True Detective S02E08 Recap: 'Omega Station' [Season Finale]
For better or for worse, it's been impossible not to compare True Detective season 2 to the highly-regarded first season. As much as it's tried to make clear that it's a different show, it's been the subject of many of these reviews and much of the criticism, seeing as it follows many of the same beats and really, it's the only thing we have to compare it to. And it definitely didn't help that writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto seemed to be baiting the audience by hitting many of those aforementioned beats, yet purposely taking them in the opposite direction.
The most overt and frankly laughable example of this came on Sunday night during the second season's finale, "Omega Station". Much like in season one, the detectives had already broken much of the mystery wide open, leaving actually catching the criminals and reflecting on everything that happened the only true loose end. Ray and Ani knew most of the people involved -- Burris, Holloway, Chessani, etc. -- but they had to figure out how to get the evidence into the right hands. Paul's play saw him bite the bullet at the end of last week's episode, and Ani and Ray vow revenge when they learn his fate. Meanwhile, Frank is already in revenge mode following his arson escapades last week.
But over the course of the hour and a half that this episode took to wrap things up, we found out that there wasn't really all that much that they could do. Every time they would place what seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle, ten more would pop up from under the carpet. Every time they would seemingly get an edge over their enemies, a new one would pop up and push them back three steps.
And that's pretty much how all of this ends. Frank takes out Osip when he gets Ray's help, but on his way out of town he runs into the Mexicans, understandably upset that the venues where they were promised they could move their product were suddenly burned to the ground. So they stab him and leave him for dead in the desert. Ray understandably realizes that he can't bring all these criminals in since they've stacked the deck so high against him, so first he decided to try and take them out guns blazing, and when that doesn't work, he tries to get them as far away from Ani and the proof as possible before they shoot him unceremoniously in the middle of the woods. And Ani? She gets away to Venezuela with money and the evidence, but it takes her a full year to get it to anyone, all while everyone left standing following the events of the season continues to profit out in the open in Ventura county. And, oh yeah, she's a single mom thanks to her one night stand with Ray.
Stop and compare all of this, particularly the tone in which it's presented, to how the first season ended. While season one was mostly grim and dark and brooding as well, it ended on an odd, mystical, positive message that if good people step out of their own anger and despair just long enough, they can do some good and take the bad guys down. Rust and Marty, they were good people who often did bad things, and that helped them get the job done before Rust stared wistfully into the sky realizing that things were going to be okay in the end.
In season two, the big question has been whether these four people are actually any good in the first place. Ray was a cop who took the first opportunity to do something bad, and even though he was never as bad as his bosses, he turned a blind eye for years whilst helping a known criminal on the side. Frank was a career criminal who suddenly decided he wanted to go clean, but spends the bulk of these eight episodes shooting people in the face trying to figure out who stole his stolen money. Ani was a good cop, but she never fit into the system, never tried to conform and had a lot of demons. Paul was maybe the Truest Detective out of all of them, and even he spent the entire season lying to himself about who he really was. And what did he get for it anyway, a bullet to the back?
While season one presented this positive and almost uplifting conclusion, season two purposely tears everything away from you and tells you that nothing's going to be okay. Frank dies. Ray dies. Paul's already dead. Jordan's left widowed in a foreign country. Ani's raising a son on her own she never asked for, not only carrying it as a reminder of Ray's death, but the burden of a suitcase full of essentially useless evidence against people who'll never be caught. And the show piles it on even worse when we find out that, yeah, it turns out Ray's kid was actually his kid all along.
It's a direct jab at the people who criticized the first season's finale. They didn't like how straightforward and plain it all was, so Pizzolatto turns around and gives us a dark, bleak, depressing ending where no one gets caught and no one good ever wins, if any of them were even good to begin with. And he's doing it all on purpose, so that when we criticize what the show has become, he can point out how we didn't like what it was before either (thanks to the steady stream of criticism that flowed in after the show ended), and therefore can't be happy with everything. How sanctimonious is that? To kick everyone while they're down, he purposely makes it so that the only people who survive are the show's two women, so that we don't perceive him as sexist anymore. Except now they're entire existence revolves around the care of a child, because of course it does.
This is all coming from someone who actually enjoyed not only the first season finale, but much of the second season as well. Once I was able to accept that this was a looser, plainer detective show with weird, purposely forced and almost self-referential pseudo-existential dialog and the occasional headshot-riddled shootout, it actually became quite enjoyable.
But not this. Not this finale. It's mostly meandering and boring, the exciting action scenes where things get resolved don't really make much sense, and everything makes you want to kill yourself when the show hammers home the point that nothing is ever going to be okay for these people. And what's the point? You already exchanged any semblance of depth this season could have had for vanity and an overcomplicated discarded Law & Order plot. Why couldn't at least some of these characters get a happy ending? The whole thing reeks of Pizzolatto petulantly destroying his own sandcastle when he's told it's time to go home. So he can prove a point? So he can stick it to people who didn't like what he did the first time around?
I can only hope that this is just a phase for the writer. That any inevitable third season can bounce back and give us more of what made us fall in love with the show in the frist place.
The season finale of True Detective, "Omega Station", gets 4.5 Venezuelan sojourns out of 10.
Season 2 as a whole gets 6.5 discarded bird masks out of 10.
Notes & Quotes:
- There were a few things I liked about this finale. The directing was notably better than it's been the last few episodes. I particularly liked the aesthetic of the three main characters all being in different places while their arcs were resolved; Ani on the water making her escape, Ray in the woods making his final stand, and Frank in the desert wandering to his demise. That's good writing (because despite what people will have you believe, Pizzolatto does have a lot of that in him) and it translated well to the screen.
- There will definitely be a third season, considering the ratings were really good, but I'll be curious to see how it takes form, considering the storm of criticism has been markedly worse this time around and Pizzolatto will have hopefully gotten this little rebellion out of his system.
- Truest Detective Power Rankings: None of them. Frank's still kind of the best at investigating, but he completely forgets about the Mexicans and pays for it. Ray at a certain point completely gives up on bringing bad people to justice and just starts popping off headshots. Ani takes a year to contact anyone about the evidence while everyone who did anything bad and is still alive goes free. The only one who died with any sort of dignity was Paul. RIP Paul, you sweet prince.
- Kelly Reilly to Vince Vaughn (possibly out of character): "You can't act for shit."
- "That was a big diamond."
- "I hope you saved some of that Miss Ukraine money."
- "Saw the mayor went for a swim. Thought I should say goodbye."
- "Honestly Ray, nobody had any idea you were this competent."
- "You're a cop right? Lady cop?" "What gave me away? The tits?"