At last week’s Television Critics Association press tour, HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo assured a panel of reporters that critics who have been mercilessly drubbing True Detective all season will regret it once they see what creator Nic Pizzolatto has up his sleeve for the show’s finale.
Unfortunately, Lombardo is falling victim to the Shyamalan Delusion.
He fails to understand is that quality TV dramas entertain and enthrall week after week, and explosive endings only work when audiences care about the characters that are affected by them.
When witless, charmless installments like True Detective Season 2 Episode 7 are the exception rather than the rule, no gut-punch ending can make viewers take a sudden interest in everything that came before it.
In fairness, as the season draws to a close, Pizzolatto is clearly doing everything in his power to make us feel as though all the brooding and brow-furrowing of the past two months is leading up to something.
Storylines that seemed to be going nowhere (Who killed Stan? More importantly: who cares?!) are suddenly delivering drama, and early, forgotten plot details like the ongoing weirdness at Panticapaeum are being shoehorned into the proceedings in ways that are clearly meant to make us gasp, "It was important all along!" but are more likely to elicit a bored, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that."
"Black Maps and Motel Rooms" featured several moments that were clearly meant to feel like major twists or payoffs, but that simply fell flat due to to our lack of concern for the principal players.
Obviously, the development that was meant to drop the most jaws last night was the shooting of Woodrugh.
In fairness, his death (It’s safe to assume Pizzolatto wouldn’t pull another fake-out following the "death" of Velcoro.) came on the heels of a thrilling chase sequence, and the sight of his fiancee crying some intuitive tears is undeniably moving.
Unfortunately, the murder of Woodrugh brings an end to several of the season’s most compelling storylines, including his Broke-Black Mountain relationship with the guy who eventually lured him to his death.
Speaking of things that are supposed to feel important but don’t:
-Frank pops the guy who killed Stan after extracting some important info about a cash exchange. His wife enters the scene and realizes he’s gone full-gangster. Is this the moment we’re supposed to stop rooting for Frank? Were we ever supposed to be rooting for Frank?
-Ray discovers that Davis has been killed, but the scene works best as unintentional comedy (and possibly the inspiration for a humorous "When you realize your friend is too f–ked up to drive" meme/GIF).
-Bezzerides and Velcoro are both on the run, but since their lives as disgraced ex-cops feel so much their lives as the lead investigators of a murder, the shift from hunter to hunted fails to mean anything.
-Frank prepares for a new life by meeting with his travel agent and setting fire to his casino. Both scenes made us wonder when this show thinks it takes place. The arson brought to mind a similar act in Goodfellas – the difference being that those gangsters were "busting the joint out" in the 1970s, when you could actually get away with something like that. Don’t get us started on the travel agent.
Ultimately, the episode that should be setting the stage and whetting our appetite for the much-ballyhooed finale was really just a summation of everything that hasn’t worked about this season.
Two major characters are suddenly wanted by the law, but the news is delivered in the least dramatic fashion possible (A computer print-out? Really?).
They hook up, but the moment has all the spark of Ani’s limp hugs as she bids farewell to her family and ex-partner.
A major character is killed, and all we can do is mourn the loss of the various, more interesting ways that his arc could’ve concluded.
In the cases of both Woodrugh and the show’s many sex workers, the proceedings smack of judgment, as it feels like Pizzolatto is wagging a finger at the only sympathetic characters he offered us this season.
Woodrugh pays the ultimate price for staying in the closet, while Ani lectures Vera that she’s been "put on this Earth for more than just f–king."
That last bit of dialogue is particularly problematic, as it comes off like an attempt at feminism written by a guy who learned about women by reading letters to Penthouse.
Like so much of this season, it’s needlessly ugly and unforgivably clumsy. Worst of all, however, it encapsulates so much of why the big moments in recent episodes of True Detective failed to deliver: it might be shocking – if only we cared.
Watch True Detective online at TV Fanatic if you’re invested enough to get caught up for the season 2 finale.