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The Ending Of True Detective Season 2 Explained

True Detective's second season aired on HBO in 2015, and it was one of the more controversial TV seasons of the past decade. The show's beloved first season starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as two Louisiana detectives investigating a series of child murders — and dropping a lot of philosophical one-liners along the way. Season 2 just couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations, and many fans turned on the show they used to love. The series eventually won back some fans who were worried about True Detective season 3. But then again, the expectations were way lower the third time around. More recently, critics have revised their opinions of the second season, with many, including The New York Times, arguing that it's not as bad as we remember.

True Detective season 2 took the series to the fictional California town of Vinci, a corrupt place where the equally corrupt city manager has just been murdered. Four characters investigate the killing: Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a Vinci homicide detective who's corrupt himself; Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a businessman with ties to organized crime who's trying to go straight; Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), a county investigator who was abused as a child; and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a highway patrol officer and Iraq war vet with PTSD. 

Whatever your opinion of True Detective's second season, chances are you didn't make it all the way to the ending. And if you did, the convoluted plot may still have left you confused. So here's what went down at the end of True Detective season 2 — and what it means. 

Nobody makes it out of True Detective Season 2 unscathed

The big reveal of the True Detective season 2 finale is who killed city manager Ben Caspere. The second season isn't really about the murder, but it still ties into all the main themes. Caspere was murdered by brother and sister Len and Laura Osterman, who were avenging their parents. In 1992, their parents owned a jewelry store and Caspere was a cop. He and some other Vinci cops used the Rodney King riots as cover to murder Len and Laura's parents, steal their diamonds, and buy their way into Vinci's power structure. That's how Caspere became city manager. And there was even more to it: Caspere was also Laura's secret father. 

Season 2 of True Detective borrows some of its themes from Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus Rex, which is about a man who unwittingly murders his father, a king, and then marries his own mother. Earlier in the season, Woodrugh shares many scenes with his hugely inappropriate mother Cynthia, who basically hits on him. That covers the incest part of Oedipus. And when Len murders the man who turns out to be Laura's father, that hits the "accidental patricide" angle. 

But season 2 is also about political corruption and who's best equipped to fight it. The gang solves the murder, but they all realize that the Vinci power structure is too powerful to stop, so they try to flee. Ray, Frank, and Paul don't make it out alive. Ani escapes to Venezuela and passes incriminating evidence on to a reporter. But that's as close as anyone gets to delivering justice by the ending. Ray, Frank, and Paul were too compromised to stop the worst of Vinci, while the purer Ani was mostly powerless. Talk about bleak.