This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 2 Episode 8
True Detective ended its second season exactly as it should and it’s somehow unsatisfying. The finale reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. In that film, three down-on-their-luck prospectors tap a vein of gold running off a mountain. They mine enough gold to last two of them the rest of their lives. We know that Frank C. Dobbs would probably blow it all and be down on his luck again, but he doesn’t make it to the end of the film. He is beheaded by a gang of Mexican desperadoes who kill him for his shoes and hat. The gold he and his comrades sweated for is scattered into the Mexican wind, blown back to the mountain where it belonged.
True Detective lets the bad guys win and leaves the heroes scattered in the wind just shy of the finish line. HBO has been promising this kind of ending for a while, longer than True Detective has been running. We’ve all been waiting for a series where not only is the case not solved, but where every character we’ve cared about not only loses but is decimated. It would have been satisfying if Felicia threw Detective Ani Bezziredes (Rachel McAdams) off the boat on the way to Venezuela and if Nails (Chris Kerson) hammered Semyon’s wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) before she got to put on her white dress.
But no, Ani gets to give evidence to a journalist that will clear everyone’s name and disappears into the South American landscape with Ray Velcoro’s (Colin Farrell) baby in a sack. Much like Curtain returns to California to pick peaches with a dead prospector’s wife. There is hope. True Detective could have taken away all hope. It had the power. You can’t accuse HBO of copping out, because the cops have all been outed, but by solving the case they limited the potential. When we saw the shadow government of Vinci, Calif., the new mayor, Tony Chessani, getting away with his crimes, that was a subversive victory. The darker forces prevail.
One thing True Detective taught viewers this season is that there are two sides to every debauchery and some of the victimized refuse to see themselves as victims. The woman Bezzerides rescued last week didn’t want to be rescued. She’d already escaped a life with her crazy sister. This episode opens with Ray and Ani confessing their sins. Ray admits he shot the person he thought raped his wife quickly because he wanted to do it before he got sick and that it wound up being the wrong guy.
Ani looks into the empty space of the four day black hole she experienced in the little cave in the trees and finds sympathy for the basest desires. She will never forgive herself the twinge of pride she felt before a man in a car turned the word “pretty” ugly for the rest of her life. When she gives Erica a second chance, it is because she sees a kindred spirit. Erica saw her mother executed and was turned into a whore by the man responsible, Ben Caspere, her father, which adds to the perversity of the situation. The deaths that followed, to Ani, are someone else’s crimes.
There are two wannabe-epic love stories being told this season. Vaughn and McAdams took entirely different meanings from the romantic comedy Wedding Crashers. Ani and Ray have their own code word for “I love you” like Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore have in Ghost. Instead of “ditto,” Bezziredes tells Velcoro she wouldn’t take out a restraining order out on him. That’s love for a hardened street cop. But the street thug Frank is more romantic. First he shows that he would martyr himself and all his jewelry for Jordan. Then he conjures up an underworld version of An Affair To Remember, envisioning how they would each be dressed in white, him with a red rose, at their reunions.
In the meantime we get to see a gangster go to the mattresses and learn that Lera Lynn basically lives in Frank’s club. She performs or rehearses whether there’s anyone at the bar or not, day or night. Vince Vaughn’s timing was perfect throughout this season. Tonight’s best line came right after Velcoro was scanning all the fire power the gangster had on the cots and Franks asks “got a minute?”
Frank is a nice guy at heart. He explains to the Mayor Austin Chessani’s (Ritchie Coster) young wife that she’d better get her Miss Ukraine prize money and lam it because Tony set her up to be the number one suspect in her husband’s death. When he gets Ray to come in with him on the drop takedown, he appeals to a sense of comradery that comes from a fuck-it-all desperation. That’s irresistible to a guy like Ray, especially when he’s feeling the guilt of the death of Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). Both Ani and Ray agree the young closeted highway patrolman was better than both of them and deserved respect and revenge.
Payback is a bitch on True Detective, but Frank and Ray’s takedown of Osip Agronov (Timothy V. Murphy) was a little too easy. They came heavy and left early. I do appreciate that all the usual explosion clichés were sidestepped. The camera kept teasing that we would see one of those scenes where someone is walking away from a camera and the entire background becomes flames, but it is just a tease and the actual explosions are handled more artfully by being played to just being efficient.
The conspiracy plot came to its fruition when the Chief Halloway tells Velcoro that the Chessani he works for is doing okay. The scope is laid out very matter-of-factly. But the chase scene with the tracker on Ray’s car was frustrating. Velcoro made the mistake of being too human to be patient for just a little while. Semyon told him to wait and he’d be able to send the kid to Harvard. But he could see a tracker light in a puddle. I don’t know what the puddle was doing there. California’s under drought watch and there shouldn’t be any runoff from watering lawns. At first I thought someone tampered with his gas tank.
True Detective’s “Omega Station” runs out of steam before it runs out of track. It keeps a good pace, but the ticket never gets punched. Like Dobbs in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Frank Semyon is killed for his suit by a Mexican gangster. The million dollars in cash that he stashed in his briefcase after the Russian takedown goes back to the mountains. The diamonds he exchanged for cash are left scattered to the wind. Ray Velcoro’s last text goes unanswered.
“Omega Station” was written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by John W. Crowley.