True Detective, Season 2, Episode 8, “Omega Station”
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
Directed by John Crowley
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
In the end, so many of the issues emblematic of the season at large caught up to each other to form one long, rough, near-painful season finale of True Detective. The disconnect between each of the four main characters turns into a huge distraction as the finale moves along, whereas previously in the season it was more of an annoying distraction. Ani’s reaction to the news of Paul’s death, so shocked she acts as if someone just punched her in the gut, comes off as the most fake character moment among many similar scenes. She and Ray barely knew Paul and definitely didn’t care enough to start a dialogue about his personal life at any time. The fact that his death would warrant any reaction beyond, “that means we’re next on the hit list” is delusional on the show’s part and supposes that Ani’s reaction mirrors how the audience is feeling at the same time. This also carries over to Ray’s commitment to avenging Paul’s death. Paul may have had their backs at certain points, but at no time did the team ever have the chance to bond more than superficially on the job and they certainly did not like each other enough as a group to sacrifice lives to avenge one another. The show wants the audience to feel a certain way about the action and deaths in this episode, but doesn’t shape the story to elicit those feelings.
Another major hole in the action is the sense that every cliffhanger had been decided long ago and as such, any mystery left to be unspooled was empty and uninteresting. It is obvious from a few minutes into the episode that Jordan and Frank will not have their fantasy reunion in that faraway park as they hope. Their farewell conversation is stilted and filled with anger that doesn’t actually seem that fiery, but any effort there is is all for naught because the end of their love story is already so obvious and anticlimactic. Even the final meeting between the doomed gangster lovers, in the middle of a desert pulled directly from Breaking Bad B-roll, is far below what either of these actors deserve. Vince Vaughan, much improved this episode even though his work this season is mediocre for the most part, can’t hope to pull off the sincerity necessary to sell his death shuffle through the sand as he confronts various ghosts (literally) from his past, and Kelly Reilly deserves far more to do than and sending her dead husband to the afterlife while wearing a catalogue wedding dress. No disrespect to catalogue wedding dresses, but the costuming choice seems not like a character-specific one but another sign of budgetary restrictions by HBO and the action itself is so boring it is hard not to be drawn to these smaller details.
Even the pieces of character work that were panning out well in earlier episodes fall apart in this finale as more and more weight is forced upon certain interactions. Ani and Ray growing closer as they move nearer to the firing line is a nice byproduct of the unfortunate fact that they are the two most damaged people around and as such, the show thinks the only thing to do is have them turn into late-stage love interests. This goodwill is almost instantly shattered, however, when Ani and Ray’s chosen postcoital conversation delves into her thoughts on her childhood trauma and his ongoing depression regarding his wife’s attack and his ensuing life choices. Whatever positive vibes the partnership was giving off evaporate as soon as they turn into a tragic case of star-crossed lovers rather than two cops having a good time in the midst of a heavy case. It also doesn’t help that many of their final story beats truly make no sense. That they would figure out all of the most important details of the case as soon as the episode needed them to, even though they had received very few additional details beyond what was already in their possession. That the boat taking Ani out of the country, by all accounts an incredibly illegal smuggling operation that would probably want to stay under the radar, leaves at three in the afternoon and heads across the boarder in broad daylight. That Ray would stop at his son’s school, once again in broad daylight, and stroll around for all to see even though he is a wanted fugitive and a marked man. It undercuts so much of the great acting that Colin Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are doing that even the better moments of the finale leave a bad taste behind.
The solution to the case is so much a side note to the death and destruction of the rest of the episode that it barely warrants a complaint. Even the extensive exposition delivered by the siblings who killed Caspere and the cops involved in the original robbery isn’t enough to successfully straighten out all of the criss-crossing conspiracies and lies. It also doesn’t really matter, seeing as the case has been a footnote all along and that barely changes here. The robbery was a tragic event carried out by corrupt police officers that has now impacted dozens of lives in and around Vinci, yet failed to register on the interest scale enough to even care about what happens to the Seattle-bound Erica or the riddled-with-bullets Leonid. The former is a nice moment for Ani to have before she goes on the run while the latter is the result of a legitimately idiotic knife attack in the middle of a concourse. Neither is around long enough to make an impact and as such, too much time is spent on Ani and Ray pretending to care about any of this. If either of them were smart they would have taken Felicia up on her offer of Venezuelan freedom far earlier than they did and a half hour could have been chopped off the finale’s excessive run time. But True Detective has never been about characters being smart, or aware, or at all concerned about common sense. This show is content to live in the world of twisted noir with storylines that never seem to have a clear path and characters who change motivations at the drop of a hat. So if storytelling tactics continue to result in convoluted seasons and shootouts in a redwood forest, that is the show’s prerogative, but it shouldn’t expect everyone to follow it down this rabbit hole again.
- What can really be said about Ray’s “under the radar” outfit at the mall? It isn’t so much a costume as it is a single cowboy hat and a voice that sounds like the third supporting cowboy in a John Wayne film.
- Ray saluting his son goodbye is almost as ridiculous as Chad thinking that carrying his grandfather’s badge around with him at school is a good idea.
- “I was wrong, turns out it was today.” The shootout at Osip’s place is chock full of delicious B-movie dialogue and by golly, Vince Vaughan comes this close to selling it.
- The episode cutting to “sad bar songstress” hauling her guitar and amp out of the empty bar is one of the most unintentionally funny non-sequiters on television this year.
- Felicia having a purpose/backstory in the final hour of this finale is truly insulting to the concept of “supporting” characters and a reminder that most shows still treat minority supporting players as set dressing rather than three dimensional characters.