[This is a review for True Detective season 2, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
At times, True Detective season 2 was like someone dropped a drinking glass on the floor. The audience's job, then, was to keep track as the disparate shards scattered in divergent directions, and to wonder if they could be brought back together again. In other words, the season has been a mess mostly, and although the penultimate episode 'Black Maps and Motel Rooms' tried its best to be the narrative dustpan in which all the shards were collected, simply gathering up the fragments of this storyline is not the same as seeing it reassembled into a functional shape.
What the previous week's episode did was demonstrate how badly this story of California land grabs, decades-old jewelry store robberies, and Friends-watching redheaded offspring wanted to be something much less complicated. The episode was comprised of a series of massive info dumps, the transparency of which was refreshing after the previous six hours were spent peering through a haze of storytelling smoke. It wasn't elegant, but at least it was clear.
To its credit, 'Omega Station,' the season 2 finale, has the same idea. In the early going, the 90-minute sendoff felt as though it had finally become the simple story the season wanted to be. Gone was the monotony of Frank's water stain monologue, and in its place was something surprisingly kinetic, like the aggressively edited opening where Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell put on a gritty, Nic Pizzolatto-scripted version of Scenes from a Marriage. The scene had a genuine snap to it, buoyed by the fine performances of the two co-leads. And for a second, there was hope that this season finale would deliver a series of moments worth remembering for how solid they were, instead of how inadvertently awkward they became.
The opening scene was so good, so reserved and almost mournful, that the ridiculousness of seeing Frank try to Harry and the Henderson Jordan back into the squinty world from which she materialized became the most jarring moment in an episode determined to drop dead bodies as a means of ending its myriad plot threads. As such, Frank and Jordan's farewell was an indication of how the rest of the episode would play out: As a collection of unnecessary backstory wedged uncomfortably between extended moments of vivid action and unintentionally hilarious dialogue.
Equally egregious was the attempt to make thin characters like Nails and Felicia into fully realized parts of the story, offering their origins almost as an afterthought. Unfortunately, the only question that arose from these rushed backstories was: Why was the genesis of Nails' nickname only mentioned now? That's actually the kind of weird, darkly funny anecdote True Detective could benefit from having more of. If nothing else, acknowledging the macabre comicality of a guy with a nail-gun scar dead center in the middle of his forehead would suggest that the series was capable of making necessary shifts in tone, and wasn't always so unrelentingly self-serious.
Demonstrating even the slightest hint of a sense of humor would have made so much of 'Omega Station' (and the season) easier to swallow. It could have been the spoonful of sugar to ease the bitter taste of finding out the guy in the crow mask was the photographer on the film set Ray and Ani visited (or that he kept said mask on a shelf in his living room). It would have given the audience something to hang onto when characters like Tony Chessani were revealed to be the lynchpin of a massive conspiracy and yet, after an admittedly weird yet entertaining introduction, spent the majority of his screen time in the background, hobnobbing with similarly ancillary characters or being spoken of, rather than taking a direct role in the storyline.
Because the story was filled with characters that felt more like accessories than anything else, what took place wasn't borne of a desire to tell the story of those individuals, but rather the characters were just pieces being shuffled around to suit the vague intentions of the plot, or to produce a perfunctory emotional outcome. Ray's attempt to see Chad one last time, and the flagrant close-up of his grandfather's badge or their token salute to one another is a perfect example of this. The less said about Ray's spotty cellphone coverage in the mountains the better.
Frank's bloody trek through the desert, complete with verbal confrontations of people from his past (i.e., his father, some street toughs, and... some guy) was similar in how it scrambled to present some sense of thematic resonance in lieu of actually servicing the character in anything but the most obvious way.
In a sense, this problem hit Ani the hardest. The character was mostly sidelined throughout the episode, doomed to discover Pitlor had slashed his wrists and then to wait before Ray sent her off to Venezuela without him. Naturally, this happened just as the two seemed to have found their soul mate, someone who actually understood them – or was at least sufficiently damaged to accept/handle the difficulty of a relationship with such a person. But like everything else, this affection came so late it felt forced. This burgeoning relationship didn't service either of them as a character; it produced another addition to an overcrowded story.
And so, Ani was sent to live out her days on the run with Jordan ready to load a soon-to-be-mustachioed child in his mother's sling, while Nails was relegated to diaper-bag duty. This denouement, coupled with the montage of Gena getting the paternity test results and Ray's father shakily watching the news should have been powerful, but Ray and Frank's inevitable deaths failed to resonate because there wasn't enough actual character in their characters and their relation to the season's plot was often unconvincing, to say the least.
HBO president Michael Lombardo said he would like to see a third season of True Detective. After the disappointing turn of season 2, a third go-round feels almost like a necessity. But for it to work, the series' creator needs to be given the proper amount of time to develop a coherent story and to flesh out his characters – or at least make them more compelling. The sophomore effort was clearly rushed and likely could have benefitted from a few more script drafts. It would also be beneficial for any future seasons to ask more important questions. Questions like: "Are you sure we want to keep that line about the blue balls and the white suit with the red rose?"
In other words, there needs be a system of checks and balances in place to keep the creative force behind this series from becoming its worst enemy.
Screen Rant will keep you updated with news on the future of True Detective as it is made available.