Welcome back, True Detectives.
Just like that, True Detective’s beleaguered second season closes, not with a whimper but with a bang. Several bangs actually and all so deafening as to drown out each other. See, when you have two climatic moments in an episode with a third left to go, you’re no longer running on suspense. Sheer logic dictates shit’s going to go south real quick. Perhaps that’s emblematic of this whole misguided endeavor in pulp noir: whatever “it” factor Season 1 had – whether McConaughey/Harrelson, the improved direction and editing, the unique tone – Season 2 decidedly did not have. So, with all the bloodshed, instead of catharsis, I feel “meh.”
During a post-sex smoke, Ani and Ray open up about past traumas; she and her abuse in youth (can you believe we only learned that two episodes ago?) and he with the killing of his wife’s not-rapist. It’s nice to see characters opening up and forgiving. More of it and earlier and we might have gave a shit about their incessant mopey-ness.
The material between Vince Vaughn and Kelly Reilly has been mediocre at best but both do an excellent job selling the scene where Frank sends her off, fighting through each and every layer and defense mechanism. After these two emotional moments, the show dives deep into exposition.
After learning about Woodrugh’s murder, Ray catches up with the Internet theories and remembers the on-set photographer he met back in Episode 3 is Leonard “Lenny” Osterman, Laura’s , Caspere’s secretary, brother and Caspere’s murderer/Ray’s attacker. Imagine having really bad sex, you beg for a good conclusion and, at the end, you ejaculate dust. That’s how this revelation felt to me.
My pet theory, Burris was on some vigilante kick, was wrong. He was just a regular, one-note villain. Meanwhile, Frank finds Vinci May. Austin Chessani dead in his pool, either from suicide or murder made to look like a suicide. There’s no sign of his kids and with his druggie ex-prostitute trophy wife no help, Frank leaves.
Ray and Ani track down Lenny to his house and discover all they need: the bird mask, the riot shells and Caspere’s sought-after hard drive. After finding Laura handcuffed, they learn Lenny went to meet with Holloway (still alive after his Woodrugh encounter last week) and Burris at the same train station Ray meet Alicia earlier this season. Laura had worked the party circuit, which is how she met Caspere, and reunited with Lenny after being separated in the foster system. Together, they orchestrated his murder, with Lenny leading the homicidal charge. Her exposition dump was boring. HBO head of programming Mike Lombardo said the finale would be “satisfying.” This isn’t satisfying. This is perfunctory and going through the motions. Sigh.
Ray runs off to head off Lenny while Ani takes it upon herself to send Laura packing for Seattle, where a $15 minimum wage is riches compared to the sweatshops of Vinci. Ray gets to the station before the meet and convinces Lenny to let him do the exchange: the blue diamonds for the hard drive and land documents.
Predictably, thing’s go south. Lenny, already pretty unstable, starts knifing Holloway before a few cops come and finish both off. Ani saves Ray in the nick of time with a well-placed shot on Burris, who lives. Ray gives a call to Frank who is orchestrating his own “burn it down” scheme and our two plotlines converge.
It’s nice to see characters who haven’t interacted all season do so tonight. Frank and Ani, Ani and Jordan (more on that below) and finding out Felicia the bartender’s backstory (still no explanation for the Lera Lynn impersonator playing melancholic covers to an empty room).
Our three remaining protagonists seek sanctuary at Felicia’s bar. Frank enlists Ray in his war on Osip and McCandless, the crime/corporate conspiracy at the heart of the high-speed railway plot. Frank taking out his arsenal reminded me of Ray’s coke/booze binge a couple episodes back. Over-the-top and spectacularly funny. He gets Ani to send a message to Jordan in the (likely) event he doesn’t make it. Ray and Ani hold hands. Another tender moment, but too little, too late.
Then, in what plays like a typical male fantasy, after ensuring their women are safe, Frank and Ray pull off their assault on the money drop. It goes shockingly smoothly. Frank personally takes out the two-timing McCandless and his old ally Osip. Together, Frank and Ray make off with the money. (Oh yeah, and Ani discovers Dr. Pitlor’s dead. So that’s something, I guess). After switching cars, the unlikely friends say goodbye.
After two death-defying scenes at the train station and the cabin assault, I was pretty burned out but alas, there was half our super-sized 90 minute finale left. Obviously, things were going to take a turn for the worst. While Frank follows through on his exit strategy, Ray can’t resist seeing his son Chad one last time. Same as Woodrugh It’s the hero-with-a-tragic-flaw thing that writer Nic Pizzolatto loves so. In a nice moment, Ray sees his son with friends as well as the encased police badge he gave him. They share a salute.
Back at his car, Ray sees a reflection in a puddle (anyone else thought the car’s breaklines or oil had been cut?) and finds a device (anybody think it was a bomb? This show’s not very clear sometimes). After a cigarette, Ray’s face says “fuck it” and he drives away, with a tail not far behind. Ray gives a last call to Ani, telling her to get out of the country as planned and that he’ll be right behind her. It becomes clear the kind of impact the two had on one another. Kudos to Farrell and McAdams for selling shoddy dialogue over a dueling edits. After recording a final message to his son, he drives off into the woods with Burris and Ares Security in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, Frank is taken hostage by the Mexicans. Turns out, they’re pissed about the club, in that it doesn’t exist anymore. As we saw earlier this season, these cartel guys interpret their agreements down to the letter. He tries to buy his freedom but when asked for his suit as well, Frank’s pride says no. A quick punch and struggle later, Frank’s been knifed in the side and left in the middle of the desert. Never one to die without a fight, he marches through hallucinations of his father, his first gang and finally Jordan. It’s her who tells him it’s over; he died a few feet back. An ignominious end for our self-hating gangster.
Ray struggles to upload his voice message to his son’s email while evading his paramilitary pursuers. He even manages to take a couple out along the way. I’ll admit, the one moment in this finale that was unequivocally great was my – and Ray’s – realization that his Episode 3 opening dream sequence, where his ghost dad told him he’d be shot dead among giant trees, was coming true. Ray put his phone down and met his maker, getting blown away by Burris and his Ares men. A quick shot on the phone at a tinge of unnecessary tragedy: the message didn’t send.
Despite eschewing the cosmic horror that made Season 1 so awesome, Pizzolatto chooses to indulge in quasi-psychic connections like when Woodrugh’s fiancee felt his death last week and again when Ani, on the boat bound for Venezuela, begins crying at the moment of Velcoro’s death.
Then we get a generic wrap-up montage. Like last season, while Caspere’s murderer and some conspirators are dead, the conspiracy itself remains alive and well. Ray is remembered as a fugitive and murderer. Tony Chessani succeeds his father as Vinci mayor. The railway corridor opens, with Catalast and the crooked interests still involved. Woodrugh gets a highway named after him. Ray’s ex-wife learns Chad’s paternity: Ray was indeed his biological father.
In Venezuela, Ani relates her story to a journalist, the same one Ray put the beat on for Frank in the season premiere. She leaves in his possession all the evidence, documents and recordings of the Californian rail corridor/sex party conspiracy. It’s revealed Ani did indeed follow through for Frank and met up with Jordan. She has a child and it’s revealed to be Ani and Ray’s. The two women, our only surviving protagonists, disappear into the night’s Day of the Dead celebration. “It’s your story now,” Ani said. “I told it.”
THE SUM OF ALL REELS:
The finale was symbolic of the show’s schizophrenic second season: scattershot and random with gleams of gold (as Frank might say) below the surface. Narrative momentum was nonexistent and the characters’ paralysis, by the corrupt forces around them and the corrupt forces within them, was echoed audibly in viewer discontent, including this reviewer.
I said from the beginning, the thing that made Season 1 stand out was the intense focus on tone of cosmic horror and the extrapolating nihilism that Cohle espoused. This year, the tone was all over the place. It was stifling, it was haunting, it was condescending but most egregiously, it was boring. I said a better tagline for the season would “Everybody hates everybody and nobody’s happy.” Whatever glimmers of hope were provided by the actors were undone by the writing and further pulverized by the shoddy direction/editing.
Instead of working in unison, the character work and the plot were at war with one another. With only so much storytelling oxygen in eight episodes, both were left suffocated by the others’ whooping breaths. Pizzolatto did something different with the second season, it’s true. It’s just so happens that his idea of “different” robbed the show of what made it special.
True Detective Season 2 Reviews:
- 2.1: The Western Book of the Dead
- 2.2: Night Finds You
- 2.3: Maybe Tomorrow
- 2.4: Down Will Come
- 2.5: Other Lives
- 2.6: Church in Ruins
- 2.7: Black Maps and Motel Rooms
- 2.8: Omega Station
Stay tuned for next week!
I will be reviewing HBO’s six-part miniseries Show Me a Hero, from The Wire‘s David Simon and led by rising star Oscar Isaac. Below is the trailer. And ss always, thank you sincerely for following me along on our journeys into the woods of television.