The most shocking thing about the True Detective Season 2 finale was that it actually made sense. Leaving the penultimate episode with Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) dead and tons of questions unanswered, it looked like there would be endless fodder for this article. As it turns out, for all of his faults, Nic Pizzolatto knows how to connect the dots. The diamonds, the mayor’s son, the crow’s head, the orphans: Everything came together, even if there were more square pegs twisted into round holes than there were bullet holes sprayed into Ray Velcoro’s (Colin Farrell) body as it lay, finally at peace under a mighty Sequoia tree.
Despite the tidy resolution of the series’ main storyline, there were still many loose ends left untied. While the central mystery of transit funds, orgies, and drug-running was solved, many of the subplots shoved into this bloated, absurd, pulpy noir were left dangling like a man who has drug connections, but no club to sell in. As our male heroes bite the dust at opposite ends of California and our heroines find the joys of motherhood and salsa dancing, let’s look back at the 10 things that made the least sense in True Detective Season 2.
The Crow’s HeadHBO
We eventually found out who wore the crow’s head as he pumped Ray Velcoro full of lead, and heavy was the orphaned head that wore the crown. The confusing thing is not the who, but the why. Early on in Season 2, it looked like the occult would play some sinister role in the crimes being committed, like in Season 1. The pilot and second episode introduced us to a strange world of bird heads, burned-out eyes, and hippie drug retreats, but by the end of the season, all of that had washed away with the exception of one weird, dead psychiatrist. Why did we get all of that occult imagery, just to watch it be thrown to the wayside so we could spend more time wallowing in institutional corruption and mafia turf wars?
Lera Lynn turned in the performance our dive bar indie chanteuse fantasies are made of with her mournful perpetual open mic at Vinci corruption’s favorite watering hole. Though it was always nice to have her add a touch of melancholy to the proceedings, she probably needs a business manager. That particular brand of indie folk probably doesn’t play well in the mean streets of Vinci, populated as it is by drug-addled scumbags and beleaguered immigrants. She doesn’t even have a boyfriend or fellow musician who shows up for moral support. In the finale, she’s reduced to playing to what looks like a completely empty room as the only three people who have ever heard her perform are holed up in a conveniently located hideout.
Girl, you’ve got the chops. Now it’s time to show a little business savvy.
The desert isn’t the only thing that Paul Woodrugh doesn’t talk about. He also makes no attempt to unpack his incredibly complex sexual history. It was already tough to buy that he was a self-loathing closeted homosexual in 2015 Los Angeles. Even if we accept that, there’s still a lot about the brooding combat veteran that made no sense. His relationship with his mother (Lolita Davidovich) was presented as at least somewhat sexual in her first scenes, but that was slowly walked back to leave her a bitter, homophobic wreck. His insistence that he stick with Emily (Adria Arjona), who it seemed he hadn’t known all that long, was equally hard to swallow. All of this combined with his violent outburst at the dirt bike track followed by a night of “putting out fires” with his lover and would-be assassin Miguel (Gabriel Luna), made a scattered mess that ultimately didn’t move the plot forward one iota.
The most hotly anticipated moment of the season was handled as well as could be expected by veteran director Miguel Sapochnik, but the implausible logistics of the drug-fueled sex-fest doomed the sequence from the beginning. It’s hard to imagine that a seasoned cop like Ani (Rachel McAdams) would have put herself in such a vulnerable position to begin with. Lucky for her, she gets away unscathed after noticing that almost every nefarious character we needed to catch up with attended the orgy. As if all of this weren’t convenient enough, Woodrugh and Velcoro just happened upon some important documents while they were there because, if you’re going to conduct top-secret underhanded business, why not do it at an orgy being attended by a hundred strangers?
Paul Woodrugh: CelebrityHBO
Midway through the season, we were meant to believe that the combined publicity of his time in “the desert” and being accused of propositioning an actress had made Paul Woodrugh a media darling. He is mobbed by news cameras on several occasions early on and repeated references are made to his celebrity. In Los Angeles, minor police misconduct would never rate on the local news, let alone turn the beat cop into a paparazzi target. If that’s the world Woodrugh lives in, why is he able to conduct his investigations without being recognized going forward?
This wasn’t the only time that Pizzolatto was incapable of applying the rules of real world media to his characters. In the finale, when Velcoro is called out as a wanted man on the local news, all he has to do is put on a cowboy hat, and he is basically immune to any unwanted attention.
Ani and Ray’s Love ConnectionHBO
It is an unwritten rule in television that if two characters end up in a cheap motel together they have to do some hard drugs or have some hard sex. Surprisingly, Ani and Ray chose the latter towards the end of Season 2. Whenever I’ve had a long night of dredging up the trauma of my past thanks to an AARP sponsored orgy followed up by the murder of my partner, I always like to settle in for a booty call with someone I have had no respect for from the outset. And that’s exactly what Ani does. Despite all of the negative experiences she had sleeping with her co-workers, she decides that shacking up with whiskey-swilling, gravel-voiced Ray Velcoro is the best move towards self-preservation as the entirety of the Vinci police force has set about murdering her and her lover in cold blood.
If there are any True Detective truthers left among you, you’ll likely be quick to point out that Stan’s (Ronnie Gene Blevins) plot made complete sense. He got too close to Blake’s (Christopher James Baker) mutinous plans, and so he had to go. The problem with Stan wasn’t what he did, but how characters reacted to it. In the ponderous episodes before Stan’s death, Pizzolatto couldn’t even be bothered to develop a character that everyone would miss so deeply once he was gone. For god’s sake, we spent longer with Stan’s widow and child than we did with the mane when he was alive.
This wasn’t the only time that the show asked to cash checks it never bothered to write. Throughout the season, characters with names you couldn’t begin to guess had a huge impact on the plot, culminating in the mayor’s son, Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado), being crowned the season’s big bad when all we saw him do was talk about his DJ career in an offensive accent.
The Bad Guys Get Away With ItHBO
In stories like these, we take it for granted that institutional corruption always wins, but there is a certain number of bodies that will raise an eyebrow anywhere. Last season of True Detective was about the disappearance of girls no one cared much about spread across the backwoods of Louisiana. If you take that action to Los Angeles, and every few episodes the police turn a warehouse or a national park into a war zone, eventually someone has to notice. An investigation was announced against the obviously corrupt Vinci PD in episode one, and even after these officials were caught in an airport gun fight, one of them was given a six-man paramilitary force to go Farrell-hunting a few scenes later.
L.A. noirs have a long history of reminding us just how much the powerful can get away with, but after a couple dozen civilian casualties, you would that somebody besides our main characters would be cleaning out their desk.
Frank’s Business AcumenHBO
Yes, Frank is scrappy. Yes, Frank is proud. Yes, Frank is brash. But, that only gets you so far. This man who has successfully run multiple casinos and the illegal action that takes place inside of them simply can’t be this bad at business. He just let Ben Caspere handle his money without any assurances that things would be done right? He didn’t bother to check how millions of dollars were being moved around until it was too late? This was just the first in a series of blunders that included losing all of his negotiating power with the Mexicans and taking no counter measures against the Russians until it was too late. All of this would have been easier to swallow if his victories had been dumb luck, but he showed incredible savvy beyond his dental creativity in the back room of the club, at numerous points in the series.
Frank’s wildly inconsistent decision making met an appropriate end when, instead of cutting his losses and heading South of the Border, he got in a petty squabble over his suit, and ended up hallucinating to death in the desert.
The low point of a rough season came in the last minutes of the finale. Ray had met his end in the Sierras, and it seemed that we could all just pour out a fifth of whiskey, then another fifth for good measure, in his honor and move on. Of course, Pizzolatto couldn’t leave well enough alone and wrote in a paternity test, proclaiming Ray the father of a boy who looks nothing like him. On the list of audience priorities, answering this question ranked down there with “Where did Ani get the hat she wore in Venezuala?”
Pizzolatto spent the entire season shoving the question of Chad’s (Trevor Larcom) paternity down our throats. Sometimes it was through weird victim blaming of Gena (Abigail Spencer). Sometimes we got to watch Ray belittle a social worker, feel bad about it, and proceed to do more blow than an ’80s rocker. Every episode brought us some unnecessary moment with this kid who looks nothing like either his parents or either of his mother’s alleged rapists.
The last time we saw the kid, he was playing some lame board game at recess, and we got to consider one final time how this dopey looking long-lost Weasley brother could have possibly come from Colin Farrell’s seed.