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On a Runaway Train: FX’s JUSTIFIED

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Warning: Spoilers Galore

This is the ultimate season of  FX’s hit series Justified — based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” and several novels by the late Elmore Leonard — and it looks like the lyrics to Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” fit this final season perfectly. Everyone in the show is on a Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track.” Every character has gotten himself  “in too deep,” “has secrets” he “can’t keep,” and “feels like [he] should be getting somewhere,” but, instead, “is neither here nor there.” It’s Justified’s last season, and it looks like the end of the road is coming for many of its characters.

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As in the first season, the major conflict is between US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, above, and below, in hat) and his one-time buddy and mining compatriot, Harlan County criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, above). This last season, however, instead of vying with Boyd for the affections of Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter, below), Raylan is using Ava to get enough information on Boyd to put him back in prison, this time forever. How did Raylan convince Ava to agree to “betray” her fiancé Boyd? By getting her out of prison — conditional on her betrayal of Boyd — for a murder she committed. Not only is Ava’s secret “burning up her veins,” but “it seems no one can help [her] now” since too many other characters want to know how, exactly, she got out of prison and are determined to find out.

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It’s been strangely uncharacteristic, though, that Boyd — who by nature and profession would have to be highly attuned to his surroundings and to the behavior of all the people around him — has not seemed to notice that Ava’s behavior is not that of his formerly devoted and loving fiancée. She’s jumpy, secretive, sad, nervous, and always going off places by herself (she’s either meeting Raylan or, as in last week’s episode, attempting — unsuccessfully — to escape Harlan).

A couple of episodes ago, Boyd did express his concerns that he didn’t feel he knew who Ava was any longer, and she invited him back into her bed (supposedly for the first time since she’d gotten out of prison) to re-gain his trust. Is Boyd’s implicit “trust” or love for Ava putting him on the Runaway Train, leading him back to prison, to death, to a showdown with Raylan, or, at the very least, to a deadly confrontation with Ava, who is the love of his life?

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Boyd may be pretending not to notice Ava’s extremely unhappy and frazzled behavior, especially since, in last night’s episode, he came home to find Ava and Raylan together in the house — an allusion to season 1 where both men were competing for her affections and had a shoot-out. Now Boyd has one of his men stationed at the house with Ava, ostensibly to protect her, though Boyd’s crew this season seems a bit incompetent and mentally slow, to say the least. So Boyd may very well know that something is going on with Ava, though he may not realize that she is actively cooperating with the Marshals, especially with Raylan, and betraying Boyd in order to stay out of prison. It’s her Get Out of Jail card, but it’s not “free.” Ava’s “train” is running on a track back to prison if she doesn’t betray Boyd, or to death if Boyd discovers her treachery.

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At the end of last night’s episode, the criminal Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) betrayed Ava by calling Boyd and telling him that things were going on with Ava that Boyd “didn’t even know that he didn’t know.” That call surprised me as much as it did Boyd. Historically, Limehouse has been sympathetic and protective of Ava while being suspicious and hostile to his competitor Boyd. But Limehouse lost one of his men (who got tazed & supposedly arrested) while he was accompanying Ava to the location of the money Boyd’s planning to steal this season, money which Ava was to give to Limehouse in return for a car so she could run away — from the Marshals as well as from Boyd. Limehouse betrayed Ava because he didn’t get his money and because, like all the other characters, she’s “in too deep.”

Despite the fact that Ava is a murderer, criminal, and “snitch,” however, she has become one of the most sympathetic characters in the show this season, if only because all the US Marshals have become vicious, unfeeling, and completely unsympathetic to the danger they’ve placed her in. The characters of Raylan and Rachel (Erica Tazel, below) have metamorphosed from humorous but extremely competent law enforcement officers to relentless bullies, constantly threatening to return Ava to prison while, at the same time, putting her in an untenable position by having Raylan in almost constant contact with her, making the discovery of her treachery to Boyd more imminent.

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In fact, Raylan’s contact with Ava is so constant that his superior, Rachel, has now begun to suspect that Raylan is once again having a sexual affair with Ava (he’s not, though Ava did kiss him and he didn’t resist). Is Raylan also on the Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track,” by allowing his former feelings for Ava to conflict with his intense desire to put Boyd away forever, as well as to interfere with his wish to escape Harlan County by going to Florida to be with his ex-wife and baby daughter?

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As has been Justified‘s pattern since season 2, there are “outside” criminals to complicate matters between Boyd and Raylan, and to give the Marshals something else to do besides trying to catch Boyd. This season’s criminals are comprised of “Dixie Mafia” Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns, in a recurring role, which has been expanded) and Katherine (Mary Steenburgen), who are plotting to steal from Avery Markham (Sam Elliott, right, below, opposite Timothy Olyphant) who is buying up property to grow marijuana in anticipation of its being legalized. At least, that’s why the other characters think Markham is buying up all those adjacent properties.

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Markham is accompanied by his minions, who are led by Ty Walker (Garret Dillahunt, center above, standing), a veteran who has brought along his own crew, including the brain-damaged but endearing former Army Ranger Choo-Choo. Last week, Choo-Choo unintentionally killed a man with one punch, and then, this week, tried to protect the hooker who’d seen the group enter the murdered man’s office.

Choo-Choo’s chivalry got him killed: Markham insisted that Walker “do his duty.” After a shoot-out between the Marshals and Walker’s crew — who’d come to kill Choo-Choo for not killing the girl as he’d been ordered — a wounded Choo-Choo drove away, ultimately parking his car on the tracks of an oncoming train. Ironically, the train managed to stop just before hitting the car. The engineers/conductors went up to the car to ask the driver what he was doing, but Choo-Choo was already dead. Perhaps he thought his Runaway Train should go out in a blaze of fire, if not glory, but he only died, anonymous and alone, “neither here nor there.” Choo-Choo (Duke Davis Roberts, below, in a show-stopping role) did, however, manage to keep his secrets and his honor: the girl he chose not to kill did, in fact, survive.justified 10

Last night it became clear that Ava’s uncle Zachariah (Jeff Fahey, below, with gun), who is helping Boyd reach Markham’s safe through an abandoned mine-shaft, has his own secrets. Apparently, he’d sawed through floorboards in the mine in an attempt to kill Boyd but make it look like an accident. Boyd did fall through, but Zachariah ostentatiously saved him. He then sent Boyd out, and when Boyd’s man discovered the cut — not rotted — boards, Zachariah threw him down the hole to his death. Will Zachariah also succeed in killing Boyd? If so, will he do it before or after Ava’s own treachery is discovered?

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Is Markham “playing” Katherine, as her crime-partner Wynn Duffy suggested, by asking her to marry him? Does Markham know that Katherine is “playing” him by continuing to be his lover while hiring Boyd to steal his fortune? Will Wynn and Katherine get Markham’s money or will Markham discover their plan?

Will Ava tell Boyd the truth before Limehouse does? If she does reveal her betrayal, will Boyd’s outrage and anger be greater than his love for her? If she does get killed for being a “snitch,” will Rachel and Raylan feel morally responsible?

Will any of these deceitful and secretive characters — criminal or lawman — get out of Harlan alive, as each wishes? Or will more of them join the murdered Dewey Crowe (shot by Boyd after he felt he couldn’t trust Dewey any longer) and the dead Choo-Choo?

Viewers cannot know until the end, of course, but things are not looking good. It seems “there’s no way out” for any of the characters. They’re all “in too deep.” They’re all on the Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track.”

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You’ll never leave Harlan alive: The Final Season of FX’s JUSTIFIED

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It all started with US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and a Miami gangster. Oh, Raylan warned the bad guy first, and even gave him 24 hours to get out of town. The gangster (Peter Greene) called Raylan’s bluff.

And that’s how one of the finest crime dramas in cable television history began.

After his ill-fated encounter with the Miami gangster, Raylan Givens was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky, specifically to Harlan County, where he donned his iconic cowboy hat and boots with an panache rarely seen even on working cowboys in the American West.

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Based on characters from the short story “Fire in the Hole” and from two novels by the iconic master of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard — who died last year at age 87 and who was a producer and writer of the show, and who will receive posthumous producer credit for the final season — the pilot episode had the major criminal, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, below) die, as he does in the story on which the pilot was based.

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That is, Boyd died until the initial screening audiences let their outrage be known, apparently insisting that it was a humongous mistake to kill one of the most interesting characters in the show. The pilot was rewritten; Boyd lived — after shouting “Fire in the hole” just before he blew up a black church with a missile launcher — and Justified became an instant classic. Favored by critics and viewers alike, Justified has consistently been nominated for, and won, major industry awards.

From the season’s premiere, in 2010, Marshal Raylan Givens has had a bad habit of shooting first and being unable to ask questions later. His world-weary boss, Chief US Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy, below) has just wanted to make it to retirement without getting shot himself (as he did last season) and without excessive paperwork caused by Raylan’s trigger finger.

nick searcy chief deputy us marshal art mullen

But the most engaging conflict of the first year, which has periodically returned despite the series’ “Villain of the Season” approach, has been the conflict between Harlan County-born & bred, coal-mining childhood pals Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). While Raylan became a crime-fighter, Boyd became a criminal extraordinaire.

In the initial season, in addition to fighting each other, Raylan and Boyd were also competing for the affections of Boyd’s former sister-in-law, Ava (Joelle Carter, below), who’d shot her abusive husband — Boyd’s brother — dead, after he beat up on her one too many times.

joelle carter ava crowder

Ava eventually chose Boyd over Raylan, became involved in criminal activities herself, including murder, and spent all of season 5 in prison. After she believed that Boyd had abandoned her by not cooperating with Raylan in order to secure her release from prison, Ava secured her own “release.”

In the season 5 final scene (below), it was revealed that Ava got out of jail by agreeing to help Raylan find the evidence he needs to put Boyd away forever.

That situation seemed to be setting up the final season (6) as a return to the major — and most intriguing — conflict of Justified: that between Raylan and Boyd.

The teaser-trailers that FX has been releasing also intimate that Justified‘s final season will concentrate on the ongoing conflict between Raylan and Boyd.

In the Hat Trick trailer, the conflict seems clearly focused on Raylan and Boyd, emphasizing their ambiguous relationship due to their having grown up together and having once been friends. Also, though they are on opposite sides of the law, the two men have many personality traits in common, further explaining their former friendship, their grudging respect, and the determination of each to eliminate the other in this Raylan-Boyd, Marshal-criminal duo.

In the Three on a Match teaser-trailer, however, it looks like Ava herself may have a reason to mistrust and even hate Raylan and Boyd, both of whom have betrayed her in the past — at least in her opinion — and it looks like it’s going to be a Burning Bed scenario among these three in the final season.

There will still be some “Guest Villains” in the final season of Justified, including Mary Steenburgen, who appeared briefly in season 5, Sam Elliott as her lover, and Deadwood‘s fantastic chameleon actor Garrett Dillahunt (who first played Jack McCall, Wild Bill Hickock’s murderer, in Deadwood, and, in the subsequent season, played Francis Wolcott, a serial killer preying on prostitutes who was also a surveying geologist for George Hearst).

But more exciting for the final season of Justified is the recurrence of Dixie Mafioso Wynn Duffy (Jere Burn, below), who’s been connected to, or hunted by, many of the previous seasons’ Guest Villains.

jere burns wynn duffy

Apparently, during this ultimate season, Boyd is going to get into robbing banks — with the encouragement of the Dixie Mafioso — in his attempt to get out of Harlan “alive” and to take Ava with him.

Boyd’s cousin Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman, below, as Dewey) who is, without a doubt, one of the most hysterically incompetent and endearing criminals ever created, will be out of jail, attempting to reunite with Boyd while avoiding their nemesis, Raylan.

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Of course, we don’t know how it will all play out, but the most faithful viewers of the show are hoping that the final season will concentrate on the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, as the initial season did. Though the Guest Villain seasons have been wonderful, none has ever reached the brilliance of that first season, where Walton Goggins, as Boyd, and Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan — who improvise many of their scenes together — shone brighter and fiercer than any other characters.

Furthermore, since the finale of each season of Justified has ended with a different artist singing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and both Raylan and Boyd are determined to finally make it out of Harlan for good — Raylan to join his ex-wife and baby daughter in Florida, and Boyd to take Ava and move to a more prestigious, upper-middle-class neighborhood in Kentucky — the rumor mills are swirling with fan fears that Raylan or Boyd or both will be killed in the Justified‘s series finale.

After all, the song at the finale of each season clearly says that You’ll never leave Harlan alive. (My favorite is Patty Loveless’ version, from season 5.)

The final season of FX’s award-winning crime drama Justified airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, and premieres Tuesday 20 January 2015. Additional info and videos — both trailers for season 6 and flashbacks from previous seasons — are on the official site.

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The Good, the Bad, & the Scarred: Inside HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE Finale

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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.

The Good

  • 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

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.

The Bad
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.

SPOILER ALERT:

  • 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.

Bad writing.

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

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

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.”

And, sorry, Michelle Monaghan, I don’t believe your interpretation of Maggie’s behaviour as “clever, cunning, good, or strong” nor do I see her “protecting Marty from his co-dependent relationship with Rust”, and I certainly don’t see her as “devastated for using Rust as a scapegoat to end her marriage with Marty.” I don’t know whether Monaghan thought those things up herself, or the director suggested it when she asked for “her motivation” for seducing Rust. But the actor Monaghan thinks Maggie is not only fully developed, but complex and interesting.

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.]

Other writers call Maggie a Medusa in this vicious scene.

  • 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 true True 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)?

According to professional painter Alan of the All Los Angeles Painting Company, this simply would not happen. His answer to the question about whether house painters ever get paint just on their ears is this:

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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Why HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not Shallow

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Boy, does Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker dislike the female characters in the first season of HBO’s hit series True Detective. In her article “The Shallowness of True Detective,” (dated 3 March 2014 but already available online), she says the female characters are “paper-thin,” though she doesn’t insult the actors playing them, and that “none” has “any interior life.” She then compares them to female characters in shows we should like better, none of which I like at all. The problem with Ms. Nussbaum’s view of the show’s portrayal women seems to be her apparent lack of literary background — like classic noir-crime fiction and Southern Gothic — which is what the show (and its creator’s novel & stories) most resemble.

First of all, let me state most emphatically, that I am a feminist, though I’ve never been to see sexual harassment around every corner. That said, I adore classic and neo-noir-crime fiction, where the emphasis is virtually always on the male protagonists, usually narrated by them, and involves their getting involved with attractive women who are liars, whores, adulterers, predators, murderers, or all of the aforementioned, while said femme fatales maintain innocent exteriors. Don’t get me wrong: the males in noir-crime fiction aren’t angels, by any means, and that’s part of what I like about them: they’re interesting. But so are the women.

Think James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity. Think Cornell Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man, where the heroine is a liar, a murderer, a conspirator in a murder, and an unreliable narrator, to boot. Think anything by Jim Thompson, from The Killer Inside Me to The Grifters, from Pop. 1280 to A Hell of a Woman. Creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston has the same kind of characters, though they’re more mature in True Detective. So do his short stories. Pizzolatto doesn’t seem interested in women unless they’re classic noir-crime fiction women, and that means they’re going to be badder than they initially seem.

So, calling Marty’s wife, Maggie — played well by Michelle Monaghan, “the only prominent female character on the show … an utter nothing-burger, all fuming prettiness with zero insides” and “an outline” is ignoring the fact that no other character in the entire show, besides Detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle (Harrelson and McConaughey, respectively) is developed (though Nussbaum does say that the show is only about those two characters, and I agree wholeheartedly with her on that, and she praises the actors’ performances). I didn’t even realize that the two black detectives interrogating/interviewing Hart & Cohle 17 years after their first investigation of the murdered Dora Lang even had names until my boyfriend, reading the credits one night, said, “Who are X and Y?” I had to look them up. They’re those detectives.  Tuttle, Ledoux, Charlie Lange, the other detectives — all male characters — are so cardboard, most of them don’t have names.

In fact, however, Maggie is developed, and not just a cardboard outline. She’s developed along the lines of the females in classic noir-crime fiction. And along the lines of Southern Gothic fiction, like William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, where sister Caddie, who’s not actually in the novel, has her story told by everyone but her: her retarded brother Benji who views her as a  mother figure, her older brother Quentin who views her as a love-worship object, and her younger brother Jason who views her as a whore (even while he wants to sleep with her himself). In True Detective — no spoilers here — what Maggie did to Rust Cohle in episode 6, and what she did to her husband Marty in the same episode, was calculated, cruel, and vicious. It’s also exactly what a noir-crime fiction femme fatale would do. Then she’d maintain her innocent façade. Ditto Maggie and other women in that genre of fiction.

Hart and Cohle are homicide detectives. They constantly see the bodies of dead victims, investigate the DBs (Dead Bodies), as they’re referred to in the show, and so the women and children in the show are objects to these detectives.  It’s a short step from seeing their victims and DBs as objects, to seeing all the women in their lives as objects. That includes Marty’s daughters, who, as teenagers, are clearly separated into the age-old, mutually exclusive Madonna/Whore categories. In classic noir-crime fiction, the woman is usually something to be won or possessed: she, too, is an object, even if she plays the villainous game better than most of the male protagonists in this genre do.

I love the show. Except for the convoluted Ginger-Cohle-Hart combo kidnappping & shoot-em-up scene in episode 4, which detracted from the show’s main forward drive, I think it’s some of the finest writing and acting since the first season of Damages or of American Horror Story. I gotta admit, though, that I also love FX’s Justified, where the women also take a backseat to the male protagonists. (Actually, this season, the female characters of Justified don’t even seem to be in the same car as most of the male characters, but that’s another post for another day.) I like intellectually and artistically challenging drama, and True Detective seems to be delivering that so far (except for the above-mentioned shoot-em-up, which bored me silly, but excited quite a few of the male fans, I hear).

Maggie’s not a “nothing-burger… with zero insides.” She’s just as calculating, deceptive, predatory, vicious, and morally shallow as Harrelson’s Martin Hart and McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle characters are. Maggie, her daughters, and the dead Dora Lange are also a lot more developed than the two African-American detectives re-investigating the original 1975 fetish-murder of Dora Lange, though every female except Maggie is quite a bit less well-developed, even if we’re comparing them to the females in classic noir-crime fiction.

And, I admit it, after all the bare behinds of the women in the show, I did appreciate the chance to get a good look at Matthew McConaughey’s well-developed glutes.

I’ll leave you with the opening credits of True Detective, about which Ms. Nussbaum claims this:

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

The opening credits are accompanied by the show’s theme song, “Far from Any Road” by The Handsome Family.

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HBO’s True Detective is the Best MiniSeries on TV

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Wow. If you aren’t watching HBO’s new miniseries True Detective, you’re not living. This anthology miniseries — which means each year will feature new actors, characters, and story lines, though all will undoubtedly be written by the series creator and award-winning writer Nic Pizzolatto — is a riveting and fascinating neo-noir crime thriller. Its unusual style, flashing back and forth between 2012 and 1995, combined with its other fine qualities make it more than worth watching. More than the  drop everything right now because True Detective is on watching.

It makes True Detective worth talking about.

True Detective is, without a doubt, the most amazing miniseries HBO has aired since Deadwood, and the most stunning storytelling since ShowTime’s miniseries about Henry VIII and his family: The Tudors. These are the things that make True Detective worth watching — over and over — and worth talking about:

  • its flashing back and forth between two time periods
  • the chemistry between the main protagonists, brilliantly acted by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey
  • it’s about life, religion, choices, and the meaning of it all
  • it’s about a whole lot more than mowing the lawn
  • it’s got a kick-ass neo-noir theme song

I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but this week, starting Saturday night before the Super Bowl, HBO is airing the first three episodes again, so now is your chance to catch up. Because if you don’t watch True Detective from the first scene, you will never be able to follow anything.

The Story Is Set in 2 Time Periods
The premise of this first season of True Detective is that two homicide detectives, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are being questioned, in 2012, by two other detectives about the bizarre, ritualistic murder that took place in 1995, which Hart and Cohle supposedly solved. The show moves flawlessly between 2012, during the interviews, and 1995, when the detectives are working on the crime. Not only is the setting changed, but the characters dress differently and have completely different hairstyles, so the viewer always knows exactly which of the two time periods is being shown.

And it’s these two different time periods that make the show so fascinating because, while we know they’re discussing a murder that they supposedly solved almost 20 years previously, we don’t know why they’re being interviewed about it in 2012, and what’s happened between the two characters since then. That’s the first thing that makes this show intriguing.

The Chemistry Between the Protagonists
The chemistry between the protagonists, Cohle and Hart, goes far beyond the writing: McConaughey as Cohle, and Harrelson as Hart, also have incredible energy and chemistry that makes the characters come alive on a deeper level than some people ever attain in real relationships. In one of their many car scenes, while they’re investigating the murder in 1995, while they’re discussing life demonstrates this. Warning: Language

It’s About Life, Religion, and the Meaning of it All
Many of the scenes taking place in 2012 allow the individual protagonists to convey their opinions on life, religion, family, and the meaning of it all. But when the detectives Hart and Cohle are actually investigating the homicide in 1995, they get to interact in a way that reveals their individual flaws, which seem to be exacerbated yet simultaneously calmed by their professional pairing. When the two investigate an old-time-religion tent revival, their fascinating flaws and the bigger meaning of True Detective and what its writer is exploring is revealed. Warning: Language

It’s About More than Mowing the Lawn
So many books and movies and TV shows just slam you in the head with what they want you to know that it’s intellectually and artistically refreshing to find a show where mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn. Warning: Language

So, beyond the brilliant writing and story telling, the chemistry between the actors and protagonists, its exploration of life and its ultimate meaning, and the fact that even mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn — as if all that weren’t enough to make True Detective worth watching, it has a kick-ass theme song by The Handsome Family: “Far From Any Road,” that fits the show perfectly.

As I said earlier, there’s no new episode on this week since the show’s regular slot is Sundays at 9 EST, and this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Rather than competing for the audience, HBO is showing the first 3 episodes again, in a row, starting Saturday 1 Feb at 8 EST.

If I were you, I’d watch.

If you don’t, you’ll regret it.

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