The Rust Cohle Redemption


The eighth and final episode of True Detective airs tonight. I’ve been a fan ever since seeing the first trailer of this series on HBO. I’ve enjoyed the masterful storytelling and truly been in awe of the acting, particularly by Matthew McConaughey. For someone I stopped being excited by around the time of The Wedding Planner, his resurgence as an A-level actor (dubbed “McConaughnnaisance”) has been remarkable.

So tonight, the world will watch to get answers. Who is the Yellow King? Where is this Carcosa? How will it end? One could spend a whole week reading all the blogs and online pages that have been devoted to talking about these questions.

I want the answers, too. But I’m not watching the show for them. I’m watching to see the journeys of two broken, messed-up men. I’m curious how they’ll end. 

I love stories like this. And anybody who knows my writing knows I’ve written over twenty books about troubled souls like Rust Cohle and Marty Hart.

So how would I end the series? Let me share. Obviously this is all spoiler territory, so if you haven’t watched all seven of the episodes, I wouldn’t read on (not that I’ll be going into too much of those details).

The character I love and am fascinated by is Rust. We first see him as a wounded and wrecked man back in 1995. His life has gone downhill ever since his daughter was killed by a drunk driver and his marriage fell apart. Seventeen years later, he’s fully broken. There’s no going back for this man. There’s no hope left. Right?

I don’t think so. And I would have made this series about the redemption of Rust Cohle.

Yes, sure. Maybe that’s hoping for too much. But I love stories like this. And if you think I’m alone, just see where The Shawshank Redemption rates on the favorite films of all time. That was a dark film, but it had hope at the end.

But how could Rust be redeemed?

Let me share a few thoughts.

I think that Rust might have been the one to run over his daughter. We know he loves to drink, and maybe he was soused when he had a horrible and tragic accident. And that’s when his world ended. That’s when the dark, bleak, black hole of his soul was created. The shell of a man who would say something like this:

“I think about my daughter now, and what she was spared. Sometimes I feel grateful. The doctor said she didn't feel a thing; went straight into a coma. Then, somewhere in that blackness, she slipped off into another deeper kind. Isn't that a beautiful way to go out, painlessly as a happy child? Trouble with dying later is you've already grown up. The damage is done, it's too late.”

So for Rust, we think and assume it’s too late. And for many writers, they’d go with that, believing it in their heart. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, certainly thought this. It was reflected in all of his writing and ultimately in his own life when he took a shotgun and killed himself.

I don’t think it’s too late for anybody, however, including our beloved Rust. 

What I would do is make this whole story—the whole investigation and Rust’s involvement—be about getting him to the point of not only finding who murders these young girls but allowing him to find forgiveness for his sins. For his one sin of what he did to his daughter.

So some of the mysteries and the unexplained things would be supernatural. We would learn that it’s his daughter that’s been communicating to him from the grave.

Oh, yes, I know. A lot of people would roll their eyes and picture Ghost or something like that. Something corny.

To me, someone like Rust would have to go to the darkest of places—to Carcosa—before finding redemption. And that’s what would happen in my ending. I don’t see redemption for Marty. I see Marty discovering things have happened to his daughters and those he know might be involved—particularly his father-in-law—and Marty can’t take it. I see Marty killing others and then ending his life. For Marty, I’d pick the Hemingway ending. Short, brutal, the end.

And then and only then, in the bloody aftermath when all hope is gone, when the killers have been found but for what? Lives have been burned up and blown away like ashes in the wind. But Rust stands there and only then ends up realizing his daughter has been communicating with him this whole time.

I would end the show with another one of Rust’s moments when he’s talking to someone and waxing poetic and sounding all crazy awesome. This time he’d be talking about his daughter. He’d mention a time when she got angry at him and lashed out and now was crying. (I’m picturing her about three or four years old). Then Rust came to her and picked her up and kissed her and told her everything was going to be okay. He said everything would be fine and that he forgave her. ‘Cause that’s what fathers do. (I mean--picture McConaughey delivering this sort of final epiphany in Cohle's words--tears would be shedding everywhere.)

Yeah, obviously the story would serve as a metaphor. I would leave things like that, with Rust still alive and with him finding some bit of redemption.

To me, life isn’t about solving a mystery. Life is a mystery. The baggage of our youth, the pain of our mistakes, the people we encounter, the love we’re able to make, the joy we’re able to find, the faith we might be able to discover.

For those who don’t end up finding faith, then what’s the point? Life is hard enough with faith. Without it, then go ahead. Become a Rust Cohle in 2012 who’s given up.

I love bleak endings because they mirror life. Again, not all of my stories end with the whole “happily ever after” thing going on. And with True Detective, no matter how they end it, there is no happy ending for most of the people. Lives have been wrecked and ruined. Our messy heroes—what kind of hope can they find?

It brings to mind the two thieves on the cross next to Jesus. Both were criminals who deserved to hang there and die. One believed in the end, the other didn’t and ridiculed him. This could apply to Rust and Marty. Maybe. Perhaps.

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

In my True Detective, Rust would finally be prompted to get busy living. And it would be his dead daughter doing so.

He wouldn’t have much time left. But you know . . . in light of eternity, how much do any of us have?

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