– Leonard Cohen
One big gutter in outer space, that’s where we are. Just a bunch of gross sweaty monkeys making others’ lives hell for the sake of a bit more comfort during our short time here. The greatest moments we can achieve are those of small transcendence — a memorial highway, a child — but that is only true in relation to the people we leave behind. True Detective is an annual illustration of this depressing great truth, the fight between humans and terrible absurd irrelevance that breeds pain, and in this manner it has succeeded for a second time.
With “Omega Station,” the final episode of True Detective season two, Nic Pizzolatto has once again delivered the mandate of his most famous endeavour, and it has very little to do with the conclusion of the central mystery he’s used as a vehicle. The murderer of Ben Caspere was the set photographer from episode two, “Night Finds You,” acting on revenge for the destruction of his family in 1992. It was an incredibly simple crime, done for incredibly human reasons, and because we live in an incredibly byzantine and corrupt world, it stands as a cynical period where many expected an exclamation point.
If you went into this season of True Detective expecting a satisfying conclusion to a complex mystery then you were watching it wrong. Just like with season one, the past eight episodes of True Detective have been more about theme than plot. This is a show about a world where nothing really matters, nothing good happens, and the characters we’re made to sympathize with are proven to be nothing more than victims of their own shortcomings and an indifferent cosmos. It is only fitting that the raven man was Len because anything more complex would betray this central theme. True Detective is porn for nihilists, and so there’s no place here for anything traditional in terms of satisfying mystery plots. We get the mystery we deserve.
The hour starts with Velcoro and Bezzerides in bed, post-coitally chatting about their respective traumas. Ani is given her first real monologue of the series, and Rachel McAdams does the material justice. We learn about the four days she lost to the man who abducted her from the Good People. The monologue hits its mark with a very human admission, that she was lured into the stranger’s van with compliments. He said she was pretty and she was proud that he thought so. Again, it’s simple and human, leading to a great deal of pain.
Velcoro reciprocates with his story of botched revenge. We’ve heard his tale before, over the past few episodes, but here the significance in relationship to the whole is more clear. He was overcome with a human emotion that we are told is righteous and, acting on it, did something that many people would forgive. Ani says this before learning that Ray killed the wrong guy, pointing out that many cultures would have allowed him his personal justice.
Ani’s permission, coupled with the fact that Ray got the wrong guy, presents the rape-revenge tale as an allegory for the core mystery of Ben Caspere’s death. He acted on given information and adhered to an understandable moral code, but due to occulted factors (that Blake needed to have a guy killed) he participated in the great chaos of life and became its victim.
After their trauma bonding, Velcoro calls Woodrugh’s cell phone only to have the treacherous Detective Burris pick up and tell him that the confused young detective was shot down. Ray lets his old colleague know that he’s been filled in on the details of the blue diamond robbery and, after hanging up, decides with Ani to try and blow the case wide open in the name of poor dead Paul.
They determine that the set photographer was the boy from the blue diamond robbery and pay the orphan’s home a visit. Entering the house, everything is there. Both of the masks, incriminating photos, even Laura — Len’s sister and Ben Caspere’s former assistant. She spills the beans on everything, explaining how she came to meet Caspere through Tasha by way of Tony Chessani’s orgies.
We learn that the acid applied to Caspere’s eyes was intended for interrogation purposes only, but Len got carried away. It was also Len who shotgunned Ray and stole the hard drive from Caspere’s Hollywood love shack, but the data was erased after too many failed attempts at cracking the password. Still, the threat of this information existing is more powerful than its actual existence, so Len has used it as leverage to bring Holloway to an exchange where he plans to kill the corrupt cop.
Velcoro and Bezzerides intervene in the negotiations, and after a bit more exposition from both Holloway and Len, things go south. Len stabs his intended victim and his shot to death, Velcoro and Bezzerides make off with the files, the hard drive and the diamonds. They are now in possession of all the evidence to the death of Ben Caspere, but more importantly proof that the City of Vinci is built on lies, dirty dealings, and drugged-up sex parties.
And here is where things take a turn for the darker. With the case in their hands, the detectives are faced with the conundrum of how to blow the whole thing wide open. Frank, who has been developing his plan to get everyone to Venezuela with a solid $12 million in cash robbed from his arch rival Osip, puts everyone up in a safe house we’ve come to know as the bar Lera Lynn plays in every night. From there they agree on a plan: Ray and Frank will rip off Osip, while Ani lays low until it’s time to get to Venezuela where they will arrange to hand the evidence of Vinci corruption to the Times journalist Frank beat the fuck out of in episode one, presumably living it large thanks to Frank’s money and the country’s complicated extradition laws.
Of course, on paper that sounds great, but after Ray and Frank successfully do-in Osip with the liberal application of bullets, tear gas and one liners, they are each set on their own path toward death, each as tragic and symbolic as the other.
Ray, in one of the two clean cars Frank arranged, takes one last detour to Chad’s school. The boy is playing a board game with the Velcoro badge on display. Seeing his father from across the yard the two share a heartfelt salute before Ray returns to his car that’s now been bugged with a transponder. With enemy eyes on him, Velcoro drives up into the mountains and instigates a showdown with Burris and a bunch of Vinci PD goons.
On his way up, Velcoro had been recording his last message to Chad, and the upload takes its time. His mission, he feels, is to make sure his audio makes it to the cloud before he dies. The ensuing gunfight is dramatic but futile, in a moment bordering on cliche, Ray emerges from behind a tree in a heroic last effort and is shot to pieces before landing any bullets of his own.
Frank, meanwhile, is intercepted and taken out into the middle of the desert by Gonzales and his crew. He’s robbed of his money, and when he asks for a ride back to town, a goon demands his suit. Frank, not one to be humiliated, lashes out at this and finds himself stabbed in the side. The Mexicans leave the mobster in the desert to die, and he proceeds to stumble through the memories of his life.
In both of these death scenes we see two characters who have attempted to cleanse themselves of humanity succumb to their only remaining weaknesses. Frank, a man who literally burnt down his life’s work last week, is unable to strip himself finally of his pride; Ray, a man who gave up his son to his ex-wife, cannot live without knowing Chad remembers him with something resembling fondness and this is what leads to his being hunted down.
Additionally, both men are haunted by genre characterization. Ray is the very picture of an anti-hero – a drunker, sadder Han Solo in a bolo tie – and exactly the type of character to emerges from cover in a gunfight and mows down his enemies. Frank is the prototypical bad guy with a moral streak, the kind of guy who’s niceness should give him the strength to survive death cult criminals through sheer pluck and likeableness. Instead of being rescued by their assumed archetypes, however, Semyon and Velcoro make like regular people and die.
As if to hammer home how futile a self-cleanse of humanity is, Frank’s stumble on to the great beyond is punctuated by the memories of people who made him the man he was. The scene, which would have been more effective had it not been broken up with Bezzerides and Velcoro’s storylines, is one of the rare moments of True Detective skewing toward the expressionist and it works so well that I wish the series would lean on surrealism a bit more than it does.
With both Frank and Ray dead, Bezzerides makes it to Venezuela on her own. She meets up with Jordan Semyon and the hyper-loyal Nails, hands over the Vinci evidence to the Times reporter, and that’s the end of True Detective season two. Tony Chessani is the new mayor of Vinci, the rail corridor scheme goes through, Woodrugh is remembered as a hero, and it turns out that Velcoro was Chad’s biological father after all.
These last details, delivered by way of montage, serve to represent the darkness in Rustin Cohle’s proverbial night sky. This is possibly the only victory season two can easily claim over the first, in its ability to show the thematic conclusion rather than have it spoken aloud by Matthew McConaughey.
I mentioned in my first recap that season two would be more difficult than the first because we needed to be our own Rustin Cohles, applying his pessimistic lessons to the Ben Caspere case in order to fully appreciate the story. The conclusion to “Omega Station,” in its silent mirroring of season one’s final treatise on light and dark, asks us as viewers to look at the futility of good actions and find our own hope. The darkness of the modern day Gomorrah that is Vinci City cannot be wiped out by a few good people, and in nearly every conceivable way the bad guys won. That said, there is a small glimmer in the Times reporter who now has all the information to expose this corruption, but that’s another story for a happier world view.
In The Dust of This Planet – Frank Semyon’s death scene is evocative of the final lines of Eugene Thacker’s In The Dust of This Planet, the first entry in the author’s essential Horror of Philosophy series. The book served as an inspiration for the creation of Rustin Cohle, according to a popular episode of Radiolab about the new wave of nihilism sweeping pop culture. I recommend both the book series and the podcast to anyone who enjoys thinking on the more horrific themes in True Detective.
Transcendence – Jordan Semyon is carrying a baby in the final scenes of “Omega Station,” implying that a considerable amount of time has passed between the escape to Venezuela and the evidence handoff to the times reporter. If this is Ani’s baby (assuming that the Semyons’ infertility stuff was all true) Frank is the only one of the main characters that doesn’t transcend himself. Chad is Velcoro’s son, Woodrugh is remembered as a hero, and Ani has kept alive the fight against corruption while also mothering another Velcoro kid. Frank, in the end, did erase himself from all but the memory of his wife. I guess that counts as one character succeeding in what he set out to do, in the saddest way possible.
Losing – Though there is that final glimmer of hope in the end that the Times expose could bring down Vinci corruption, over all it really feels like the detectives lost in the end. How do you feel about this ending, and are you fond of main characters failing to achieve their goals in general? How about with the reveal of who torture-killed Ben?
#TrueDetectiveSeason3 – Well, love it or hate it, True Detective’s second season is over. Time to start speculating on next year! What actors do you want to see gazing into the abyss next time around this flat circle (that is, if the show is renewed)?
The World We Deserve – Thanks for reading along with my recaps this season. Hopefully HBO keeps Nic Pizzolatto’s show on the air and we can meet again in our own personal Venezuela next year and talk about night skies, nihilism porn, and the secret fate of all life.