Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries at the doorstep; life can be so sweet, on the sunny side of the street: True Detective has wrapped up its second season, kids. We can stop spending our Sunday evenings groaning along with Leonard Cohen and the hard-boiled boilerplate of Detective auteur Nic Pizzolatto.
Warning: Spoilers follow for the season finale of True Detective.
Expanding to 90 minutes of misery, True Detective ended up killing off all of its main characters except for Rachel McAdams’s Ani, who had to suffer the final indignity of disguising herself beneath a hideous floppy hat to make her escape from the show. Before that, Vince Vaughn’s Frank plopped down dead in the desert after being visited by a vision of his wife, to whom he’d earlier muttered words of mad, mad love as only Frank can mutter them, “It’s not gonna work, the you and me thing.” And Colin Farrell’s Ray was gunned down in a High Sierra hail of bullets, a death that could be considered merciful if only because it prevented him from dictating any more of the worst life advice any father has ever left behind for his son. (Pizzolatto ordered director John Crowley’s camera to close in on the “Failed to Upload” message on Ray’s sad little recorder.)
It turns out much of the Internet was as good at plotting as Pizzolatto. In the week leading up to the finale, a number of places — sources most usefully summarized here by Willa Paskin — figured out that the mystery killer/victims of Ben Caspere were Len and Laura Osterman (a head-banging nod to the title of Sam Peckinpah’s final film), orphaned during the 1992 robbery with the blue diamonds that implicated corrupt cops including James Frain’s Burris, who killed Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh, who was immortalized in the show’s final moments by having a highway named after him. Because, you remember, he was all about “ridin’ the bike,” right?
I suppose True Detective did McAdams a favor by giving her a role in which she could show her tough stuff, but it otherwise smothered the rest of its stars in muzzy woolgathering. If you want to see what Farrell can really do as a tough American cop, by all means go look at Michael Mann’s underrated 2006 Miami Vice. And I assume in a few years we’ll all be able to look at Vaughn and not think of him mouthing Pizzolatto pearls from this finale such as “I have a play” (meaning a plan, not a copy of Our Town tucked under his arm) and “Stop reading into things” — advice Pizzolatto should heed himself, this production being one long overreach into film-noir mythology.
Indeed, the sins of True Detective turned out to be ones that can be tidily stated: He pumped up a pulp-thriller plot with gassy pretension, repeated plot points as though fingering worry-beads, and displayed a lack of humor so severe, when Ani and Ray finally smiled during their final phone chat, their ivory grins were just the most obvious clues that there was no way they were going to get out of this series alive.
Ultimately, mustering a short list of virtues: I liked Kitsch’s pinched performance; thought McAdams’s brisk physicality brought authority to a role that enabled her to vault over groaners like “People — whole cultures — wouldn’t blame you”; I could have watched a bit more of David Morse and his wacky institute; and the show’s various directors kept things moving along enough to keep me straining to endure the next portentous speech.
I also hope that True Detective’s collateral damage will not extend to Lera Lynn, aka, The World’s Saddest Singer in the World’s Saddest Bar. Lynn’s singing in this series, it finally occurred to me, was similar in tone and timbre to that of Sam Phillips, the excellent musician who used to be married to True music overseer T Bone Burnett. I am very interested to hear more of Lynn’s music, whether written by her or her collaborations with Burnett and Rosanne Cash. Why, I’ll bet Lynn even smiles now and then in performance when she’s not under the grim lash of Pizzolatto, and that if Burnett were to record a True Detective soundtrack album of non-dolorous rearrangements of the music he, Lynn, and Cash wrote for the show, it’d be tip-top stuff.
So dry your eyes, mop your brow, sing hallelujah, come on, get happy: There are still a few bright weeks of summer Sundays left to enjoy now that this True Detective has muttered its last soul-shriveling curse.