what could it mean?
You just watched a historical TV moment: never before has the audience for a show been smarter than its writer. I submit as second evidence the season finale for The Bachelor that was on yesterday, for three hours, drawing ten million "people". Just remember that the next time some dummy from The New Yorker complains that TV has a woman problem.
The Whitman's Sampler that was True Detective's finale is beyond discussion, literally, because what we now know is that no discussion was necessary. All the references, all the philosophical subtext, all the weirdness-- turns out it was topping after topping, "does this make you watch? How about this?" Remember when the one character who turns out to be irrelevant says, "YOU'RE IN CARCOSA NOW," do you know what that meant? Nothing. The writer once read a story that had the word Carcosa in it but since his cat was already named Chuckles he used it in a TV script. "It's a reference to--" I know what it's a reference to. Why is it a reference? Does it mean anything? Did "acolyte" or "metapsychotic"?
We see Errol shifting fluidly between several accents. Here is the show I thought I was watching: is this is a 1 Corinthians 14 "speaking in tongues"? Maybe coupled with the aluminum and ash reference it suggests Errol is Baal and Carcosa is Hell?
Here is the show I was actually watching: though not mentioned ever in the show ever, he did that because the accident that caused his scars also made it hard for him to talk in his normal voice.
Meditate on that.
The writer googled Chekhov's Gun, laughed mightily and roared, "you're not the boss of me!" I'm confused, so the killer's ears were green because he painted houses with his ears? The point isn't that this explanation is stupid, the point is he didn't need to have green ears.
I don't care about "tying up loose ends" or sterile Judeo-Christian undercurrents, I have ABC for that. I care only about internal consistency. If you're going to make a show about, for example, zombies that is worth watching, at some point a character must say, "look, the only thing we know with 100% certainty is that every single one of us will eventually but unpredictably become a zombie, so we probably need to devote, oh, I don't know, 100% of our energy to dealing with that certainty." Once you ask that question you are lead, for example, towards a sci-fi show about forced physical isolation where the only contact we have with each other is digital, but because of the lack of physical contact paranoia sets in, and suddenly every interaction becomes an implied Turing Test. Would you watch that show? Because without that question you have four seasons of Denial Lets Us Pretend The Old Rules Still Apply.
A show about applied philosophy in the form of a crime drama sounded intriguing. All of True Detective's existential despair, posed as, "how do you solve a series of murders when humans are a mistake anyway?" -- well? It's finally solved incoherently with an appeal to the Old Testament. Oh, so God exists after all? That would have been helpful to know up front, because I thought we were in Schopenhauer's "time is a flat circle" universe. But whirlwinds are cool, too.
So through some kind of faith, Cohle loses both his nihilism and... his interest in pursuing child killers? "We got ours." Oh, we're done then. Time for a sandwhich.
"I don't sleep, I just dream." Turns out that doesn't mean anything either, but if you're 16 feel free to lay it on the artsy girls. You'll think they'll think you're mysterious.
I'm sure everyone has their own idea of how it should have ended. But as an exercise how could you take the finale that was aired and fix it using only an additional 10 seconds? You can't change anything else.
Could you have kept it true to the show's original promise, such that "pessimist" Cohle is both redeemed AND still true to who he is? Could you have rendered a closing scene so diabolically duplicitous that, on the one hand, most of the characters are saved/happy, while the world's bleak necessity of a tragic hero (since that's all he was, after all) becomes unescapable? That we all live semi-peacefully only because of the sacrifice of a few loners in a garden, coming out one by one to allow their own crucifixion?
"Compassion is ethics." Yes it is. How do you take Nietzsche's nihilism and make it compassionate? Yet not sappy? If you accept that the theme of the show is that life has absolutely no meaning and therefore it is up to you to give it meaning, how do you take the mess that is episode 8 and say that?
Could it be done in ten extra seconds?
At the end they optimistically talk about stars and daughters and life energies, and Marty smiles upon Cohle and Cohle smiles upon the universe, and Marty, having learned the true meaning of Christmas, skips off to go get the car.
Cohle sits alone in the wheelchair, watching him. The emotion in his face disappears. His face hardens. He takes a long drag from the cigarette.
"But I lied for your salvation."
Cut to black.