'True Detective' Season 2: Reviewing Last 3 Episodes Before The Finale

Episode 5: “Other Lives”

“True Detective” leaped forward two months after the events of the previous episode’s high-octane shootout and gave viewers a…fairly monotonous hour filled with one major revelation and not much else. As was speculated earlier in this column, Frank did not send Ray after the man was truly guilty of raping his wife.

Fortunately, Frank was not guilty of the more sinister option of setting Ray up completely and having one of his own guys go after Ray’s wife to get him under his thumb. The cliffhanger ending found Ray showing up to confront Frank about the newly acquired intel as the potential for things to turn deadly hung in the air.

Ray had a terrible go of things in “Other Lives.” Not only did he learn he would kill an innocent man. His spiteful ex-wife relentlessly attacked him in their custody mediation. He was let go from the force and was given the bad news that he had to move out of his house. It was a tight race, but after this episode, Ray’s wife has officially become the most despicable character of the season. 

Her beef with Ray is ridiculous. The man has been taking care of, raising, and most importantly, loving Chad for his entire life, in spite of some incredibly difficult circumstances, and this is Ray's reward? He has done nothing bad enough to deserve to lose his son. She’s just cruel and beyond callous. 

Episode 6: “Church in Ruins”

With months of expectations, speculation, and serious hoopla at its back, "True Detective" unveiled what was going on in that mansion in the woods. For those expecting a racy play off of Stanley Kubrick's watershed film, "Eyes Wide Shut", that wasn’t in the cards. One couldn't even call the much-talked-about sequence, an even mildly loose homage. The presence of a mansion, drugs, and top-dollar escorts were about the only things the two scenes shared in common.

If there's one series currently airing where a send-up to the iconic scene in the trailblazing 1999 film would've been a relevant detour that didn't come across as simply fishing for shock value, it's "True Detective". The series has notably dabbled with the darkly mysterious, explored the pervasive past times of the powerful and flirted with the occult. The scene was all set for something presumably steamy, only to reach a lackluster crescendo that registered with not even a hint of eroticism.

Despite its release some 16 years ago, "Eyes Wide Shut" remains a never again duplicated spectacle. Since its release, neither television nor movies have dared to venture anywhere close to its unprecedented territory. In fact, it remains staggeringly unchallenged. Perhaps it was too ahead of its time or it's just a key example of how cable, with all of its big promises of a cutting edge lack of censorship, still maintains a glass partition to the sensually audacious.

For "True Detective" in particular, it was a missed opportunity for a season that desperately needed a jolt of something spicy. If Pizzolato thought he would surprise viewers by using the opportunity to offer a sad glimpse into Ani's psyche, he managed to land a punch. It was an odd choice to marry the two together, especially to reveal information that should've been known much sooner concerning the dogged detective.

For 6 episodes, her angry furor has seemed out of place and without any palatable motivation. Now that we finally know where she's coming from, it will make the final episodes a lot more explicable as far as her narrative is concerned. Instead of spending all of this time being able to root for Ani, she's come across as a pointlessly frigid jerk, not as a pained individual struggling to overcome long-term trauma. Knowing this could have made a tremendous difference in terms of her arc.

McAdams should've been given the opportunity to shine as she grappled with a more nuanced understanding of Ani's traumatized background instead of relying on a dowdy styling choice to express what a written explanation should've. Season 1 lost no steam by putting the cards of Rust Cohle's tragic backstory on the table upfront, so viewers could connect with his anguish instead of being distracted by having to speculate about its origins. This is yet another glaring parallel of how the first season was so superior.

Episode 7: “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”

The penultimate episode before “True Detective” signs off on its sophomore season delivered some shocking moments whilst hitting a few false notes along the way. First of all, Ani seemed to finally loosen up and let her guard down a little, even managing to conjure up a hug for her dad. One can’t help but wonder why Ani has resented her father all these years, openly reviling him, when he has apparently done nothing wrong to her. Even more mind-boggling is what the significance of the entire subplot centering on her dad being a possible cult leader has been.

It ultimately went nowhere and now, looking back it just seems like an attempt to evoke some relation to the first season’s occult vibe. Quite frankly, exploring a cult angle this season with California’s history would’ve been far more fascinating to watch than some of the other subplots the series chose to focus on (i.e., Stan). In fact, “True Detective” seemed so readily poised to go there with its cult angle that the u-turn away from it was simply jarring. Coincidental or not, Ani’s dad seemed patterned right after Father Yod, the subject of a 2012 documentary entitled “The Source Family.”

The worst missed opportunity came with the death that occurred at the end of the episode when Paul was shot in the back by dirty official Lt. Burris. After making it out of a maze of combatants, Paul emerged victorious, overcoming odds that would’ve made a Spartan proud. Then we’re to believe a trained gun with years of experience who managed to survive what he had before the show began and what he just did, gave a doorway his back, got distracted by using his phone, and let an assailant get the upper hand.

Then, instead of playing dead and using his last bit of strength to let Burris get closer and then go for his gun in an attempt to shoot him at close range, he exhaustively went for it in plain view. Okay. Looking past the logistics, the scene in question was simply tragic. Of the three detectives, Paul deserved to be in the finale the most. Sadly his story closed much the way it began. A guy filled with a lot of personal conflicts who never found any peace, the only difference now being that the bad guys have robbed a kid of his father.

Without him, Ray and Ani shouldn’t have a prayer of surviving the onslaught headed their way. Of the trio, Paul was the most gifted fighter with an accomplished tactical background and military expertise, which he’d exhibited countless times throughout the season. There’s no way Ani and Ray should be able to hold their own against what’s coming their way without an act of Hollywood-happy-ending intervention.

Burning Questions: Will we ever learn who Chad’s biological father is? Will Ray’s ex-wife ever settle down? Will Frank actually survive? Which characters will make it out alive?

[Image by HBO]