Late in the meandering, unsatisfying conclusion to True Detective, “Omega Station,” Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) attempts to record one final message to his son, a last will of sorts. “You turn here, turn there, and it goes on for years, becomes something else,” he says, trying to apologize. In actuality, he’s describing Nic Pizzolatto’s writing style: Caspere’s murderer is revealed to have been Len, an assistant from that movie studio visited in “Maybe Tomorrow.” Len’s motivation was simple revenge, given that once upon a time, Caspere used his position within IA to help cover up the robbery and execution of Len’s parents at the hands of Holloway (Afemo Omilami) and Burris (James Frain). Both of these are straightforward enough, and yet because of Caspere’s corruption (and perhaps the complexity of Californian traffic, for Caspere’s corpse was left roadside), the season twisted and turned down so many detours and side streets that by the exhausting end, it was hard to keep track of what, if anything, True Detective had been about in the first place. Ultimately, given the repetition of idealistic stories and false promises shared between lovers in this final episode, the season goes out as the sort of perverted fairy tale in which plenty of people—good and bad—end up dying, but there’s no “ever after”; just a road stretching on into infinity.
This, at least, is all viewers can infer from the infuriating fate that befalls Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Having turned against his former employer, Osip (Timothy V. Murphy), Frank now attempts to martyr himself by getting his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), to safety with his loyal bodyguard, Nails (Chris Kerson). Though some fans will rejoice to hear Jordan tell Frank that he “can’t act for shit,” Vaughn actually sells his final moments with Jordan when he explains—fighting through clichés—that “you made it all mean something. If they came to me through you, if they hurt you, I wouldn’t deserve to live.” He’s pretty badass in his methodical planning too; using a hidden saferoom in Felicia’s (Yara Martinez) bar as a staging ground, he recruits Ray for a heist, and the two smoothly gun down a cabin full of thugs, including Osip and Jacob McCandless (Jon Lindstrom), who were finalizing Osip’s multimillion (cash) buy-in to the poisoned rail corridor land.
But all of Frank’s plans turn to shit when he’s intercepted on his way to the airport by the boss (Benjamin Benitez) of the Mexican drug runners, who rob him and stab him in the side, twisting the knife before leaving him to die there. There’s a beautiful shot of the millions of dollars of diamonds glistening against Frank’s bloodied wound as he futilely, determinedly staggers across a flat stretch of emptiness, but the scene has no real weight. Benitez’s character is notably unnamed, and has no real connection to anything that’s been happening; Frank’s driven to keep moving by the ghosts of his until-now unseen drunken father and some of his former victims, but the hallucinations pack no punch. There’s no shortage of lyricism in John Crowley’s direction (like the vultures lapping at Frank’s bloody footprints). Nor is there an absence of poetry in Pizzolatto’s script, in which the sight of Frank getting a second wind at the sight of his wife is a clear indication of what viewers have already figured out: “Never stop moving,” Frank insists. His ghostly wife replies: “Babe, oh babe. You stopped moving way back there.” As Frank’s mind finally catches up with his body, and he collapses to the ground, a man already dead, the same occurs to True Detective: For eight episodes, the series has raced forward, but because there’s never been a real destination in sight, it doesn’t end so much as it gradually collapses.
Ray’s death is also disappointing, but thankfully far more connected—and consequently tragic—to the central narrative. If True Detective’s theme is that “we get the world we deserve,” then Ray’s been headed on the road to oblivion ever since he chose to compromise himself and seek vengeance on the man he believed to have wronged his wife. At least he wears a white cowboy hat as he intercepts Len, the black-clad murderer who refers to himself as a “blade” of justice, given the way that the law has failed his family before. Ray, at long last, is representing the law, attempting to drag the dirt about these corrupt policemen into the light, and refuses to let Len make the same murderous mistake he once did. So instead of Len’s suicidal face-off with Holloway, Ray greets him, playing into the general perception of him as a crooked cop (like his former partner, Dixon) seeing an easy payout. Holloway means it as a compliment of sorts when he says, “Honestly, Ray, nobody had any idea you were this competent.”
But whereas True Detective’s first season had a methodical and measured approach to tracking its villain, this season doesn’t know when to stop changing things up. When Holloway states that Len’s sister, Laura, was actually Caspere’s unwanted bastard, Len snaps and starts stabbing Holloway to death. Ray loses his grip on the recording he was making—the evidence that would have satisfactorily cleared him—and only barely escapes the chaotic shootout at the terminal that follows. It’s perhaps realistic that Ray’s plan doesn’t succeed, but it’s also dissatisfying from an episodic perspective.
Instead, as mentioned earlier, Ray decides to help Frank with his robbery of the Russian mobsters, and he makes a fatal mistake. Instead of heading back to the safety of the Black Rose bar and the anonymity of Venezuela (shuttling immigrants to and fro, it turns out, is Felicia’s side-business), he stops by his son’s school for a final goodbye. (In a perhaps too-on-the-nose moment, it’s a look in the rearview mirror, or his past, that triggers this, for that’s where he keeps a picture of his son.) In one of the few happy moments of “Omega Station,” Ray realizes that his son is no longer being bullied, and is playing a complicated-looking board game with some new friends. He’s even proudly carrying around the glass-encased badge Ray gave him as a parting gift. For all their distance, Ray’s had more of an impact on his son than he thought, and at least there’s the hope that everything in the boy’s life will indeed be alright without him. Unfortunately, stopping at the school allows Burris to plant a transponder on his car, and after a hopeless cigarette and a phone call to Ani (Rachel McAdams), making the same fairy-tale promise to her that Frank made to Jordan, he drives into the middle of the woods for a final shootout—the one he hallucinated at the start “Maybe Tomorrow,” and one he doesn’t even come close to walking away from.
Of the four main characters, only Ani makes it to safety, along with all the remaining evidence the team had gathered about the corruption in Vinci. It’s more of a bitter moment for her than a triumph though; while the boat she rides to Venezuela is titled the “Great Escape,” she knows she’s leaving her new lover, Ray, to die, and—worse—that she’s not bringing down Burris and Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado), the mayor’s smarter-than-he-looks son. (A bit psychopathic, actually; in order to become mayor, he stages the suicide of his father, the current murder, and pins it on his mother. He also kills his former partner, Dr. Pitlor.) If it helps to balance her psychic scales of justice at all, though, she also helps Len’s sister, Laura, escape, sympathizing with her on account of her own traumatic childhood experience. Perhaps that’s why Ani survives the rest of the characters; when Laura frets, “This is never going to blow over. My life ended [the day my parents were murdered],” Ani cuts her off: “Except it didn’t. You can lay it down.” Ray dies rerouting through the past, and Frank dies because of a bad deal he made in the present, but Ani chooses not to be defined by her past, and is able to walk away.
In the end, time passes and nothing much changes. Ray’s ex-wife (Abigail Spencer) learns Ray was, in fact, the father of her son; the California Highway Patrol names a highway after the murdered Paul C. Woodrugh, though it appears to be small consolation to his widowed fiancée; and newly elected governor Geldof (C.S. Lee) commences the building of the high-speed rail. “These facts were paid for in blood,” Ani dutifully narrates, making it clear everything to this point has been her story. So honor that. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but it should, because we deserve a better world.” With that, she hands the evidence over to a journalist, and the series fades to black with Ani, her newly born child, Jordan, and Nails, fading into an oblivious crowd in the middle of a Venezuelan festival. To viewers, though, it’s nothing short of a copout: We deserve a better ending, and not one that promises that justice might someday be done. That’s the world we live in.
Rather than end this recap with the final shot, then, it’s better to return to the opening scene—one of the few moments in which True Detective fires on all cylinders. Ray and Ani sit in bed, post-coitus, unburdening themselves after so long. She tells Ray about the four days she spent trapped in the woods, a child being molested by a progressively less kind hippie. She confesses the darkest truth of that moment, that one that’s hardened her to the world: that she got into his car of her own volition because he’d called her pretty, and she felt good to be seen that way. “Every time I remember that feeling, like pride, I get sick to my stomach.” In return, Ray confesses to his act of vengeance, summoning up a similar sort of sickness when he admits that, in the moment, he felt himself getting sick, and shot the man without asking a single question so he wouldn’t stop himself. He knew, even before shooting, that it wouldn’t make anything better, and has to live with the fact that he simply wanted to kill someone—anyone—in that moment.
Crowley’s direction cleverly cuts between the moment in which they share these stories, lights on, and two distinct points during the subsequent night in which each quietly stands over the other while they sleep. At last, the two are able to be open and vulnerable; at the same time, they’re shown to be safer and more protected than ever before now that they’ve found each other. When Ani later explains to Felicia how she and Ray met, she will tell her that “We saved each other’s lives,” and she won’t just meant it literally. And as Ani walks off into that Venezuelan night, having unburdened herself once again to the reporter, perhaps there was a happily ever after ending hiding in plain sight: For all the dead, a child has been born, and at least one life has been saved. It’s not the story viewers necessarily signed on for, especially compared to the first season, but it is an ending.
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