For true detectives, heaven is a place called Venezuela. Our time together is over for now, but it is not the end, fellow detectives, not unless HBO fails to pick True Detective up for a third season. Venezuela, detectives. I’ll see you there in two weeks.

True Detective episode seven, explained:

Ray Velcoro and Ani Bezzerides had sex, and an early reminder of the pair’s coupling sets an appropriately dark tone for the remainder of the finale. Rather than permit themselves a flicker of happiness, the detectives use their post-coital moment to suck cigarettes and discuss the most heinous things that have ever happened to them. Without revealing much, Ani talks about the time she was abducted and abused as a child, and Ray talks about the time he murdered an innocent man because he thought the man had raped his wife.

Following that lively exchange, we check in on Frank and Jordan Semyon, who are feeling just as chipper as their counterparts on the other side of the law. Frank wants Jordan to go to Venezuela for protection from the chaos that’s about to ensue, but Jordan wants to stand by her man. For all its blue balls of the heart, True Detective season two’s writing has remained mostly utilitarian and plot-oriented thus far, but because the finale has 90 minutes of airtime t0 fill, these two dance in circles for an eternity before getting to the point: Jordan will be going to Venezuela, and Frank will meet her there later.

Ray and Ani learn that Paul Woodrugh is dead, and in a moment of divine inspiration following the bad news, they finally solve the murder. Based on vague resemblances in two old photographs, they previously determined that Ben Caspere’s secretary Erica is actually Laura, orphaned daughter of the jewelry store proprietors that were murdered during the ‘92 robbery. Now, only by recalling that Erica/Laura briefly spoke to a set photographer on the movie shoot way back in episode 3, Ray correctly surmises that the photographer is Len, Laura’s brother and the second orphaned child, and that the siblings killed Caspere for revenge for his role in their parents’ murder. Remember, Burris and the fat drunk cop were the ‘92 robbers, and the operation was carried out with the approval of Caspere and police chief Holloway. Great detective work, Ray!

It turns out that the freaky bird mask existed for dramatic effect only. Len explains that it belonged to Caspere himself, that sick fuck, and his killers basically just wore it for fun. Laura dishes readily about the circumstances surrounding the city manager’s murder: years after her parents’ death, Laura began working Caspere’s sex parties by sheer coincidence, and immediately recognized him for who he was. Then she changed her name, dyed her hair, and got hired as his assistant. It was a smart hire for Caspere, as he evidently needed help remembering little things here and there, such as the faces of the women who attend his parties. Laura passed undetected and used the opportunity to snoop on her new boss.

The siblings intended to use acid on Caspere to extract information about their parents’ execution, but Len went overboard with rage and killed him instead. And he’s on his way to kill Holloway, too, we learn at the end of Laura’s interrogation. After everything—the firefight, the rail corridor, the sex parties—a simple revenge killing feels almost quaint. Ani sympathizes and sets Laura free, putting her on a one-way bus out of town.

In order to reinforce his bad-boy vibes, and also to disguise himself now that he’s been framed for the murders of both Woodrugh and Davis, Ray dons a cowboy hat and aviators and shows up at the train station where Len hopes to kill Holloway. The pair has arranged a trade: Holloway will hand over the rare blue diamonds stolen from Len’s parents’ store if Len procures Caspere’s hard drive, which contains blackmail material on various Vinci power players possibly including Holloway himself. The hard drive has been wiped clean, but Holloway doesn’t know that. He also doesn’t know that Len is going to kill him.

Ray proposes another plan. Rather than kill Holloway, he steps in and talks cool with his old boss, hoping to have the chief confess to the ‘92 murders while Len runs a tape recorder nearby. When Holloway mentions that Caspere illegitimately fathered Len’s sister Laura, however, it is a bridge too far, and Len pulls out a knife and starts stabbing. Both men die in the ensuing shootout, and the confession tape is destroyed. Ray and Ani escape unscathed through a series of crossfades.

Now, all hope is lost for Ray and Ani in terms of exonerating themselves (Ani killed the security guard at the sex party, as may recall). They decided to flee to Venezuela, where the Semyons will also be hiding. But first, Ray and Frank must break into a house and kill a lot of people and steal a lot of money, so they can have revenge for the wrongs they’ve endured and also some spending money for their new life down south. Osip Agronov and Catalyst honcho Jacob McCandless get offed in the process. Remember McCandless? He’s dead now.

(It doesn’t matter much, but at some point I should mention that earlier, Frank found Mayor Chessani floating dead in his swimming pool like Jay Gatsby, murdered by his own son Tony. Tony had ambitions to succeed his pops as the mayor of Vinci, and you’d think he could find a way to realize those ambitions without resorting to patricide, but such is life. Given the show’s Freudian obsession with fatherhood, a dad probably needed to die eventually, and it’s just as well that it’s the booze-swilling mayor who’s done in. Given Nic Pizzolato’s penchant for allusion, it’s only surprising that Tony wasn’t named Eddie Puss.)

(Also, Rick Springfield is dead.)

At first, all goes according to plan for our heroes, and it seems like the true detectives sans Woodrugh might all live peacefully together south of the border. (If you someday happen upon the true detectives’ secret commune while exploring the backwoods of Venezuela, the password is “grizzle.” Tell them I sent you.) While on the phone with Ani, Ray finally permits himself that aforementioned flicker of happiness, flashing the first real smile we’ve seen on him or any other character all season. And that’s when we know things are about to get even worse.

What the hell is he doing

And get worse they do. Ray, suddenly a good dad, makes an unscheduled detour to gaze firmly at his ginger son, and his ginger son gazes back. Soon, he realizes the cops have placed a tracking device on his car. Heading to Ani and the boat would mean giving away her location, so he drives off into the woods to make his final stand. Meanwhile, the drug dealers to whom Frank promised a share of the action at a recently burned-down club show up with lots of weaponry, demanding money and the literal clothes off Frank’s back. Both true detectives are outmanned and outgunned, and both put up a valiant fight, but both end up dead. Ray doesn’t even get a chance to upload his final voice message to his son. By the way, the paternity test is in, and Ray’s the real father after all.

The villains win. Tony Chessani becomes mayor of Vinci. Kevin Burris lives. Everything sucks, and the bad, bad world’s only shot at redemption is Ani Bezzerides, who successfully escapes to Venezuela along with Jordan Semyon. In the final scene, Bezzerides passes off a cache of documents detailing Vinci’s corruption to the reporter who got his ass beat by Ray in the first episode, and who has his work cut out for him. Lest you believe that all is lost, the season ends with a faint glimmer of hope: Ani and Ray made a beautiful brown-haired baby.

After eight long episodes, it is finally done. But one question remains unanswered, and it is the most important question of all:

Who will be the true detective?

From the first softly strummed notes on the guitar lady’s guitar to the last softly strummed notes on the guitar lady’s guitar, everything has been building up to this. Like its predecessor, True Detective season two operates on a simple premise: Many detectives will enter, one detective will win. Who will be the true detective?

Everything you’ve just read—put it out of your mind. It matters little. Instead of focusing on insignificant questions like wouldn’t the F.B.I. have gotten involved in this mess at some point, or did Rick Springfield really need to die, or why didn’t Ray try harder to get the tracker off his car, he only stabbed at it for like two seconds before he gave gave up, consider meditating on something more relevant.

If one were to create a set of parameters for determining a detective’s trueness, what might those parameters be? That’s a good start. When Ani Bezzerides switched from the vape life to smoking real cigarettes, what did that say about the evolution of her character and the nature of authentic experience? Even better. How much wood would a Woodrugh rugh if a Woodrugh could rugh wood? Reader, I think you’ve got it.

Who will be the true detective? The answer might surprise you.

You, the viewer

The true detective is you, the viewer. When everyone died, who was there to draw meaning from the senseless carnage? You, the viewer. When Ray Velcoro took his first bullet to the chest, who considered the clues and concluded that his apparent death was a ruse? You, the viewer. When True Detective’s puppetmaster laid bad clue herring over bad clue, leading you toward McCandless, toward Holloway, toward Rick Springfield and Tony Chessani, who knew to look into Laura and Lenny instead? You, the viewer. Who is the last detective standing? You, the viewer.

A remarkable insight from you, the viewer, dated August 5

True detecting requires patience, which you displayed hour after hour, week after week. It requires attention to detail. Remember sitting in front of the television, volume control in hand, working to suss out every impenetrable line of dialogue? Nothing gets past you, detective. True detecting requires a certain amount of empathy for your subjects, no matter how deranged they may be. After eight torturous weeks, you’re still here watching. Despite everything, you feel a perverse fondness for the gang. You gasped when Ray was killed, and you may pay him tribute by putting baby powder in your hair and donning a bolo tie for Halloween this year. Ray murdered an innocent person and psychologically tortured his own son over a pair of basketball shoes. What is the warmth you feel for the man if not the highest form of empathy, detective?

You may be inclined to believe that identifying you, the viewer, as the true detective is a cop-out. That’s fine. After weeks of building up the mystery, the spotlight is turned on a person who isn’t even a character on the show, strictly speaking. What is this, Time magazine circa 2006?

But you’re right. It is a cop-out. On a show that spent hours of your life leading you down baroque plotlines that had no bearing on its central mystery, then pinned that mystery on a pair of characters that barely had two minutes of screen-time between them, a cop-out is exactly what’s in order. You, the viewer, are the true detective because it renders irrelevant everything else we’ve been through so far, allows us to safely cast our history aside like the series of red herrings it is. You, the viewer, are the true detective, because just like True Detective, I couldn’t come up with a better way to end it.

You’ve done your job well, and it saddens me that we’ll be parting ways. The last eight weeks weren’t nothing—never nothing. That was never our story. We had some good times together, even through the drudgery. You made it all mean something. As I said before, this isn’t the end. We’ll meet in Venezuela, Barquisimeto. El Obilesco. There’s a park there. I’ll wear a white dress, and you’ll wear a white suit with a rose in your jacket. I’ll see you coming out of the crowd, head higher than everybody else.

I’ll see you in two weeks.

Maybe less.

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