I think few would argue that the penultimate episode of ‘True Detective’ this season is one of the best. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t rank this week’s episode as a great hour of TV by any definition of the phrase, but as far as what we’ve been treated to this season, this entry is far more entertaining and coherent than most.
After escaping the sex party with Vera, the trio of Ray, Ani and Paul hole up in a pair of motel rooms. Paul looks over the documents he took from the party and finds a lot of familiar names on it, including Vinci’s mayor Austin Chessani. Paul then gets an anonymous text with photos of him making out with his gay Army buddy from several episodes back (who yours truly actually misidentified as a different character in my recap, which shows just how hard it’s been to keep track of characters on this show). Meanwhile, Frank tells his wife Jordan about the new deal with the Mexicans, informing her that they’re going to be selling drugs out of his club.
This week’s episode is all about our main characters planning their end game. They realize that they’re very close to cracking the case, but also realize that the powerful men behind it will stop at nothing to make sure that doesn’t happen. Paul moves both this fiancée and his mother into a motel room for their safety, while Ani gets assistance from Detective Ilinca to get both her sister and her father into hiding.
The best scenes in this episode involve Frank, who first meets with Ray (at his casino this time instead of that dreary bar) and learns all about the names uncovered in the documents, including his lieutenant Blake Churchman and the Russian mobster Osip Agronov. After Ray leaves, Frank breaks his casino dealer’s table in anger. He then sets up a meeting with Blake in his office. Frank tells Blake that he knows all about what he’s been up to, including the fact that he killed Stan. After Frank smashes a glass against the side of Churchman’s head, he starts spilling the beans. Blake doesn’t deny killing Stan, although he says that nobody knows who killed Ben Caspere. Blake informs Frank that Osip has been positioning himself to take over all of Frank’s holdings, and that he has already majority interest in all of Frank’s properties in Vinci, including his club and his casino. Blake then pleads for his life, telling Frank that he can now work undercover for him. Frank responds to this idea by shooting Blake and letting him bleed to death on his office floor.
Afterwards, Frank gets a visit in the casino’s bar area from Osip, who tells Frank everything he already knows about the Russian taking over his businesses. Frank plays it cool and even accepts Osip’s offer of staying on to manage the casino. Of course, Frank really has other ideas. He makes arrangements around town, including getting a pair of passports and plane tickets out of the country. Returning to the casino, Frank tells security to evacuate the place because a gas leak has been detected. He takes all the money out of his safe and then starts a real gas leak. He then goes to his club and takes all his money out of the safe there and sets fire to the place. Our last shot of Frank in this episode has him overlooking the city and watching his establishments burn.
With Ani being sought by the police for killing a security guard at the sex party, and Paul being framed with compromising photographs, Ray realizes that he’s in deep trouble too when he goes to meet with State Attorney Davis to show her some of the evidence they’ve obtained, but finds her shot dead in her car. Ray quickly figures out that he’s going to be framed for her murder, guessing she was shot with one of his police-issued guns.
Paul gets another text message with more photos and instructions to meet at a certain location. Paul decides to go, but when he gets to the location, he places a call to Ray back at the motel to let him know he may be heading into something dangerous. This is one of a couple convenient things in this week’s script that bothered me, as the only reason this call takes place at all is so that Ray has knowledge of what happens to Paul. Why didn’t Paul tell Ray this before? Because Ray and Ani could have backed him up, that’s why. The script needs Paul to be there alone, but it also needs Ray to have an idea of what happened, so this is what viewers are asked to swallow.
Anyway, when Paul gets to the meeting, he’s greeted by his gay Army buddy, who (once again, conveniently) turns out has been working at least semi-knowingly for the bad guys. Paul is taken inside an abandoned building, where he meets with Police Chief Holloway, who wants Paul to turn over the documents he has. Paul manages to get Holloway’s gun and hold him hostage with it just long enough to make a break. During the chase that follows, Paul kills a number of the men pursuing him, but his Army pal is also killed in the process. Just when it looks like Paul might get out of there alive, he’s shot through the back by Lieutenant Burris, who then finishes Paul off with a fatal shot. Unlike Ray’s shooting earlier this season, there’s no doubt that Paul is dead. (Pardon the Beatles pun.)
There’s just one more thing about this week’s show I should mention, and it’s the thing that bothered me the most. For whatever reason, Nic Pizzolatto felt the need to turn Ray and Ani into a romantic couple at the conclusion of this episode, which seems to go against everything we know so far about these two characters. Unless Ani confesses at the outset of the finale that she was just using Ray for sex and/or Ray admits that they have no future together, I’m not buying this coupling for a second.
It will be interesting to see if some of the stuff talked about all season long will play any part in the 90-minute (really, HBO, you haven’t tortured me enough?) finale next Sunday. I’m guessing we won’t get a very good (if any) explanation about what that crow’s mask was all about. (It’s all but been forgotten.) I also wonder if we’ll ever learn what was on that hard drive that Frank’s been so anxious to get his hands on for McCandless (who didn’t appear this week, but I still think is the man behind Caspere’s death), but wasn’t even mentioned this week. I’m sure we’ll hear more about the two orphaned kids from the diamond heist they keep talking about on the series. I haven’t really mentioned them in these recaps because of how unimportant the series has made them – which, naturally, means those two kids (who would now be fully grown) are probably behind everything.
If I had my own choice for how this season ends, it would be with Rust Cohle waking up in the hospital and Marty Hart telling him that it was just all a bad dream.