'True Detective': Here's how the controversial second season ended

Viewers and critics have been left mainly dissatisfied by the second season of 'Detective,' which centers on law enforcement officials in California. Did the season finale redeem the previous episodes?

Lacey Terrell/HBO/AP
'True Detective' stars Rachel McAdams.

The season finale of the second season of the HBO drama “True Detective” aired on Aug. 9, bringing the show’s controversial second season to a close.

“Detective” is an anthology series which follows a different storyline and characters each season (at least so far). While the first season of the HBO show, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as police detectives in Louisiana, was mostly critically praised, the second set of episodes, which centered on Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch, and Rachel McAdams as California law enforcement and Vince Vaughn as a gangster, has not been well-received. 

After police officers Ani Bezzerides (McAdams), Ray Velcoro (Farrell), and Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch) became involved in a political conspiracy involving federal grants; poisoned land; and the crooked municipal government of fictional Vinci, Calif., Paul was murdered and Ani and Ray became fugitives from justice (the two also became romantically involved). Meanwhile, criminal Frank Semyon (Vaughn) was trying to hold onto his criminal interests as the conspiracy took all that he had.

The second season has earned criticism from reviewers for its writing and for a plot which many viewers found overly complicated – characters that were glimpsed only briefly became important to the show later on. 

In the finale, it is revealed that two siblings whose parents were killed in a 1992 jewelry store robbery are behind the murder of Vinci city manager Ben Caspere, the show’s central mystery. The robbery was committed by corrupt police officers including Vinci P.D. Chief Holloway. After the sister, Laura, tells Ray and Ani what’s going on, Ray meets with Holloway, as the brother, Leonard, lurks nearby. But after Holloway tells Ray that Ben Caspere is Laura’s father, Leonard attacks Holloway and stabs him. Both Holloway and Leonard are killed in the resulting shootout.

Ray and Ani decide to leave the country, as does Frank. But Frank is attacked by a gang of criminals with whom he had had past dealings and is killed defending a suit jacket containing $3.5 million worth of diamonds. After Ray decides to get one last, tragic glimpse of his son, a tracking mechanism is put on his car. Ray decides he will be unable to escape with Ani and is gunned down by a police tactical team. 

Meanwhile, Ani and Frank’s wife Jordan escape to what seems to be Venezuela and later on, we see Ani meeting with a reporter, telling him what happened. It’s also revealed that Ani has given birth to Ray’s son.

Staff at HBO, the network behind “Detective,” recently stated that the network wanted more of “Detective.” “I'm enormously proud of it,” HBO head of programming Michael Lombardo recently said. “We want to do another season.”

However, this season of the show has demonstrated the drawbacks of the anthology TV format. Many viewers found the first season's central mystery and characters intriguing. But viewers didn’t have the draw of characters they knew for the second season and Pizzolatto and others behind the scenes were forced to come up with another mystery for the characters to grapple with. The second season also had to live up to the expectations set by the first – even if the recent episodes had been better-received, some still probably would have said the second season didn't live up to expectations.

In addition, this season has shown how complicated plotting can backfire. In many current TV dramas, as showrunners trying to keep viewers hooked with multiple plot twists (the HBO drama “Game of Thrones,” the CBS show “The Good Wife,” and the shows created by Shonda Rhimes like “Scandal” particularly exemplify this), more plot can be packed into a single episode of television than would have taken place in three or four episodes in the past. But this past season of “Detective” may have thrown too much at viewers, asking them to remember multiple characters who were glimpsed quickly several episodes before and having the season’s main villain be a character whose storyline most viewers probably didn’t even remember. 

There was a gap of more than a year in between the first and second season of “Detective,” so it may be some time before viewers find out whether the third season of the show (if there is one) is an improvement on the second.

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