Nic Pizzolato talks the ending of True Detective and teases season two
SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't seen the finale.
Last night saw the finale of the first season of HBO's True Detective, a show that has gained massive noteriety since its debut, spawning a host of critical acclaim and a large amount of conspiracy theories about the show's deeper meaning and ultimate final chapter. While some were disappointed in the finale in terms of it not being more akin to some of the more bizarre and elaborate theories out there, others were perfectly content with the way the story wrapped up, which focused more on the main characters played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, rather than a device or theme that would overshadow them. HitFix sat down with creator, writer, and showrunner Nic Pizzolato, who went into great detail about the series as a whole, including the mechanics of the finale, the serial killer angle, overall meaning of the show, and what's in store for season two.
On why he chose to end the story the way he did:
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.
On whether or not the serial killer angle was an "empty vehicle" for character examination:
I don't think it was an empty vehicle, is what I guess I would say there. I don't think it could have been just anything that these guys were working on. I think it's relevant that the person they're chasing is both the victim of an historical evil and the perpetrator of an historical evil. The killer in that way is a physical articulation of cultural aspects that have sat behind the scenes, even informing that polluted landscape that provides so much of the background. If you go from the idea of something being in its natural state and then being perverted, and that this particular villain, for lack of a better word, is a killer of women and children, and his methodology is intimately tied to a mythology of belief — I do think if you want to go back and watch 7 and 8, there's enough given in the fragments that everyone states, there's enough that you can actually piece together historically, how Sam Tuttle in the early '30s led to Errol Childress in the first decade of the new millennium. I would say it wasn't an empty vehicle at all. I think the killer, his methodology and his actual crimes were endemic, not only to our characters, but to the world we were dealing with.
On what he wanted the audience to take away from the philosophical perspective and "story" theme of the show:
I don't want to restrict an audience by telling them that "this means this" and "this means this." My intentions are the inalterable definition of things. For people who thought Cohle's philosophy was simply hogwash, be aware that you're calling Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche hogwash. Just be aware of that. That is not, in fact, a college freshman stoned eating a pizza talking about life; that's Arthur Schopenhauer's thoughts on life. But I thought that was part of the tension within Cohle. It might not all fall into relief until you've watched all eight episodes, but yes, these things are eloquently stated, and they do make sense, and they are no more or less true than the story Preacher Theriot is telling you during the tent revival service. Somebody asked me, "Well, what does this all mean?" Obviously, as an artist, I hate questions like that, but I could tell they were asking for a governing theme that could encompass everything else that happened. And so I had to think about it. And to me, if there's one governing thing in "True Detective" that encompasses everything that is happening in "True Detective," and that the show is telling you — constantly, the show keeps telling you — is that everything is a story.
On how season one has informed his approach to season two:
It's informed exactly one thing. It's that I realize I need to keep being strange. Don't play the next one straight.
On what season two will be about:
Okay. This is really early, but I'll tell you (it's about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.
This show blew me away. What I thought would be one thing, turned out to be another, and the show just continued to rattle my brain and leave me with a sense that I was seeing something really spectacular. I loved the finale in that it didn't try to pull some M. Night Shyamalan ending and leave us all with a big shocker, but rather delivered us two flawed, yet compelling characters who we could doubt, love, hate, judge, and ultimately see redeemed. For me, this was the best 8-hour movie I've ever seen and has set a bar exceptionally high for any series, let alone feature film, to meet. Bring on season 2.
Did the series live up to your expectations? What are your hopes for season 2? What are your cast team-ups you'd like to see?