For the past several years, the NFL has invited famous musicians to perform during half-time at the Super Bowl. Some of the shows have been wonderful (though there was some censoring of song lyrics when The Rolling Stones appeared), but many have been disappointing. This year, I got super-excited to hear that Katy Perry, nominated for best video for her song “Dark Horse,” would be the guest artist.
She will be the “Perfect Storm” for the NFL’s Super Bowl half-time show.
But the broken heart it kens, nae second spring again Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their weeping.
(But the broken heart cannot know second spring again
Though the woeful may cease from their weeping.)
Loch Lomond Traditional Scottish Folksong
Considering its 8.7/10-star rating on IMDb, I may be one of the very few viewers who’s not deleriously happy with Starz’s new series Outlander, based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon, but I’m throwing my metaphorical hat into the reviewing ring anyway. I’ve never read the books, but the premise of the show is fascinating: a World War II nurse, Claire, goes on a post-War “second honeymoon” to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank, where she touches the tallest rock in a Henge, and is inexplicably transported to the same place 200+ years in the past, in the midst of the wars between the Scottish clans and the British Empire. I’ve watched all 5 episodes of the series so far, waiting for something else to happen beyond the initial premise, and I find that the show has as many weaknesses as it does strengths.
Warning: Spoilers throughout
Instead of the intriguing philosophical Voice-Over that began the series (and which may not have been in the book since the “prologue” where it appears is only in the Starz tie-in version) — “People disappear all the time” — the voice-over has begun narrating what we’re seeing on the screen — “15 paces to the sentry tower” (as Claire is walking there) — or justifying Claire’s behavior — “I was jealous” (which the viewer already knew) — or explaining what the viewer could figure out for himself — “the hunting game was more than a game” (as Claire is continually looking up at the sentry on the watchtower while she’s playing with the children). That makes the Voice-Over a repetition of what we’re seeing onscreen, a redundancy, or simply an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Whatever it’s meant to be, the Voice-Over isn’t working any longer and is getting tedious.
I’ve watched the entire five episodes which open the series — several times — and after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) inexplicably disappears, not once do we get a glimpse of what her poor husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) must be going through in 1945 without his wife, who’s been gone for months. (In an earlier show, while at the castle in the 1740s, Claire mentions that she’s been here for weeks; in last night’s episode, when she accompanies the clan members on a rent-collecting trip, she mentions that the group has been on the road “for weeks.” That now equals months, yet no indication of what Frank is doing or experiencing, and I, for one, am worried about him, although Claire does not seem to be: she’s only been sad, for a few seconds, and specifically mentioned Frank once, though she often, at the end of a show, says she has to get “back to the stones.” )
Lots of atmosphere in the setting but no Urgency or forward plot momentum. In short, nothing of note has happened since she ended up in the past.
The 1940s music over the 1740s setting is more than a bit disconcerting.
The long, untranslated, un-subtitled dialogue and monologues in Scots Gaelic, which I assume are authentic since Starz boasts its Scots Gaelic dialogue coach/expert, are dull in the extreme since I don’t know what’s going on. In episode 5, Claire complains that the group is intentionally speaking in Gaelic to “exclude her” and make her feel like an outsider. Claire, honey, you’re not the only one. At least you didn’t mention being bored during the long Gaelic passages, as I am.
The supposed clan conflict with Claire’s supposed love-interest in the past — Jamie — makes no sense to me, though I watched episode 4, where it was convolutedly explained and temporarily solved, three times. Nope. I still don’t get the problem with Jamie and the clan. Maybe you have to read the books to understand it. But that makes it a weakness for the series.
I don’t see any chemistry between the actors who play Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan). I keep looking for it, but beyond the fact that he has a nice body, which, in itself, does not guarantee sexual chemistry except between shallow individuals, I don’t see or feel any sparks. I don’t know if it’s the acting, the actors, or the script.
No one ever asks Claire who or what “Roosevelt” is in her most frequent curse: “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ.” Now, you may think that’s petty, but in a world where women were severely discriminated against and accused of witchcraft for disobeying their husbands or being different or for looking at someone sideways, I find it odd that no one asks what that means, or, worse, thinks she’s casting a spell on them (especially since one of the characters came and asked Claire for a love potion, so her “supernatural abilities seem to be assumed).
The hints that the show’s other “healer,” Gellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), may be a time-traveler as well are very intriguing, especially as she seems to have accepted her fate, and makes many pointed comments to Claire that you can make a good life for yourself even if it’s not one you ever imagined.
Good chemistry between Claire and Gellis (actor Lotte Verbeek). Most of that may come from Verbeek, but whatever the reason, she’s a delightful character, and the scenes she’s in with Claire are some of the show’s most interesting, especially when she asks if Claire, who’s hoarding food for her escape, is pregnant and “eating for more than one.”
Beautiful clothes. Look at the fur Claire’s wearing as she accompanies the group on its rent-collecting chores.
Since Claire had “naught but her shift” and shoes when the clan members found her, someone in the castle is very generous, lending Claire dresses, furs, and very nice jewelry whenever needed.
Absolutely beautiful countryside (the show was filmed in Scotland).
Claire quotes John Donne’s poetry (albeit only once so far), so she’s well-read.
Claire’s managed to heal quite a few people, including a boy everyone assumed was possessed by the devil and who would have died had she not administered the antidote (belladonna, itself a poison) to the poisonous plant (Lily of the Valley) she assumed he’d eaten (he was unconscious).
When she can’t heal them, she is able to at least make them feel better, as when she massages the base of clan Laird Colum MacKenzie’s spine rather than his deformed legs (as his former healer used to do).
When she can’t save them, she’s honest about it, and helps them die as peacefully as she can (the boy mortally wounded in the boar hunt, which earns her the clan’s respect).
Claire’s mostly cool-headed, even if she occasionally does things a 20th century woman would do, like when she teases Jamie — at dinner, in front of others — about his sexual interaction with another woman, and continues to do so despite his warning kick under the table.
Her guards, whom she also refers to as her “shadows,” are amusing. Whether that’s the actors themselves improv-ing or it’s in the script, it works. In episode 5, for example, they and the other members of the rent-collecting group beat up men in another group for calling Claire a “whore” in Gaelic. Afterward, while she’s tending to their minor scrapes and bruises, calling them “big babies” and asking what it was all about, the funniest “shadow,” Angus, tells her, quite matter-of-factly: “They called you a ‘whore’. You’re a guest of The MacKenzie. We can insult you, but God help any other man that does.” That was the first time I laughed aloud at anything in the show.
Dougal’s cool. (On left in photo above. Played by actor Graham McTavish, Dougal’s an uncle to Jaime and brother to clan leader Colum (Gary Lewis), on right in photo.) Dougal’s got just enough bad qualities mixed with good ones to make him a totally awesome character. I like him. Especially in the scene where the young man gored by the boar asks him, “Did ye bed my sister?” and Dougal admits, “Aye. She was a bonnie lass,” leading the dying boy to conclude that Dougal “always could charm the lasses.”
Whatever conflict Jamie has with the MacKenzie clan, who are his kin, it’s intriguing. I admit that I don’t quite understand it, but it’s intriguing nevertheless. That makes Jamie’s nature interesting.
At last, Claire showed a sense of humor. When one of her “shadows” was telling a tall tale about his sexually having two women at the same time, each jealously fighting over him, she responded that she believed his “left hand was jealous of his right,” causing all the men to laugh, and him to say, in astonishment, “I never heard a woman make a joke before.”
And finally, in a show where one of the major conflicts is Claire’s arrival in a time when the Scottish Highlanders were about to stage a major rebellion (the last attempt to put a Stuart on the throne of Scotland, which marked the end of the clans) with the British, at the end of episode 5, the British arrived!
Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jamie and Balfe as transported Claire (R)
Do Outlander’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses? I can’t decide yet. But I’m hoping the slow pace of episodes 2-5 will pick up considerably now that the British have arrived and asked Claire, in front of Dougal, whether, as an Englishwoman, she was “voluntarily” with the Scottish clan.
So I’ll keep watching, hoping there’s a good reason for author Gabaldon’s Outlander series to have become a bestseller (besides lots of women just liking to read 800+-page novels), and an even better reason for Starz to have made it into a series, and to have renewed it for a second season before the episode 2 even aired (besides just trying to capitalize on its bestseller status, because I seriously doubt the show’s going to be up for any kind of awards).
So, 17-year-0ld New Zealander Lorde, born Ella Maria Lani Yelick-O-Connor, is hitting the music charts after her Grammy wins this year with “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Solo Performance” for “Royals”, which she claims shows the feeling her generation has about life, that “our lives are super mundane and we’re basically in this transition period waiting for something to happen to us.” Wow. Super-mundane? Having a mom as a poet? Waiting for something to happen to us? Writing short stories and then songs and then becoming a huge hit in her homeland before conquering the UK and cracking the US?
Lorde says she’s always written, mostly short stories before she began writing songs, and her influences are as literary — T.S. Eliot, Raymond Chandler, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath — as musical — Drake, Kanye West, James Blake, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Etta James, and Otis Redding. “I’ve always been a big reader,” says Lorde. “My mum’s a poet and we’ve always had so many books, and that’s always been a big thing for me, arguably more so than music.” Her short video, Becoming Lorde, is poetic in itself.
Though lots of people like to trash her on YouTube’s Comments, I find her music haunting, with intelligent, sardonic lyrics. Not like some of the music or books coming out these days. You can tell that this artist actually reads good literature, then writes some coolio music.
In some videos, she doesn’t even sing, which is really unusual for generations of MTV viewers who are used to seeing the musicians play or, at the very least, sing, in their videos. The UK version of “Royals,” for which she won awards, apparently doesn’t show her singing, as this US version of “Royals” does. I guess someone thought the US would want less storytelling and more of her face, I don’t know.
I just know that I found her totally accidentally, roaming around the YouTube listening to music, especially to artists I’d never heard before, and I liked her lyrics from this song so much, I listened to more of her album.
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy
But every song’s like “gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.”
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.”
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.
Her video for “Tennis Court” doesn’t show her actually singing, but it doesn’t tell a story either: she lets her lyrics do that.
I liked the samples I heard from her album Pure Heroine, and love the album. It’s ambitious and dangerous, it’s almost a cappella with a serious bass. I like it. “Funky with a totally intellectual attitude” doesn’t begin to describe it.
No, Lorde doesn’t strike me at all as the type that would have been singing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when she was a young girl.
Lip-syncing. It’s caused quite a few outrages over the years, especially when famous singers lip-sync the National Anthem at some major event, or their own songs during some Super event. I get the problem with lip-syncing if you’ve paid a significant amount of money to see a top artist in concert, and the artist simply gyrates the body while lip-syncing to his top song. If I go to a concert, I want to hear the performance live, even if the singer is playing his own voice in the overdubs. Annie Lennox, with her incomparable voice, does it. So does Lady Gaga. But the main song — those fine artists sing their songs in concert themselves. Lady Gaga even inserts some speaking or some variation in the recorded versions so that her audience know that it is, indeed, Lady Gaga live to whom they are listening.
Jimmy Fallon, of The Tonight Show, has been challenging his guests to lip-syncing contests. Each guest picks his own song, without the knowledge of the others, and then performs a part of the song, each trying to outdo the others. This ain’t no karaoke, and with some of these fine actors, lip-syncing has become a performance to outdo the originals. I’m not going to reveal the songs, since that’s part of the surprise, so they’re not in the tags either.
Apparently, Stephen Merchant “invented” this game with John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. When Jimmy challenged Stephen Merchant and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, they rocked the stage like you would not believe. I’d pay to see these guys lip-sync. No one thought they could be topped. That video had over 20M hits on YouTube before it was taken down.*
And then came Emma.
Sweet, demure, lovely Emma Stone, while promoting her role in The Amazing SpiderMan 2, rocked the socks off the audience. Her video contest has over 83M views since it aired. If you can take your eyes off her, take a look at the expression on Jimmy’s face while she’s performing. Here are Jimmy and Emma, trying to out-lip-sync each other.
Jimmy Fallon’s Lip-Syncing Contests, however, ROCK the total awesome-ness! Jimmy Fallown graciously claims the “winners” are his guest lip-sync-ers. I say the audience is the big winner.
And hats off to all the fine actors who put as much work into their lip-syncing parts as some actors do into their entire movies. Watch out, Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman: your Oscar-nominated competition is on its way.
* The original Fallon video of Stephen Merchant Joseph Gordon-Levitt lip-synching has been removed for some reason, and there are only snippets of it still remaining on the ‘Net.
I realize that I’m a day or two later than most reviews of the finale of HBO’s magnificent series True Detective, starring the brilliant Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (in what will probably be an Emmy-winning & Golden Globe-winning performance, though Woody deserves one of each as well), but I wanted to watch the Finale a second time to make sure I understood everything before I commented on what was the Good, the Bad, and the Scarred in the conclusion to this ground-breaking show.
(I’ve intentionally attempted not to include any spoilers or to alert you to any that do appear, but there are some hints throughout that might give you some ideas, so if you haven’t seen the Finale yet, read this post after you’ve seen it at least once, if not twice.) I’ll start and end with the Good, since that predominates in True Detective’s episode 8 Finale.
Marty’s and Rust’s chemistry is still magnificent, though their roles have slightly changed after 10 years apart. Marty is more of a True Detective now, as Rust always was, though episode 7 did show that Marty took some convincing to help Rust “pay the debt.” (I’ve read that Harrelson and McConaughey are friends in real life, and have great chemistry: that sort of thing doesn’t always transfer to the screen, but in this instance, it does, and each pushes the other — whether scripted or improvised — to Emmy- and Golden Globe-worthy performances.)
Rust, whether due to his 8-year-stint as an alcoholic in Alaska or due to Marty’s improvement as a detective, is less the leader and innovator in the Finale. Instead, the two are more equal partners, which was a nice development. Rust still has the slight edge in some scenes, like the sniper episode, but otherwise, they’re pretty much equals in the Finale, even “consulting” each other on whether a “witness / suspect” is telling the truth and is believable.
Marty & Rust in Rust’s Storage Unit, where’s he’s continued investigating the rapes/murders and the missing women & children
There’s still humor in their scenes together. When discussing, for the first and only time, what happened between Maggie and Cohle ten years previously, Marty claims that Rust is judgmental, Rust counters that “as sentient meat” all humans are judgmental. After a beat, Marty glances over at Rust and asks, “What’s scented meat?” That’s signature Marty and Rust comedy at its best.
The atmosphere, especially when they get to “the place”, is creepier than creepy, and that alone adds enough intensity to have viewers holding their breath and jumping at everything that goes bump in the house while the episode is on. This small excerpt, called “This is the Place,” can’t even begin to give you an idea of the claustrophobic intensity and Urgency (though the “This is Carcosa” clip later in this post helps establish it).
(By the way, I would have loved to have seen this episode in a theatre instead of on my tiny little TV screen. Wowza! It would’ve given me a heart attack, probably, it’s so fierce in its entirety.)
The inside of the house. Whew. I know I’ll never look at dolls in the same way again.
The “making flowers” scene. Brilliant new metaphor for something so shocking and horrifying that I won’t even tell you about it. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, it would be too dreadful a Spoiler, and you’d never forgive me. But let’s just say that “planting the seed” might never be viewed in the same way again. And great performances by these particular male and female actors in this scene/ episode/ finale.
The unexpected events in the plot, which I won’t reveal because they would be spoilers, but they involve a knife, a hatchet, and awesome head-butting.
Woody Harrelson’s acting, especially in the hospital scene. Who knew that he could do as good a job as Matthew McConaughey? Woody’s stint as the clueless bartender on Cheers, as well as his good ol’ boy persona in True Detective probably led many to believe that Harrelson is not actually acting but merely playing himself. The hospital scene where he keeps repeating, “I’m fine,” should convince any viewers that Woody is a fine actor in his own right (even if McConaughey does tend to outshine him in this series).
Oscar-winning American musician, songwriter, soundtrack and album producer T. Bone Burnett’s choices for the music for the series have been brilliant, as they were again in the Finale.
I hate to be a spoil-sport because I know, from the Twitter feed and the number of blogs and articles praising the Finale, that so many fans simply saw absolutely nothing wrong with the last episode, but there was some major bad writing going on, which seriously flawed the Finale of True Detective.
Let’s start with the fact that as early as episode 3, viewers began mentioning — on forums, on Twitter, and in formal blogs — exactly who they believed the main killer was. And they were absolutely right. That’s sad.
There should have been a lot of suspects equally presented since the entire premise of the show was that there were a great many suspects, some of them politically powerful in Louisiana where the show is set, who were not only conspiring to keep the rapes, murders, and disappearances of women and children hidden, but who were also actively conspiring to stop Rust’s continued, undercover investigation into the 1995 Dora Lange murder and associated cases by implicating Rust himself.
Even I suspected the Lawnmower Man, who first appeared in episode 3, and was more obviously a suspect at the end of episode 7, but I didn’t want to believe that writer Nic Pizzolatto would stoop to so obvious a character and weak plot ploy. Not given the vast conspiracy theory, set-up, and then revelations about the Tuttle family, with its powerful political connections.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
The writer did go for the blatantly obvious, though now, in post-Finale interviews — i.e., in hindsight and in response to some of the viewers’ negative or mocking criticisms — Pizzolatto is defending his choice of the obvious suspect by claiming the show was really not about the rapes and murders and disappearances of women and children at all, that the series wasn’t a whodunnit, in actuality, but merely an exploration of Rust’s and Marty’s relationship — professional and personal.
My response to that is, Nice try, Nic Pizzolatto, but it didn’t work, and you know it. Unfortunately, the obvious suspect was the main killer, if not the only one, and certainly not the one politically powerful enough to implicate Rust, manipulate the State Police or the media, but that doesn’t make it any less bad writing to have the obvious suspect — the Lawnmower Man — introduced as early as episode 3 — as the killer.
(I’m actually shocked that someone at HBO let this sort of bad writing get through without insisting on some changes, but maybe they gave Pizzolatto carte blanche. Or maybe they didn’t suspect how sophisticated their viewers would be. Either way, bad call on writer Pizzolatto’s part, as well as on HBO’s. Never insult your audience by assuming that it is not intelligent, clever, and sophisticated. Always assume your audience is intelligent though it may be uninformed about your topic.)
Given this scene in episode 3, and given Rust’s ferocious skills at detection, it’s just plain bad writing that Rust didn’t notice the scars on Lawnmower Man’s face — which go all the way up to his cheekbones on the right side, and his beard in this scene is just on the bottom of his chin, and his head is turned full-face to Rust in episode 3 even if he is sitting down on the lawnmower so that Rust “doesn’t notice how big he is” (as he mourns in the Finale).
The scars on Lawnmower Man — Errol Childress, an illegitimate relation of the Tuttle family, whose own birth was never even recorded — are so obvious in the Finale when he’s painting the school that even a little kid stares at him constantly, and intelligent viewers wonder how on earth Rust could ever have “not noticed the scars” even if, as he claims in the Finale, Errol’s “face was dirty.” No amount of dirt, camouflage paint, or pancake-makeup could cover those scars, which are deep enough into the skin and muscle to leave dents which go to the character’s bone structure.
End of Spoiler.
The greatest number of The Bad comes, again, from bad writing, and I’m stunned that no one at HBO called Pizzolatto on this. There are loose ends and plot holes, which the writer may now, after the viewer complaints are pouring in, call “red herrings,” but are simply not that at all. Red herrings would have been other suspects presented more fully so that viewers actually believed they could be the killers, not the knowledge of sexual (sometimes violent) behaviour by little girls that is never explained. And some other things which aren’t explained.
None of the sexually explicit drawings or staged scenes (Barbie doll gang-rape) by Marty’s daughter Audrey are explained or tied in to the Finale whatsoever, so we have no idea how an obviously sexually assaulted child knows such things. And actor Michelle Monaghan’s comments that Audrey’s actions are “due to Marty’s lack of presence in the family” simply don’t ring true. A child can act out if a parent is “missing” but explicit sexual knowledge, especially of violent sexual acts, only comes one way: by being a victim, or by observing victimization. This was an extremely important unanswered question, vital to Audrey’s later “rebellion” and sexual promiscuity.
7-year-old Audrey’s Barbie doll gang-rape scene, which Marty sees, frowns out, then goes and eats dinner
The spiral hanging on Marty’s wall, drawn, I believe, on a paper plate, is exactly the same spiral on Dora Lange’s body, claimed to be on Reggie Ledoux’s body by cell-mate Charlie Lange (though it’s not: Ledoux has a pentagram tattoo, while Lawnmower man has what appears to be a scar in that spiral shape on his upper middle back). How one of Marty’s children would have drawn such a spiral, and how Marty could have possibly missed it hanging on the wall of their living room area (he stands right in front of it before the fight with Rust over Rust’s having mowed his lawn) is beyond credibility. Huge plot hole.
The Dora Lange spiral drawn on a paper plate, hanging in Marty’s house
Maggie’s manipulative and intentional cruelty toward Rust and Marty when she seduces Rust and has sex with him and then tells Marty immediately afterward, in order to destroy her marriage as well as their partnership & friendship, is never shown anywhere else in the entire series, or explained in the Finale. It’s alluded to once when Marty says, “Even your Mother thinks you’re a ball-buster.”
That’s certainly one of the reasons why I was drawn to the character because she really is the grounding force within the series. I consider her to be kind of one of the most emotional of all the characters, and she’s very real. I like that this is a woman who could navigate two men, or try to have a relationship with her husband under the circumstances and yet be able to forge a relationship with somebody she finds truly engaging and interesting, that being Rust. I appreciate her devotion to her family. [In Episode 6] she really decides for herself that this is the only way to get ultimately what she wants, which is freedom from Marty.
I stand by my original interpretation of Maggie: that she is a manipulative, predatory, deceitful, vicious, cruel, selfish femme fatale modeled after classic — not contemporary — noir-crime fiction (à la James Cain, Cornell Woolrich, and Jim Thompson, to mention a few) where the females are just as morally “ugly” as the males, are “objects” or “prizes” to be won, and usually triumph over the males because they’re ethically and morally more vicious, cruel, manipulative, predatory, and deceitful than the male protagonists and narrators. [See my post “Why HBO’s True Detective is not Misogynistic” for details.]
The identity of “The Yellow King” and the meaning of “Carcosa” are never revealed. When a writer uses literary allusions — as Pizzolatto is clearly doing, since “The King in Yellow” and “Carcosa” appear in horror literature as early as the mid-19th century — the purpose of using said allusions is to give the reader all the information that’s already out there, without the author’s having to write it all again and bore readers by repeating information they already know.
For example, when Reggie Ledoux says, “Time is a flat circle,” and Rust responds, “Okay, Nietzsche. Shut the fuck up” in episode 5, it is an allusion to the famous German philosopher. We’ve probably all heard of him even if we haven’t read his work. Most of us know his most famous and oft-quoted sayings, such as “God is dead,” or “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” or “When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you.”
In fact, True Detective, with its DarknessBecomesYou website, seems to be modeled after this last famous quote of Nietzsche’s since the main characters, who are looking into the abyss on a daily basis, do then perform some dark deeds themselves (like when Marty illegally shoots Ledoux, and Rust helps him cover up this breach of law enforcement protocol).
However, if the literary, cultural, artistic, or contemporary allusion is obscure, or lost on the audience, then the writer is responsible for making it clear to them at some point. In the case of True Detective, that would have been the Finale — since no one knows what it is beforehand — when Rust and Marty confront the Scarred Man they have been seeking.
Many viewers, however, questioned the identity of “The Yellow King” and the location of “Carcosa” after viewing the Finale, clearly indicating that the original literary allusion of “The King in Yellow” and “Carcosa” have been lost to most modern readers and to the viewers of True Detective. Even though I had looked up those terms prior to the Finale, and understood them in their original, multiple literary uses, I still don’t understand who the Yellow King was or what his meaning to the show is, or where/ what Carcosa was though I watched the Finale twice.
(Someone on the twitter was kind enough to call me “an idiot” for not knowing that the Yellow King was the “yellow skeleton in the final room” of Scarred Errol a.k.a. Lawnmower Man’s labyrinth: I didn’t even see any “yellow skeleton” upon second viewing of the episode. Meanwhile, others tweeted that the Yellow King was other people or things, including the Scarred Errol himself, so I’m not the only one who couldn’t figure it out; I suppose those viewers got called “idiots,” too).
And where, exactly, is Carcosa? What is Carcosa? I still don’t know, and I researched all the literary references. If it’s the Scarred Errol’s labyrinth — the Killing Grounds — then how does Sam Tuttle’s former housekeeper of 19 years knows about it (episode 7), repeating, “You know Carcosa? Rejoice: death is not the end” after Rust shows her his drawings of the wooden “devil’s nests [nets?]”?
That is, how does the housekeeper know about the Killing Grounds, if that’s what Carcosa is, yet remain alive? Are we to believe that she is one of the conspirators who has been keeping the identity of the serial rapists/ murderers secret all these 30 years?
Some people claimed that Scarred Errol says “Welcome to Carcosa,” and though we do hear those words in his voice as Rust is searching through the labyrinth, we have no evidence that Scarred Errol is actually saying them since Rust has just recently admitted to Marty that he still sees, hears, and tastes things that are not there (“What’s wrong with my brain can’t be fixed,” he says in the car — or something similar to that — indicating that he’s lied to the new investigators about no longer hallucinating). Maybe Rust is hallucinating in the labyrinth. After all, he’s already said he “tastes aluminum ash” as he and Marty are pulling up to Scarred Errol’s house, and that “[he’s] tasted it before.”
Even the article “The Crazy Mythology that Explains True Detective” didn’t make these allusions any clearer to me. In fact, that article confused me more by assuming that I understood how the “crazy mythology,” which is from horror literature, was related to the HBO series. I don’t understand it, and many other viewers have admitted that they don’t either.
Very bad writing on Pizzolatto’s part that he uses but never explains allusions that (a) most of the audience doesn’t recognize, and (b) audience members who’ve researched The Yellow King or Carcossa still don’t understand the allusions in terms of Pizzolatto’s True Detective. Readers or viewers should not have to do outside research — not even on HBO’s site for the show — to discover the meaning of The Yellow King and Carcosa. That defeats the very purpose of an allusion.
Although highly amusing in the car scene when they’re searching for the church, detectives Gilbough and Papania, who are re-investigating the Dora Lange murder 17 years after it took place, and blaming Cohle for it and all the other murders — and whom I didn’t even realize had names — are bumbling idiots, at the very least. They’re so silly, they interrupt someone (Scarred Errol a.k.a. Lawnmower Man) whom they’ve asked for directions when he’s giving them additional information that they did not request. What kind of detectives are these?
Did they get promoted simply because of Affirmative Action? Are they just meant to serve as dramatic (comedic) foils for the trueTrue Detectives Hart and Cohle? More important is a question for all those bloggers, reporters, and tweeters who complained about the misogyny in the series: why isn’t this portrayal of these two African-American detectives being denounced as racism? These detectives are not only cardboard characters, they’re buffoons.
What happened to Ginger? Last we saw of him, he was duct-taped and bound behind the seat of Rust’s truck, getting his mostly bald head slammed into the side of the truck after he cursed and threatened Rust as Rust was speeding to Reggie and Duvall Ledoux’s place in the wilderness. The last we heard of Ginger, Rust tells Marty that Ginger’s in a ditch somewhere after Marty asks about him.
But what we don’t know is whether Ginger is dead or alive in that ditch. If he’s alive, why didn’t he and his fellow bikers come after “Crash” — as they knew Rust when he was undercover and had infiltrated their gang? If Ginger’s dead, why didn’t the fellow bikers, who were present when Rust kidnapped Ginger, come after “Crash” / Rust?
(Okay, so this isn’t a very big hole in the plot, but my boyfriend really wants to know what happened to Ginger, so I’m including it here, for his sake.)
The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster who chased the little girl through the woods had “green ears” because he’d painted a house and gotten paint on them? What kind of incompetent house-painter gets green paint on his ears but not anywhere else (the girl only mentioned his ears)?
Sometimes? Not normally. You might get a few drops on them. Unless you’re a member of the Three Stooges, or something. When you’re an experienced painter, no, it’s very rare. Unlesssss—never mind, no. No, any level of experience, and it wouldn’t happen, unless you were spraying all over and you weren’t wearing a mask. And then you would have paint everywhere, not just on your ears.
That piece of information that Cohle and Hart spend a significant portion of the Finale “connecting” and investigating is so stupid that if a former student of mine had written it in a creative writing class, I simply would have been honest with him and told him that it didn’t work. Because it’s ludicrous. And it made me laugh out loud, which was not the writer’s intention, as far as I can determine. Also, it was really boring in the final episode and took up too much time which could have been spent filling in other, more imperative plot holes and loose ends.
Scarred Errol’s constant change of accent, not just from different Louisiana dialects, but from American to British English. I mean, whassup widdat? I don’t get it at all. And since writer Nic Pizzolatto had to make up a story about it for interviewers who kept questioning him about it, that means it wasn’t clear in the show itself.
How, exactly, did Scarred Errol get so scarred? The old woman housekeeper for the Tuttles says she thinks the boy’s Daddy did it to him. Errol himself says, in a monologue, “For all that was done to me, I do to…” But he never tells us explicitly about the scars, and I, for one, wonder how only 3/4 of his face got scarred and not his neck, and without his hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows getting singed off, which would normally happen in such severe burn cases. Did somebody take a blowtorch to him?
And the thing that ruined the Finale of True Detective for me, and disappointed many viewers (as expressed on social media, where they mocked the final scene, questioned it, complained about it) was Rust’s unexpected and uncharacteristic transformation from nihilist-pessimist-realist to optimist in the final scene of the series. It was completely unbelievable (except, apparently, for those viewers who wanted a Happily Ever After ending, and I can’t imagine why those people would have been watching a show that begins with the ritualistic rape, torture, murder, and display of a woman in the first place).
Spoiler Alert In the final scene, Marty and Rust discuss the stars in the night sky as a metaphor for the darkness the two of them have been fighting in season one of True Detective: the rape, murder, disappearances of women and children; the conspiracies to hide the crimes while simultaneously protecting the murderers; the vast involvement of politically important personages in the crimes and the conspiracy.
Let me recap those final lines, since, as many viewers have noted and complained, McConaughey mumbles many of Rust’s lines:
“You’re looking at it wrong,” says Rust. “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.” And Marty chuckles.
Even if we fall for Rust’s unbelievable and uncharacteristic transformation (after he’s just spent some considerable time explaining the “darker darkness” where his dead daughter and father were waiting for him (while he was in a coma after surgery) and where he himself attempted to join them by “letting go”), this metaphor of the stars in the night sky simply doesn’t work for the series as a whole.
For one thing, if you look at any night sky, whether in Alaska or Louisiana or from Big Rock Candy Mountain where I write this or from anywhere else that I know of, the dark does spatially cover much more area than the tiny pinpricks of light put out by the stars. That means the dark is “winning.”
Metaphorically, it also doesn’t work. Let’s ask all the victims of the masked rapists and murderers of True Detective — of whom Reggie Ledoux, Duvall Ledoux, and Scarred Errol Childress a.k.a. Lawnmower Man represent only a small group (Marty tries to reassure Rust in the hospital that though they “didn’t get them all, we got ours”) — whether the light is winning? I think all those tortured, raped, and murdered women and children would shout a resounding No since they are the evidence that the dark is what is winning, both in this series, and probably in the world itself (though the latter is not what I’m discussing here).
Maybe, maybe, maybe that final line would have worked if Marty had said it.
But probably not.
End of Spoiler
Finally, the last of The Bad. If you have to interview writer Nic Pizzolatto, the series Costume Designer, Professional Painters, etc., then write an article about it called “True Detective FAQs: The HBO Series Finale’s Biggest Questions Answered” to answer all the questions raised by The Bad that I’ve listed here, that means I’m not the only one who didn’t find the Finale to HBO’s splendid series True Detective entirely satisfactory.
And that kind of bad writing is the baddest of The Bad.
The Scarred Basically, virtually every major or important character in the series is seriously scarred, though only Errol-Lawnmower Man’s scars are made a subject of discussion and detective work.
The Good, the Bad, and the Scarred You might think, given the amount of space I’ve devoted to the Bad in this post, that I don’t like HBO’s True Detective. You would be wrong. I’m only talking about the Finale here, which I found ultimately disappointing, though some parts of it were stunningly intense, dramatically effective, and emotionally satisfying.
I think True Detective is one of the best series on television in years, as I’ve indicated in previous posts and in many tweets. The writing, except in a few instances, was top-notch, as was the acting, the production itself, and the storyline. But then, I’m a sucker for intellectually and artistically challenging drama, whether it’s in a book, a film, or a television series.
It’s just that, after spending months completely devoted to watching and discussing True Detective, its characters, its acting, and its writing, the unsatisfactory parts of the Finale, well, to put it most simply, they scarred me.
So I’ll end with another piece of The Good, as I promised: the song that played over the final credits to the series Finale, which someone erroneously posted was written by T. Bone Burnett, (with the lyrics on T. Bone’s website). Performed by The Hat, featuring Father John Misty and S. I. Istwa,“The Angry River.”
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