Skip to main content

It’s just one story. The oldest.

True Detective
1.8: Form and Void

I registered some concern over the reappearance of Errol the Mower Man at the end of After You’ve Gone, and the early sections of Form and Voiddid nothing to dispel that. There’s something borderline perverse about the decision to devote so much time to the Spaghetti Monster’s domestic situation at such a late stage, particularly as it adds little of consequence to the overall picture. Indeed, the insertion of this scenario is somewhat awkward and wholly derivative. But, if the actual horrors encountered by Marty and Rust during the finale prove to be up there on the uninspired scale, Nic Pizzolatto nevertheless managed to genuinely surprise me with the chosen course of the final 15 minutes. And Cary Funkanaga’s direction throughout is outstanding; the episode is laden with atmosphere (the series of dissolves of the significant and unsettling sites seen in the series prior to the final scene between Rust and Marty is a lovely touch), so much so it very nearly makes up for the two detectives encountering something rather anti-climactic and a little pedestrian (a common-or-garden evil) after all that build-up.


Errol: My ascension removes me from the disc and the loop. Some mornings I can see the infernal plain.

I fully expected a Fincher-esque descent into hell from After You’ve Gone. Rust left for dead, probably, and Marty screaming in silent horror over what he has been through, never to fully recover. There’s a nod to Sevenin there with the guy on the bed, his mouth sewn up, but that’s exactly the kind of element I was pleased True Detective avoided for so much it’s duration; the obvious. It appeared to actively eschew lowest common denominator terrors for a more pervading, apocalyptic dread. In general terms, Errol’s lair put me in mind of numerous backwoods horrors from Texas Chainsaw Massacre itself to The X-Files Home. Discovering that Errol is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his half-sister and paints schools while eyeing up prospective victims all seems a bit broad and clumsy. Nothing here really sets the Spaghetti Monster apart, other than his random predilection for James Mason impressions. During the first 10 minutes I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Fox Mulder knocking on the door before uttering some very droll remarks to Errol or his sister. It’s also unfortunate that the interplay between the pair bears more than a passing resemblance to the idle banter and decayed abode of Wayne and Waynetta Slob.


If this “reveal” follows your standard serial killer trope, complete with dark and gloomy passage ways and the crazed beckonings that come from “divine” insight, I could perhaps see another intent behind Pizzolatto’s choices. The abuser comes from a cycle of abuse himself; he repeats by rote the traditions, habits and utterances of his elders rather than investing them with any actual power. Marty and Rust have arrived 15 years too late to catch the grand prize, so all that remains is the mutant misfit (even given we have been told he was “the worst”).


Yet Pizzolatto wants to have his cake and eat it. As with the shoot-out in The Secret Fate of All Life, there’s an apparently deliberate attempt to undercut the mythologising. There it related to an invented altercation, one Marty and Rust invested with hyperbole to sell as a legitimate threat requiring justifiable force. Here, all those omens of Carcosa and whisperings of mass rites and depravity are reduced to a brute in a boiler suit. It doesn’t actually defuse the sense of uncanny of the previous episodes, the intimations of the supernatural that were never going to come to pass (although we’re still given a representation of the unknown beyond through Cohle’s unfortunately – for him – distracting hallucination). Or diminish the knowledge that this wasn’t just a lone nut at work. But at the same time this is just an unsubtle after-image of the horrors of the past, with all those liberally placed skulls and mummified corpses; the rug is pulled from under the grandiose moves played earlier. Additionally, we have the makers playing to the cheap seats, apparently shamelessly. The Seven guy on the bed, and Errol imbued with the momentum of an unstoppable killing machine. He’s up there with Michael Myers and his slasher-pic ilk. If Pizzolatto wanted to make a point, the two tecs should have come across a physicallyweak echo of the cult’s barbaric heyday, one whom they dispatch with disarming ease. It might not have satisfied, but at least it would have been more consistent.


Errol: Come die with me, little priest.

Instead, Pizzolatto and Funkanaga deliver the dramatic, full on, goods as they did with the climax to Episode Four. We’re treated to a bloody and tense showdown. But, as cathartically satisfying as it is it is, the route taken finds the series very nearly selling out its philosophical musings, and all for an immersion in viscera. Rust head butting Errol into releasing him, while transformed into a human shish kebab, is edge-of-the-seat adrenalising. It’s undeniably great television, but it’s all about the action fix, there to stop you dwelling on the more cerebral matters that previously held the attention.


Pizzolatto is to be commended for those areas where he shows restraint. In particular, the decision notto have the case resolved to the satisfaction of anyone but the elite perpetrators who remain at large (or are dead) and are protected (as the news report dismissing the notion of Governor Tuttle’s involvement informs us). And the reminder of Sheriff Geraci who, in stark contrast to the reaction of Marty, is more consumed with taking revenge on Cohle than in behaving decently (it’s interesting to see how his initial reaction to the video is, if anything, even more horrified than that of Hart’s, but this makes his backtrack all the more unsavoury). And the mooted involvement of Marty’s daughter or family in the goings-on, something I was never especially convinced of, thankfully comes to naught. If the episode shows its hand in a negative way in this area, it’s that Maggie is reduced to little more than a bedside walk-on role while the men do what men do.


Newsreader: In the meantime the State Attorney General and the FBI have discredited rumours that the accused was in some way related to the family of Louisiana Senator Edwin Tuttle.

The limited scale of the showdown does not quite balance in terms of its impact on Rust and Marty, either physically or emotionally. Yet the catharsis and release of the final section is so strong, so powerful, that there’s little room to reflect on this while watching. All involved have pulled off quite a feat. Instead of a story about one man being led intractably to his doom, pulled by that demon within him, True Detective becomes a tale of a man recovering his humanity. That man is Rust, but Marty too is given something. Marty, who had fallen back into weary pugilistic exchanges with the uncompromising Rust on the way to their date with the devil, now finds himself in a place where he refers to Rust as his friend. Inconceivable prior to this, and we don’t doubt him. Marty has seemingly come to a place of acceptance. He doesn’t need to know what the detectives Gilbough and Papania have to tell him about the case (something about voodoo worship is as much as we get). He knows he has done right, done good. He is content, even if he has more room for Rust’s reflections on the darkness out there than he did before. And when Rust breaks down, and Marty struggles to console him, the disavowal of the latter that has built up over the previous seven episodes just ebbs away.


Rust: It’s just one story. The oldest.
Marty: What’s that?
Rust: Light versus Dark.
Marty: Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me the dark has a lot more territory.

But it’s with Rust that the real impact of Form and Void lies. He was on a terminal mission, it seemed, and yet he was not taken (and he arises, his face consciously framed to look Jesus, or at least Turin Shroud, -like in his hospital bed. There’s a sense at the end that he has to accept something of Marty’s less interrogatory outlook. He has to accept. He tells Marty that he shouldn’t be here, that he wanted to go when “I could feel my definitions fading” because he could feel his daughter’s love there in the darkness (and that of his father too). This is the kind of earnest “love conquers” sentiment that really shouldn’t wash, particularly given the thundering darkness that preceded it. But there’s nothing mawkish or indulgent here. While I don’t think the Errol re-entrance is wholly successful, the aftermath caught me off guard and rose to the challenge of its intent. Perhaps because Rust doesn’t suddenly become a nice guy. Rather, the barrier that comes down is something he cannot deny; recognition has broken through on a fundamental level, speaking to his philosophy and his soul, striking at those positions he has professed so eloquently and disdainfully over the previous episodes.


Rust: We didn’t get them all.

I can quite understand how this turn of events might be seen as disappointing, and I have a number of issues with the finale besides Errol. It’s notable how little actual detective work is required of our heroes. I commented last week on their rather underwhelming abilities, Rust included given the sheer span of time involved, and I couldn’t help but groan here when their deductive leap is based on Marty making a connection with some green paint. There’s only so much commenting on, and playing with, conventions you can get away with before you really needto deliver the goods as a writer, and Pizzolatto falls at a number of narrative hurdles during the last stretch. He’s very lucky, because he pulls us on side with a last emotional slow motion victory lap to the sound of Vangelis.


I may see the prior substance of this episode more favourably when I revisit the series as a whole, but at present I tend to the view that the problem is not that the great and bad aren’t busted; it’s that Pizzolatto settles on been-there-seen-that villainy, and inelegantly incorporates it at the last moment. There’s a lack of balance of forces here too; what if The Silence of the Lambs had featured only Buffalo Bill? Or if R Lee Emry had played the villain in Seven instead of Spacey? The dramatic weight rests entirely on Cohle’s revelation, which may be as it should, but there are 35 minutes of the inbred underground before that.


Rust: You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.
Marty: How’s that?
Rust: Well, once there was only dark. And if you ask me, light’s winning.

I read Pizzolatto didconsider a supernatural option, and also mooted offing one or both the leads, but chose what he felt was right for the characters. Maybe so on both counts, but he misses something in the process. By leaving its darkest recesses out of sight, he is required to verbalise the ongoing battle against good and evil in the final moments (apparently lifting this sentiment from Alan Moore, but it’s such a good riff we shouldn’t begrudge him). It’s an effective summation between Marty and Cohle, not only for rediscovering Rust as one now gifted with hope but also for concluding the cosmic discussion that has infused the series. Less exotically, I was also put in mind of Last Boy Scout, where new pals and partners Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans discuss how they need to be alert to old Satan Claus, who’s out there and getting stronger. So what do we do about that, asks Wayans. “Be prepared son, that’s my motto. Be prepared.” Perhaps Pizzolatto wasn’t borrowing from Alan Moore at all.




Season:


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite