With no offense to those of you who actually enjoyed this second season, I sit here thanking the TV gods that ‘True Detective’ has finally wrapped up this story. No longer do I have to dread Sunday nights. No longer do I have to listen to that whiny lounge singer and her depressing music. Did the finale live up to expectations? Well, let’s just say that after eight long weeks, most of these dreadfully uninteresting characters got the fate they deserved.
The final episode extended the normal running time to a 90-minute presentation, which would imply that a whole lot more was packed into the story. Not really. It just provided more room for several drawn-out conversations between characters, starting right at the beginning when Ani and Ray – who have just spent the night in bed – tell each other about their dark pasts. Ani admits to Ray that when she was taken out into the woods by a stranger as a kid (presumably for sexual reasons) she was never forced to do it and, in fact, was happy that someone thought she was pretty. Ray tells Ani about the guy he killed who he later found out didn’t actually rape his wife. I check my watch wondering if this opening scene is ever going to end.
The long conversation between Ray and Ani is followed by an equally long bit of bickering back and forth between Frank and Jordan. Frank wants her to take $100,000 and wait for him at a predetermined rendezvous spot. Jordan wants to stay with him. After the two hurl their wedding rings out the door, and after a good additional five minutes of needless exposition, it’s decided that, yes, Jordan will indeed take the $100,000 and leave. I check my watch again. Is this thing broken?
With his wife finally out of town, Frank can now set his end game in motion. It begins with a visit to the mayor’s house, where he finds His Honor floating face-down in the pool. An empty bottle of medication is nearby, suggesting a suicide, although Frank believes that the mayor’s son, Tony, is responsible. He tells the mayor’s drugged-up wife that he hoped she saved that “Miss Ukraine money.”
Ray learns about Paul’s death over the phone from Burris, to whom Ray tells (stupidly?) that he knows exactly what he did and what he’s been up to. After Ray relates the news to Ani, the two realize that they don’t have much to go on. But wait! What about those orphaned kids from the jewelry robbery? The ones whose picture we’ve been shown almost every week, but no one felt the need to follow up on until now? The two decide that before they head out of town, they’ll try to track down the orphans, who should now be fully grown.
This leads the pair to a house where, once inside, they see the mysterious crow’s mask sitting on a mantle, and find photographs hung up of some of the corrupt police detectives. They hear a girl yelling, and find Erica – the female orphan – handcuffed to the fireplace’s mantle. She spills the beans to Ani and Ray, telling about how she became one of Caspere’s call girls, and how her brother Len took Caspere to question him about his connection with their mother, but things got out of hand and Len wound up killing him. That’s right, viewers, after eight weeks of this, the true killer is someone (aside from a photo of him as a kid) that we’ve never seen before on-screen. Brilliant plotting there, Mr. Pizzolatto. Oh, Erica also mentions the stolen hard drive. When Ray asks what was on it, Erica says they tried to look but it “self-erased.” So, you know, that was just a huge series-long MacGuffin.
Ray dresses up as a cowboy (I kid you not) and heads to a train station where he’s learned Len is going to meet with Police Chief Holloway about exchanging the hard drive for the stolen diamonds. (Len really plans to kill Holloway. The hard drive is empty.) Ray gets to Len first, however, and convinces the boy to let him handle the meeting. When Holloway shows up, he and Ray take a seat opposite Len (so he can hear the entire conversation) and start talking shop. Ray convinces Holloway that he has the missing hard drive in a bag (plus all the files he’s gathered on the police corruption) and wants to exchange it for his freedom and clearing his name.
The conversation then turns to Caspere. Holloway tells Ray that the reason Caspere was so interested in the orphans’ mother is because Caspere had an affair with the woman and Erica is actually Caspere’s daughter. This news sends Len into a range and he goes after Holloway with a knife, stabbing him repeatedly. Burris and some other corrupt cops, who’ve been watching just out of sight, fire a few rounds into Len, but they’re such good marksmen that they shoot Holloway in the process as well. While the shootout is going on, Ani rushes in to help Ray and the two are able to escape together. They head to a hiding place in Frank’s bar – you know, the one with the worst lounge singer ever – where Frank is also holed up.
Before the trio attempt to make their way out of town, Frank and Ray conduct a nighttime raid on a cabin where the Russian Osip is meeting with businessman McCandless. After killing the guards outside, Frank and Ray throw gas canisters into the cabin and then come in shooting. Frank gets the pleasure of filling both McCandless and Osip with bullets. He and Ray then pack up the vast amount of cash that was in the cabin. While they’re tying up this loose end, Ani makes her way to the plastic surgeon Dr. Pitlor’s residence, where she finds him in a chair with his wrists slashed. Is it suicide or has he been whacked? We never learn, but I’m guessing it’s probably the latter.
The remainder of the finale focuses on these lead characters trying to make it out of Vinci unscathed. While Ani stays behind at Frank’s bar to prepare for a boat departure to Venezuela, Ray can’t help himself and decides to pay his son a visit one last time before splitting. This turns out to be a huge mistake as – upon returning to his car – he notices that someone has stuck a transponder (which I confess I originally thought was a bomb) under his car for tracking.
This is where things get rather stupid. Instead of removing it or stealing another car, Ray actually waits around for a long time and then hops in the car and drives off. Of course, it isn’t long before he has someone on his tail. The show never answers the question of how they tracked Ray to his kid’s school in the first place. My only guess is they thought he might show up there.
Frank is also heading out of town when he finds himself boxed in by a pair of cars. Some badass henchmen hijack his ride and drive him out to the middle of the desert. It’s the Mexicans (the ones who cut a deal with him to sell drugs at his clubs) who are upset about Frank torching his establishments (although they don’t seem to know he’s responsible). When it looks like all that’s going to happen is that the Mexicans will take Frank’s money and leave him in the middle of the desert, Frank makes a stupid comment about needing a ride back to town. When one of the Mexicans decides that he wants Frank’s suit, Frank gets even more stupid and hits the guy – which results in Frank getting stabbed in the side and the Mexicans driving away. Now bleeding to death and all alone, Frank tries to make the long walk back to civilization. Along the way, he hallucinates about people, starting with his father and ending with his wife, Jordan, who points out that he didn’t make it very far. Frank turns around and sees his dead body lying in the desert, which results in him collapsing dead.
Intercut with the above scene is Ray’s escape. After calling Ani to make sure she gets on that boat, he races into California’s redwood forest, for seemingly no other reason than that it’s a nice visual spot for a finale. He’s been trying to send his son a final voice message over his cell phone, but Verizon apparently doesn’t cover this area very well and there’s no signal. Ray ditches the car and his share of the money and takes off on foot into the woods, where he gets into a chase and shootout with Burris and some of his men. Ray manages to take some of them out, but finally bites the big one and is killed in a flurry of bullets. Sadly, no rubber buckshot was used this time around. Even sadder is the fact that Ray’s phone was never able to send his final message to his son.
Ani is the only one of the three to get away, making her boat trip without any further incident. In a coda of quick scenes, we learn the new mayor is Tony Chessani, the son of the now-deceased previous mayor; a highway has been named after Paul Woodrugh; and the high speed rail deal has gone through. The biggest reveal, however, is a moment where Ray’s ex-wife gets her paternity test back in the mail and it shows that Ray was almost assuredly their son’s father.
The final scene has Ani in Venezuela turning over all her Vinci files to a reporter who’s working on the corruption story. She then goes to meet Jordan, who’s holding a baby that turns out to belong to Ani. The implication here is that this is also Ray’s son, the product of their one-night stand in the motel. (You’d think a girl as wild as Ani would be on the pill, but I digress…)
It’s perhaps no surprise that after a first season in which Nic Pizzolatto was occasionally criticized for his portrayal of female characters, that the final two main characters left standing at the end of Season 2 are two of the female leads. Even less surprising is the demise of both Frank and Ray, as their endings were foreshadowed rather obviously throughout this episode. While their respective demises here are well-shot (if not well-thought-out), it’s a shame that the prior episodes didn’t get us to care about their characters more and, hence, result in an ending that would have more emotional impact on viewers.
Overall, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Season 2 of ‘True Detective’ was a disappointment – less for some viewers than others, but a huge letdown for me. I thought the first season of this series was some of the best TV I’d seen in years, and while Season 2 may not have been the worst thing on TV in 2015, it will certainly go down as one of the biggest disappointments.
For those of you who are really into this kind of depressing storytelling that goes nowhere and features characters you don’t care about, I’ve got good news: HBO’s ‘The Leftovers‘ is coming back in October!