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‘True Detective’s Second Season Ends With a Disastrous Finale

'True Detective's Second Season Ends With a Disastrous Finale

Nic Pizzolatto stans raised objections early on in “True Detective’s” second season that critics were judging the show too harshly, too early: You wouldn’t review a novel based on the first few chapters, and you shouldn’t review a miniseries until the end. Well, it’s all over now, and if anything, those early reviews seem kind. Far from redeeming the season, “Omega Station” drove it into a ditch. The 90-minute finale was sluggish and distended, with multiple scenes where characters explained the season’s convoluted plot in detail and a tortured climax that dragged out well past the point where suspense became inadvertent comedy.

Read more: Stop Comparing TV Shows to Novels. It’s Not a Compliment.

Nic Pizzolatto may not have enjoyed sharing power with director Cary Fukunaga on “True Detective’s” first season, but its second suffered mightily for the lack of anyone with the power to challenge him. Many of “Omega Station’s” scenes felt like first-draft placeholders, rife with stock confrontations and half-written dialogue. The tender train-station farewell between gangster Frank Seymon (Vince Vaughn) and his wife (Kelly Reilly) was genuinely staggering in its awfulness, combining the series’ two weakest performances — Reilly’s attempts at hardened determination look more like the perpetual squint of a woman who’s forgotten her glasses — with hackneyed lyricism that Pizzolatto lacks both the skill and the conviction to bring off. (“I’ll be wearing a red rose”: Seriously, dude?)

As bad as “True Detective’s” big picture has been this season, it’s also been shockingly inept with small details, like Frank’s duplicated shopping list or the misspelling of the pivotal Catalyst Group’s name, or the fact that the series’ mysterious killer leaves his murder paraphernalia in plain view from outside his apartment and arrives at a rendezvous he intends to turn violent wielding a chef’s knife. They’re minor failings, but they add up, and contribute to the overall sense that no one is minding the store. (Update: Fair’s fair, the “Catalast Group” spelling is at least consistent within the show’s world. Still doesn’t explain why no one pronounces it that way.) 

“Omega Station” neatly undid whatever goodwill Pizzolatto might have built up by adding Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides to the cast of a show that had been criticized for limiting women to minor roles, sidelining its knife-wielding pseudo-protagonist for the series’ final half-hour as the men carried out their errands of vengeance. Given that Frank and Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro both ended up dead — Ray couldn’t even manage to upload a simple voice message to his son (chadvelcoro@gmail.com) in his final moments — you could argue that the women come out with the better end of the deal, but it further underlined Pizzolatto’s inability to put female characters at the center of his story. Ani survives, but in the end, her primary importance is to carry both Ray’s baby, the spawn of their single sexual encounter, and the story of his heroism, which she bequeaths to the Los Angeles Times reporter Ray once beat up on Frank’s behalf. After that, all that’s left for her to do is vanish in the crowd.

There will no doubt be a revisionist movement that seeks to redeem “True Detective’s” second season as underrated, unfairly held to the standards of its first or damned for being something it never wanted to be. Don’t fall for it. It was terrible, and it got worse as it went along. Pizzolatto is a skilled literary magpie: In season one, he borrowed, and sometimes outright stole, from Thomas Ligotti and Alan Moore; in season two, he threw the history of California noir — James Ellroy, “High Sierra,” “Chinatown” — into a blender and hit purée, throwing a few undisguised chunks of “The Long Goodbye” into the mix for good measure. But the mixture never set, and what we were left with was undifferentiated good, occasionally well-acted and well-directed, but never better than a mess. 

Reviews of “True Detective,” Season 2, Episode 8: “Omega Station”

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

“Omega Station” was all the sins of season 2 writ large. It offered long swaths of action that made little sense, followed by awkward exposition dumps. It was self-serious to the point of self-parody. The characters were so sketchily written that there was almost no impact when several of them died. And even having to wrap up a plot so convoluted that Slate’s Willa Paskin needed over 4000 words to properly explain it earlier this week, the finale had no business being this long. Almost every scene felt padded in a way designed to give extra weight to characters and plot developments too flimsy to support it, and what was intended as literary crime fiction in the vein of James Ellroy instead played like pulp fiction that had very badly overreached.

Brian Lowry, Variety

Despite rallying marginally at the end, the encore to the acclaimed limited series that paired Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson proved a major disappointment – not just compared to the original, but on its own turgid terms. It’s hard to say if the concept is mortally wounded – the beauty of self-contained series, beyond opening casting doors, is the opportunity to start from scratch – but ultimately, this was to film noir what bad imitation Hemingway is to Hemingway.

Sean T. Collins, Rolling Stone

Could this final hour-plus have been salvaged? Sure, why not. Trim a whole bunch of bloat, give Frank a more reasonable reason to go down swinging, and you’ve got yourself a send-off that might have redeemed the season. Instead, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto delivered a frustrating finale that tried to have its catharsis cake and mute it too. He allowed many of its main characters to go down in an unironic blaze of glory, then insisted it was all more or less pointless. A show that has spent its entire existence straddling both sides of the self-parody line just doesn’t have the control required to pull off that contrast. It felt like a celebration of macho genre nonsense rather than an examination of it.

Chris Ryan, Grantland

Clarity is an overrated component of storytelling. James Ellroy’s “The Big Nowhere,” Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” and David Peace’s “Nineteen Seventy-Seven” are three of my favorite crime novels, and I don’t think I could explain their plots with a gun to my head. What matters in crime fiction is feeling. It’s attitude, atmosphere, dialogue, mood. It’s the idea of one or more individuals going up against institutions of great power. It’s the idea that the underworld exists, right in front of you, all the time, and you just have to look. For all the smoky bars, mid-century modern houses, poker rooms, and trips up north, “True Detective’s” second season had no sense of place. Somehow they set a crime show in Los Angeles and made Los Angeles seem boring. This was a failure of writing, which relied too often on telling and not showing, and it was a failure of the revolving door of directors behind the camera.

David Sims, The Atlantic

I do think Pizzolatto was aiming to essay some grand tale of the dark heart of Californian bureaucracy, surreptitious land grabs, and misused government money, but it was told entirely in the footnotes. That’s “True Detective” season two: Some hackneyed personal melodrama, and to find out the rest of the plot, please consult the appendices. Mr. Pizzolatto, if you’re considering producing a third season, may I suggest a slightly slimmer volume next time? Just a couple of gumshoes, a real villain with actual motivations, and an atmospheric setting. The rest takes care of itself.

Sonia Saraiya, Salon

Really: What was the point of “True Detective” season two, besides Nic Pizzolatto had eight hours to fill and a big budget to spend? I don’t mean to be rancorous, here; I’m honestly wondering. There are ways in which the season attempted to uncover some contradictions of masculinity — some fundamental trials of femininity, too — but it typically lost the thread in the layers and layers of its dysfunction. It’s possible to see what Pizzolatto was trying to accomplish — if anything, “True Detective” season two is an argument against men, and for (white) women, as every man dies, and it’s the women who move forward to inherit the (flawed) earth. But it’s also quite clear that on a network that has showcased some of the best television of our generation — that, indeed, has built a pedigree around reliably incredible programming — this is barely coherent TV, let alone good TV. 

Ben Travers, Indiewire

Nic Pizzolatto needed a strong kicker to end a weak season, and killing off characters — who won’t be coming back next year anyway — is the easiest way to do so. The same advice could apply to Ray, Ani and Frank as to their creator: the easiest way out is rarely the right way.

Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair

It was encouraging this season when True Detective, seemingly in response to the lack of female agency in Season 1, gave us Ani Bezzerides. And for all her flaws (did she actually say in this episode that she felt proud, as a child, of being pretty enough to attract a molester?), the character often rose above the macho, pulpy confusion to give viewers someone to latch onto and root for. But the show tipped its hand at its masculine agenda when it placed more emphasis on Ray’s virility (he fathered two sons, don’t you know!) than it did the resolution of Ani’s journey.

Jeremy Egner, New York Times

In the end, it was the women who made it out alive — Ani, Jordan, even Laura the diamond orphan — which seemed to scan as an indictment of the World Men Have Made. The closing moments showed Ani and Jordan wandering through a sea of celebration and fellowship, a marked contrast to the endless highways and bleak industrial landscapes that appeared throughout the season. Did posing South American verve as the antidote to cold American greed seem like reductive exoticism? A bit. And while it did seem meaningful that the women got out, they did so mostly because men told them to.

Katie Walsh, The Playlist

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. 

Kenny Herzog, Vulture

This iteration of “True Detective” as a whole oriented, disoriented, and then reoriented us to its environment and ethos with lurid detours into genre storytelling and sobering cause and effect on real lives. It wasn’t always coherent, and it could be unintentionally comical, but it’s hard not to walk away having received the message (as presidential campaigns gear up, no less) that if we don’t want more Vincis to take root and prosper, it is indeed time to wake up.

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