'True Detective' Season Finale Recap: Daze of Glory

One last killing spree isn't enough to give Season Two a reason to live

Vince Vaughn in 'True Detective.' Credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO

The moment the phrase "90-minute season finale" flashed on screen last week, it was all over for True Detective but the shooting. A shoddy second season had by then partially redeemed itself with a pair of tight, tense episodes that made up in muscle what they lacked in depth. But just when it seemed like the series was putting together the pieces and cranking up the pace after weeks of floundering, boom — a movie-length meditation on failure. "Omega Station," the eighth and final installment of TD 2.0, could not have more effectively shut down the show's progress if it dressed up like a cholo, drove it out to the desert, stabbed it, and left if for dead.

Which is as good a place as any to start taking a stab at what went wrong here. The lonesome death of Frank Semyon capped off a pretty decent last-stand arc for the guy, in which he exacted payback against everyone who wronged him, only to be undone at the last second by foes he failed to see coming. Why it took eight episodes to put this plotline together is a bit baffling, but hey, if you think of it as The Extremely Long Good Friday and ignore his painful heart-to-hearts with his wife Jordan (played as always by Kelly Reilly as if she just woke up a minute before the cameras started rolling), it's not a half bad gangster yarn.

Until we get to that absurd, forced final confrontation with the Mexican Stereotype Mafia, whom he goaded into killing him by refusing to give up his suit. Yes, after voluntarily torching everything he owned and handing his enemies a suitcase full of $1 million in cash, the King of Vinci decided an extra trip to the Men's Wearhouse was worth dying over. The only reason this happened was because the story needed it to. Sigh. And the less said about his hallucinatory Five People You Meet in Heaven walk to his final resting place — during which, like all hard men, he dreams of a good woman, his daddy issues, and mean black dudes — the better.

Ray Velcoro also ended up in the big Conway Twitty cosplay karaoke bar in the sky, though he was granted a bit more dignity on his way out. On a metaphorical level, the truth of his detecting is borne out by the can-do spirit of his sperm. His ex tearfully opens her paternity-test results and discovers he was indeed the father of their child. That'll teach you to distrust the abusive alcoholic murderer who was just looking out for you, lady! And as is custom for characters in incredibly corny stories who make the mistake of having sex with a guy even once, Ani Bezzerides gets knocked up from the single time she and Ray get it on, winding up with a little Velcoro of her own down in Venezuela. Thus his legacy of…uh…kinda bumbling through life and doing all kinds of immoral shit, then killing a bunch of even worse people right before getting killed himself…lives on? Don't ask us, we just work here.

The real tragedy? It was death by MacGuffin. The hard drive full of blackmail everyone thought Ben Caspere got killed for had nothing on it whatsoever thanks to a self-erasing security feature. He didn't even actually get killed for it — his murder was merely revenge for a 23-year-old jewelry-store homicide by the son of the slain owners. And none of it mattered anyway, since Tony Chessani, the Crown Pimp of Vinci, managed to off his dad and get elected mayor on the strength of corrupt rail-corridor land deals that went through despite it all. A crime story that says "fuck it" and lets the good guys lose in the end can be a bracingly nihilistic affair, but probably not if it was such an impenetrable slog along the way that half the audience was saying "fuck it" already.

Could this final hour-plus have been salvaged? Sure, why not. It started off with a strong post-coital sequence in which Ani and Ray shared their darkest secrets, spliced with shots of them cleaning up and getting dressed like a jittery remake of Don't Look Now. Much of the cat-and-mouse lead-up to Ray and Frank's deaths was as suspenseful as the two previous weeks were; whether it was the former looking around a suburban intersection for whoever had bugged his car or the latter realizing his ride had been boxed in, the sense of impending fight-or-flight doom was palpable. Trim a whole bunch of bloat, give Frank a more reasonable reason to go down swinging, and you've got yourself a send-off that might have redeemed the season.

Instead, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto delivered a frustrating finale that tried to have its catharsis cake and mute it too. He allowed many of its main characters to go down in an unironic blaze of glory, then insisted it was all more or less pointless. A show that has spent its entire existence straddling both sides of the self-parody line just doesn't have the control required to pull off that contrast. It felt like a celebration of macho genre nonsense rather than an examination of it. After eight-plus hours of aimlessly cruising around the California noir freeway, it's high time we headed for the exit ramp.

Previously: Burning Down the House