Well. That was a waste of time.
After eight weeks of extremely complicated plotting, double crosses, reveals and subterfuge, it all added up to… nothing. Of our four heroes, three are dead, each having died pointlessly. Woodrugh didn’t need to go meet his blackmailers. Frank’s greed led to him being stabbed in the gut. And Velcoro goes down because he just had to see his son one last time. This season of True Detective was all about getting what people deserve. It’s even in the tagline. But did we as an audience really deserve all of this chaotic, messy, convoluted chicanery? This was a relatively straight forward plot. If we had been given the information at anything resembling a reasonable pace, we might have been able to follow it, and we might have gotten a good show out of it. But Pizzolatto insisted on giving us a much bleaker show than we got last season. Who was that in service of? It feels as if we’re being punished for expecting anything as good as the stellar first season. It’s even more frustrating because there was so much that could have gone right. And almost none of it did.
This review is going to be a little briefer this week. I’m feeling a little disgusted with this show, and I can’t really bear to give it my usual in depth analysis now that I know where it ended up. But in case you got lost (I don’t blame you if you did), here’s a recap of the finale.
Velcoro and Bezzerides start the episode in post-coitus, recounting their terrible traumas. Apparently sex turned these two stoics into a couple of whiners. Elsewhere, Frank convinces Jordan (his wife) to peace out while he finishes up business with Chessani (the mayor of Vinci). He goes to his house and he’s dead. Oops. Velcoro and Bezzerides discover that Woodrugh has died and figure out the twins from the heist are Laura, Caspere’s assistant, and Lenny, a photographer on the set of that movie that they went to ages ago. They find Laura handcuffed to the fireplace of Lenny’s house and the bird mask from all the way back in episode two. You know, the guy who shot Ray. And so it is revealed, with very little fanfare, that Lenny killed Caspere and is going to kill Holloway (one of the bad officers). With me so far? Do you care at all? No…? Okay, well I’m going to keep going. Velcoro intercepts Lenny at the train station where he’s going to meet Holloway and convinces him to take his place. Holloway reveals Laura was Caspere’s daughter and this leads Lenny to attack him, getting himself and Holloway killed. Velcoro, Frank, and Bezzerides meet up in a bunker where they reconnoiter (and Bezzerides meets Frank for the first time). Frank gets Bezzerides to head to Venezuela to meet with Jordan. Then Frank and Ray team up, kill Osip and McCandless, and make out with a bunch of cash. Velcoro gets a transponder placed on his car in an ambush and Frank is brought out into the desert by the Mexican gang he screwed over. He refuses to give up his suit filled with diamonds and his stabbed, tries to crawl back to civilization and dies. Ray says goodbye to Chad on the phone and is shot down by cops in the woods. In the epilogue, Chessani becomes mayor, the rail project goes ahead, Velcoro is remembered as a cop killer, we learn that Chad was biologically Velcoro’s son, a highway is named after Woodrugh, and Bezzerides is pregnant with Velcoro’s second son and is living with Jordan. Bezzerides gives all the information on Caspere to a journalist, implying all will be revealed.
Here’s the thing about this finale and the show in general: it should have been great. All the pieces are there. These were great actors. The plot could have been played with a bit and it would have been fine. But the pacing and the doling out of information made it infuriating to watch. This show had all the potential in the world, but it failed to execute anything resembling a satisfying watch. The villains basically got away with it and 75% of our leading cast ended up dead. Granted, the only one who was truly good was Bezzerides, and she’s the only one who survived. So in a way, we do get the world we deserve. At least they did.
What is so maddening to me is that this season was such a great idea. All of the villains were stand-ins for bureaucratic corruption and corporate greed. It would be dishonest if they ended up dead in a triumphant ending, because the whole point is that there is no killing greed and corruption. If they had failed, two more would come and take their place. It’s an exceptionally bleak outlook, but it is true. Ultimately, True Detective is a series about bad people trying to do good in an evil world. Last season offered some hope about how to get to a world with maybe just a little less evil. This season did not. And perhaps it’s a little more truthful. We don’t always expect our entertainment to dole out the hard truths without any reprieve of promises that we can fix it. There is no fixing corruption. No fixing greed. So why tell a story that says we can?
Nic Pizzolato has an obsession with what is known as “The Spectacle of the Void.” This is the desire to stare into the darkness of the human experience and the universe as a whole and to try and find our place in it. Last season’s tagline was “Touch darkness and darkness touches you back.” Ignoring the uncomfortable phrasing for a moment, that is a succinct way of summing up what staring into the void does to you. Pizzolatto is clearly a dark guy and spends a lot of time thinking about the evils of the world. It makes sense that it would color his view on things and cause him to create a show so unrelentingly bleak. It’s something that I’m sympathetic to. I appreciate art that encourages us to gaze into the black.
What I do not appreciate is art that does it sloppily. Creating convoluted plots that are meant to twist and turn us four times an episode does not equal good writing. If Pizzolatto should have learned anything from last season, it’s that simplicity is key to audience connection. If he truly wanted us to feel his despair, to stand with him and gaze into the void, he should have been straight with us from the start. Yes, it’s a mystery. But you don’t read an Agatha Christie novel and say “wait, huh?” and then go to wikipedia just to make sure you understand what the plot is. There is an unfortunate equation that some writers seem to have where they think a complicated plot equals a complicated piece of art. The themes he was trying to express weren’t complicated. They did not need to come in a puzzle box. My sincere hope is that when season 3 roles around, I won’t have to check online every five minutes just to make sure I’m getting all the information. If I could say one word to Pizzolatto, it would be this: simplify.
Tags: Colin Farrell, Nic Pizzolatto, Rachel McAdams, True Detective, true detective season 2, Vince Vaughn