Warning: Some pretty major spoilers for the entire second season are ahead.
And now, True Detective season two is over. What started as a hashtag, then morphed into a potential hot mess hate-watch before becoming a pretty great show about fuckups ended last night with justice being served to no one. Corruption will live on in Vinci, most of the main characters died, and the Mexican gangsters made it out with a duffel bag full of money.
But wrapping the often confusing story up with a nice, tidy bow on top was never the point of True Detective. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the season's real aim was to introduce a set of characters, show us what they wanted and why, and then give them on an uphill battle to get it. And by the episode's end, everyone got what they wanted, even if they didn't make it out alive.
But how, exactly, did they get what they want? Even Rachel McAdams's Ani, who by all measures of judgment had the happiest ending of the four principals, finished her storyline on a fairly dour note. Then again, in the True D universe, achieving your life's goal isn't necessarily going to make you happy. It simply means that you've justified your purpose—oh, and the evil forces that govern this world have all the more reason to bear down upon you and suck you into the abyss.
With that in mind, let's look at our four protagonists and how they fought back against the fucked-up world they'd been handed.
Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch)
Status: Dead before the episode started.
What he wanted: To be one with the road.
How he got it: Paul, the deep-eyed motorcycle cop whose connection with a Blackwater-esque private security organization ended with him getting shot in the back by the insanely crooked cop Kevin Burress, was, as this sentence implies, not a particularly lucky guy. His closeted homosexuality had led to him getting blackmailed by his former employer, and just when he'd gotten out from under their yoke, Burress shot him. The symbolism of Paul's death was almost hilariously heavy-handed: He was free from the specter of his past, and after he literally reached the light at the end of a tunnel, Burress killed him. Though his pregnant fiance was probably very sad about this, it's fine because the highway patrol dedicated a stretch of highway to him.
Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell)
What he wanted: His son's love.
How he got it: Colin Farrell's Ray Velcoro realized pretty early on that he was too embroiled into the drama of Vinci to ever get out alive, and we the viewers realized equally early on that he hated himself too much to really try. And even though Ray's voice message to his son never uploaded to the cloud, he still had a bunch of great stuff happen to him before he died in a hail of bullets. He and Ani fell in love, and in the process he realized that if someone else could care about him, he wasn't truly worthless. He and Frank got to kill a bunch of people while wearing gas masks (I suppose that was the bro-bonding equivalent of the Ani-Ray sex scene), and then put millions of dollars in duffel bags. It was Ray's selflessness (or self-loathing, depending on whether your tumbler of whiskey is half-full or half-empty) that did him in, though—on his way to meet Ani and flee to Venezuela, he decided to make a pit stop at his ginger son's school to get one last look at him. Ginger Son saw Ray, they saluted each other, and then Ray went back to his car—and realized there was a tracking device on his car and he was fucked.
Ray never cared too much for himself, and could be viewed as a martyr for those around him. He gave himself up so that Ani (and, unbeknownst to him, his unborn son) might live, and it's eventually revealed by a DNA test that his son truly was his. His legacy lives on, and hopefully #TrueDetectiveSeason3 will be about his ginger son avenging his dad's death.
Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn)
Status: Dead in the desert, stabbed by a Mexican gangster for not giving up his suit.
What he wanted: Dignity.
How he got it: Frank Semyon was a guy who tried his damnedest not to play the game; hell, most of the time he wasn't even playing the same sport as everybody else. And he almost made it out, too: He'd managed to sever the ties that bound him to his old life, and hatched a plan for him, Ani, and Ray to hightail it to Venezuela. There, the "shit extradition laws" as he put it would help them (plus his wife) remain free and, if not happy, at least alive enough to feel the ponderous weight of existence, which is the best thing that can happen to any character unlucky enough to inhabit the show. But just as he was on the home stretch, he was taken by the Mexican gangsters he'd done a deal with into the desert, where they robbed him. They were getting ready to leave him in the desert to walk back to civilization, when one of them told Frank to give up his suit. If there's one thing we've learned about Frank, it's that he's had to fight tooth and nail for everything he has and that he doesn't give it up willingly. So instead of giving the guy his suit and trying to find a road or a gas station or whatever while only wearing his underwear, he decided to punch the gangster in the face. This led to him getting stabbed, which led to him staggering through the desert, buzzards following the trail of blood behind him, hallucinating. While he was dying his dad berated him, a gang mocked him, and his wife ushered him into the afterlife. Frank might have been a gangster, but he was still a crooked absolutist: There was a hard line between good and bad to him, and if you were on the right side, he'd do his best to take care of you.
Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams)
Status: Alive, raising her and Ray's child, in Venezuela with Frank's wife.
What she wanted: Justice in the world.
How she got it: OK, Ani didn't necessarily get justice in the world. Both she and Ray understood that they were pawns in a game they couldn't possibly comprehend. But unlike Ray, who allowed himself to succumb to the pull of the darkness around him, Ani knew when to go rogue and to fight for what was right. Her moral compass pushed her to rescue Ray from his standoff at the improbably fancy Vinci train station, and it was her who, throughout the season, was genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of the case rather than helping someone else cover their ass. She might have gotten the last laugh, too: Her last move is to give a Vinci journalist a bunch of sensitive documents that could expose the corruption that runs all the way to the top. The details of that corruption is too complicated to explain, but rest assured that it deals with orgies, plastic surgery, blackmail, train lines, stolen diamonds, private security companies, and weird sex masks. Did I mention this was a pretty confusing season?
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