‘True Detective’ Season 2’s Fatal Finale: Why Nic Pizzolatto’s Show Will Be Hailed as a Cult Classic

Few shows have been ripped apart like the HBO potboiler’s second season. But with its campy characters and outrageous plot(s), it will find an appreciative fan base—eventually.

Critics and the viewing public have hurled more feces at True Detective’s second season than any show in recent memory. Hell, on Sunday, mere hours before the finale aired, The New York Times trolled the show by running a video mashup of people fumbling through explanations of its labyrinthine plot. But Nic Pizzolatto’s heavy-handed exploration of mayhem and masculinity was doomed from the start—both by the lofty expectations established in the wake of its tremendous first season, and the ensuing backlash spearheaded by The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, who’d branded the first go-around shallow and anti-feminist. But more on that later.

The 90-minute season finale of True Detective Season 2, “Omega Station,” opened with some seriously depressing post-coital tristesse in the form of Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) recounting her childhood abduction.“I got in the car. He didn’t even force me. He didn’t get near me,” she says. “I could lie to myself, but I felt proud. I was proud that he thought I was pretty. Makes me sick.”

Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), in turn, shares the story of his failed attempt at smiting his wife’s rapist when he’s interrupted by a call from Burris, taunting the disgraced ex-cop over the death of his pal, Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), whom he shot in the back.

But it’s the following scene between Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) and his poor wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), that provides the series’ most meta moment. Frank is trying to convince his wife that everything will be OK—that his associate Nails will take her to Barquisimeto, Venezuela, and he’ll follow in two weeks. She looks him dead in the eye and says, “You can’t act for shit—take it from me.”

Vaughn’s performance, playing against type as an overwhelmed gangster, has received the most criticism from the show’s legion of detractors, with the gifted comedian ditching his motormouth routine in favor of deliberate monologues crammed with SAT words. While it did, at times, provide for unintentional comedy fodder, Vaughn’s turn as Frank showed signs of improvement in the final two episodes. It’s no small feat of acting to sell audiences on a TV character over the course of just eight episodes, after all. Think how long it took you to buy the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle as Walter White.

Meanwhile, Frank finds Mayor Chessani face-down in his pool—with his son, Tony, the presumed culprit. Oh, and that thoroughly depressing bar with the thoroughly depressing singer? Frank owns it, and he’s been using its hidden back room to house illegal immigrants.

Bezzerides and Velcoro put all the puzzle pieces together and discover that the man who killed Caspere, shot Ray full of riot pellets, and almost got Ani hit by a truck is the other child from the ’92 diamond heist/double-murder—Erica’s brother, the on-set photographer who she was whispering to during Episode 3. The gumshoes over at Reddit had already cracked the case last week:

When the duo raids his house, they find the bird mask and his sister Erica handcuffed to the fireplace. Erica, otherwise known as Mayor Chessani’s secretary, reveals that Tasha introduced her to Tony, who then brought her into the sex parties and told her about Caspere’s diamonds. “I met [Caspere], and I knew. He used to visit my mother. I remembered him,” she says. Erica also shares that she and her brother were raised in the same foster home, but were split up at age 16. He merely wanted to torture a confession out of Caspere with acid to find out who else was involved in the killing of his parents/the diamond heist but “got carried away” and ended up removing Caspere's dick and joyriding around the Rail Corridor with his dickless corpse, as one does. Crazy brother is about to meet Vinci Chief of Police Holloway at the new train station where he intends to swap Caspere’s (wiped) hard drive for the diamonds—but he’s really there to kill Holloway for helping cover up his parents’ murder.

Velcoro intercepts the on-set photog at the station and convinces crazy to let him conduct the transaction and get Holloway on tape confessing to the cover-up. But when Holloway admits that the daughter, Erica, is the illegitimate child of Caspere’s and that their mother was pregnant with another child that Caspere didn’t want—which is why the diamond shop owners were offed during the ’92 heist—crazy brother snaps and begins stabbing Holloway before they’re both shot dead by cops. Bezzerides swoops in to save Velcoro and, as they’re making their getaway, the scene transitions to slow-mo and then transmogrifies into overhead shots of trains with the depressing bar lady singing over them. It is just as gloriously over-the-top as we’ve come to expect.After the train station shootout, Bezzerides, Velcoro, and Frank all gather at his back room hideout where they hatch their final plan: Scarface (the bartender) will transport Bezzerides to Venezuela, where she’ll meet Jordan. Velcoro and Frank will ambush the Russian gangsters’ $12 million Rail Corridor deal with his arsenal from the Turks, split up the dough, and meet the ladies in paradise.

The raid goes down smoothly, with Velcoro and Frank offing all the gangsters in a hail of tear gas and machine gun bullets—including Osip Agranov, whom Frank delights in executing after the SOB screwed him out of the Rail Corridor deal and bought out his clubs from under him.

Then the plan falls apart. Frank is ambushed by the Mexicans who’d been given a piece of the clubs he burned down, and, in a scene reminiscent of Breaking Bad, is led out to Death Valley. There, he trades $1 million in cash for his freedom—which still leaves him with $3.5 million in diamonds in his suit pocket. So, when one of the men demands his suit, he refuses, and is stabbed and left for dead. In a demented spin on the temptation of Christ, we see Frank limping across Death Valley, where he’s haunted by visions of his abusive father and a group of black youths taunting him. Jordan materializes in that celestial white dress they’d discussed earlier. “What’s a guy like you doin’ in a place like this?” she asks. “You made it. You can rest now.” Frank, we learn, is the walking dead.

Velcoro doesn’t fare much better. He’s supposed to be well on his way to meeting Bezzerides and Jordan in Venezuela, but needs to say goodbye to his ginger son one last time. So, he visits him at his school playground, sees his son displaying his father’s police badge proudly, and salutes him through the fence. Ginger kid salutes back, and all is right as rain until he gets back to his car and discovers a tracking device underneath it. Instead of walking away, he gets in the car and—in an apparent nod to Twin Peaks—leads Burris and his team of crooked Catalyst contractors on a medium-speed chase into the redwood forest where he’s eventually gunned down.

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We learn in the postscript that a highway has been named in Woodrugh’s honor, Tony Chessani has been elected Mayor of Vinci (despite his tenuous grasp of the English language), the ribbon has been cut on the California Central Rail Corridor, and that Ray Velcoro is indeed the father of his ginger son. Bezzerides—at Velcoro’s suggestion—has turned over all her evidence and given an exclusive interview to the Los Angeles Times reporter whose piece branding Vinci the “Most Corrupt City in the Country” kicked off the show. And the last thing we see is the super cool image of Bezzerides and Jordan, baby in tow, Thelma & Louise-ing it out of Venezuela.This was an excellent finale episode filled with fine performances—most notably McAdams and Farrell, who are oh-so-good during the “Get on that boat, you hear me?” scene—and gorgeous lensing, including the train station sequence, the wide shots of Frank limping across Death Valley, and the overhead shots of the magnificent redwood forests.

Following Episode 4 of True Detective Season 2—you know, the one that ended in a 10-minute head-exploding shootout across Downtown L.A., I wrote: “Maybe we’re thinking about True Detective’s second season all wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be deconstructing all the repetitive visual cues, droopy faces, ridiculous lines (apoplectic!), and extravagant seriousness of the entire enterprise. Maybe we should just appreciate how deliciously campy Nic Pizzolatto’s Angeleno whodunit is.”

People have droned on and on about how incomprehensible the show’s plot is, including Slate’s Willa Paskin, who spent 4,000-plus words explaining everything going on in Vinci and beyond. But you’d waste more words than that trying to decipher, say, the gonzo plots of The Big Sleep or Twin Peaks. Plot is entirely secondary here; this is a show about atmosphere, action, and Acting with a capital “A.” It is also a riposte to Pizzolatto’s critics who’d accused him of being a swingin’ dick that, in the words of Jeffrey Lebowski, “treated objects like women, man.” Here, we’re presented with a badass lady in Bezzerides, and it’s the Fourth Estate that serves as the last (and only) line of defense against city corruption.

I was late to Twin Peaks, but when I eventually discovered it in my early teens, I found the bizarre mélange of mystery, melodramatic performances, and the surreal to be utterly intoxicating. Now, one could argue that, unlike every scene involving Leland Palmer, the second season of True Detective didn’t intend to be as campy and whacky as David Lynch’s TV masterpiece, so we shouldn’t forgive the ridiculous plotting and outré turns. But artistic intent doesn’t really matter here. Whether by design or not, Pizzolatto has created a tremendously entertaining, campy neo-noir that will, years from now, be celebrated as a cult favorite. Where else can you see Tim Riggins play a closeted gay biker cop who pops Viagra to sex women, the chatterbox from Swingers ripping out a 400-pound pimp’s gold grill with pliers, Regina George slicing-and-dicing an orgy security guard, or Colin Farrell threatening to butt-fuck a small child’s father on his family’s front lawn with his mom’s headless corpse?