TV show endings and why people always hate them

True Detective‘s finale pretty much left the world cold. All the pre-planning and theories and meanings and subtext were rolled up into an extended chase through a labyrinth of twigs and bodies and some mumbled dialog about lightness and darkness. The world shrugs, but wasn’t this always what the show was about?

Told from three timelines and multiple perspectives, True Detective had always been about closure. After all, those who don’t learn from their past are doomed to repeat it, because time is a flat circle. Structurally, the show was always about detectives looking into the past to shine a light on the future. New detectives interrogate older ones to solve a case, so past trauma seeps into the present. 

Trauma defines Rust and Marty’s character. Rust’s arc was based around past trauma. Rust in 1995 tried to overcome the loss of his daughter by obsessively taking down a killer who preyed on children. After the killer was supposedly caught, he fell off the map and his life lost meaning. His obsession, however, never faltered. Marty’s traumas happens in ’95, so he relives them in 2012 in his interviews. His past trauma continues to alter his character. Marty continues to change his personality to win back that which he lost. Past trauma alters their character. 

These are two greatly flawed character that need catharsis in order to create a full arc. They need to be healed, so when they finally take out The Yellow King, it’s no surprise that Rust and Marty find the solace he had been looking for. Symbolically, the Yellow King is their trauma, and by getting their man, they are able to strike a balance between outright objectors of society and regain their humanity. The whole show was pushing towards that ending. There was no way a character as nihilistic as Rust was going to have a story arc where he didn’t grow a little, especially when your  pessimistic atheist sleeps under a crucifix. Rust Cohle was a lot of things, but more than anything else, he was very confused. 

TV shows have the ability to make bigger arguments for their points than movies. True Detective could dive into the many ways Rust Cohle rejected the whole of society, and audiences began to respect and enjoy his hatred. It was what they connected to for nearly 10 hours. However, the things we like about a character become part of a bigger whole, and might turn into something unexpected. Once writers make good on that argument, many times it alters the character so greatly that audiences reject it. True Detective was always a show about finding a balance, but once that balance was struck, the things people like about the show dissipate. We don’t want to see these character grow or change, because ultimately, it’s the things that we like about them that are changing. 

Serial television has a difficult task when finding the right ending. How can we keep enough of the old character while making room for something new. Most of the time, this results in death, because too quick a change kills the character, but can a character grow and leave in a way that satisfies audiences? 

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