them aside) — it’s incredibly disturbing.
And yet so often empty, too. And that is undoubtedly part of Willimon’s point. There’s a way in which House of Cards really is the serious version of Veep; hollowness pervades.
But it makes for a funny sort of experience as a viewer. You get to the end, and you don’t feel much of anything. Really there’s nothing to feel. There’s one person you’re rooting for, and she’s a pretty minor character. The rest are either patsies, dead or different shades of Frank’s oh so black black grey.
House of Cards 201
I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody. But I also can’t keep silent!
So let me just say this:
Burying the lede.