I am conflicted about the penultimate episode of True Detective. More conflicted than I have been with the show in several weeks. The latest episode, “After You’ve Gone,” finally brings Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) together in the (almost) present day. The sole-narratives focus gives the episode a little energy, but it brings along a steep price.
This coming Sunday is the big finale, so all of the pieces are being put into place for whatever the show’s final showdown will be. Writer Nick Pizzolatto uses the opportunity to deliver exposition that he has been dancing around in the previous six episodes. It is a little clumsy, but often it comes in the form of procedural moves that are reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low. That second act of High and Low – where the police really dig into their investigation – is my favorite part of the movie, so seeing Pizzolatto’s riff on the standard tropes of that trade evokes a similar reaction.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga continues to use the disjointed nonlinear style that he has been utilizing so effectively in the back half of the season. It is most effective in juxtaposing the scenes of present day Marty and Rust with a scene between Marty and his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan’s Maggie). Fukunaga is able to finally recreate the sense of tension and foreboding that so effectively capped off the episode where we first saw Mr. Gas-Mask-Machete-Man. This feeling of dread will drive the viewers into the finale.
But that emotion is not earned, at least not in any subtle fashion. That is the huge problem with this episode: it is so incredibly heavy-handed, which is something the show has managed to avoid being up until this point. Sure, the McConaughey monologues (“McConaughey Monologues” is my new improv team name) have always been over-the-top, but they were in service to that character. There are very few moments in this episode that don’t feel arch or contrived. We get hit over the head time and time again with information that could have been doled out in a much more conservative fashion; Maggie blatantly fears for Marty’s safety in two different scenes, Fukunaga shows us exactly how sad and lonely Marty and Rust are without any nuance, match.com product placement is front and center, and the worst offender – the final scene (which almost gives regular cast members Michael Potts and Tory Kittles something to do) in which a character maniacally says something out loud for no reason other than to seem maniacal. They honestly should have put a cat in this character’s lap, because at least then it would have been funny.
The state of “After You’ve Gone” is neither promising nor encouraging (maybe I’m not as conflicted as I thought). I truly hope that the quality of True Detective did not peak a couple weeks ago. I have given the show seven hours of my time. I will absolutely give it an eighth, but I hope Pizzolatto and Fukunaga give me a reason to want to do so again.