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Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle in HBO’s crime series True Detective.
Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle in HBO’s crime series True Detective.

John Doyle

Will True Detective end with meaning or sorrow? Add to ...

A big ending and a big start this weekend. Two top shows. Prepare the PVR.

Meanwhile, the Canadian TV industry celebrates its best and loveliest on Sunday (Canadian Screen Awards, CBC, 8 p.m.). And since they’re in celebration mode, I won’t call it a “racket,” this once. Kate Taylor writes about the Canadian TV situation elsewhere in this section.

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Now then. True Detective (Sunday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) reaches its final episode. First conclusion, in advance – this series, at eight episodes, could have gone to 10 or 12 hours and benefited from it.

Still. It has been thrilling, provoking and bejeebers-scaring. From the get-go it was fabulous and fraught, this tale of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), Louisiana State Police homicide detectives searching for a serial killer who has committed horrifying, ritualistic murders. And a story told elliptically, spanning 17 years. Issues of genuine weight emerged as Rust talked his fatalistic philosophy and Marty emerged as a shallow, selfish boor, hiding his raw male mindset behind the flimsy image of devoted family man.

As it ends, we wonder whether the killer will be found and if, in that revelation, there is exposed a layer of shocking, decades-old corruption.

Theories abound, about the meaning and intent of True Detective, some relevant, some mad. Mention of “the Yellow King” in the plot leads same to believe the series is derived somewhat from Robert Chambers’ 1895 collection of stories, The King in Yellow. In that, a fictional play about the King in Yellow pushes to insanity anyone who reads it. The idea being that the play reveals humanity to be a horrible cosmic mistake.

Others believe, on a more mundane level, that Marty Hart is the killer or part of the secret group engaged in ritual killing. Allied to this is the feeling that Marty’s daughter Audrey has been, at some point, a witness to his secret involvement with the ritual killers.

These theories speak to both the enthralling quality of the storytelling and the need for the audience to search for parallels and clues that explain it. Mind you, there are other reactions to True Detective. Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker dismisses it, essentially arguing that Rust’s philosophizing is shallower than viewers realize and that the show treats female characters shabbily. It’s an odd and redundant criticism. Of course, Rust Cohle’s brooding is adolescent. It is meant to be, defining him as a man of stunted emotional growth. And, well, since the show is about two men, one selfish and the other introverted, both immature, it is superfluous to complain about the women. What Nussbaum wants is some other show.

Yet for all the nitpicking and theorizing, it’s a drama with a serious intent that might have been missed by the obsessives. Rust Cohle says, “I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution.” That’s a thematic underpinning, no matter how slight. And when asked about the emphatic Louisiana bayou setting, creator Nic Pizzolatto said he didn’t want to set the series in an urban area. That would make it too “generic, too non-specific.” He said: “In rural America, there’s a postindustrial, end-of-empire thing going on and I’m more interested in that.”

So there – maybe the mystery isn’t a mystery. Maybe the finale finds us looking at the end of an America we know and a new kind of society brought into the light.

Also airing

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Sunday, Fox/Global, 9 p.m.) is one of the most extraordinary television projects in recent years. Call it a reboot to Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, or call it a sequel, it’s an astonishing work.

Notably, it’s astonishing that instead of it being a PBS series, it’s on Fox and airing across multiple commercial, cable channels. Part of the reason for this is the involvement of Seth MacFarlane, who not only has heft with Fox thanks to his Family Guy show, but also is a science enthusiast.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is the series host, and keeps it cool and smart while the effects make it visually thrilling. This Cosmos has the same intention as the original – to educate viewers about space and the universe. But more than that, it’s about basic facts on the laws of nature, the human mind and how we got here. One of the captivating aspects in Tyson’s serious but often humorous journey is the realization of how much has happened since 1980 – planets outside our solar system have been verified, the Higgs boson exists, the human genome has been mapped. Eye-popping and educational, Cosmos is excellent TV. And no, it doesn’t explain the meaning True Detective.

All times Eastern; check local listings.

Follow me on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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