Well, we did it. We made it all the way through the eight and half hours of “True Detective” season two. It’s been a long, hard summer for Nic Pizzolatto and Team True Detective; a summer full of ups, downs, and plenty of social media snark. But if there’s one thing in their favor, people were certainly talking. No such thing as bad publicity, right?
The season was all over the place in terms of quality. From scene to scene, performer to performer, TDS2 sometimes seemed like it was many different shows stitched together. This remained true in the ninety minute finale. The first hour was a hot, tangled mess that seemed more like a particularly dark and pretentious episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” while the back thirty minutes were probably the most brilliant of the entire season. From Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) saluting his son, to Frank (Vince Vaughn) confronting his demons in the desert, the latter half stood strong. The marked difference in quality is definitely attributed to the writing, the first half marred by those pesky, confusing info-dumps and guesswork that stands for detective-ing in this show.
Director John Crowley did beautiful work, particularly in Ray and Frank’s final confrontations with the world, themselves, and nature—Ray in redwoods and Frank in the desert. For a show with California as a backdrop, these scenes were epic showcases of its diverse landscape, and felt like classic, monumental moments in cinema. That being said, I do have a personal bone to pick with the complete mangling of state geography that has been consistent throughout—if he got off the freeway at Laurel Canyon to salute little Chad at recess, there’s no way he would have been in a redwood forest by the time the email to firstname.lastname@example.org didn’t go through at 3:21.
Ray’s shootout in the trees—and how ironic that the first line of the episode was Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) uttering “trees,” in bed with Ray—was like something out of a classic ‘70s Western, his final reckoning with his son, with his choices, with the system he could never change. Hair and bullets flying, it was the only way for Velcoro to go out.
As for Frank, his trail of blood and tears led him through the desert, where he confronted old demons, finally alone, but never really. Crowley’s cinematography of the desert was truly beautiful, and the scenes really worked, illuminating Frank and his past in a way we never knew him.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because those two scenes were a gift at the end of 60 minutes of mumbly, macguffin-y nonsense. We’ve still got to solve the murder of who killed Caspere: was it Osip (Timothy V. Murphy)? Was it the Mexican gangsters? Was it Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado)? NOPE. It was the set photographer. Straight TROLLING on Pizzolatto’s part.
In a bit of post-coital brainstorming (and Lord, do not get me started on Bezzerides’ bizarre speech about her childhood rapist, suffice to say, Pizzolatto, please consult a woman the next time you want to write about rape, abortion, or sex work), a lightbulb goes off over Ray’s head after he speaks to Burris, fresh from icing Woodrugh, informing him that his colleague is dead and Ray is going to take the fall. Somehow, Ray manages to put together that Leonard, one of the children orphaned in the ’92 cop diamond murder-robbery, was the set photographer on the film and perhaps he has something to do with this.
At Leonard’s house they find the bird mask, photos of all involved, and his sister Laura, former high end escort and Caspere’s business manager/assistant/gal Friday. She blurts out their life story, how she infiltrated Caspere via Tasha, and that she and her brother tortured him to get info on who killed their parents. The torture went too far and oops, Leonard killed him. Not to mention that Len is on his way to bring the (accidentally erased) hard drive to Capt. Holloway (Afemo Omilami) at a train station in exchange for diamonds.
Honestly, none of this is important. It all goes down so quickly and we soon realize that it doesn’t matter! This show is not about who killed Caspere, or corrupt police, or the dishonorable Vinci. It is about fathers and sons, internal struggles and striving to do right by your own code, man. Velcoro puts on cowboy drag and attempts to hijack the drop at the train station in order to clear his own name in exchange for the hard drive and documents, while secretly recording Holloway who confirms the intricate web of corruption. A shootout out/stabbing ensues when Holloway lets slip that Caspere is the father of the orphaned siblings. Holloway shoots Leonard, and cops shoot Holloway in the chaos. The recording device is stepped on in the stampede and destroyed in the melee.
Meanwhile, Frank is crossing his T’s and dotting his I’s to get up out of Dodge. In a scene with Jordan (Kelly Reilly) at the train station, he first tries to break up with her like most people try to get rid of dogs in 1980s movies—“go on, get out of here, I don’t even like you anyway!” But Jordan doesn’t buy it, and she’s going to stand by her man, because that is what she does. In a touching moment, the two talk about how they are going to meet up in Venezuela in two weeks (or less), but you can tell that it’s just a moment of fleeting fantasy for them both, not a promise.
Frank holes up in the secret apartment upstairs from his bar, the Black Rose, and invites Ray and Ani over. It’s the first time two major characters have seen or interacted with each other (Ani and Frank) and the exchange is about tits and dignity. Fantastic. Frank gets Ray to join him in blowing up the Osip deal, and they all plan to meet up on the boat to Venezuela, with Felicia (Yara Martinez), the scarred bar maid, as their sherpa.
As Ray and Frank arm up with tear gas and machine guns, Bezzerides sneaks into Pitlor’s (Rick Springfield) clinic and finds his suicided body and not a single document. Earlier, Frank also found Mayor Chessani’s (Ritchie Coster) body floating in the pool, the result of an argument with son Tony about the Hooker Parties, his apparent suicide a murder cover up.
In a flash and a bang, Frank and Ray smoke out the Russian gangsters in the cabin and ice Osip, even though his last words to Frank were “you’re like my son.” The whole heist just seems relatively easy, but that’s because we have to get to the good parts. It’s never going to be this easy in Vinci.
Ray is getting soft in this episode, coming close to saying sweet nothings to Bezzerides on the phone. He has to know that it can’t work out like this, a sweet life running away to Venezuela with a beautiful and mean lady cop like Bezzerides. He comes close to believing that it might happen, almost getting giggly at one point, but on his way back to get on the boat, he just can’t do it without going to see his son one more time, and he pulls off at Laurel Canyon to take a peek at the playground.
What follows is one of the best scenes in the series, and truly, the best scenes have been with Ray and Chad (Trevor Larcom) since the first episode. Farrell seems to turn on in these scenes, to appear to wake up from the usual whiskey-sleepy mumbly mumbo jumbo Ray’s usually going on about. Father and son give each other a quick little salute across the yard, and it’s perfect.
Of course, Ray then finds a transponder under his car. This fatherhood stuff, man! Gets ya every time. He calls Bezzerides again, and promises to catch up, saying “I could lose these assholes with a tricycle,” but then he tells Felicia he’s not going to make it. He speeds off into the redwoods for his final bow, recording life advice to Chad in vain.
RIP Ray. You were the best damn thing about this show. After his death, we see his father, reacting to the news of his son’s demise, spun to look like a wing-nut cop on the loose case (shades of Christopher Dorner?). We see the results of the paternity test, and yes, in the case of Chad, Ray Velcoro, YOU ARE THE FATHER.
Frank finds himself in a similar pickle after picking up all of his travel needs. Diamonds? Check. Forged passport? Check. Admiral’s Club membership? Check. Despite his meticulous planning, it’s a damn carjacking that brings him down. A simple smash and grab by some silent, but impeccably costumed Mexican thugs. They bring him to the desert, where his club drug dealers are mad they don’t have a place to sell their drugs anymore. Frank appeases them with the cool million he has in his suitcase, and all would be fine, if he didn’t ask for a ride, if that guy didn’t ask for his suit, if Frank hadn’t punched him in the face, if they hadn’t stabbed him in the ribs. Now Frank’s limping back, egged on with visions of everyone who wronged him along the way—his father, the ‘80s Chicago street gang, the first man he killed. His last vision is Jordan in the white dress, and she tells him he fell down a long time ago.
With our trio of men down in flames, what’s left?
Well, we get to pay a visit the fun-loving Venezuela, where every night’s a street carnival! Bezzerides drops every drop of evidence in the lap of a New York Times reporter and peaces out. But not before she grabs Jordan, Nails and her BABY, no doubt a little piece of Velcoro, with that spiky head of black hair.
With lil baby Velcoro on to further adventures with his mom in South America, the season ends with what it was really about all along—the burdens and joys and struggles of men trying to be fathers. Revisiting Velcoro Sr. in a moment of reckoning with his own son and seeing Frank confront his horrible father in his last hours only serves to emphasize this theme. There are those symbolic father figures too, like Osip and Frank, Frank and Nails. And of course, there are those murderous relationships between fathers and sons like Tony and Austin Chessani. Tony, who had but one memorable scene in the whole of the season, taking over his dad’s position. It’s the revelation that Caspere was his true father that drives Leonard to madness, having unknowingly tortured and killed his own father in a cruel, Oedipal twist. Those fathers that never could be and the fathers that never will be, like Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) the first sacrificial lamb, a highway now dedicated in his honor.
Ultimately, it was a mixed finale, an episode that let the intermittent strengths of the season soar to new heights, while still bogged down in the serious plotting issues that bedeviled it consistently: exposition speeches, info-dumps, characters picked up and dropped from moment to moment. In many ways, this season was a bait and switch, and Pizzolatto is quite the con, but at least it was a con worth talking about.
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