'True Detective' Season 2 Finale: (Almost) No One Here Gets Out Alive

The HBO series closes out its second season with a bleak finale.
HBO

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of True Detective.]

The first season of True Detective ended on a surprisingly up note, given all the nihilist philosophy espoused by one of its leads.

Season two? The light definitely did not win.  

Sunday's finale of the HBO anthology played largely true to the story it had told for the previous seven hours. Which meant that anyone looking for some hail-Mary ending by which everyone made it to Venezuela was left sorely disappointed.

A show deeply concerned with how its male characters project their masculinity ended with only women surviving. Ani (Rachel McAdams) does in fact get to South America to meet up with Jordan (Kelly Reilly but neither of them is with the man she wanted to meet there.

Frank (Vince Vaughn), having executed his plan to take out Osip (Timothy V. Murphy) and McCandless (Jon Lindstrom), fails to realize the loose end he left with the Mexican drug dealers he bargained with earlier in the season and pays with his life in the desert. 

Frank offers the $1 million in his suitcase for his freedom, but can't abide giving up his suit -- and the diamonds he's carrying int it -- to one of the dealers. For that he gets stabbed in the gut and walks to his death past visions of his horrible father and other low points in his life, only to fall short of a dream of Jordan.

Ray (Colin Farrell) dies too, but his demise comes off better. He makes the fatal mistake of wanting to see his son (who, it's revealed in the closing montage, really is his son) one last time, which allows Burris (James Frain) to place a tracker on his car. After leading Burris and his goons on a chase into the forest, Ray goes down Wild Bunch-style in a barrage of bullets, while his final audio message to Chad fails to make it to its destination.

The two deaths capped off a somewhat oddly paced finale that spent its first third or so laying out the ins and outs of the Caspere murder case that kicked off the season.

As the Internet did between episode seven and the finale, Ray puts together that Lenny the movie-set photographer (Luke Edwards) was the second orphan from the 1992 diamond heist Caspere, Burris and Vinci PD Chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami) were involved in. And yes, Len and his sister Laura (Courtney Halverson) killed Caspere, which in turn set off the investigation into Vinci, Caspere's present-day corruption and the dirty rail corridor deal.

Len is planning to kill Holloway at an exchange of Caspere's (blank, self-erasing) hard drive and the diamonds. Ray and Ani try to dissuade him, and Ray takes his place at the meet. It almost works, until Holloway tells Ray that Laura is actually Caspere's daughter. Len, sitting behind them, flies into a rage and stabs Holloway, and the resulting chaos ends with both of them shot dead, Burris winged and Ani and Ray on the lam.

With the Caspere story (finally) closed, the remainder of the finale turns to the rot the murder uncovered. While Ray helps Frank take vengeance on the people who took his money and interest in the rail deal, Ani goes to Pitlor's (Rick Springfield) compound in search of evidence about the orgies. She's too late: Pitlor is "suicided," as she puts it, and his files cleaned out.

As Frank goes about tying up his business, he neglects to make the Mexicans whole for burning down the clubs. They carjack him and lead him to the bleakest patch of desert you could possibly imagine, where the aforementioned suit leads to his downfall.

Frank's slow walk to his death does provide a strong final showcase for Vaughn. Actor and character really seemed to mesh in the last few episodes; had there been more of that spark initially, Frank's machinations might have played better.

With Ray and Frank dead, the show cuts to Venezuela a year-plus later. Ani lays out the story for a reporter, and the audience sees that the larger corruption she and her cohorts fought against continues unchecked. Orgy organizer Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado) is sworn in as mayor of Vinci with Burris at his side; now-Gov. Geldof (C.S. Lee) drives a ceremonial spike on the rail line with Catalyst logos behind and above him.

Ani and Ray's hookup also produced a baby, which she, Jordan and Frank's loyal goon Nails (Chris Kerson) are now raising (#TrueDetectiveSeason3?). It's meant to add some extra poignancy to Ray's death, but it's more of a "Really?" considering they were together just that one time.

There were more than a few moments like that during season two of True Detective, along with, to be fair, a number of good things as well (in particular, the performances of Farrell and McAdams and the wary way they approached Ray and Ani's relationship). They helped carry the show through moments when the mystery at its center was too murky to make much sense at all, but the overly convoluted case and the pulped-out dialogue too often held sway. If HBO and Nic Pizzolatto decide to do another season, throttling back on both measures would be a good idea.

What did you think of the True Detective finale, and season two as a whole?

Aug. 10, 6:45 a.m.: The story has been updated to note, as several readers pointed out, that Frank was carrying diamonds in his suit during his standoff with the drug dealers, hence his unwillingness to part with it.

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