This isn’t a total shock. As Vulture points out, TD creator Nic Pizzolatto is on record saying he only wanted to do up to three seasons. HBO is trying to figure out how to deal with cord-cutting, and a new season of True Detective would almost certainly be very expensive, despite the fact that the show’s first two seasons have both been relatively short at eight episodes each. Finally, there’s the fact that the show’s second season was an incoherent mess, hated by both critics and consumers and doomed to go down as one of the dumbest seasons of any supposedly highbrow show in television history.
Still, I suspect that history will look kindly on True Detective. The show helped pioneer the short season format (in the U.S., at least), which is something for the TV textbooks. But more importantly, the fact that it led a short life will probably lead to a degree of nostalgia. Call it the Twin Peaks effect—a mysterious and often maddening television show blasts off with an enormous amount of promise that it can never quite deliver on, turns in a mediocre second season, dies, and becomes a lasting cult phenomenon.