What the hell is happening in True Detective season two? Here's an explainer ahead of the finale
True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto has a daunting task as the series' divisive second season slouches towards a conclusion with a 90 minute special on Monday.
He must pull from the fires a run of episodes that has ruined much of the goodwill generated by the show's giddily baroque first year. That means finally making us care about the existential woes of troubled cops Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and mopey gangster Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn, letting his double chin do most of the acting)
However, the challenge confronting Pizzolatto is as nothing compared to that facing viewers struggling, with just an hour and half left, to work out what the heck is going on. This is no straightforward undertaking, with even repeat watchings unlikely to illuminate the murky contortions of a plot that often feels like an aggressive exercise in obtuseness. Admittedly, Los Angeles noir is not a genre that has ever made it easy on the audience – as anyone who has delved into James Ellroy (a blatant influence on Pizzolatto) will testify. Nonetheless, as we await the finale, we could all do with some clarity . Here, then, is the beginner's guide to What The Hell Is Happening In True Detective Year Two. We'll start easy and cover the trickier stuff later in.
1: The Series Is A Murder Mystery
Ben Caspere, the corrupt city manager of Vinci, a largely industrial suburb of LA, has been murdered. The killer may have worn a bird mask – as hinted by the presence of self-same mask on the seat next to the body of Caspere, who spent much of episode one on a Weekend At Bernie's style tour of the LA freeway system. His death was heavy on symbolism, the eyes scorched with acid, the major artery at the crotch slashed open. Someone is trying to tell us something.
2: It's Also A Meditation On Corruption.
Before Caspere's death– and we still don't know who the guilty party was, though several plausible theories have been proffered – the city manager had entered a deal with Semyon to profit from government plans for a high speed rail corridor through central California. The value of the land penciled in for development had been artificially lowered when Semyon's waste management company discretely poisoned the soil, making it unsuitable for agriculture. The idea was to pick up the property for a song, then flog it to the state. Also in on the arrangement was the shadowy Catalyst Corporation,Vinci mayor Chessani and mobster Osip Argonov. However, Semyon had been betrayed by his partners and, with Caspere's death, his $5 million stake vanished. In episode nine, Osip broke the harsh news and added that he was taking control of Semyon's nightclub and casino – which Frank proceeded to burn down (yay Frank).
3: Oh, And There's A Sex Cult Subplot.
When not trying to hoodwink Semyon out of his cash and his casinos, Chessani, Catalyst boss McCandless, Osip and Caspere were partial to MMDA-fueled sex romps, possibly presided over by Chessani's dirt-bag son. Moreover, Chessani and creepy plastic surgeon Dr Irving "my rhymes with Hitler" Pitlor fraternized with the hippy-dippy dad of Ani Bezzerides back in the day. What was a robed guru doing with a cabal of grubby sociopaths? You meet all sorts on the path to enlightenment, Ani's dad explained. Also, it was the seventies.
4: The Most Important Character Is A Guy You've Barely Heard Of.
We need to talk about Stan. Semyon's bodyguard was presented as merely a cookie-cutter heavy in the handful of scenes in which he appeared. But after he found out that Frank's other enforcer, Blake, was in cahoots with Osip and Chessani, Stan was murdered, plunging Semyon into a spiritual crisis. He gave Stan's son a pep talk about what a great guy his dad had been (HIGHLY IRONIC, as Frank's desperate desire to be a father is stymied by his wife's inability to conceive). Also, in killing Stan, Blake paves the way for his own downfall by alerting Frank to the murky forces aligned against him. Did we mention Blake was running sex party prostitutes through one of Semyon's clubs?
5: We Should Probably Move Onto Colin Farrell.
Stay with us! Things are about about to get (a little) simpler. Several years previously, Velcoro's wife was raped. Shortly afterwards she was revealed to be pregnant. The Velcoros' bundle of joy grew up to be a fat kid with red hair (Ray does not have red hair). Seeking revenge, Ray acted on a tip off from Frank as to the identity of the rapist, whom he proceeded to kill. Only it was the wrong guy. Blake – see entry number four – had furnished Semyon with the name of a random meth-head he was eager to have off his back. Ray was indebted to Frank – and all for a lie. We learn this midway through the season when the real rapist is apprehended.
6: Still Here? Okay, Let's Talk Taylor Kitsch.
Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) is a closeted former mercenary who saw some pretty bad things go down in Iraq. The security organization for which he worked in the Middle East is now retained by just one client: Catalyst. Woodrugh, terrified of the truth regarding his sexuality becoming public, slept with his Iraq bro-with-benefits Miguel. But it was all a set up – Miguel is still on the Black Mountain payroll and the steamy liaison was snapped by Velcoro's in-it-up-to-his neck partner Dixon (see below). Woodrugh was gunned down last week because he knows too much about Catalyst's plot to profit from the high-speed rail corridor and because of the business with the missing blue diamonds. Missing blue diamonds? Relax, we're about to get to that.
7: Anything Else?
Oh sure – that missing prostitute Ani rescued at the orgy. Catalyst tapping Frank to recover a hard-drive, likely containing embarrassing sex romp footage of the Vinci elite. The stranger in the bird mask who shoots Ray at point blank range with rubber bullets at Chessani's Beverly Hills apartment (then absconds with the aforementioned hard-drive). Chessani's upstate torture hut – where Caspere may or may not have been butchered.
8: What About The Diamonds?
Kindly pay attention as this is really important and may hold the key to unmasking Caspere's murderer. During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, Ray's corrupt partner Dixon (gunned down in episode four's "Vinci Massacre"), in cahoots with future Vinci police chief Holloway and Caspere (their 'precinct accountant' – whatever that is), plotted the theft of $2.5 million in diamonds from downtown LA. In the raid, the owners of the jewelry store were gruesomely killed – in front of their children, Laura and Leonard. A grown-up Laura is later identified as a prostitute frequenting the Chessani sex parties. Oh and just happens to be the spitting image of Erica, Caspere's secretary (who has quit her job and is missing). Our bet is that Laura/Erica bided her time and murdered Caspere in revenge for the death of her parents.
9: Is That It?
No, we've almost certainly missed something. It seems unlikely anyone – cast and crew included – are entirely clear on Pizzolatto's brain-numbing storyline. He has 90 minutes to tie up the multitude of loose ends and bring clarity. We wish him luck.