This interview by Alan Sepinwall originally appeared on HitFix on 3/10/14. It’s being shared here because True Detective has deep literary roots that extend all the way back to The King in Yellow (public domain work, free in Kindle format on Amazon), a dark and somewhat mysterious story written by Robert W. Chambers and first published in 1895. That story has gone on to become a major influence on such celebrated authors as Lovecraft and Gaiman, and of course, on True Detective series creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto.
Earlier tonight, “True Detective” concluded its first season — and, with it, the stories of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. I reviewed the finale here, and as a bookend to a conversation we had before the season started, I spoke with the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, about the finale and the season as a whole (along with a vague but intriguing hint about season 2, which hasn’t been officially ordered yet, but only because I suspect HBO is waiting until they’ve signed the actors they want before announcing). That’s coming up just as soon as I strike you as more of a talker than a doer…
The structure of the series means you could have done anything with the ending, up to and including killing the two leads, because you get a clean slate with the next season. Why did you choose this particular way to end the story?
This is a story that began with its ending in mind, that Cohle would be articulating, without sentimentality or illusion, an actual kind of optimism. That line, you ask me, the light’s winning, that was one of the key pieces of dialogue that existed at the very beginning of the series’ conception. For me as a storyteller, I want to follow the characters and the story through what they organically demand. And it would have been the easiest thing in the world to kill one or both of these guys. I even had an idea where something more mysterious happened to them, where they vanished into the unknown and Gilbough and Papania had to clean up the mess and nobody knows what happens to them. Or it could have gone full blown supernatural. But I think both of those things would have been easy, and they would have denied the sort of realist questions the show had been asking all along. To retreat to the supernatural, or to take the easy dramatic route of killing a character in order to achieve an emotional response from the audience, I thought would have been a disservice to the story. What was more interesting to me is that both these men are left in a place of deliverance, a place where even Cohle might be able to acknowledge the possibility of grace in the world. Because one way both men were alike in their failures was that neither man could admit the possibility of grace. I don’t mean that in a religious sense. Where we leave Cohle, this man hasn’t made a 180 change or anything like that. He’s moved maybe 5 degrees on the meter, but the optimistic metaphor he makes at the end, it’s not sentimental; it’s purely based on physics. Considering what these characters had been through, it seemed hard to me to work out a way where they both live and they both exit the show to live better lives beyond the boundaries of these eight episodes. Now they are going to go on and live forever beyond the margins of the show, and our sense, at least, is they haven’t changed in any black to white way, but there is a sense that they have been delivered from the heart of darkness. They did not avert their eyes, whatever their failings as men. And that when they exit, they are in a different place.