TRUE DETECTIVE Season Finale Review: “Omega Station”
You can find recaps for episodes one, two, three, four, five, six and seven at the embedded links. Since this is our last time doing this, I'd like to take a moment to thank Phil Nobile Jr. for joining forces with me this season, and to thank BMD contributors Britt Hayes and Jacob Knight (joining us for tonight's wrap-up!) for their hard work, as well. Oh, and thanks to everyone who took the time to follow along with our ramblings from week to week. Good times. Now let's get to it:
Jacob: Pizzolatto's eight and a half hour session of "Influence Bingo" continues on with the finale, as what began with Ellroy and Friedkin is now closing with Michael Mann.
Scott: Eight and a half hours? Is that how long this episode was? Didn’t feel a minute over seven!
Jacob: We open with Ani and Ray in post-coital confession mode, as Ani discusses (cigarette in hand) how her four-day abduction and violation in the woods left her guiltily pleased, because at least her rapist made her feel "pretty". Meanwhile, Ray lays down how quickly he shot his wife's attacker, the thirst for vengeance all he knew in the moment.
I'm totally conflicted with this opening scene, as I get and enjoy the intent (two broken souls bonding over their respective reactions to a violation that changed their lives forever), but the execution is so odd. There's a romanticizing going on here that feels out of place and somewhat "first draftish", where we sense the influence (deep cover romance run amok, a la Miami Vice), but the actual author's voice is trembling and unsure.
Phil: Right - it’s a fine idea for a scene, and even the way it’s cut worked well. But I would’ve maybe preferred this scene happened last week, possibly before rigor mortis was setting in on Woodrugh’s body. It felt a little soft and slightly discordant given the show’s other lead had just been gunned down.But Jacob, can you dig in a little more on the Mann influence? I’m not as up on him as you are and I’m curious.
Scott: I would hear more of this, as well.
Jacob: Mann always has a way of injecting amorous relationships that develop almost completely under duress, as one of his favorite fascinations is how men and women come together via conflict (think Frank and Jessie's volatile beginnings in Thief, or Sonny and Isabella in Miami Vice). It's one of the reasons I've always been drawn toward his filmography, as sex doesn't necessarily first equate to love (it can be about "support" as well), yet can still be romantic. Here, Ray and Ani are digging into their own dark pasts to forge a connection where a void once was in both of them; a bridge across an emotional ravine neither were brave enough to necessarily cross without the right person.
What hurts this relationship is that (kinda like Phil just said), it's somewhat poorly placed and too late in the damn game. This is first or second act development stuff. Cramming it all into the finale feels like set up for the end, rendering the bond almost false or contrived. But Farrell and McAdams (especially McAdams, whose face is a stunning emotional canvas this episode) are working double-time to sell the truth of this moment.
Scott: They are, and I think they’re mostly successful in that regard. Agreed with both of you, though: awkwardly placed. And speaking of awkward, we jump from Ray and Ani’s post-boning bond session to Frank trying to break it off with Jordan in a train station. She’s not buying his harsh tough guy act, and - in a moment that surely had True Detective S2 haters cheering - she looks Vaughn right in the eyes and says, “You can’t act for shit.” I disagree, Jordan.
Phil: Meta! I wish Frank and Jordan’s relationship clicked for me more throughout the season; this scene might have been more effective. Again, I liked moments here (“Hey, that was a really big diamond”), but the two characters never, for me, shared much more than a frame during their scenes. Lots of posturing and playing to types. I blame the abstract dialogue that peppered all their scenes.
Jacob: This scene went on forever, and reached inexplicably goofy heights (the ring toss made me cock my head at the TV like a confused puppy). Then Frank has the line about wearing a red rose in his white suit and all I could picture is some unmade Vince Vaughn Spanish Bullfighter picture.
Phil: Would watch.
Jacob: Obviously, this is all over-the-top foreshadowing of "Frank's Gonna Die", but I like the forcefulness of his character's actions. Not to keep harping on the Mann influence (but I'm gonna), this felt directly lifted from Thief, where James Caan (who was also named Frank and involved in a diamond heist double cross) sends Tuesday Weld away before unleashing Hell on Rob Prosky, Dennis Farina and a gaggle of faceless goons. He gets all that he loves out of harm's way before the shit hits the fan.
Phil: The IDEA of it was sort of sweet - and Mann-esque, if I’m picking it up correctly: the two tell each other a comforting lie to get through the moment. But some of the specifics of the dialogue made it fall short.
Scott: Back in the hotel, Ray calls Burris. Ray tells him that he knows about the ‘92 diamond robbery, Burris tells him that Paul’s dead. Neither Ani nor Ray take this development well, particularly Ray, who realizes that the death will almost certainly be pinned on him. While talking this over, Ray puts the pieces together and spots a connection between the diamond robbery and a pair of characters we briefly met back during episode 3. After considering fleeing the country, Ray and Ani opt to track down Caspere’s murderers.
Jacob: All the stuff with Burris is brutal, and perhaps my biggest gripe with the finale as a whole. The guy has been such a non-entity for seven hours, and to devote so much time to him in the last ninety minutes is weird. In fact, the '92 diamond heist is pretty much junk, as it never felt properly developed and slightly shoehorned.
Phil: People joke about Stan, but “The Stan Question” is really emblematic of what’s hurt this season. Pizzolatto’s penchant for showing someone in passing, mentioning them by name somewhere else, and expecting us to know who they are at a later point has hobbled this season over and over. Holloway. Geldof. McCandless...
Scott: “McCandless”? Hahaha, who?
Phil: He’s dead now; rest him from your thoughts. It all turned to mush when we never had a solid visual memory to associate with these words. When the three detectives got their assignments back in episode two, I feel like some lower third identification on all their bosses would have helped. Only half-kidding! We heard a bunch of names early on and then they were maybe mentioned once between then and last week. So last week, for example, when Paul saw all those names involved in the ‘92 robbery, viewers are racing to play catch-up, scrambling to associate names with faces, and in the process you’ve lost them as engaged viewers. If this were a novel, the way the info was delivered might well have worked. On screen, it’s been a real clusterfuck.
Scott: It’s my #1 complaint about this season. The script’s had some clunkers, a few of the actors have struggled in their roles, and the pacing’s been all over the map, but the clusterfuckiness of all relevant information - stuff we need in order to stay engaged! - is what ultimately killed this season for me.
Jacob: I wouldn't say it "killed it" for me, as I love a good cop conspiracy yarn with multiple players, mini and major. But in terms of emotional payoff, you feel somewhat cheated. It all comes off like watching pistons fire in a machine you don't have an operations manual for.
Scott: Frank heads over to Mayor Chessani’s house and finds him floating in his pool (wet to the bitter end, that Chessani), and immediately realizes that Tony “Lil’” Chessani’s responsible for the death. After a brief interaction with the Mayor’s “fucking dense” wife, he gets the fuck out of Dodge. No mourning for the Mayor on my end.
Phil: You know what they say: It’s not an LA noir if there’s not a dead body floating in a pool. (Do they not say that? They should say that.)
Jacob: The look on his wife's face is bananas; stuck somewhere between "do you smell something burning?" and "nice suit, Frank".
Scott: Ray and Ani arrive at Len and Erica’s house and we get a huge exposition dump: yes, it was the orphans all along. Yes, Len tortured and killed Caspere (added bonus: he apparently drove around with his body, Weekend At Bernie’s-style, after the murder, which we caught a glimpse of in the premiere). Yes, Len and Erica have the hard-drive. No, it’s not good to anyone, as “some type of security feature” kicked in and erased the contents. No, Len’s not through: he’s on his way to meet Holloway - at a brand-new train station - to kill him.
Ray strolls into the train station in full Marlboro Man regalia, and - sure enough - there's Erica’s brother, hanging around with a knife waiting for Holloway. Ray approaches him (“I’m the guy you blasted with a shotgun, in your little bird mask”) and tells him to stand down from whatever he’s planning. Ray pitches an alternate plan, and shortly thereafter Holloway shows up, Burris trailing behind him. Ray sits down with Holloway and tells him he wants his name cleared in exchange for the hard-drive and the land documents he and Paul stole off Fuck Mountain. Holloway’s sort of down for this, but wants to place the blame on Ani. Ray realizes he’s cornered, and he moves the conversation into territory guaranteed to anger Len, who’s sitting directly behind them.
Phil: Was that an intentional gambit? I don’t think I realized it as such.
Scott: We don’t hear what Ray says to the dude - there’s a cutaway to Holloway walking in right after Ray says, “Now listen up…” (or something to that effect). So, I guess it’s possible he didn’t realize Len was there, but that’s not how I read it. In any event, Holloway doesn’t have to talk for long before Len leaps up and starts getting all stabby. Bullets start flying, Ani pops up outta nowhere and saves Ray’s ass, and the two escape in the ensuing fracas. All in all, I was onboard with this sequence.
Jacob: While the actual shootout is well-staged and visceral (and kind of truthful, in that the cops shoot the black guy despite him being one of their own AND getting attacked by a wild white dude with a butcher's knife), none of this is engaging on a dramatic level. Caspere was offed by a character we met briefly on a movie set and quickly forgot? More bullshit prizes won in the Pizza Lotto.
Phil: HEYO. I was no-shit RIVETED during this scene. Even when three of the four players in the scene are half-nobodies in terms of character development, there was no getting around how much I was pulling for Ray at this point. And it’s to both the show’s and Farrell’s credit that my heart was kind of pounding during that entire standoff. And yeah, that the shoot-out was so sloppy and real didn’t hurt that tension. Less great: the Chinatown nod about Caspere being Erica’s dad.
Jacob: I was riveted by Colin Farrell's cowboy getup. Not so thrilling: Frank's weird anti-Semitism when calling Osip, telling him he’s coming to blast him.
Phil: I went back and watched a chunk of episode 3 after this, and Frank was calling Osip a Jew Commie in private for a while. Frank’s never been the most enlightened fella.
Jacob: Maybe it was the fact that the show's working so hard to get us to like Frank that when he hissed the slur it took me by surprise.
Scott: To be fair, this is the same Frank we saw pull a man's teeth out with a pair of pliers, so I think his likability only extends so far; getting anti-Semitic on Osip didn't strike me as a deal-breaker so much as par for the Frank course. Let's all just agree it was unfortunate, but not out of character! Moving on: Frank meets up with Ray and Ani. He ropes Ray into ripping off Osip and his guys, reasoning that Ray and Ani are going to need money to stay hidden. Ani, meanwhile, learns that Lady Scarface has a plan to smuggle the two of them down to Venezuela, should they want it. Following these developments and Ray's catastrophic meeting with Holloway, the prospect of going on the lam sounds better than ever. So, Ray and Frank head up to Osip’s place, armed to the teeth, and...look, this whole sequence was pretty great (I particularly loved the theatricality of the smoke bombs). Also, I think Jacob’s got a bit to say here about the Mann influence.
Phil: Are you sure? Maybe the Mann comparisons end with the relationship stu-
Jacob: This is Thief on steroids; a preemptive bit of punishment that acts as both revenge and cautionary measure. Frank has sent his love away and has gone into full "Punisher mode".
There's that great moment in Thief where James Caan delivers a monologue describing how, in order to survive in prison, he had to break himself down to his basest instincts. He couldn't give a fuck if he lived or died and, in this moment, Frank joins Caan's ex-con professional safe-cracker by becoming a walking death machine (with more than a little assistance from Ray -- hair slicked like a white trash samurai). Much how Phil was on edge for the train station shootout, this gas mask massacre really blew my hair back. Frank and Ray flooding the house and disappearing into the smoke is one of the better visual moments I've seen on TV...maybe ever.
Phil: I felt an uneasy knot as Ray and Frank had their final scene. I knew the specter of death was hanging over both of them, and I got caught up in their goodbye, not sure how either of them would leave it. It was tense but weirdly emotional to watch them part ways.
Jacob: It's so good. Moments like that are why I can't quit this show!
Scott: Ray calls Ani and lets her know he’s en route, and because he almost tells her he loves her, we can go ahead and assume that he’s doomed, as well.
Phil: This is the bad kind of telegraphing. More in a few, but Jesus.
Scott: For sure. He stops en route to get one last look at his kid (who’s hanging out on the playground with Pop-Pop’s badge, as kids do). While he’s waving goodbye, someone slaps a tracking device on his car.
Jacob: This scene is so earnest in its stupidity you can't help but admire it. Farrell and the kid keeping a straight face should earn them both some kind of special recognition Emmy for "bravery in the face of sheer ridiculousness."
But here's some more Mann for you! Farrell debating whether or not to exit and see his portly progeny one last time is almost shot-for-shot lifted from Heat (McCauley's internal debate re: snuffing Waingro before he jets off with Eady). It's crazy! Only here the mantra seems to be: "Don't let yourself get attached to any ginger tot you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."
Scott: Frank’s on his way out of town, so it’s time to get stocked up. He collects $3.5m in diamonds, a new passport and a brand-new car, but - much like the protagonist in Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” - he don’t get far. The Mexican crew that Frank tangled with a few episodes back stops him in traffic, loads him into a car, and drives him out to the desert. And Ray’s not faring much better: he calls Ani and tells her he’s being tailed, and advises her to get on that getaway boat without him. Ray, knowing full well that he’s headed for disaster, just keeps on driving, narrating more self-help tapes for his kid as he goes. I liked that little moment where he’s trying to ensure the audio file uploads to Gmail before disaster strikes. Funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Phil: I should not have been laughing at this point in the show!
Scott: Frank, now in a scene straight out of Breaking Bad, pays his way out of hot water with the million dollars he’s got sitting in his suitcase. Everything seems to be working out for him...and then a henchman asks if he can have Frank’s suit. First time I watched this, I assumed it was simple pride that got Frank killed - you got my million dollars, you’re leaving me in the desert, and now you literally want the clothes off my back? - but upon second viewing, I remembered he’s got that $3.5m in diamonds in his pocket.
Phil: Last week, Frank described the Mexican situation thusly: “I figure I’d drill a new orifice, go on and fuck myself for a change.” And that’s what happened! Foreshadowing! Payoff! Chekhov’s Mexicans! That guy didn’t want his suit until he mouthed off about a ride. He fucked himself and got a, well...
Scott: A Chekhov’s orifice, kind of! While this is going on, Ray gets cornered in the forest (hey, there’s the trees we were promised in the Ep 3 dream sequence!) by Burris and his men. As promised, they shoot him to pieces. It’s sad.
Phil: I was surprised by how I can be infuriated by the show telegraphing stuff 90 seconds beforehand, but when Pizzolatto has something explicitly described by a character in a dream five hours earlier into the show’s run, I’m oddly on board.
Jacob: Isn't that the difference between solid "set up and pay off" writing and simply cramming a bunch of plot into a few hours, though? One feels meticulously thought out; the other like an artist realizing he's reached the end as has gotta put a bow on it fast.
Phil: Sure, but I just mean having your dad come along at the top of the third hour and tell you in a dream exactly how you’re going to die in the finale can be just as schlocky as the kind of blocking that says “THIS CHARACTER WILL DIE IN 40 SECONDS”, yet I’m oddly into the former! Maybe it was Fred Ward.
Jacob: Fred Ward doesn't hurt. However, Fred Ward scored by Conway Twitty can do whatever the fuck he wants.
Scott: I did not care for Dream Dad’s prophecy being fulfilled, nor did I care for Ray dying. I think I would’ve liked it more if he and Ani were able to start over together with all that cash. Maybe I’m a sentimentalist, but I liked the brief glimpse we got of Ray and Ani on the phone together, being all not-depressed.
Phil: It was Bummer City at my house after Ray’s fate came to pass. But I’m not about ordering my drama a la carte; Ray’s ending closed a loop, and it sucked to watch mainly because everyone involved did their jobs. Ray’s story, when the dust settles, might be the most successful element of this season. (But man, they laid that misery on thick at the end; Failed upload! 99.9999 per cent paternity results! This was like a The Counselor-level downer.)
Scott: Hahaha. Frank, on the other hand, I was fine with losing. Not making that call based on Vaughn, either: I liked Frank’s character, and I liked Vaughn in the role. I just felt his death was more earned than Ray’s. What’d you guys think of Frank’s death march? The 80’s street-toughs felt a little silly to me, as did Ray’s dad popping in to call him a “faggot”, but I actually liked the moment where Jordan appeared (“You stopped moving way back there”).
Phil: Rust Cohle can have the sky open up into a cosmic black hole during a shootout with a serial killer and somehow that feels more organic than Frank’s life passing before his eyes as he dies. Credit for the attempt to show us the inner life of someone whose life is slipping away, but maybe don’t cast it with performances out of an afterschool special.
Jacob: I'm realizing as we write that I'm more negative on the finale than I initially thought. I kinda hated Frank's final vision quest because I honestly didn't see the point of dragging it out so far. Who were these anonymous 80s hooligans shouting at him? We know his dad was an asshole due to his "rat" monologue early on. What does this add other than faux metaphysical "depth"? I know Pizzolatto usually forgoes subtlety altogether (and am fine with that), but this was just overkill (pun possibly intended).
Phil: I “got” it - here were all the milestones that made Frank the hard man who would not lie down. Swell. But it was kind of cringe-worthy and - again - a bit of challenge to give a shit about since, character-wise, they were a bunch of Mega-Stans™.
Scott: I’m realizing as we go along that I’ve not been hard enough on this finale. This thing didn’t need to be 90-minutes long. We could’ve easily lost ~20 minutes from the Frank/Jordan train station conversation, for instance.
Anyway, with Frank and Ray dead, we are treated to a brief montage: things happening after their deaths. Ray’s dad is sad. Tony Chessani takes over as the Mayor of Vinci. And, in what might be the episode’s only genuine shocker, Ray is revealed to be Chad’s father (did not see that one coming). Meanwhile, Ani has successfully landed in Venezuela. We pick up with her somewhere down the road, where she’s handing over a mountain of evidence to a journalist from the Times.
Phil: The reporter Ray beats up in the first episode for writing about corruption in Vinci is now the only person who can posthumously clear his name. I hope that guy takes the high road.
Scott: Ani leaves the reporter to his own devices, and then we learn that she’s been joined by Jordan, who’s watching...Ani and Ray’s baby! OK, so maybe there were two genuine surprises in this episode.
Phil: In the afterglow of every white male lead being killed, I wonder if folks are going to furrow a brow or two at the idea that those white men died to save the women, whom they stuck on boats that ferried them away to safety like in a fairy tale. That’s a vexing takeaway, especially when Ani was such a capable individual in the field.
Scott: And that's a wrap on season two. Welp.
Questions From The Audience
Scott: So, earlier today I hit up Twitter and opened up the floor to anyone who might wanna toss us a question about Season Two. Let's kick off the questions with @la.donna.pietra, who asks, “Does Pizzolatto understand the difference between tropes and cliches?”
Phil: Hell, do we? I feel like that to which we give a pass on this front is often a matter of degrees and goodwill. I will say that this season has left me afraid to go back and rewatch season one. That’s a drag; I just bought the blu-rays.
Scott: @cbkreider asks: “Do you remember how many weeks it was going to be until Vaughn saw his wife again?” Nope!
Next up, @BryceBochan asks: “Why did Vince not maneuver the car before/while be sandwiched?”
Phil: That was some tidy plotting and it strained credulity for me. Frank in Michael Mann scorched earth mode wouldn’t have let that happen.
Scott: Agreed. Frank just sat there looking content for a bit longer than I’d expect from a street-wise, would-be gangster. Hell, I am neither street-wise nor a gangster, and I woulda dodged outta that situation the moment the car behind me stopped.
Here's one from @taymckay: “What was the purpose of mutilating Caspere's body? Were we to assume the brother was "into" ritualistic killing?”
Phil: As Erica says, “he got carried away.” There was also mention of him having “been through a lot”, so we can assume Len had a rough time in the foster system. He got the bad touch.
Scott: Yeah, Erica specifically mentioned the acid. Caspere’s missing junk seems like the more egregious offense, but then again: dude turned out his sister like a light. I’m thinking “rage-killing with sexual overtones” isn’t totally out of the question here. A stretch, but I’ll allow it.
Here's one just for you, Phil: @cevangelista413 wants to know: “Where can I get the blazer Velcoro wears? I'm not kidding, I really want to know!”
Phil: Poke around online under "western sport coat" or "western jacket" - you want that scalloped Western yoke he's got going in the front and back. The new stuff I've found in this style looks pretty flimsy, so you might want to go vintage. This one is pretty darn close, and this one might be even closer (But as I always say, once you've bought the jacket, you're not done buying it. A good $50 tailoring is the difference between "I found this" and "I belong in this", and will separate you from the off-the-rack schlubs).
Scott: Goddamn, you are good at that, Phil. Next question's from @MrAaronSwainEsq, who asks: “Was it worth it? Did season 2 redeem itself or was it ultimately a disappointment?”
Phil: This season was unwieldy and took some wrong turns, and Pizzolatto’s got to work on his exposition delivery, but I’m not exactly wishing I had my eight hours back. It reminded me (if nothing else, in terms of my viewer return on investment) of the film Dark Blue, a deeply flawed, not wholly successful crime drama containing a lead performance that rose above the final product and made watching it worth the effort.
Scott: Funny that it reminded you of Dark Blue, as it reminded me of The Shield...which also reminds me of Dark Blue. I made the comparison to The Shield earlier in the season, and while I don’t think the two are all that similar on the whole, there were a number of smaller commonalities between the two, enough so that - as the season went on - I kept getting more and more interested in the idea of revisiting The Shield. Why isn’t that on Netflix, for god’s sake?
OK, here's the last one. @davefranklin asks: “What do you make of “hate watchers”, and the hate it gets in general? What on earth is going on?!”
Phil: The internet drives people to want to be part of the conversation, to the point that the conversation becomes more important than the content. So you have to go see the thing everyone is talking about, so you can be part of the REAL event, right? I’m not into hate watching; I showed up every week wanting to love the show, and at the very least I liked what I saw enough to keep coming back. I don’t think I have the time to watch something I hate.
Scott: Well said. All I have to add here is: no one should give a fuck what Twitter says. Watch what you like, don’t bring anyone else’s baggage to it, and find likeminded people to discuss it with.
Phil: I sincerely want a third season of True Detective. I don’t want this series to be stopped short by unmet expectations, or even a sophomore stumble. There was plenty of stuff of merit in here, and there were plenty of lessons to take away on what not to do going forward. Pizzolatto wanted to do a more epic crime story and now, for better or worse, he has. I want to see where a third season would zag in response to season two’s zig. If Pizzolatto announced tomorrow that he’s writing season three, I would be no less excited at the news. If he announced tomorrow, “I made this creative sandbox, and now it’s time for someone else to come play in it,” that would also be fine. It’s too weird and fertile a creative space to kill off, though. If nothing else, this season has given us some solid-to-stellar long form performances to enjoy, and for that I’m grateful. The good of season two, for me, outweighs the bad. Bring on #TrueDetectiveSeason3.
Jacob: I've been thinking about the Second Season of True Detective almost in terms of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate lately, wondering if it's a work we're going to look back on in ten to twenty years and wonder why we were so hard on it. Don't get me wrong, like Cimino's epic failure, it's certainly flawed to its very core. But there's ambition and small beautiful victories peppered throughout. Also like Heaven's Gate, there were some critics who smelled blood in the water (in this case, a loudmouth "bad boy auteur" who needed to be taken down a peg instead of an in-over-his-head prodigy) and came out swinging from Week One. This is ambitious, weird TV; the kind we probably should be relishing a little more than we are. Should we not get a #TrueDetectiveSeason3, I'm thinking it'll be something like a bounce back, as our expectations will be in check. I know we'll probably never get another "single director" season, but I'd love to see Jonathan Demme tackle nine hours of pulp again. Worked out for the Third Season of The Killing!
Scott: Overall, I'm disappointed with season two. Every episode had a handful of moments that played like gangbusters, and every once in a while we'd see two or three of those strung together into a chunk of screentime where the show really seemed to find its footing and build up a head of steam. Again and again those little victories were crowded out by stretches marred by wince-inducing dialogue or bad line readings or - most commonly - the season's disastrous plotting...and yet, I agree with you: I may not have loved this season, but I certainly didn't hate it (Colin Farrell's work alone makes that impossible for me), and I'd gladly sign up for a third go-round. My hope for season three is that they'll bring in a team of writers to help Pizzolatto manage whatever madness he comes up with, and - to echo something Jacob said above - I hope they can find a director who a) knows his/her shit and b) is willing to sign up for the full run of episodes. I think Fukunaga's contributions to the show are beyond debate at this point, and I think that having a similarly-talented and confident directorial voice may be the key to making this thing work in the long run.
Now what did you guys think?