True Detective stayed bleak from start to finish. Our heroes/lovers, Ray Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides, got the confessions they needed for the case, as well as some well overdue commiseration. Frank Semyon, the gangster with a heart of gold, sent his wife, Jordan, to safety in Venezuela and got the sweet revenge he needed from the two-timing Osip Agranov. “Omega Station,” though, was a mess, even if it resolved every single mystery from Season 2. What the finale revealed, however, was exactly how unnecessary the mystery actually was.
The payoffs were unsatisfying at best. The set photographer, Lenny (remember that?), killed Ben Caspere (who was his father, in a Star Wars-ian twist) and shotgunned Ray wearing the bird mask. He was one of the two orphans from the 1992 diamond heist and executed some vigilante justice, taking out Caspere for his final joyride against his sister Laura’s wishes. Caspere’s death had been secondary for several episodes, making the reveal more routine than exciting. It also did not have to happen with mere minutes to go in the season.
True Detective sorely lacked dramatic irony. Throughout Season 2, Nic Pizzolatto rarely separated the perspectives of the viewers and the protagonists. The penultimate episode of Season 1, in contrast, set up a thrilling finale by showing us the killer before the cops knew who he was. At other moments, the interrogators kept information from Matthew McConnaughey’s Rust Cohle that they told to Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, and vice versa. It’s not a surprise that tensions rise when the audience sees danger before the characters step into trouble.
As it turns out, Season 2 was about corruption and the dangerous men who pull the strings behind the scenes. Not until Lieutenant Burris sucker-shot Paul Woodrugh from behind, however, did we know how lethal these aging Vinci higher-ups were. A couple of 23-year-old murder cases are laughable in the face of all the lives lost in Season 2, making the backstory convoluted and unimpressive. Still, the motives were very real. Once someone is willing to kill to save himself, the act far exceeds his inspiration. The at once rudimentary cop meetings at the Vinci offices could have been far more interesting had we known even a little bit about ‘92. Instead, we snoozed through moments that led to our characters’ ultimate respective demises.
And those endings varied in intensity and intrigue. Ray and Frank successfully stole the $12 million from the Russians and were nearly scot-free. But their respective tragic flaws prevented future happiness (or a future of any kind, for that matter). Ray couldn’t help but see his son (who, yes, is his real son) one more time before fleeing the country because he was wanted for several murders. His detour gave Burris and the city enough time to track him before a fatal shootout. Frank got robbed, once again, by the Mexican heroin gang, losing $1 million to them. Ultimately, his pride got him stabbed (he wouldn’t give up his suit), and he died alone in an off-highway desert. Ani survived, bearing Ray’s son and telling her story to a ponytailed New York Times writer.
Ray’s death was gut-wrenching, while Frank’s was mildly disappointing. Ray died with the entire state thinking he was a madman, even though we know his heroic truth. Frank, though, existed in the city’s underbelly, leaving only a saddened widow. With plenty of blood on his hands and a “fuck you” attitude that went with him to his grave, it’s hard to pity Frank.
True Detective is not a show of morals; it didn’t try to be. Season 2 centered around the world’s ever-present evils and the inability to change yourself, for better or worse: The bad guys won; Vinci will still thrive as a haven for corruption and greed. True Detective’s wrongdoings feel more matter-of-fact than criminal. We can understand that everybody and everything is wrong, but that, in and of itself, is not compelling.