True Detective – Season 2 Episode 8
The eighth and final episode of True Detective season two has come and gone, and it’s difficult not to compare it to the first season’s finale. There, Rust and Marty finally got their guy, and in somewhat of a twist ending, Rust survived the shootout, leaving hospital arm in arm with Marty, a man he’d clashed with so much throughout the season. It wasn’t universally well-received, but it did wrap up what had been a compelling mystery. Here, we find out the truth about Caspar’s murder, and although the killer is ‘apprehended’, the real evil lives on in the corruption that created the motive for the crime.
Interspersed throughout the episode are the characteristic landscape shots that have become the hallmark of True Detective. Normally, these are used to show the passage of time, or progression to a new location. Occasionally, they set the tone for an upcoming scene. They seem particularly fitting here, providing a subtle reminder to the audience that so much of the plot was tied up in Caspar’s land deal.
The trouble with having four protagonists was always going to be dedicating enough time to each of them; to fully realise them as characters, and to give them satisfying conclusions to their arcs. Paul Woodrugh was Pizzolatto’s sacrificial lamb, as he met his end at the conclusion of the seventh episode, allowing the other three characters to own the eighth. For the cops, it’s all about bringing the truth to light, for Frank Semyon, hitting back at the powers that forced him out, and for all three, getting the hell out of Dodge.
Velcoro and Bezzerides realise that the kids from the jewellery store robbery are behind the Caspar murder – Erica and Len have been plotting to get back at Caspar since their parents were killed and Erica was sold into sex slavery. The scene in which the cops search the house and find Erica is tense and foreboding as they glimpse the gruesome bird mask through a window – as they do, the score ramps up, setting our pulses racing. The tension is quickly dissipated as the cops catch up with Erica and she confesses that Len killed Caspar; the brutal nature of his death and the public display of his corpse were merely Len’s sick flourishes as he took things too far. It turns out the bird mask was part of one of Caspar’s fetishes, and nothing to do with the occult. This could be Pizzolatto zigging when we expect him to zag – the first season dealt so strongly in the occult and the extremes of religion – and we expected the same here, so it’s a bit of a let-down to find out that the whole thing was a misdirect.
Erica tells the cops about Len’s plot to kill Holloway, the Vinci Police Chief. Velcoro and Bezzerides know that if they can intercept Len, they can get to Holloway and confront him about his part in the crime. The meet takes place in a busy transport hub, with Velcoro in a fantastic disguise comprising of shades and cowboy hat. He may stick out like a sore thumb, but we should be willing to forgive this, as Farrell plays the shifty undercover part so well. Velcoro ambushes Len and convinces him not to kill Holloway – Velcoro can meet Holloway instead, record their conversation, and use this to bring down the dirty cops.
The whole sequence could’ve been lifted directly from a spy thriller, as Holloway spots Velcoro across the busy concourse and the two end up conversing side by side on a bench, with Len covertly listening in behind them. Holloway eventually says the wrong thing; Len flips, leaps the bench and attacks him. Velcoro loses his recording in the ensuing scuffle, blowing the operation.
The tropes used here are delightfully employed, bringing a touch of genre storytelling to this part of the episode. The only shame is that Len gets such little screen time. The cops have been after Caspar’s killer for a long time now, and with the exception of a brief encounter on the film set a few episodes ago, Len has really not been utilised. His crime has driven so much of the plot of this season, and yet he’s in and out of the spotlight so quickly. It probably all comes back to Pizzolatto’s greater interest in his protagonists than the murder they’ve been investigating. Len is definitely more of a device than a character, and once he’s served his purpose, he’s out of the picture.
Semyon sends his wife, Jordan, away to safety in Venezuela, and convinces Velcoro that he’ll need cash to survive on the run with Bezzerides. They plan to hit the Russians in their secluded hideout, with the twin objective of killing Osip, and liberating the gangsters of their ill-gotten gains. The sequence plays out smoothly, as Velcoro and Semyon assault the cabin, pumping it full of gas and clearing out the occupants. They’re clinical and precise, with the only emotion surfacing as Semyon comes face to face with Osip. As the Russian pleads for his life, Semyon exhibits his disdain, emptying his pistol into Osip and continuing to pull the trigger, even after he’s run out of ammo. This is another well-directed action sequence with a very distinctive atmosphere, an orange glow created by the lighting of the cabin against the gas. It’s one of the last triumphs for Semyon and Velcoro – the point from which the inevitable fall must come. And it is inevitable.
We as an audience can feel the failure of the plan creeping up as the episode draws on. In a phone call to Bezzerides, after the successful heist, Velcoro seems genuinely happy for the first time. To this point, their relationship has manifested as a coping mechanism; two tortured souls finding solace in one another. Things have changed, however, and there’s real affection between them now. This is what signals the doom of the relationship. It’s impossible to watch the romantic nuances of their conversation without realising that we’re being set up. As safety achingly inches closer and closer with every freeway mile marker Velcoro passes, we know this can’t end well. Velcoro makes the mistake of visiting his son Chad’s school to say goodbye before he skips town, and this allows the dirty cops to catch up with him. He’s chased to the woods (just as he was told he would be by a vision of his father in an earlier episode) and is eventually gunned down. In his final desperate roll of the dice, knowing he’s going to his death, he takes his knowledge of Bezzerides and the incriminating evidence’s location with him.
Similarly, Semyon is intercepted by the Mexican gang. They’re not happy that he torched their business interests and take him out to the desert, and a pre-prepared grave. It’s interesting to see this new aspect of the Californian landscape introduced, and we have to imagine that it’s been under used to avoid any comparisons to Breaking Bad. Things don’t go well for Semyon and he’s left staggering through the desert, bleeding profusely from a knife wound in his side. Just as Velcoro did, when he’d been blasted by the shotgun back in episode three, Semyon sees visions in his last moments. He’s haunted by his abusive father and his traumatic past. He dies envisioning his wife – he’s wearing a red rose of blood on his shirt, just as he told her he would be the next time he saw her. These shots in the desert are incredibly bleak, but are somehow beautiful. The fact that Velcoro and Semyon die in the wilderness after being so heavily entangled in the grime of the city is fitting. In a manner of speaking, they finally made it out.
It’s tough for Bezzerides to sit around and worry in the safe house. We know she’s a woman of action. We’ve seen it demonstrated over the past seven weeks. And yet, perhaps in a chivalrous move (by Velcoro, or Pizzolatto?) she’s left on the sidelines. Someone needed to survive in order for the corruption to be revealed, but Bezzerides has been a tough character throughout the season, and feels ever-so-slightly diminished in this episode, reduced to fretting over the fate of her man. The season concludes as we see her telling the story and handing the evidence over to the journalist from episode one. Three of the four protagonists are dead, and the fourth is on the run. We as an audience have to accept that for us the story is over, but that somewhere in a fictional city in California, the truth will out, and the cycle of evil will be broken.
The mystery of Caspar’s death itself proved to be something of a red herring; the ritualistic nature of the murder was never paid off. Len was revealed as the killer, but didn’t receive enough screen time to provide closure to this aspect of the narrative. He was dispatched so quickly that the focus quickly shifted to the main characters’ survival.
Velcoro and Semyon came achingly close to making it out alive, but really they’ve been doomed from the start. Both men died in the wilderness, away from the city that had corrupted so much of their lives.
The relationship between Bezzerides and Velcoro blossomed just a little too late – but it was sweet despite being so short. It was heartbreaking to see them come so close to happiness, but ultimately it wasn’t to be. Bezzerides could and should have had more to do, but survives to tell the tale and potentially undo the true evil at the heart of Vinci.
The conclusion was far from satisfying, however there’s no denying that this was a very well constructed episode of television. A couple of standout sequences and some fantastic cinematography helped elevate the sub-par narrative. The performances from McAdams and Farrell in particular have been strong throughout the season, and this episode was no exception.