'True Detective' Episode 2 Discussion: It's a Shame About Ray, or Maybe Not

Colin Farrell, True Detective Still - H 2015

Colin Farrell, True Detective Still - H 2015

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for episode two of True Detective's second season.]

So, is he or isn't he?

That's the primary question fans and reviewers had following the end of episode two of True Detective. The final scene showed a man wearing a bird headdress shooting Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) twice with a shotgun — the second time at point-blank range.

It looked for all the world like a foundation-shaking swerve in the show, killing a central character a quarter of the way through the season. On the other hand, a number of viewers (including The Live Feed) noted that the show would be losing its best-developed character thus far.

Whether you believe Ray is dead or alive, though, the consensus after the episode was that almost no one saw it coming.

In a way, "Night Finds You" played in part like a classic character-death episode. The season premiere painted Ray as one of the more unrepentantly awful characters in recent memory — a corrupt, violent drunk who's awful to his own (possibly not biological) son.

The roughest of those edges are smoothed in episode two, however, in much the way that shows tend to turn the spotlight on characters who are about to be offed, filling in details of their lives that a series never bothered to include before.

Ray is still badly compromised in his job in "Night Finds You," but he comes (partially) clean to his task force partner Ani (Rachel McAdams) about his problems and makes some headway on the Ben Caspere murder investigation, albeit only after a tip from Frank (Vince Vaughn).

And for that he gets plugged in the chest.

Where would True Detective go if Farrell's character is done, and what will happen if he's in fact alive? Let's play out the scenarios.

If he's dead

After the premiere, it would have seemed unthinkable to kill Ray, as he was easily the most interesting character of the four leads. "Night Finds You," however, spent enough time with McAdams' character that recalibrating the show around Ani wouldn't be terribly hard to do. The combination of the time they spent together and Ani's crusading mentality could be enough to make the case a personal mission for her.

If Ray is dead, however, it would also fracture a story that's already trying to juggle a bunch of moving parts.

Frank, Ray's patron and the guy who (inadvertently, it appears) led him into the ambush, would be cut off from the case entirely as he has no ties to either Ani or Paul (Taylor Kitsch). Though he's as invested in the outcome as any of the cops, he'd be frozen out from the details of the case that he so desperately needs from Ray, and it's hard to imagine the other cops so much as giving him the time of day.

The tension of the state investigators wanting dirt on Ray would also evaporate. They see Ray's past as a key to unlocking the larger corruption case in Vinci, and removing him would also cut off that storytelling avenue for writer Nic Pizzolatto — or at least make the path that much more convoluted.

If he's alive

Audiences don't like to be faked out, so if it turns out Ray survives, the show could face some backlash. Narratively, however, it makes much more sense to have him around and involved.

His relationship with Frank could become more complex. Until now, Ray has more or less trusted the information Frank has fed him about Caspere. That will undoubtedly change in episode three: It would be only natural, after all, for Ray to have questions about whether Frank knew there would be a masked gunman waiting for him at Caspere's Hollywood sex pad, and in turn just what else Frank knows about Caspere that he doesn't.

Ray is also the common thread running through the disparate elements of the case. The Vinci corruption case gets that much more complicated — and further afield from the focus of the show — without him. Viewers saw the beginnings of what could be an interesting partnership with Ani in episode two. There's little if any heat between them, but there does appear to be a wary kind of respect developing, which would be more fun to explore anyway.

Finally, through Frank, he has access to details about Caspere that his fellow investigators don't yet. That all adds up to audiences not having seen the last of Farrell.

Episode three of True Detective airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sunday on HBO.