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True Detective Season 2 Finale Review: Payday

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If only it was as simple as paying the bad guys off. But this is True Detective we’re talking about and nothing comes simply. And unfortunately our three troubled heroes found that out to be true this week in season 2’s finale: a finale that was both exciting and sad – yet lacked any real punch because of the mess it left itself from the seven episodes before it.

One thing this season has not had enough of is the tension and fear that something is lurking in the shadows, about to strike. But that wasn’t a problem in this episode. The lurking danger of Burris, Holloway and the Mexicans felt ever present this week, knowing at some point there would indeed be a showdown. It meant interest for once was sustained throughout the running time despite always knowing that season was going to end in a morbid, perhaps a little predictable, fashion (more on that in a moment.) None of that would have been half as gripping if I didn’t care about the characters though.

I know what you’re thinking ‘You’ve been criticising these characters for most of the season, how do you care for them all of a sudden?’ Well, technically I’ve never doubted their potential. Ray’s battle with his past which links into the case, Ani’s battle with her strong and vulnerable side, and Frank’s quest to live a normal life were all arcs we’ve seen before. But they had the potential to be compelling, as this show is unique to other cop dramas where it takes precedence in its characters’ lives over plot, so I had high hopes that we’d be getting nuanced character studies at the start of the season. However, now that we’re at the other end of the season I can safely say what we got was characters ‘developed’ in a melodramatic and very heavy-handed manner. Ray arguing with his ex-wife about him being “decent,” Ani having parental chats with her father, and Frank talking with Jordan about conceiving a child are all examples of the forced manner these characters have been ‘developed.’ But at least the finale put a stop to those recurrent mishaps – bar the opening scene where Ray and Ani talked in the bed about their horrific pasts, despite being the stories we’ve heard before – it finally did what these characters should have been doing since the beginning: taking action to fight their demons head on, not to stop and at great length talk about them every five minutes. The airport shootout, the slaying of Osip Agronov, Jacob McCandless and their men to grab the cash, and despite being a little like a live action version of the video game, Payday, you still felt the stakes. Even more so because Ray and Ani’s actions this episode were motivated by their need for each other, you know that their troubles would at least become suppressed if they ended up together, so it injected further tension into the finale which seemed to help the actors as well.

Were the deaths of our three leads satisfying?

The performances were faultless this week. Colin Farrell, apart from his Batman nasal groaning voice, has played the part with the most believability so far this season but sometimes veered into overacting in the emotional scenes, but this time he held back, you could see in his eyes that he was desperate, Ray was desperate. Whereas with Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams sometimes I got the feeling they were actually acting, that they were not deep enough into their role to disappear behind their character. That problem mainly occurred in the quieter scenes when the clunky dialogue is present. Nevertheless these two kept their performances spotless this episode, really nailing each line. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Kelly Reilly as Jordan. Reilly is a super talented actress so maybe it’s the way the part is written, but all she seems to do in each scene is alternate between doe-eyed and angry. Nonetheless, the cast went out on a high note.

And it seems this season went out on a high note too. Seeing that I’ve pretty much praised the finale for upping the quality in all areas and delivering thrilling shootouts, high stakes, gnawing tension, good acting, it must have meant True Detective was back to its best?

Well, not quite, the actual end result was marred by the unrecoverable mistakes the earlier episodes made. For instance, the clichéd characterizations, clunky dialogue, and convoluted plot with far too many minor characters and small details, which means it’s almost impossible to follows all these names and facts despite it being quite a simple plot: two orphaned kids have their parents killed by Caspere in a diamond robbery and want revenge so they kill Caspere, but this death just happens to be a mistake in timing.  Caspere was about to betray Semyon and make a big money deal with Osip Agronov (Semyon’s enemy.) All the while three cops try to expose a web of corruption which reveals that Osip and Caspere were a part of a high end sex club in which government and political figures were involved. It seems barely enough plot to fit into six episodes let alone eight, so that’s probably why there were so many other characters and red herrings thrown in to make the plot look more complicated than it actually was.

It meant when these characters went out it just lessened the impact a touch. These characters had been so poorly developed throughout the season it was hard to care as much for them when they went out, but luckily the endings they did receive were well written and I did feel satisfied with the way they each concluded, apart from one character.

The only conclusion that I didn’t see as impactful was Ani’s. It was the fact that her ending was lessened by the little impact she had in the finale as she was pretty much a spare part. It was also the fact that her story hadn’t quite finished. Her story was the only arc not tied up by the end. Perhaps Ani’s ending needed more thought put into it, but I suppose if you say that then you could also say that about the whole season.

Perhaps Pizzolatto was rushed into getting these scripts into production; perhaps it needed an experienced script editor to go through it. Perhaps Pizzolatto was given more leeway than last year because of last year’s success. I don’t know, but what I do know was that this season fed us at times insufferable dialogue, poor characterisation, but occasional moments of bizarre brilliance, so it’s those bizarre/brilliant moments like Ray’s dream sequence in the Black Rose and the bird mask shooting that – because I trust Pizzolatto’s ability – I’m going to hold on to.

  • On a side note, I must reserve my highest praise for the work done by the composer T-Bone Burnett who crafted an eerie neo-noir soundboard that punctuated the industrial urban sprawl of Vinci so eloquently. His work with singer/songwriter Lera Lynn was also brilliant, those droning yet sombre songs will at least make the Black Rose the place to go when you’ve had a bad day. Let’s hope if there is a season 3, T-Bone will stick around.

Good Things

  • Could feel the stakes and high tension
  • Faultless Performances
  • Velcoro and Semyon's grim fates
  • T-Bone Burnett's score

Bad Things

  • Ani's conclusion
  • Previous Episodes soured the finales impact