As the camera pulled back on the final scene and the second season of True Detective faded to black, a distinct, unambiguous feeling of satisfaction washed over me. It was unexpected and not wholly logical, especially given how poorly and unorganized the season had started out. The season never got objectively better (except, in the direction of the finale), the characters still had silly, over-the-top dialogue, there were still overlong pans across transportation infrastructure, and season long plot lines were wrapped up with what amounted to an aside.
Over the past few weeks, as the mystery became more and more convoluted, as we viewers spent hours online unraveling the ascent and decline of Stan, as overly dense towel of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing was wrung-out all over the internet, it became impossible to keep up. Who was this guy? Why is Ray hiding? Who’s the bird mask guy? What are the diamonds?
The answer? It doesn’t matter. See the trees and ignore the forest, because the details of these characters, of their story arcs, and the richly detailed environments that they glide through are what are great. In that light, once you let go of trying to understand the mystery, once we stop being detectives ourselves, the finale and the story of True Detective Season 2 become immensely enjoyable.
(SPOILERS FOR TRUE DETECTIVE S2 AFTER THE JUMP)
From the beginning of the season, Pizzolatto was trying to shove too much into this story. Chinatown, Raymond Chandler, David Lynch, James Ellroy, and a ton of other Noir and crime fiction were either expressly referenced or were woven into the universe. With such a self-serious tone, it was inevitable that expectations that carried over from the first season were never going to be met. Add in some really funky scenes for Vince Vaughn’s character (see: papier-mache, rats, basement), and the panning began. What could you say, either? Except for a couple of good scenes, the dialogue and plotting felt like someone trying way too hard.
Then, I let go.
Last night’s finale ended the lives of Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaugh), and ended the plot that spent 8 and a half hours wanting for detection. The mystery of who killed Ben Caspare was solved, and it turned out to be only tangentially connected to the Russians, to the twisted Vinci establishment, and the lives of the characters. The A plot was such a mess you couldn’t have followed it without a guide on hand.
Conversely, all of the B plots were great. Velcoro and his evolving love for his (biological!) son. Frank and his inability to abandon his pride in order to save his life with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly). Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) coming to terms with her childhood. Velcoro and Bezzerides finding solace and a kindred spirit in each other. Each one of these plot-lines was gently glued onto the mystery, and each one made the whole better. Even the (admittedly well shot) scenes in which the main plot is solved–the train station and the cabin shootouts–are informed by and abetted by the character building that was done in other, more intimate scenes.
True to its noir foundation, no one got what they wanted in the end, and nothing turned our well for people we had come around to liking. Velcoro was gunned down in a forested gun fight (just like his ghost dad predicted!). But not before he left his son an incredible voice recording where he truly came to terms with being a father. Frank was stabbed by the Santa Muerte for burning down his own clubs (they couldn’t sell drugs without clubs!), and then bled out as he slinked across a vast desert. It, too, was a beautiful, and shockingly colorful scene, especially with the hallucinations following Frank across the expanse as he bled to death. It was also the best acted scene that Vaughn has been in the entire season and really brought his whole performance up a notch. Bezzerides and Jordan apparently live out their lives in Venezuela, owners of a convoluted tale of corruption and grime, with a new baby Ray (!) in tow.
It was true of the first season and absolutely true of the second, when True Detective lets go of the central mystery and, instead, follows the flow of character’s thoughts, passions, and issues, it really is a grand show. All of the detail poured into the narrative and the scenery are what are great. The performances from these actors, even when given ridiculous dialogue (and not you, so much, Taylor Kitsch), are what are great. If you can let go, if you can stop caring about the Whodunnit, and just watch those things; then there’s no doubt Season 2 of True Detective was a memorable experience.