And the closing scene between the two partners was even better, as Rust the loud and angry atheist acknowledges that he felt the presence of his late daughter and father while he was lying on the floor in Carcosa — that for the first time in a long time (at least since his daughter died), he felt evidence of something bigger in this world than an accident of evolution, of a cruel existence generated by being pulled from nothingness and placed into sentient meat(**).

(**) Marty's confusion over that phrase was both funny and unexpectedly prophetic, given how many people asked me after the finale what Rust said at the end of the episode. Matthew McConaughey's going to deservedly be halfway to EGOT by the end of 2014, but the man will from time to time be gripped with the mumbles. Or maybe the droopy Old Rust Cohle mustache is to blame.

It's an optimistic turn for Rust, and for the series — a show that dealt so often with the evils that can be perpetrated by organized religion, half of it narrated by a charismatic atheist, concludes with that atheist realizing there are things to believe in — but it doesn't play as a tacked-on, false happy ending. For one thing, Cohle's realization that he might have been this close to drifting into that deeper, warmer darkness with his daughter and father makes life painful and difficult for him in an entirely new way. He had anesthetized himself from his feelings for decades; good things come from being in touch with your feelings, but they can also hurt worse than being stabbed in the gut by a Yellow Spaghetti Monster King. For another, McConaughey was so achingly vulnerable in that scene that he could have sold any turn in any direction for Rust as a character. Rust's take on the nature of the night sky and what it says about good and evil is something that the Cohle of 1995 might have laughed at, but we understand exactly how the Cohle of 2012 has come to express it, and maybe believe it.

And in that way, just as in the ways he and Marty have found each other to lean on after all this time apart, the conclusion of this first "True Detective" story felt immensely satisfying. When I look back on this show months or years from now, the proper denouement of the Dora Lange investigation will be way down on the list of things that mattered to me. I'll think about Old Rust Cohle telling the cops about the monster at the end of the story right as we get out first freaky look at Reggie Ledoux. I'll think about Marty coming to accept the way the detective's curse snuck up on him. I'll think about these two very different men driving around in a car, talking about the same subjects in what might as well have been two different languages.

And I'll think of all the times that I was watching it, even as it was presenting variations on things I'd seen a million times before, and thinking about all the ways that the presentation and execution felt so brand-new, so haunting, so moving, and so memorable.

Some other thoughts:

* This review was delayed a bit because I had to jump on the phone with Nic Pizzolatto to discuss the end of the season (including an elaboration on the conspiracy), some of the reaction to it, and to get the slightest hint of what might be coming in season 2. That'll take me a while to transcribe, and it may not be published til the morning if I just fall asleep at the keyboard. In the meantime, I highly recommend Kate Aurthur's interview with Pizzolatto from earlier in the week. UPDATE: Here's the interview.

* One beat from the finale that Pizzolatto elaborated on, and that seemed intriguing as it happened: when Errol comes back into the big house after visiting his father in the shed, he watches a few moments of "North By Northwest" and immediately slips into a James Mason accent, then tries on a few other voices. The short version: as part of the backstory Pizzolatto sketched out for the character, Errol has difficulty speaking in his natural voice due to the injuries that scarred his face, so he taught himself how to talk again by watching old movies.

* I've noted all along the ways in which this show echoes a lot of the other great dramas of the present and recent past, and when Rust threatened Steve with a sniper attack should anything happen to him, I chuckled at the thought of Rust and Walter White using the same gambit in their farewell episodes. Then Rust's boss from the bar — who, we were told last week, has a good reason to hate cops — started shooting up Steve's car and laughed even harder. Rust Cohle does not bluff, boys and girls.

* That was the great character actress Ann Dowd (seen recently on "Masters of Sex" as Bill Masters' mother) as Errol's developmentally disabled lover — and, apparently, half-sister. As with a lot of the non-McConaughey/Harrelson performers who walked across the screen in these eight hours, I wish she got more to do, but she certainly left an impression with what little time she had. And though Marty didn't want to hear more about the family tree, I imagine many theories will be spun about House Childress in the months to come.

So check back later tonight or in the morning for more from the author, and we'll be doing this again once all the details have been nailed down and a second season's been shot. But as for the story of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart, what did everybody else think? Were you satisfied by the conclusion? If not, does that impact how you feel about the season as a whole? Do you feel more or less eager tonight to see what Pizzolatto has in store for a new setting and new characters?

Have at it.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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