Lacey Terrell/HBO
Darren Franich
March 09, 2014 AT 12:00 PM EDT

After eight mystery-starting, meme-generating, McConaissance-confirming episodes, the first season of HBO’s True Detective has finally reached its conclusion. As we approached the end of the saga of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, tensions ran high. Would they finally solve the mystery of the Yellow King? Was last week’s revelation a confirmation of the killer’s identity, or a red herring? Could it be that the whole thing just one of Rust’s acid traps? And of course, the most important question of all: CARCOSA WTF? Well, the season is over. And now we know everything…or at least, as much as we’ll ever know. SPOILERS FROM HERE:

(UPDATE: Click here for our critic Jeff Jensen’s take on the finale.) Did True Detective have a happy ending? That might sounds like a strange description of an hour of television that prominently featured one of the freakier psychopaths to grace the small screen, the final revelation of Carcosa the Terror Temple, a druggy vision of what appeared to be an Event Horizon wormhole to hell, and both protagonists stabbed with various stabby weapons. But given the season of gloom that preceded it, the season finale of True Detective ended on a note of veritable optimism. “Once there was only dark,” said Rust Cohle The Nihilist Anti-hero as a closing line/epitaph. “You ask me, light’s winning.”

It took some time to get there. The boys finally managed to track down Errol Childress the Lawnmower Man. (With a hat tip to Marty: He’s the one who finally connected the whole “green-eared spaghetti monster” description to a new coat of green paint on a house from the old Dora Lange case.) That led Rust and Marty out to Errol’s house, which he shared with his aunt/girlfriend and his decaying dead father.

They chased him into what appeared to be some kind of overgrown ruined temple — or maybe there was some actual infrastructural use for it, in the days before it became a palace of all manner of satanic terror. “This is Carcosa,” intoned Errol. Rust had a vision straight out of a Guillermo Del Toro movie of a cosmic event in the darkness…and then Errol attacked. He stabbed Rust, and would have killed him…if Rust hadn’t used his Nihilist Headbutt Super Attack. That gave Marty enough time to shoot Errol a couple times. At which point Errol threw what appeared to be a tomahawk Marty’s chest. Marty barely survived — but Rust finally put the bad man down, shooting him in the head.

Rust looked halfway dead, and Martin not much better. But shockingly, they both survived. Rust seemed disappointed. They hadn’t tracked down every member of the Tuttle family, after all. “We ain’t gonna get them all,” said Marty. “That ain’t the kind of world it is. But we got ours.” Rust, despondent, explained that he didn’t think he belonged on this world. When he was near-death, he had a vision — of his daughter, his father, his dead loved ones. “It was like I was a part of everything I ever loved,” he said, near tears and then beyond them. Was this whole show about Rust learning to accept his daughter’s death? Learning to be human again? Marty guided him away from the hospital, half-carrying him.

It was a lot to take in — an hour that veered more towards philosophy than final-act thrills (although it had plenty of that, as well.) Check out our TV critic Jeff Jensen’s take on the finale.

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