True Detective Season 2 is over, but if you’re anything like me, there were more than a few plot points you were still scratching your head over long after the credits finished rolling.
This season felt like it twisted and turned a heck of a lot more than the previous one, and featured a much more complicated dynamic than Rust/Marty going up against a spaghetti monster. The mystery itself is also way denser, featuring dozens of characters, side plots, and backstories that all interconnect in one way or another. There’s just a ton of information to digest in every single episode, but after going back and watching a lot of it for a second time, I think I have a pretty good idea of what went down.
To start, let’s break down the overall sequence of events. For clarity’s sake, we’ll be covering things in chronological order, rather than when they were revealed in the series.
Where do we start?
The roots of the story begin in the early 90s, during the Los Angeles Riots. Three corrupt LAPD officers, William Holloway, Kevin Burris, and Teague Dixon, along with a police accountant named Ben Caspere, decide to use the chaos to pull off a jewelry store heist. During the robbery, the husband and wife owners of the store, the Ostermans, are killed. Unknown to the robbers though, the Ostermans’ two children had been hidden away in the shop, and witnessed their parents’ murders.
Why did they kill them?
As it turns out, Caspere’s motive for planning the heist involved more than just money. He had been having an affair with Margaret Osterman, who ran the jewelry store with her husband. Caspere and Osterman already had one illegitimate child together, complicating his rising career. When she became pregnant with a second, she threatened to make their relationship public.
In order to silence her, Caspere orchestrated the robbery to have her killed (along with making off with a ton of valuable product, including some extremely rare blue diamonds).
What happened to the kids?
Following the murders, the children were separated. The daughter, Laura, was adopted by a family; while the son, Leonard, was shuffled from foster home to foster home, and had a very rough upbringing.
And the cops?
The corrupt officers fared a heck of a lot better. They used the proceeds of the robbery to buy their way into better careers in the city of Vinci. Over the next couple of decades, Holloway becomes the chief of police of the city, Burris becomes his lieutenant, and Dixon, after squandering his share of the loot, has to settle for being a lowly detective. Caspere however ends up as the group’s real power broker, becoming Vinci’s city manager.
How was this possible?
To understand how they made this happen, you have to consider the (fictional, but real life-inspired) city of Vinci, California. In the world of True Detective, Vinci is a town just outside of LA with a population of just 95 people. Despite its tiny population though, Vinci is something of an industrial powerhouse, employing over 70,000 workers. Due to the town’s small size, but lucrative financials, Vinci’s power circle (led by then mayor Theo Chessani) became incredibly corrupt, working shady deals with even shadier individuals with near impunity.
In that context, it’s no surprise that people like Holloway, Burris, and Caspere were able to bribe their way into Vinci’s inner circle, given their complete lack of morals going in.
So going back to the story, how does all of this tie into the show’s main characters?
Well True Detective Season 2 basically has four characters that we’re following:
- Frank Semyon, a mobster who’s managed to build himself up from nothing, and is now looking to broker a deal that will allow him to become a major player in California.
- Ray Velcoro, a detective in the Vinci PD, who also works on the side as Frank’s enforcer. Ray got involved with Frank after Ray’s wife was attacked and raped. Frank gave Ray information leading him to the assailant, who Ray murdered. Ray’s life kind of fell apart after this. His wife left him, he became an alcoholic/frequent drug user, and he has a rocky relationship with his son, who may or may not be the biological child of the rapist (spoiler: he’s not).
- Ani Bezzerides, an officer in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Ani did not have a typical childhood, growing up with a father who ran a spiritual commune. She was sexually assaulted as a kid, and lays the blame on her dad, given his hippie dippy parenting meant nobody was looking out for her. As a result, she seems to have compensated by taking her life in the complete opposite direction, becoming a police officer.
- And Paul Woodrugh, a California Highway Patrol officer. Woodrugh is in a particularly rough patch in his life. He’s struggling with his sexuality (he’s a closeted, self-hating homosexual), he’s embroiled in a scandal involving an actress he pulled over, and he has a very questionable past working for a private military company in Afghanistan.
These four cross paths in the midst a historic plan to build a rail corridor passing through a bunch of California cities, including Vinci. The land around this rail line will become incredibly valuable after its built, and the corrupt Vinci power circle want in on this. As it so happens, so does Frank Semyon, and he’s working with Ben Caspere in an extremely shady plot to make some money off of this situation.
Frank and Caspere worked together to build a waste disposal plant around the rail corridor, deliberately contaminating the land, and thereby dropping the value of it so that their people can buy it up cheap. In return for his help, Caspere will sell Frank a piece of the land, quoting him a $10 million buy-in.
Frank can’t afford to pay this on his own, even after liquidating all of his assets, so to make up the remaining $5 million he owes, he makes a deal with a Russian mobster named Osip Agranov. To close this deal, Osip flies in to Vinci, while Frank gives his share of the $10 million to Caspere, who will pass it along to the company handling the land deal: Catalyst Group.
Osip arrives for a party that Frank is throwing for the investors, expecting to meet Ben Caspere and close the deal.
Caspere doesn’t show, and Osip backs out of the arrangement. As we soon find out though, Caspere had a great reason for missing his appointment: he’s been murdered by a mysterious figure wearing a bird mask.
And this is how our “true detectives” get involved?
Right. Caspere’s mutilated corpse (his eyes were burned out with acid, and his genitals shot off with a shotgun) was dumped in the middle of nowhere in Ventura County.
His body is discovered by Paul, who’s out riding his motorcycle while possibly attempting to commit suicide.
This creates a bit of a legal snafu, as Caspere was declared a missing person by Vinci PD, but his body was discovered in Ventura, by a California state highway patrolman, making it difficult to figure out whose jurisdiction this falls under.
On the scene for Vinci PD is Ray, Ani is there from Ventura County PD, while Paul, being a highway patrolman, works for the state.
Why do all of these law enforcement agencies care?
They don’t necessarily care about Ben Caspere’s death, but they do see this as an opportunity. State Attorney Richard Geldof and investigator Katherine Davis want to use this as a window to find out the extent of the corruption going on in Vinci, and finally level some charges against its officials. They task Paul and Ani with investigating the situation, including Ray, who they (correctly) believe is crooked.
The current Vinci mayor, Austin Chessani (Theo Chessani’s son), as well as Burris and Holloway, are aware of this though. They instruct Ray to keep the investigation from digging too deep into their affairs. Mayor Chessani believes that Geldof (the aforementioned state attorney) wants in on the Vinci corruption racket, and is using this investigation as an opportunity to dig up dirt to coerce his way in.
Meanwhile, Frank also approaches Ray, as the two of them have formed a strong working relationship in the years since Ray’s revenge killing. When Caspere died, he took $5 million of Frank’s money with him (basically amounting to his entire life’s work), and Frank needs Ray to find out who did it and why. As it turns out, Caspere scammed Frank before his death, and never brought the $5 million to the Catalyst Group. So unless Frank can get his money back, he has no stake in the rail corridor land buy.
Whew, that is a lot of information already, and I’m guessing it’s going to get even more complicated?
You guessed right. Things become very complicated very quickly for our detectives once the actual investigation begins.
We’re introduced to a number of side players and jobs linked to Caspere. There’s Dr. Irving Pitlor, a psychiatrist who might be involved in some shady medical practices. There’s also a movie that’s shooting in Vinci that Caspere helped finance. Finally, there’s Ani sister Athena, who used to be a prostitute that worked “parties” held by Caspere, apparently attended by many influential businessmen and power brokers.
Independently, Ray learns from Frank’s sources that Caspere also brought women to a house in Hollywood that Catalyst was leasing to him. Ray goes there alone, and finds out that Caspere is pretty obsessed with sex, and is into some freaky stuff. Ray discovers a hidden room containing a hard drive, but is ambushed by the bird mask man. Ray gets blasted by a shotgun loaded with rubber bullets, and bird man escapes with the hard drive.
Ani and Paul meanwhile head to Mayor Chessani’s home, after discovering that Caspere made a ton of phone calls to the mayor’s house. There they meet his son, Tony. Tony says he organizes “specialty events” for a living, but doesn’t elaborate on that. He claims ignorance on Caspere and the phone calls, saying all he knows is that Caspere works with his dad.
Frank meanwhile learns that one of his henchman has been murdered, and the body mutilated in a similar way to Caspere. He takes this to mean that whoever killed Caspere is coming after him personally. Adding to his paranoia is a cryptic remark by the mayor that Frank better get his operations in order, as “foreign” parties may be interested in moving in on his turf.
Paul begins investigating a prostitute named Tasha, who was apparently Caspere’s favorite. She went missing around the time of Caspere’s disappearance.
Ani and Ray meanwhile are tracking down the car that was used to transport Caspere’s corpse. They manage to figure out that it was stolen from a film set, the same production that Caspere bankrolled. They manage to find it, but not before the bird mask guy blows it up, destroying any evidence. He escapes once again.
Paul meets up with a guy named Miguel, a buddy from his days working for a PMC called Black Mountain (which Miguel still works for). It’s implied that their squad was involved with something shady while overseas (possibly a robbery of some kind that went wrong), that resulted in them bringing a significant amount of money back with them.
It also becomes clear that the two of them were in a romantic relationship, but Paul lashes out when Miguel tries to rekindle that. Despite this, Paul ends up becoming black out drunk, and spends the night with his former lover.
Ani and Ray meanwhile interview the mayor’s daughter, Betty, who reveals that her mom was institutionalized after exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, and her doctor was none other than Irving Pitlor.
So somehow, Caspere, Pitlor, and the Chessani family are all connected?
That’s what our true detectives think. They manage to track down a safe deposit box owned by Caspere, which contains blue diamonds, linking Caspere to the LA Riots robbery/murder. They then begin looking into items stolen from Caspere’s home, and discover they were sold to various pawn shops by a prostitute named Irina and her pimp, Ledo.
Caspere was known to frequent Irina’s services, and the going theory is that she and Ledo killed Caspere to rob him. The detectives raid a meth lab that Ledo operates with his gang, but someone tipped him off, and a huge shootout occurs. In the firefight, Dixon (the guy from the blue diamonds heist who became a Vinci detective) is shot and killed, as is Ledo.
Frank meanwhile has a run in with some Mexican gangsters, who want to distribute drugs through Frank’s club. Frank allows them to, in exchange for setting up a phone call with Irina. It turns out it was all a set up. Burris and Holloway were the ones who actually passed Caspere’s belongings to Irina to sell (possibly along with the mayor). Frank and Irina set up a meeting, but when Frank goes to meet her, he finds her dead, killed by the Mexican gang for working with the police.
Ledo (who happens to be dead, and therefore, can’t be questioned) makes for a good scapegoat, and State Attorney Geldof closes the case. He’s also corrupt, as we discover, and he resigns his position soon after to run for governor, bankrolled by some mysterious benefactors (heavily implied to be members of the Vinci circle).
So case closed, sort of?
In a way, yeah. This basically kills the detectives’ investigation. To make matters worse, Mayor Chessani throws his weight around and gets Ani slapped with a sexual harassment case (he’s angry that she went snooping in his house), due to a relationship she had with a subordinate. She gets suspended.
Paul gets promoted, but put in the insurance fraud division, and thus, out of the way. Ray meanwhile quits Vinci PD, and goes full-time as Frank’s enforcer. Sometime after his “retirement,” Burris comes a knocking, asking if Dixon disclosed anything about his own side activities. We later learn that Dixon had been trying to dig up dirt on his former associates, hoping to blackmail his way back into the inner circle.
It’s very likely that Chief Holloway and Burris had known about this for a while, and intentionally put Dixon in harm’s way during the meth lab shootout.
Speaking of Frank, we haven’t heard much about him in a while, what’s he been up to?
Frank has mostly been spending his time reassembling his operation from his days as a mid-level mob boss, in an attempt to make up for the fact that he just lost his entire fortune. Making matters difficult though is the fact that his second-in-command, a guy named Blake, has been acting suspiciously. Frank asks Ray to tail Blake, and find out what’s up.
Frank also goes to visit the Catalyst Group in person, attempting to get back in on the rail corridor deal. Catalyst’s president, Jacob McCandless, tells him that Caspere’s hard drive, filled with some sort of sensitive info, has gone missing (if you’ll remember, it was stolen by the bird man a little ways back). If Frank can recover it, McCandless will restore his share of the land deal. Whatever is on that hard drive, it’s apparently worth millions of dollars.
Ray meanwhile tracks Blake, and discovers that he’s been running prostitutes on the side, without Frank’s consent. This side business involves taking the women to Dr. Pitlor, who gets them cosmetic surgeries, before delivering them to Caspere’s “parties.”
Ray beats the crap out of Pitlor to get information, and it turns out that the mayor’s son Tony was a big part of this operation, and was Caspere’s partner in setting it all up. Caspere and Tony used these parties to collect potential blackmail material on the powerful people who attended, storing video recordings of them on Caspere’s hard drive.
Interestingly, the mayor had no knowledge of this, making it apparent that he’s actually a much smaller player in all of this than we had previously assumed.
And the other detectives? How do they get involved again?
As this is happening, Ani returns from her suspension, but is doing very low level police work. While serving a foreclosure for a house owned by a woman named Dani Machiado though, she once again finds herself embroiled in the conspiracy. It turns out Dani’s sister Vera has gone missing, and Ventura County PD is dragging their feet on the case.
Dani has some crucial evidence that she hasn’t turned over to the police, photos of what appear to be Tony and Caspere’s parties, as well as photos of the blue diamonds that Ani and Paul had confiscated.
The diamonds have apparently gone missing from evidence. Paul decides to ask around about the diamonds, and discovers that not only are they super unique (and thus, definitely the same ones from the 1992 heist), but Dixon had also been inquiring about them before his death.
Soon enough, the detectives find themselves approached by State Investigator Katherine Davis (the woman who, along with Geldof, originally got Ani and Paul involved with the case). She believes Geldof is crooked, and was collaborating with the Vinci inner circle. She brings Ray, Ani, and Paul together as an off-the-books task force to investigate him, and bring him to justice.
They agree, and begin their investigation again.
Ani gets a tip that leads her to an old cabin in the woods that Caspere used to frequent. There they find evidence of what looks like an execution.We later find out that the victim was Tasha, the missing prostitute the detectives were trying to find before. She was collecting photos and evidence against Caspere to use as blackmail against him. She was discovered and killed, but not before she sent the evidence to Dani, thus explaining the photos that Ani saw before.
With no other leads, the detectives decide that their only options is to find out what’s actually going on in these sex parties. Using her sister’s contacts, Ani infiltrates a party, acting as a prostitute. She’s drugged, but manages to find Vera and escape with her, killing a security guard in the process.
Acting as her backup, Paul and Ray overhear a deal between Tony Chessani, Holloway, McCandless, and Osip (the Russian gangster that had a deal with Frank). Apparently, Osip is investing $12 million in rail corridor land, independent of his previous agreement with Frank. Before leaving, Paul breaks in and steals the contract documents.
What do the contracts/Vera reveal?
Vera turns out to be very unhelpful, but the contracts that Paul stole reveal quite a bit. It turns out that Caspere had a company that purchased some rail corridor land, likely bought with Frank’s money. The treasurer of this company was Blake, implying that Frank was being swindled from the start. Additionally, the contracts’ language made it so that when Caspere died, the Vinci guys were able to buy up his land incredibly cheap. This seems to imply that they orchestrated Caspere’s death, but this turns out to be a red herring.
The detectives don’t know this though, and prepare to turn in the documents seemingly implicating the Vinci circle in the shady dealings and potentially, Caspere’s murder. Before they can do so, an APB is put out on Ray and Ani (in connection with the guard she killed), and their only official contact, Katherine Davis, is assassinated.
This basically leaves them as outlaws, having no proof that they were working on behalf of the state.
So if it wasn’t Caspere’s partners, who did kill him?
The detectives still have no idea, but they’re closing in on someone tied to the LA Riots robbery in 1992. Whatever happened there, it seems to tie together Holloway, Burris, Dixon, Caspere, and bird man, but they can’t quite figure out how. Without any real evidence to prove their case, they decide not to turn themselves into the police.
Frank meanwhile confronts Blake, who under duress, confirms that he had been working for Osip (who as it turns out, is the one trafficking European women into the country for the orgies). Neither Caspere nor Osip were ever interested in working with Frank, and had been just using him the entire time. Blake was the one who killed Frank’s henchman way back when, imitating the Caspere murder to throw Frank off. Blake explains that the guy found out about Blake’s double-dealings, and wanted to be included.
He also implies that Osip has paid off almost all of Frank’s men, leaving him with very few friends he can count on (just Ray, and a guy named Nails). Finally, Blake reveals when Osip’s deal with Catalyst (to be paid in cash) is going down.
Frank then shoots Blake in the belly, killing him.
What does Frank do in response to all of this?
At this point, Frank is basically out of money and manpower, and has few options. He can potentially swallow his pride, and work as a low-level manager for Osip, but that’s not what Frank is all about. He hatches a crazy plan that involves fake passports, diamonds, and a lot of guns, all of which is procured from the Armenian mob on the promise of a ton of cash.
Frank then reveals to the mayor what his son has been up to behind his back (causing the mayor to rush home in a panic), before torching the casino and club he owns (which Osip had secretly bought up after Frank had to double mortgage them).
And what are our true detectives doing while this is going on?
Ani and Ray are apparently in love now, and get intimate. Paul meanwhile is sent photos of his night with Miguel (possibly taken by Dixon before his death), and is told to come to a location alone. There he finds out that Miguel had set him up, and that Black Mountain (the PMC Paul used to work for, and Miguel still works for) was later bought by none other than Catalyst, and is now their in-house security division.
Paul is taken down into abandoned tunnels that run below Vinci, and confronted by Holloway. They want the contracts that Paul stole from the sex party mansion. Paul manages to escape, but is shot and killed by Burris, who ambushes him outside of the tunnels.
Ani and Ray continue the investigation without Paul, and find a familiar face in Tasha’s photos. They believe it’s a woman named Erica, Caspere’s personal assistant, who also happens to look a bit like Laura, one of the children who witnessed the 1992 robbery/murders.
Using this information, they work out that if Erica is actually Laura, her brother Leonard might be a photographer that Ray met on the movie set. He was the only one seen speaking with Erica/Laura, and had knowledge about Caspere’s sex parties.
So, they killed Caspere?
It would seem so. The detectives track down Erica/Laura, and find a bird mask and shotgun in her home. They also find her, chained to the fireplace.
She explains that her brother is the one who killed Caspere. Their story is a little bit complicated, but here’s as succinct a summary as I can muster:
- Laura and Leonard were separated as children. Laura was adopted, Leonard was shuffled around the foster home system.
- Laura eventually became a prostitute that worked Caspere’s parties.
- There she recognizes him as the man who killed her parents, and with Tasha’s help, she gets his attention and becomes his personal assistant.
- During his drug-filled sex sessions, Laura would get information out of him (it’s unclear whether or not they had a sexually incestuous relationship, but it is strongly implied).
- She manages to track down her brother Leonard, and the two reconnect (well, half-brother, but neither of them know that). She reveals everything she’s learned about Caspere and his operations to him.
- The two hatch a plan to kidnap Caspere and interrogate him for more information. What they were planning on doing with his secrets is unclear, but presumably it was part of a revenge scheme.
- Leonard’s rough upbringing have made him very unstable though, and in a fit of rage, he murders Caspere, shooting him in the genitals. He also ritualistically burns out Caspere’s eyes, and then drives the corpse through the LA area, a tour of all of the places that Caspere was involved in (in case you can’t tell, Leonard is a bit crazy).
- He then leaves Caspere’s body in Ventura, to be inadvertently discovered by Paul.
Huh… I guess that explains Caspere’s murder. Where is Leonard now?
Leonard handcuffs his sister to the fireplace after she accuses him of going too far. He then calls Chief Holloway, telling them he’ll trade the hard drive for the diamonds (which Holloway and Burris had stolen from evidence). It’s a ruse though, the hard drive is empty. It deleted its contents as part of a security feature after Laura and Leonard were unable to come up with the correct password.
It’s implied that Leonard is not there to make a trade. He’s there to kill Holloway and Burris as revenge for murdering his parents.
Ray gets there first, and convinces Leonard to let him make the exchange, while Leonard waits nearby. Ray and Holloway meet, and Ray pretends like he’s there to trade the hard drive for a pay off. Holloway admits his involvement in the 1992 robbery while Ray secretly records it.
When Holloway reveals that Caspere is actually Laura’s father though, Leonard loses it, jumping on Holloway and stabbing him to death with a knife. Burris tries to intervene, but Ani shoots him in the arm. In the scuffle, the recorder is destroyed, and Leonard is shot to death, leaving Ani and Ray with no evidence.
Square one again then?
Pretty much. It doesn’t look like the (surviving) bad guys will be brought to justice anytime soon, so Ray reconnects with Frank, who has a plan to get them all out of the country.
Before Frank’s plan is put into action, Ani sends her sister away (as she’s now in danger after Ani used her contacts to infiltrate the orgy); and Frank sends his wife Jordan ahead of him to Venezuela, accompanied by Frank’s last trustworthy henchman, Nails. It turns out Frank got Nails out of a serious pinch way back when, which is why he remained loyal.
Frank goes to visit the mayor, only to find him dead in his pool, apparently having drowned during a drug binge. The mayor’s wife reveals that he and his son were arguing the night before, implying that Tony killed his father after being confronted, and staged a fake suicide. Ani likewise pays one last visit to Dr. Pitlor, and finds that he’s also “committed suicide,” and someone has stolen his files. That someone is clearly cleaning up any potential loose ends.
Frank’s plan is then finally revealed. He’s procured some heavy armaments from the Armenian gangsters, and he and Ray head up to the cabin to crash Osip and Catalyst’s $12 million cash exchange. They gun down all of the guards, along with Osip and McCandless, and steal the money. Frank and Ray split the cash, and head off separately, planning on meeting up again soon to leave for Venezuela.
Frank goes to convert most his cash into diamonds (thus making it easier to transport presumably), while Ray can’t resist paying one last visit to his estranged son. Neither will make it to their destination.
What happens to Frank and Ray?
Frank is ambushed by the Mexican gang he had been dealing with a little earlier in the season. They’re very upset that Frank has burned down the club, which they had been planning on distributing drugs through. They take Frank out to the desert where a grave has been dug for him.
Trying to bargain for his life, Frank offers them his suitcase, filled with the $1 million that he didn’t convert into diamonds. They seemingly agree to let him live, but as they prepare to drive off, Frank realizes they plan on leaving him in the desert. While attempting to get them to give him a ride back to the city, one of the gangsters tells Frank to give him his suit. Instead, Frank clocks him and is subsequently stabbed and left for dead in the desert.
Why doesn’t he give up the suit?
It’s not completely clear, as there are two big possibilities:
- One is the fact that the $5 million in diamonds is in his suit pocket. Giving up his clothes would’ve meant giving up everything he had worked for up to this point, something that maybe Frank just couldn’t do.
- The other possibility is that Frank knew that he was a dead man, and that the Mexicans were planning on leaving him to die in the desert no matter what. Asking him to give up his clothes was just them trying to further humiliate him. So instead of giving up his pride, Frank wanted to go out swinging.
The latter seems more likely, since the Mexicans are later seen to be working with Tony Chessani. Frank was a loose end, and almost certainly wasn’t walking out of that situation alive, suit or not. In any case though, Frank gets stabbed, and after hallucinating, dies alone in the desert with his diamonds.
Ray goes to see his son at his school. After having a moment with his kid, Ray discovers that the school was being watched, and that someone had installed a tracker on his car.
Knowing that he can’t return to Ani without giving away her location, Ray drives into the forest until he runs out of gas, and engages in a shootout with Burris and Black Mountain agents. He kills a few of them, but is ultimately gunned down.
What happened to Ani?
Ani, the last surviving “true detective,” makes it to Venezuela, where she meets up with Jordan and Nails (check out the name of the boat she was on, very subtle).
It’s revealed that she was pregnant with Ray’s child. We also see that she kept the evidence on the Vinci circle, and is now handing it over to an LA Times reporter, one with a history of uncovering corruption.
Meanwhile back in Vinci, the rail corridor opens, Tony Chessani is elected mayor, and Buriss becomes the new police chief (we also see the Mexican gang in Tony’s entourage).
Wow… that is a lot to process.
Yup. Like I said, True Detective‘s is extremely dense, but it all comes together in the end (more or less).
If you’ve digested all of that, and you’re curious to learn a bit more about all of the story’s little details, head on over to the next page for a brief FAQ on some of the side material we didn’t cover here.