True Detective

True Detective Season 2 Finale Review: At Least Now It’s Over

“I Did Not Live My Life To Go Out Like This.” 

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the final episode of the sprawling, confusing second season of True Detective feels the most disjointed of all. The entire season has suffered from an identity crisis and “Omega Station” feels like that central issue condensed into one hour and a half episode. In many ways, “Omega Station” is like an end-of-term examination testing how well you’ve been paying attention. Essentially every stray thread is wrapped up or addressed in some way, but when most viewers are still busy trying to figure out what’s even happened over the course of eight episodes, most of these resolutions hold little weight. True Detective‘s first season wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but at least it had a relatively clear focus when it came to its genre sensibilities. “Omega Station”, by comparison, feels at times like four or five different genres smacked together (one sequence in particular cross-cuts  scenes that feel ripped out of Breaking Bad and Justified and the result is incredibly jarring, to say the least). The biggest problem with the second season as a whole is that it tried to juggle way too many ideas and influences instead of honing in on a succinct artistic vision. But hey, at least we found out who was under that bird mask! Source:

“Omega Station” actually starts off on the right foot with a pair of scenes that feel grounded in emotional weight and drama. We get to witness post-coital pillow talk from Ani and Ray and it’s every bit as messed up as you would think. Ani’s subject de jour is the rapist in the woods, an element that the show has kept trying to hammer home as a key component of Ani’s backstory over the past few episodes but one that still feels poorly developed. Yes, we know that Ani is damaged by her childhood trauma, but other than the brief hallucination we witnessed in “Church in Ruins”, “bearded hippie rapist guy” doesn’t really work. While it feels wrong to clamor for a flashback scene that depicts a young Ani’s kidnapping, witnessing the events that had such a profound impact on her life would have gone a long way in making them actually mean something beyond filling in dialogue. Ray gets a bit more mileage out of his confession of killing an innocent man he thought was his wife’s rapist, which has more to do with the fact that we’ve actually seen considerable screen time devoted to this backstory. While the show falters when it comes to the details of this scene, the reason it works is mostly due to the surprisingly-strong chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell and how well-shot the sequence is. Alternating between the two characters wreathed in cigarette smoke and in various states of undress, the whole sequence feels effortless and doesn’t distract from the dialogue and character moments the way some other scenes do (more on those later).

Fittingly, it’s the cinematography and visual make-up that make “Omega Station” at the very least a very visually-pleasing hour and a half of television. As much as the aforementioned cross-cutting between Frank’s desert demise and Ray’s redwood forest shootout feel ripped out of different shows, it’s hard to deny that they are beautifully-arranged. While California turned out to be a much-less interesting setting than the first season’s Louisiana swamps, at least the show’s production team were able to pull out all the stops for the final episode. Whether it’s the seedy hotel room of the opening scene, the criss-crossing interstate highways, or even the suburban streets that Ray finds himself trapped in at one point, it feels like this episode in particular finally achieved the visual direction the show had been aiming for all season. Unfortunately, these exquisitely-shot scenes are undermined by unfortunate creative choices, such as featuring sad acoustic bar singer Lera Lynn yet again. It’s bad enough we have to hear her somber crooning in almost every episode, but having her literally be part of certain scenes is such a hokey stylistic choice that takes you right out of the episode. Source:

The standout presence in the finale is Vince Vaughn, which comes as a surprise considering how bad he was in the early goings. He really comes into his own here as Frank Semyon; first in the outstanding departure scene between him and Jordan near the beginning and later in his fateful desert walk. It’s hard not to be excited by the proposition of seeing Frank rain swift retribution on all of his enemies — especially when he has enough guns to supply a small military outfit — and to Vaughn’s credit, Frank becomes a pretty decent anti-hero over the course of the episode. However, in typical True Detective fashion, he is undone by the show’s own convoluted world-building. Riding high off his well-staged armed robbery of Osip the Russian with Ray (easily one of the episode’s best sequences), Frank is kidnapped and taken to the desert by a gang he had arranged a deal with a few episodes back and apparently hadn’t settled the score with. While Frank’s halluciatory death-walk is one of the season’s most creative sequences, it’s disappointing that he is taken out by a group of characters who have barely figured into the show’s plot. That criticism pretty much extends to every major plot resolution in this finale, as it’s difficult to even remember who wants what and who’s connected to who. Ray’s botched attempt to barter for Caspere’s diamonds (still not sure what his ultimate game plan was here) with Holloway is a well-executed sequence that not only ends in carnage but also reveals the identity of Caspere’s killer. The problem is, there’s almost zero dramatic tension. Caspere’s killer (and Mr. Bird Mask himself) turns out to be Lenny, one of the orphaned children from the 1992 jewelry store robbery. Yes, the man that everyone has been looking for all season is a character that was introduced briefly in the third or fourth episode.  Admittedly, Caspere’s murder was merely the catalyst for the season’s plot to get moving, but it really feels like there should have been a more satisfying conclusion to this particular thread. Source:

In the end though, the main problem with “Omega Station” and this season as a whole is that it felt like it didn’t amount to anything substantial. From a character standpoint, we were probably just on the cusp of starting to care about the main cast right before most of them are killed off. Ray was probably the most fully-formed character of all and his final father-son moments, especially that lingering shot of his phone’s failure to upload his final voice recording to his son’s email, were especially touching. That being said, Ray’s death felt manipulated by bad writing. Considering that he is one of the most wanted men in the state, it makes absolutely zero sense for Ray to stroll over to his son’s school in broad daylight for a final goodbye. While this gives us the touching detail of young Chad Velcorro with his grandfather’s badge at his side and the gripping tracking device scene, this whole sequence feels so cliche as to be frustrating. No matter how proud and shortsighted Ray is, he would have never taken that kind of risk.In addition, the fallout from Paul’s death last week is treated with about as much care as his entire characterization was. Upon hearing the news, Ani sadly exclaims that he had a son on the way, as if telling the audience directly why we should care about his death. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Frank asks Ray directly about Paul at one point and Ray answers, “Actually, I didn’t know him that well. but yeah, he was my friend,” as if he’s speaking for the audience. Don’t worry Ray, we didn’t know Paul very well either.

The other significant issue with the finale is in how it sidelines its female leads. Jordan gets sent away early and Ani has no participation in the finale’s climax at all. Instead, she’s practically forced to board a boat bound for Venezuela to ensure her safety. This feels like a massive betrayal of the character, considering all of the character work up to this point had established Ani as a strong female presence who could go toe-to-toe with the men. The episode essentially frames the act of fleeing or retreating as a sign of weakness, as Frank and Ray make big protestations over refusing to do so. By having Ani literally flee, the show is basically saying that she is weaker than her male counterparts, which seems to contradict everything we’ve learned about her. Sure, the ending shows Jordan and Ani, with what can only be presumed to Ray’s infant child in tow, laying the groundwork for exposing the rail corridor conspiracy and clearing Ray’s name, but it feels entirely anticlimactic all the same. Source:

As a finale to such an uneven, disappointing season, “Omega Station” actually does an admirable job of tying up loose ends and providing answers to most of the lingering questions from prior episodes. Unfortunately, when you don’t really care about the answers you’re getting, it’s kind of hard to muster up any sort of enthusiasm for what this finale provides. Now that we’ve seen every piece of the puzzle, it’s pretty clear that this season of True Detective, while not a total disaster, was nowhere close to being the prestige drama it so desperately wanted us to think it was. The show simply never offered a compelling enough reason to tune in beyond getting to see an A-list cast wasted on inferior material. At the end of the day, all of the vague dialogue and conspiracy webs in the world can’t hide a show that has nothing interesting to say at its core.  Over-complicated and yet somehow too predictable, “Omega Station” has some good ideas and a few fantastic visual sequences, but overall it’s a classic example of too little, too late. Whatever Nic Pizzolatto has planned for season three, let’s just hope he concentrates on actually telling a good story next time out.

Random Thoughts:

  • “You stopped moving way back there.” While Frank’s hallucination of his abusive father came out of left field, the appearance of Jordon (in her white dress!) was very well done. What a terrible end for Frank.
  • As if there needed to be more evidence of how poorly-conceived this season’s overall plot trajectory was, this was the first time that Frank and Ani — two of the show’s main characters — actually meet. Their brief interaction was pretty funny though.
  • Their relationship took awhile to gel, but this episode finally had a really good Frank-Jordan scene that really sold their connection. The way Frank tried to get her to leave through dismissal, then heartfelt honesty was a nice touch.
  • Definitely thought that reporter that takes all of the Caspere case evidence at the end was Ani’s former partner Detective Elvis. This season really needed less characters.

A solidly executed finale held back by a lackluster season.

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)