'True Detective': What happened in the surprising new episode

A recent shocking plot development left viewers hanging and may have them newly interested in the new season of the HBO drama, which so far has left some critics and viewers underwhelmed.

Lacey Terrell/HBO/AP
'True Detective' stars Vince Vaughn.

Did “True Detective” just kill off that character? 

Viewers were left wondering what had really happened at the conclusion of the newest episode of the HBO drama “Detective.” The newest season stars Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch as investigators working on a case as well as Vince Vaughn as a criminal trying to make it as a legitimate businessman. 

Farrell and McAdams are police detectives, while Kitsch is a highway patrolman. They’re all investigating the death of city manager Ben Caspere. In the newest episode of the show, Vaughn’s character Frank Semyon dispatched crooked cop Ray Velcoro (Farrell) to a yet undiscovered crime scene to continue his inquiry into Caspar's death. As Velcoro crept through the home a figure in a black bird mask surprised him and shot him twice.

Farrell's character could make a recovery, but if he’s dead, the show has certainly pulled off a surprising plot twist. 

Surprising character deaths have been the norm on another HBO drama, the fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” which made a name for itself by killing off big-name star Sean Bean in its first season after Bean appeared in many of the show’s promotional materials. Farrell’s new starring role on “Detective” was similarly hyped, though he was presented as a member of an ensemble. 

If Farrell’s character did meet his end, his early death – it’s only the second episode of the season – also reflects the new fast-moving TV landscape. Cable shows like “Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” and network programs like “Empire” and “Grey’s Anatomy” pack more into one episode than other TV shows do in half a season. Vulture writer Matt Zoller Seitz looked at “Empire” as one example of this practice. “The newest, hottest TV-storytelling model is all about fan service, and it throws so much plot at viewers,” Seitz wrote. “[‘Empire’] pressed the fast-forward button, piling incident upon incident to the point where each new ‘Next week on …’ montage was so packed with intimations of Major Developments that it felt more like a preview of season two, or three.” Grantland author Eric Thurm also noted the phenomenon, writing that “these shows blow through plot ridiculously quickly, unafraid to parcel out predetermined story beats to have one story happen at one time.” Thurm pointed out the drawbacks of this model, writing, “This type of show frequently burns itself out. It’s dependent on moment-to-moment plotting, counting on insane thing after insane thing happening, often (though not in all cases) without worrying whether they cohere into a complete hour.”

The newest development on “Detective” accomplished one important thing: it got viewers' attention after a season premiere many viewed as lackluster. Deadspin writer Rob Harvilla wrote of the newest installment that “[there was] not much to report about this episode until this [ending] transpired… Your problem now is this show’s got very little going for it without Colin Farrell to kick around, but even less going for it if it’s willing to do the whole fakeout thing.” Meanwhile, Salon writer Sonia Saraiya wrote, “Well, that was an ending… ending the second episode of the season by unloading buckshot into your show’s marquee star until he’s writhing on the floor is a bold move. Having the wielder of that shotgun be a tall, black-clad figure wearing a giant bird’s head made out of real feathers is the type of bizarre risk-taking that made ‘True Detective’ season one so captivating.”

 A.V. Club writer Erik Adams was also impressed. “It’s a hell of a cliffhanger for the second episode of a show that just reinvented itself a week ago,” Admas wrote. “It’s weird, yes, but it’s also unexpected – two habits ‘True Detective’ would do well to indulge in more frequently.”

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