Now that its second season is complete, I think it's safe to say this: We get the True Detective we deserve.
I will readily admit to getting swept up into the zeitgeist-bursting first season, though I wasn't one of those tinfoil hat-wearing viewers who spent the week between episodes reading Robert F. Chambers and trying to connect the dots between Carcosa and Marty Hart's daughter's Barbie-gang-rape tableau. I enjoyed watching two great actors deliver dialogue I wasn't hearing on other TV shows and went along for the ride. And because I didn't buy into the mystical hooey on the fringes, I felt vindicated when many other viewers were outraged that the show ended with Rust Cohle looking up at the stars.
Regardless of the outcome, perhaps investing all that time in theorizing and trying to "solve" Season 1 as something other than exploration of the relationship of two complicated men was a valid and fulfilling exercise. While I disagree, I wouldn't tell anyone there's a wrong way to watch and enjoy your TV. But I think True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto would. In interviews after the first season, he said that the audience's fervent dissection of his text took him by surprise. But I think he made the point against watching his show that way even clearer in Season 2, not only by basically removing any and all weirdness, but also by doubling down on a complex plot that no amount of armchair detective work at home could solve.
I could quickly recap the events of Sunday's finale here, but would it even matter? Would me telling you that some guy named Leonard conspired with his sister Erica to kill Ben Caspere because Caspere and his band of dirty cops ruined their childhood back in 1992? Would all of Season 2's unintelligible plot snap into place if you learned that Leonard's attempt to trade Caspere's (probably blank anyway) hard drive to one of said dirty cops ended with both men dead, despite some interference from Colin Farrell's Ray Velcoro? Would a thorough analysis of why Frank asked his wife Jordan to wear white to their Venezuelan rendezvous in two weeks — or less! — make that brutally interminable scene any more tolerable? And would knowing that redheaded Chad is, in fact, Ray's child do anything other than remind you of that ridiculous time Ray threatened to sodomize a man with his wife's headless corpse? No. Because we don't know these people. And even the ones we do know stopped being people we cared about long ago.
It's ironic that the most interesting parts of this season were when things did get weird. Watching a guy in a bird mask stalk Ray in a Hollywood sex dungeon or seeing Ray's Conway Twitty-infused version of heaven or hell are two of the only images I will take with me from this season. But Pizzolatto didn't want us to be distracted by weirdness. And even if he wanted us to follow the plot, he made sure we couldn't. He wanted us to invest in the characters — but he didn't take the time to do the same. Instead, he took workable, if cliché, archetypes — alcoholic burnout dirty cop, repressed gay tough guy, gangster who wants to go legit, hard woman who uses men because she was once used — and after trying for a few weeks to develop them with bad dialogue ("Never do anything out of hunger....even eat") just gave up and had them tell us all about the plot he hadn't bothered to show.
Yes, it's sad that Paul Woodrugh died with a baby on the way, but I don't buy that this group of cops was close enough to be shaken when they learned that he had been gunned down or close enough to try to bring this wrongdoing to light in his honor. I got it when the episode opened with Ray and Ani, two fundamentally broken people, recounting the moments their lives went wrong — for her, when she liked the fact that her dad's friend thought she was pretty enough to take advantage of; for him, when he murdered the man who didn't rape his wife — but them suddenly being two lovers on the run rang false. Frank's revenge mission made the most sense, as did his inability to get away alive, but that final walk through the desert with all his ghosts? Eyeroll city. That Ray died too also makes sense - but did he die to protect Ani or just for his (unsuccessful) attempt to send his kid one final message? All of these questions might be worthy of discussion or debate, if we just had any reason to care, other than this being the long-anticipated #TrueDetectiveSeason2.
Despite the steep body count and some of the bad guys getting away (Tony Chessani took his dad's mayoral throne after his "suicide"), this season still tried to end with some hope. Rust's optimism that the light was winning out over the dark exists here in the form of Ani — now with Ray's second child — and Jordan making plans to finally bring the truth of the Caspere case to the public. She too thinks the light can win out. Ray may have died believing that we get the world we deserve, but Ani believed she deserved better.
One thing's for sure, we deserved a better True Detective.
What did you think of the finale?