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'True Detective' post-mortem: Creator Nic Pizzolatto on happy endings, season 2, and the future of Cohle and Hart

True Detective wrapped its celebrated, intensely parsed first season last night with a finale that has invited a wide variety of reactions. Your opinion might hinge on whether or not you found the revelation of The Yellow King — Errol Childress, aka The Lawnmower Man — and his evil to be interesting and a surprisingly uplifting, optimistic ending for Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) to be the correct call for the series.  The man behind the madness stands behind his choices, although the writer (best known before this for the crime novel Galveston) sounds a bit relieved that the roller coaster ride of his first major work for television has reached its conclusion.  “Our long national nightmare is over!” laughs Nic Pizzolatto, jumping on the phone not long after the east coasting airing, and before watching the finale with his family and music supervisor T. Bone Burnett at McConaughey’s house. In this brief interview, Pizzolatto discusses his endgame vision, clarifies Errol’s master plan, and teases season 2 of True Detective — and the future of Cohle and Hart.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s talk about the twist ending: Rust Cohle and Marty Hart walk away from this alive. I was not expecting that. I also wasn’t expecting that we’d get to see them process the experience to the extent that they did. And then there was the strong note of optimism at the end. Why did you want to end this story this way?

NIC PIZZOLATTO: A few reasons. We’re never going to spend time with these guys again. And killing characters on television has become an easy short cut to cathartic emotion. So I thought killing the guys, or having something more mysterious happen to them  – like the guys charged into Errol’s underworld, and disappeared, and nobody knows what happens to them – would have been the same thing if the show had gone full-bore into the supernatural: To me, it would have been puerile, and it would have skirted all the issues the show raised. To me, the challenge was to not only let these guys live, but show true character change through this journey. That passing through the eye of the needle in the heart of darkness has actually done something to them.

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