That's the one remaining question after last night's finale.
Just now I'm leaning 'greatest'.
An opinion definitely enhanced by the afterglow of one of the finest hours of television I've experienced in my 40+ years, but one that may well prove true.
It did the thing I find most compelling in popular entertainment, riding an established genre setup to a wholly original destination.
The show tells you exactly what it is up front- True Detective, direct descendant of those grubby police magazines that inhabited the shadowy back row of convenience store magazine racks, under the overhang where the mainstream titles held sway, always with a sex crime reenactment photo on the cover. Nearly all the complaints I've read have ignored this statement of intent. They defined the parameters of the story right in the title- there was never going to be a feminist agenda (beyond demonstrating the hollowness of patriarchy via the personal lives of our heroes), or Lovecraftian finale involving bonfires & Shoggoths in the bayou (all monsters being human) or any cheap twist ending just for the sake of surprising the audience.
The show laid the story out straight, and it played the story straight. All the twists and turns and startlements and magic were in the characters, and the interaction of the characters, and how the characters subverted the expectations of the genre.
That's was why I was slow to the bandwagon.
From the preview and the title I assumed we'd be getting nothing more than a straight up police procedural with movie star casting and HBO's usual ration of violence & nudity, which didn't move me. Rust's line in the preview "the world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door" seemed to promise a fairly shallow, easy to digest experience. It wasn't until a couple of friends started chanting its praises from the rooftop that I climbed aboard & had my face peeled back like an astronaut trainee undergoing centrifugal g-force testing.
The show hit all the marks expected of it, but it did so with its own idiosyncratic rhythm and on its own terms. It uncovered and disposed of its presumed monster in episode five, and in a spectacularly subversive way, walking up and capturing him without any problem, only to have events go haywire and require them to make up a stereotypical cop show story which the authorities swallow whole. Cohle & Maggie's inevitable coupling is desperately unsatisfying for both of them and the viewer. The paramount action sequence of the show, the bravura 6 minute tracking shot closing episode 4, requires nothing more of our hero than unhinged, panicked flight.
And in the finale it confounded all expectations by hewing strictly to the genre insistence on happy endings without betraying its soul. In Cohle it gives us the unkillable supercop of lore, but one we believe in and empathize with. And in the aftermath of their journey to the heart of Carcosa, it gave Rust & Marty common ground they would never otherwise share.
A+ show and finale.
Can't wait to binge-watch the whole thing again.