Eight and a half hours later, what was the point? This bit from The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert does seem to hit on the core theme Pizzolatto and crew were going for:
The underlying fear of the season—that sons will grow up and murder their fathers—seemed to say more about its creator than it did about heritage. The finale saw Tony Chessani take over his father’s role after he drowned him in the family swimming pool, and Leonard Osterman killed in a shootout after realizing he’d murdered the man who’d killed his parents and turned out to be his father. It saw Chad carrying around his grandfather’s police badge like a physical manifestation of the burdens parents unwittingly pass on to their children. It saw Frank die without an heir after agonizing all season about his legacy, after being visited by the ghost of his father, apparently a cruel and loathsome individual. And it saw Ray’s father mourn his son, apparently under the impression that he was guilty.
Don’t forget Paul Woodrugh being shot dead while his girlfriend carries his unborn child (he had a kid on the way, Bezzerides cries in anguish upon hearing of Woodrugh’s murder) and Osip, the sleazy Russian gangster, telling Frank that he’d always thought of him as a son right before Frank put six bullets through his head. And what of Ani’s tortured relationship with her hippie-dippie cult-leader dad, the man who wasn’t there to protect her when that degenerate kidnapped and molested her years before? What about Frank being tormented one last time by his alcoholic old man during his bloody stagger through the desert? The last shots of the series are of Ani and Jordan making their escape in Venezuela with Velcoro’s child, whom he’ll never know. There’s not a single intact father/child relationship in the entire show, which, I guess, we’re supposed to see as the root of Vinci’s rot. (Velcoro beating the hell out of the bully’s dad in episode one to teach his kid a lesson seems more meaningful in hindsight.) Presumably “True Detective” season 20 will tell the tale of the two Velcoro half-brothers, one the head of South America’s biggest narcocartel, the other a crooked cop like his old man and granddad who’s tasked with taking him down, both ruined by the fact that their pop just wasn’t there for them.
“Dads are important” is a nice lesson. As for the rest of the season finale, I started giggling and never really stopped when Velcoro had his bolt-from-the-blue flash of insight that Lenny Tyler, a nobody they’d met for five minutes as an adult five episodes ago, was actually Lenny Osterman, a kid in a 20-year-old photo they had, and that it was Lenny who murdered Ben Caspere for reasons having virtually nothing to do with the core corruption plot we’ve been trying to unravel all season. It was a simple revenge killing; it just so happened that trying to solve Caspere’s murder led the the three True Detectives to stumble upon corruption at Vinci PD and in the mayor’s office. Except even the simple revenge killing couldn’t be simple on this show, so Lenny Osterman had to turn out to be the illegitimate son of Ben Caspere too instead of merely an orphaned kid out for justice. At some point during the rapid drumbeat of Osterman revelations — Lenny’s the kid in the picture! there’s the crow mask! wait, Lenny’s Caspere’s son? — I stopped trying to make sense of everything that was happening and just flowed with it. Ray’s 40 minutes from freedom and a life of luxury in South America, but he’s got to stop and wave goodbye to his kid knowing that he’s the most wanted man in California? Okay, sure. Ray and Ani are now in love and ready to run away together despite having no chemistry all season long until their stressed-out fling in the safe house? Right, gotcha. Frank narrowly avoids execution by the Mexican gangsters in the desert, but then can’t resist attacking one of them when he demands his suit? Granted, the diamonds were sewn into it, but he was standing next to an open grave when he head-butted the guy. What did he think was going to happen? And since when do gangsters jack people for their suits, including/especially when the suit in question is obviously too big for the man who wants it? If the first seven episodes had been better, I would have strained to make sense of illogical twists like those. Maybe Velcoro stopped because he really did have a death wish and decided he’d rather see his son one last time and die rather than live a life on the run. Maybe Frank resisted the gangster because he’d rather die on his feet than crawl away alive after the humiliation of losing his fortune — again — as well as the fine clothes that made him feel like a bigshot. Good drama builds goodwill in the viewer that earns it the benefit of the doubt in ambiguous moments. Bad drama doesn’t, which is why the vibe last night was more ridiculous than tragic.
And of course, the prose was as purple as ever. Critics online are laugh-groaning today at that melodramatic scene between Frank and his wife where they throw their rings away, then promise each other that they’ll wear white with a red rose when they’re reunited, but the most excruciating melodrama was Frank’s hallucinatory trek through the desert. That should have been an affecting scene; you know Frank’s doomed and that he’ll die alone, a sad way to go for a guy who led a life of bad breaks but fought the whole way. But then the ghost of dad appears — in full visual rather than voiceover, just to make it extra awkward and cheesy — and then the ghosts of … some black guys who used to hassle Frank as a kid, I guess? This is the resentment he turns to in his dying moments? Imagine how much more emotional that scene would have been if Frank hadn’t said a word, hadn’t had any hallucinations, but had simply silently tried to pull himself on his hands and knees through the desert as he bled out, a fighter to the end. Watching it last night, with poor Vince Vaughn limping along while “dad” calls him a pussy or whatever, I thought, “This must have been the moment during filming when Vaughn knew that no feat of editing or post-production could save this show.” It’s as much Vince marching to his doom there as Frank, and like Frank, he deserved better. They saddled him with some of the most ridiculous gangster dialogue in modern TV history and he was game to the end. I goofed on him for his acting earlier in the season but in hindsight not even Daniel Day-Lewis could have done much with lines like “blue balls in your heart.” I wouldn’t be totally opposed to a Frank Semyon prequel series bringing back Vaughn with dialogue composed by someone who doesn’t write like Raymond Chandler with a brain injury.
All in all, pretty disastrous. The best this season can hope for, per Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast, is to be remembered as a “cult classic.” Exit question: Aren’t “cult classics” supposed to be entertaining?