True Detective Finale Recap: 'If You Ask Me, Light's Winning' [Updated]

True Detective Season 1 Finale RecapLouisiana True Detectives Rust and Marty finally got to the bottom of a very disturbing, 17-year-old mystery Sunday night — but did the HBO series’ season-ender give you the resolution you craved?

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By the end of the hour, a killer was caught, both detectives survived and justice was served… to a point. The fact that Rust and Marty weren’t able to out every single member of the sordid secret society rang frustratingly realistic, though Rust’s assertion that perhaps evil didn’t have the upper hand made for more of an upbeat, satisfying ending than I thought we’d get from the haunting drama.

Let’s review what took place in “Form and Void.”

THE UGLY TRUTH | Just in case you had any doubt that Errol Childress — the guy on the lawnmower we re-met at the end of the previous episode – was a bad dude, the finale picks up with him at his very creepy estate. Dolls with their faces missing. Stacks of VHS tapes. Piles of stained bedding. A simple minded yet randy woman who doesn’t seem interested in showering. What are: Things that will be in my nightmares for the next two weeks for $200, Alex?

In one of the home’s outbuildings, a shirtless Errol talks to someone we can’t see but who is drawing flies (ew); what we can see is Errol’s back, which has one of those scary spirals scarred into his neck – and, from what I’m guessing was abuse, lots of other scars that look less planned. He says “Bye, Daddy” to the person tied to the bed in front of him, then returns to his hoarder’s paradise of a main house.

Inside, he only continues to freak me out with his Cary Grant voice and his hot-for-psycho girlfriend, with whom he “makes flowers” (that’s crazy talk for “has sex,” if you’re in the dark) as he demands she tell him about how his grandfather “caught [her] in the cane fields.” I know what you’re all about, True Detective, but still, ew.

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DUCK! | Elsewhere, Marty and Rust are still holding Steve Geraci at gunpoint on the boat. Rust forces the former cop to watch the disturbing video of little Marie Fontenot with the men in costume, and what he witnesses is so terrible that he utters “Oh Jesus Christ” and screams in horror. (Marty, wisely, takes his beer out on the deck for the visual portion of the afternoon’s proceedings.)

Steve claims that his boss, Sheriff Ted Childress, told him the girl had been returned to her family, and that Steve never pressed the issue because, “I just follow what the big man says. It’s how this all works.” (Side note: shudder.) The men take Steve’s gun and phone, then leave him with a promise that a sniper pal of Rust’s will take him down if he utters a word about what happened. Steve angrily declares that Cohle is full of it… but changes his tune when bullets start whizzing by his ears.

SEEING GREEN | Back at the office, Marty has a breakthrough: Maybe the spaghetti monster’s ears were green because he’d been part of a crew painting a green house near the crime scene? His hunch leads the duo to the home’s former owner, who recalls that a group of handymen from a local church did the work. Some deft public-records searching eventually brings the guys to Errol’s aforementioned Maison d’Murder.

They’ve been on the isolated property for just a few moments when Rust just knows that “this is the place.” They can’t get a cell signal to call for back-up, so Marty approaches the main house to ask to use the phone. Errol’s lady friend won’t let him in, but Marty forces his way in and asks where Billy Childress is. “All around us, before we were born and after you die,” she hisses. Oh-kaaay? After passing some very gross rooms that may double as crime scenes, Marty finds the woman upstairs and demands that she give him her cell phone. He also finds Billy Childress, the man we glimpsed tied to the bed at the beginning of the episode, super dead and drawing flies in the outbuilding.

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SINISTER SHOWDOWN | Meanwhile, Rust sees Errol and demands that he surrender, but crazy don’t play dat. So the lanky former lawman tracks the killer throughout the property. He passes tangles of sticks, lots of ritualistic graffiti, dark passageways and dank tunnels – oh look, it’s Google Maps: Carcosa! Meanwhile, Errol’s voice seems to be coming from everywhere, saying nonsensical-yet-terrifying phrases such as “Witnesses to my journey” and “Come die with me.”

The two men do final battle in a giant domed room open to the sky. Rust has a vision of a portal-looking thing descending from the sky, but he’s interrupted from his cosmic moment by Errol sticking a knife into his belly. “Take off your mask,” Errol whispers, slowly drawing the blade north while Rust fights to keep the pickaxe in the killer’s other hand from lodging in his skull. And then, because Cohle is almost as crazy as the perps he tracks, he head butts Errol four times, knocking the lunatic off his game just long enough for Marty to shoot him in the shoulder.

Unfortunately for Hart, Errol treats the wound like a splinter and lets fly with the axe… which finds its home in Marty’s chest. Oof. And just when it looks like Marty has shtupped his last floozy, Rust rolls over and shoots off the top of Errol’s skull. With the killer dead, Marty belly-crawls to his partner, who has lost pints of blood but not his skill for understatement. “He got me pretty good, Marty,” Rust says. “It ain’t bad,” a distraught Marty responds in kind.

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE | But wait! Marty did get his hand on a phone, because the cops show up in time to save both Marty and Rust’s lives. As the men convalesce in a hospital, so many disturbing pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Errol’s girlfriend was a close relative of his. Evidence at the scene linked him to both the Lake Charles case and the Dora Lange murder, as well as to dozens of other missing persons cases from the past several years. But much to Rust’s disappointment, the police can’t make any concrete link to Senator Tuttle.

Also bugging Cohle as he heals: He came face-to-face with Errol in 1995 as he mowed the abandoned school’s lawn. “We didn’t get ‘em all,” Rust laments to Marty, who tells him not to take it so personally. “That ain’t what kind of world it is,” he says matter-of-factly.  “But we got ours.”

ROLE REVERSAL | Still, Rust had a moment in Carcosa where he felt like he was going to die, and he welcomed it. “I knew my daughter waited for me there, so clear. I could feel her,” he says, pushing back tears. “It was like I was part of everything I ever loved… and all I had to do was let go. And I did.” He has a full-on breakdown as he says, “And then I woke up.” (Side note: Good God, McConaughey, leave some of the awesome for the rest of us, wouldja?)

Marty, more genuinely gentle than we’ve ever seen him in the series, distracts his friend (I think we can call them friends now, yes?) from his funk by reminding him about looking at the stars in Alaska and musing that the amount of dark in the night sky far outweighs the pinpricks of starlight. “It’s just one story, the oldest,” Rust replies. “Light versus dark.” Still, he seems renewed in a way, and he declares that he’s leaving the hospital right then, wearing just a johnny. “I’d protest, but it occurs to me you’re unkillable,” Marty deadpans. As he helps Rust shuffle away from the hospital, Rust seems to shuck his pessimistic nature for a moment as he observes that once, there was only dark. “If you ask me, light’s winning.”

Now it’s your turn. Grade the season finale in the poll below and then hit the comments with your thoughts on all things Cohle and Hart. 

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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128 Comments
  1. joeypic says:

    this was one heckuva sequel to EDtv!

    • Annie says:

      I thought it was outstanding. Was not expecting it. it was great. it was intense.
      The guys were awesome. i can’t wait for next season

  2. Lovegoodtv says:

    Unbelievable series!! It has been a long time since a show has brought out every emotion. From humor between Rust and Marty to severe disturbance during some scenes. There was anger, empathy, sadness, and certainly on the edge of your seat suspense. Well thought and while hard to watch at times, certainly a must see! Hats off to everyone who had a hand in making this show. We’ll done! GO TRUE DETECTIVE!

  3. Jay Lively says:

    Well established / official critics have likely said better. but here is my take:

    WH + MM bring a collective legacy of bold, varied, and acclaimed experience to the “small screen.” Aside from their obvious dynamic, the viewer rides a superimposed sine curve throughout each episode and over the season.

    MM + WH drive this phenom — via their respective portrayals — the sense is that they are not only regularly overdrawing their SAG card . . . but they are enjoying the ride.

    Thank you WH + MM for choosing to work together + offer us viewers such synergy.

    JL, Cape Cod, Ma


  4. I thought the show was very good, entertaining, but not great. Felt clunky at times, much of the dialogue was meant to be deep but was not all that.
    It simply did not stir deep feelings in me.
    I thought McConaughey was brilliant, spot on but Harrelson, not bad, but I just felt like you could see the wheels spinning in his performance.
    My two cents.

  5. The next wave will just have two boars that attack you and that’s it for that wave.
    Rarely does a NBA player play on his favorite team, so why should it have to happen here.

    After Po uses the Wu – Xi finger hold, keep shaking your Wiimote upwards to finish him off.

    • annie says:

      Oh, wow, I thought it was awesome. Matthew was outstanding and the episode was very dark. I LOV ED it. And we can see what else happens next season. I so love this show.

  6. Osa says:

    They never made a call, the sniper posted the envelopes & the police followed the trail to the house as 24 hours had passed without Rusty making the call. That is why the fired the flare, they didn’t know where Rusty or Marty were or even if they were alive.

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