|Posted on March 12, 2014 at 1:15 PM|
Speculate to Ruin
Do you remember when you were a kid, more specifically a kid before social media was a “thing,” and you would see or hear about something, or watch something or pull out some fan magazine about a movie or show you liked, and the fun nature of “speculating” about what it might be or what could happen. "Oh," you might say. "There's a new Jurrasic Park movie...I wonder what will happen?" Ok, bad example.
Growing up, it was fun to look at, say a trailer and say “Oh man! I wonder what that is!” and, at most, that thought would be shared with about five or six other people who were in your class or family or neighborhood.
Now here we are, 2014, and that mentality really hasn’t changed much from what I've noticed. In fact, it's grown exponentially. It’s natural to speculate about something when you’re teased with it, or if there’s some mystery building, but thanks to the internet it also ruins that sense of simply appreciating what it brings of anticipation. That sense of wonder. That “wow” factor. Thanks to all the speculating, not only is the actual conclusion or product already predicted and taking the fun out of it because, now, thousands of people are doing it, but it also builds up the hype and paints an image in your mind that no show or movie can live up to.
I bring this up because this past weekend, the final episode of True Detective aired. True Detective is this dark and Gothic (more on that later) crime drama on HBO that loves its mysteries and loves “setting up” a conclusion. A conclusion, mind you, that was already written by this point because the show is only an 8 episode limited-series fully planned out. That doesn’t stop people trying to “figure it out” though. They hunt for clues. They speculate on the ending. The killer. Who did what and when. Draw the lines and connections. It can be fun, but it also leads to one inevitable end every time.
Then along comes the final episode and, unsurprisingly, you had people disappointed because it didn’t “live up” to their presumption of what it should have been, or you had others saying “called it!’ and were disappointed that they “called it.” Then you have others upset that all the mystery didn’t fit and start trying to rework the ending to their own vision.
There was even a speculation that the “Yellow” in “Yellow King” has to do with the Vietnamese Restaurant owner in Season 3. Seriously? Seriously? So the show turned everyone in to Rust Cohle.
The same things happens with movie trailers. People like to “break down” a movie trailer and start speculating on how the movie will be. I mean, super-duper detailed stuff - the more nerdy the better (usually comic book movie trailers). Every little thing in every little consumable form has become less about the actual "thing" and more "let's speculate as to what this thing may be."
Hold on a sec here...let's take a break.
Just a moment, because I want to point something out. All that above? All that you just read? I wrote that a week ago. I was anticipating the disappointed people because I’ve seen it a million times before and thought “well, better get this blog ready.” And I was right. That’s how much I know this cycle of content hype——>release——>backlash because hyped expectations weren’t met. As creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto noted, movies and TV have “brainwashed” people in to always “expect the unexpected” and speculate and hype it up…but what is sometimes lost is the appreciation of a good, well-told story. That’s what True Detective has always been, yet some can’t appreciate it for that on its own. They always want “something more” and can’t realize that the “something” was already damn good to begin with.
Now I can also assume that it’s a vocal minority. I’d like to think, and in fact believe, that most people were very happy with the conclusion of True Detective. I know I was. But I also know that the vocal minority is alway livid and the perception swings to their direction because the internet loves hyperbole and negativity like a cancer. I knew it would happen with True Detective because it’s happened so many times in the past, and I’m not surprised.
Of course, I’m not going to say that everyone was wrong and not bring up an argument to critique something. An argument, after all, needs the opposing element and saying “well you hyped it up to never meet those expectations” isn’t an argument. The argument is that “it was underwhelming.” My argument is “it was exactly what it was originally set out to be and nailed it.”
You see, the problem is that all those that hyped it up were involved with the crime and investgation of True Detective's story. They wanted conspiracies and cults and all this craziness. Some even wanted Cthulhu to show up at the end and destroy the minds of everyone. The thing is: that’s not how the show presented itself. Not once. That was simply a means to the end, not the end itself. The means was the case, the end, though, were the characters and their relationship over the course of 20 years. It was their personal lives we traced, their faults as men, as detectives, as friends, as husbands and as fathers.
It’s important to realize that the investigation was something to latch on to, but what good is it if the people aren’t worth following? This isn’t a show that was meant to have twists in terms of the “straightforward” investigative story, and make no mistake the "case" was very straightforward, it was twisty by way of interpersonal relationships and how it all got out of whack because of flawed individuals. To that end, right to that final scene outside the hospital in the last episode, it absolutely nailed it.
What you want isn’t always what is best, or what is intended. True Detective took classic tropes and refined them, trying to find more and not see that is self-destructive and you'll end up not liking anything in the end.
Some like to argue that there’s more to the story. Yes, there is, and the show even addresses that. But this is Gothic horror, I would argue Gothic horror at its finest where there are no full and complete answers, only the answer of the element at hand (here being the characters and the one case). What is Gothic horror? It’s basically horror mixed with melodrama, and True Detective is both those in a nutshell. Hell, it even nailed the misogyny aspect that Gothic horror often is associated with. Some like to say “the show hates women” but in reality, it’s the roots of Gothic fiction at its finest: a woman in distress, repressed by a man. Sound familiar?
Of course the atmosphere, the heightened emotions, the sense of tension and dread, even the parody of supernatural accorances with “visions” and “cults” are all in the show as well. It’s the best Gothic horror I’ve seen in a long while, because it’s so rare to see it at all these days. As a result of it being so rare, I think that explains much of the criticism: people are just unfamiliar with it as a genre. The show comes to us as intended, as fully formed Gothic melodrama.
This isn’t dark fantasy or paranormal stories, at most it’s Gothic meets psychological horror if you want to throw another genre in to the mix, but it’s damn-sure not going to have some alien show up or some devil-worshipping cult or have one of the leads be the killer or all the other “predictions” that came in to the internet world of speculation and, ultimately, disappointment because some guy didn’t show up wearing a goat's head and sacrificed a virgin.
Despite badly wanting to, I won’t tell people to “stop it” because they can’t. It's impossible. It’s part of human nature. You are given something that isn’t fully complete and all along the way you’re naturally going to presume, speculate and hype yourself up, especially with a serial where you have breaks in between and that’s all you can do.
It’s a grounded, real observation of flawed characters in the roles of authority, which turns to obsession, which turns to redemption. If all you care about is the reveal of the killer, then you're missing the point. Is the ending perfect? No. It can’t be, and Marty even notes that with “That’s not the kind of world this is.” (that self-awareness another staple of Gothic fiction, I might add). But like everything on the internet and its extremes, it’s either amazing and the greatest thing ever or the most disappointing, overrated thing ever. Like most things in life, it’s probably in the middle, however...
There’s one other stage I want to throw out there as well. As you know, it begins as Hype and Presumption ——>release or observation of said object ——>disappointment. But the forth stage is always the best one: the consensus over time. And over the next few months, and years, and decades people will look back at True Detective and applaud it for the expert storytelling, directing, acting, editing, music…just top-notch across the board. Because that’s exactly what it is.
That’s what was intended and it did all that was asked and needed of it, just not for that small sliver of the audience that builds their own expectation to a point of being unrealistic. It’s like looking at it all from that forth dimension, seeing it all as a whole, a flat circle, and then you’ll come to understand that’s it’s a great show. Perfect? No. But nothing is, and the show makes sure you know that as well.
One final note, if your biggest "criticism" is that "I wanted more," then guess what...that's not a critique. So...