There has been some grumbling about season two of True Detective and it's intricate storyline. Fortunately, Willa Paskin, a total baller who is also a television critic for Slate, has broken it down for us in this very helpful Q & A.
Please note that I pretty much just copied and pasted the main text of Paskin's article (denoted in italics) for the purpose of sharing this invaluable information. A link to her original article on slate.com is posted below.
Also note, you may want to print this out and keep it next to your bed (or wherever you do your reading and television watching), as it is lengthy and has A LOT of information.
Also, spoiler alert.
Why are we here?
Detectives Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) have been tasked with discovering who killed Ben Caspere, a city manager in Vinci, California, who was found with his genitalia blown off and his eyes eaten out by acid.* Caspere was murdered by someone wearing a crow mask—or at least, his body was transported by someone who had a crow mask on the passenger seat. He was a business partner of Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a patient of Dr. Irving Pitlor (Rick Springfield, yes, of “Jesse’s Girl” fame), and into freaky sex stuff. For some reason, his name is pronounced “Caspar” despite the E at its end.
Why are so many officers working this case?
Woodrugh, a California Highway Patrol officer, found the body. Bezzerides, a sheriff for Ventura County, has been assigned the case to uncover corruption in Vinci. Velcoro, a Vinci detective, is working the case because Caspere was a Vinci employee—and also to keep other law enforcement agencies from uncovering corruption in Vinci.
What was the nature of Caspere’s business relationship with Frank?
Frank had given Caspere $5 million, that, together with a $5 million investment from the Russian-Israeli gangster Osip Argonov (Timothy V. Murphy), was supposed to secure them a parcel of land from the Catalyst Group.
What was so special about this land?
The short version: it could be bought cheap and sold high. The longer version: Frank’s waste management company, Acheron Waste Management, colluding with Vinci Mayor Austin Chessani (Ritchie Coster) and the Catalyst Corporation, dumped Vinci toxic waste in this land, which was located “up north,” to drive down its price by making it unsuitable for agriculture. But Catalyst, Chessani, Caspere and Frank, among others, knew the federal government had plans to build a high-speed rail through this land “corridor” and would be willing to buy it at a much higher price.
So this plan went off without a hitch?
Please. Frank did sell his waste management company and gave the resulting $5 million to Caspere. But Caspere was murdered before he turned the money over to Catalyst. With Caspere’s death, Frank’s money evaporated and so did his deal with Osip, leaving Frank broke and desperate and willing to pull (literal) teeth to get back into all of the illegal businesses he had recently forsaken.
But it turns out Frank would have gotten fleeced even if Caspere had lived. Caspere was in cahoots with Osip, and had been since Frank and Caspere had taken a trip to Europe to see Osip six months before the murder. Since that meeting, Osip has steadily been smuggling Eastern European women into California and buying up the liens on Frank’s two clubs, Vinci Gardens Casino and Lux Infinitum. (This is why Frank burned down his clubs in Sunday night’s episode: Osip owns them now and Osip is his enemy.) When Caspere died, his shares of Catalyst were sneakily reabsorbed by the company, and redistributed to Osip and Tony Chessani (Vinicius Machado), the mayor’s son. Osip’s deal will be finalized, presumably in next week’s episode, when he tries to hand off $12 million in cash to the Catalyst Group and Frank tries to steal that $12 million using a repeating shopping list.
How do we know all this?
Some of it has been scattered through the previous episodes, but in Sunday night’s episode, Frank’s associate Blake Churchman (Christopher James Baker)—the one he smashed in the face with a glass in slow motion—kindly explained everything before Frank killed him.
Who is Blake?
Blake is an associate of Frank’s who has been working behind Frank’s back. In addition to confirming that Osip and Caspere had been double dealing Frank, he is also the person who told Frank—wrongly—who Velcoro’s wife’s rapist was.
Remind me about what is going on there?
Velcoro’s wife Gena was brutally raped. Velcoro heard that Frank might know who had raped her. Frank gave him a name. Velcoro killed that guy, ruining his own life, his marriage, and making him a lackey cop of Frank’s. But, recently, the man who actually raped Gena, according to DNA tests, was found and arrested. (The rapist is the guy behind the counter in this beer commercial.) Ray went to Frank’s house and held a gun on him at the breakfast table to find out if Frank had knowingly given him the wrong name, the name of a man who was not the rapist. Frank had not. Rather, Frank had gotten the name from Blake, who was looking to move up in Frank’s organization, saw an opportunity to get himself noticed, and had a meth-head bothering him.
Anything else we need to know about Blake?
Blake has, or had, red hair.
Why does it matter that Blake had red hair?
So does Velcoro’s son Chad, who Velcoro fears is actually the biological son of the man who raped Gena. But, you never know, he could be someone else’s biological son altogether. (Though, probably, he will just turn out to be Velcoro’s son.)
Is it possible for two brunettes to have a redhead?
So Blake’s red hair could be a red herring?
Stop it, you have no idea how much more we have to get through—even just about Blake!
OK, what else is there about Blake?
He confirmed that he killed Stan. Stan was another one of Frank’s associates, who showed up dead, with his eyes burned out like Caspere’s.
If Stan died the way Caspere did, did Blake kill Caspere?
No, Blake was very adamant about this: no one has any idea who killed Caspere.
Sorry to backtrack—but should I know who Stan is?
No. But before he showed up dead, he had appeared fleetingly, in the background, of two scenes. Since he died, Frank has talked about him a bunch and even visited his widow’s house. Blake killed him because Stan found out what Blake was up to and tried to blackmail him.
And Stan was going to blackmail Blake because he found out he was working with Osip and Caspere to swindle Frank?
Not just that. He is also involved with the sex parties.
Oh! The sex parties! What is the deal with the sex parties?
While investigating the death of Caspere, Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh discovered that he was deeply involved with orchestrating regular high-end sex parties, in which rich and powerful men wearing tuxedos do business and fornicate with drugged women. Blake was one of the organizers of these parties.
Who else was involved in organizing these parties?
One of the guys involved is Dr. Pitlor/Rick Springfield. He does plastic surgery on the women who attend to turn them from “8 to 10s.” Pitlor was also Caspere’s shrink and, it turns out, the therapist of Austin Chessani’s first wife, who killed herself because, in Pitlor’s words, she struggled with “some of the traditions of the Chessani patriarchy.” Additionally, in the ’70s, Pitlor used to hang around with Austin Chessani and also Bezzerides’ dad, Eliot (David Morse) who, at the time, was running a commune called The Good People.
More important to the parties, however, is Tony Chessani, the mayor’s son. We first met Tony when Bezzerides and Woodrugh went to Mayor Chessani’s mansion and Tony explained that he puts on “parties” for a living. In passing in an early episode, Austin Chessani said Tony had serious psychological problems. In last night’s episode we learned that Tony isn’t wild about his father either: He’s been plotting to take over for him in Vinci.
Caspere and Tony Chessani, in particular, used the parties as a way to acquire blackmail material—photos, video—on all of their powerful guests.
Where is all that blackmail material?
Presumably it is on Caspere’s missing hard drive. In Episode 2, when Ray, on a tip from Frank, checked out Caspere’s second, secret apartment, he saw a video camera hooked up to a hard drive. A moment after spotting it, a person in a crow mask shot him with riot shells. When Ray woke up, the hard drive was gone.
Who has it?
Well, that’s the big question. When Blake denies that he, or anyone he works with, killed Caspere, he is also saying that neither he, Osip, Tony Chessani, or Pitlor have the hard drive. Another person who doesn’t have the hard drive is Jacob McCandless (Jon Lindstrom) the president of Catalyst. After repeatedly ignoring Frank’s attempts to procure another parcel of land, McCandless told him he would give him five, if Frank found the hard drive.
So McCandless is presumably on that hard drive?
And he’s not the only one. At the party where Bezzerides murdered someone, she saw not only McCandless, but Osip, Attorney General Geldof (C.S. Lee) and Vinci Police Chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami). It even looked like the party was taking place at McCandless’s house because he seemed to have an office there.
Great. One last thing about the party: when Bezzerides was there and having flashbacks to being sexually assaulted—was that her cult/commune-running dad she was seeing?
No, it was another guy with long hair, who just, because of his long hair, looked like her dad. It seems like Bezzerides went missing for four days as a child and had been taken by this man—but she had never remembered his face until the party. We don’t know very much about The Good People yet, or the Panticapaeum Institute where Bezzerides’s father works now. The one thing we do know is that it is located “up north,” near Guerneville, which is where Bezzerides and Woodrugh found that crime scene where a woman had been tied up.
Yeah. So way back at the beginning of the show, Bezzerides and her partner Elvis were called to evict a woman from her house. She told them that her sister had gone missing. We have since found out that woman was named Dani, and her sister was named Vera. Bezzerides let it go for a little while, but then Dani called saying she had just gotten a package from her sister. It contained a bunch of photographs—more on that in a minute—that piqued Bezzerides’s interest. She got Elvis to give her the last known location of Vera’s cellphone, which was used near Guerneville. When Woodrugh and Bezzerides went to investigate they found a lodge and, nearby, a shed where a woman had been tied up and murdered. (The lodge was most definitely used for sex parties: the chandelier inside matched one in the aforementioned photos.) The blood is probably too old to pull DNA from, but it did test positive for gonorrhea. This is of note because Caspere also had gonorrhea. Taken with what Vera told Bezzerides this week, that the photos had actually been sent to her sister by a Hungarian prostitute named Tasha who was trying to blackmail some of the Johns, and that Tasha had been very close with Caspere, and that Tasha had been taken out into the woods by Tony Chessani and his goons, it seems that the woman who died in the shed was Tasha.
Can I see a picture of Tasha?
No, she has never appeared on this show except in a very fuzzy photograph.
Wait, how did Vera tell Bezzerides anything? I thought she was missing.
She was, but she was the woman that Bezzerides found at the sex party and hustled out.
OK, what was in the photographs?
So here is where we get to the blue diamonds. The pictures Tasha sent to Dani contained a guy who looked an awful lot like Caspere hanging with women wearing blue diamonds at one of these sex parties. After Caspere died, blue diamonds had been found in his safe deposit box. But when Bezzerides got the photos and went to check on the blue diamonds, she discovered they had gone missing. Woodrugh then started going around to pawn shops to see if the blue diamonds had been pawned. He didn’t find them, but he did discover that Detective Dixon had been looking for them—even before they knew they were in the safety deposit box.
Sorry. Who is Dixon?
The schlubby drunk cop who got his head blown off in the shootout.
What does it mean that he was looking for them before they had known they were missing?
It means members of the Vinci police force knew Caspere had the diamonds all along.
How would they know that?
Because they were the ones that stole them, back in 1992. Woodrugh talked to the cop who had worked the initial blue diamond case and he explained that $2.5 million in blue diamonds were stolen by two masked men from a jewelry store in Hollywood in ’92, which coincided with the LA Riots. In Sunday night’s episode, Woodrugh confirmed, first by research and then by getting murdered, that the thieves were then LAPD officers Dixon and Kevin Burris (James Frain), who committed the crime with the knowledge of their then Chief, Chief Holloway, and their then precinct accountant Ben Caspere. After the robbery and the riots, all four men migrated from the LAPD to the Vinci PD, where they could continue to be corrupt, with much greater ease.
There were kids involved with this crime too, right?
One gruesome detail from the robbery is that the thieves executed the owners of the store, and so their two very young children, Laura and Leonard Osterman, had to hide near their parents’ lifeless bodies for hours, until the police arrived.
Are those kids important?
Yes. It seems, at this point, like they are the people who revenge-killed Caspere. A woman who worked the sex parties and goes by the name of Laura appears in the photograph of Caspere and Vera and Tasha and the diamonds. Velcoro recognized her as Caspere’s assistant Erica, whom we met fleetingly, way back in episode three, on the movie set. Since then Erica/Laura has quit her job and left her apartment. We don’t know who Leonard is yet.
Is it possible that the sad, guitar-playing singer at the bar has something to do with Caspere’s murder? Or the waitress with the scar on her face?
At this point, it does not seem so. One is just a waitress with a scar on her face. The other is just the inexplicably sad, guitar-playing singer.
OK, I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on it— but tell me, who is the woman who showed up with her throat slashed in Episode 6?
That’s actually a pretty complicated question. Back in Episode 4, before the shoot out, Woodrugh was alerted that one of Caspere’s very expensive watches had been pawned. (They knew it was Caspere’s watch because it was registered with his insurance.) When Woodrugh went to the pawn shop, video and fingerprints showed that the watch had been pawned by a woman named Irina Rulfo, whose pimp was a Mexican gangster named Ledo Amarilla (which is pretty close to yellow, as in yellow king, if you are not exhausted with that sort of thing already). Based on this bit of evidence—that the Mexican gangster was in possession of Caspere’s property—Velcoro, Bezzeridies, and Woodrugh and their teams went after him, which resulted in the crazy shootout and meth lab explosion that became known as the massacre in Vinci. With Amarilla and his entire team dead, the Caspere murder case got closed.
But Amarilla didn’t actually kill Caspere.
No. We knew that already but know it for sure now. Lieutenant Burris gave the watch to Irina to bring to a pawn-shop. Burris and Dixon had past experience with Amarilla—they had questioned him but taken no notes some years previous—and so even had his assistance while they were setting him up. Vinci PD orchestrated the whole thing.
But wait, why did the girl get her throat slashed?
So, before we knew for sure about Burris’s involvement, Frank was still trying to track down that hard drive to be able to buy into the land deal. He figured that whoever really gave the watch to Irina either had the hard drive or would know who did. So he tried to talk to Irina. This involved shooting nails into people and cutting an unfavorable drug deal with her keepers, the Mexicans who want to sell drugs in Frank’s clubs. The Mexicans got Irina to call Frank, and she says a “skinny white cop”—Burris, it turns out—gave her the watch. But when Frank show’s up to meet her, to ID the cop, the Mexicans have slit her throat—for admitting to talking to cops.
OK, I have a few more questions. Why did Burris kill Woodrugh?
So, at this point, Burris and Holloway, very high-ranking Vinci police officers, are desperately trying to keep the Caspere case closed, because any further investigation into it will reveal not only their hand in the 1992 robbery-murder but also how they are profiting from the soon-to-be built rail line: Remember, Holloway was at the sex party and is in cahoots with Catalyst too. (There are basically two parts of this conspiracy—the Holloway-Burris-Dixon-Caspere arm and the Tony Chessani-Osip-Blake-Caspere arm. They are both making money off of the rail line, which means they are both connected via Catalyst.) Because Bezzerides murdered a security guard at the party, there is an all points bulletin out on her, and she is effectively neutralized: if she shows up, she will be arrested and taken to them. They have Velcoro in a spot too, because they framed him for the murder of Katherine Davis (Michael Hyatt aka Avon Barksdale’s sister).
I’m lost: who is Katherine Davis?
She is Bezzerides’ boss. She is the woman who got Bezzerides, Velcoro, and Woodrugh secretly back to investigating the Caspere case after the massacre in Vinci. She believed the Caspere case got closed only because Vinci paid off Attorney General and sex party attender Geldof, who in the wake of the Vinci massacre declared he was running for Governor and, not coincidentally, suddenly had an impressive war chest. Davis was not motivated by anything particularly nefarious, but she was more interested in interfering with Geldof’s rise than in cracking the entire Caspere-related conspiracy. None of that really matters now, however, because she is dead: she is the black woman Velcoro discovered shot in the driver’s seat of her own car. Velcoro assumes she was murdered by Burris and Holloway, and that they used one of the guns in his house to do it, in order to frame Velcoro.
OK—but, again, why did Burris kill Woodrugh?
Woodrugh was the only member of the trio who could move around freely, and thus the biggest threat to Holloway and Burris. At first, they just tried to blackmail him.
With the pictures of him having sex with another man?
Right. Woodrugh, in Afghanistan, worked for some shady security company, Black Mountain, that is supposed to be kind of akin to Blackwater. But since Woodrugh worked for them, Black Mountain has given up all its other clients … just to work for the Catalyst Group. Woodrugh’s old friend, the guy who Woodrugh had guilty sex with, still works for Black Mountain and really only called Woodrugh to check up on him on Catalyst-by-way-of-Black-Mountain’s behalf.
So Catalyst took the pictures of Woodrugh?
Crazily, no, they did not. It seems that Detective Dixon just took those pictures because he is a nosy parker, and that Holloway and Burris found them after Dixon died and they were going through his stuff. But, having found them, they knew what to do with them. They blackmailed Woodrugh into meeting with Holloway and a number of Black Mountain employees in some underground tunnels to get him to turn over Bezzerides and Velcoro’s location. (Again, note how cozy the two parts of the conspiracy are here: Holloway, Burris have such a close relationship with Catalyst they are using its security force.) Woodrugh refused, killed a bunch of Black Mountain employees, and then, when he thinks he is free, gets shot in the back by Burris. Now all Burris and Holloway and Catalyst have to contend with are Velcoro and Bezzerides, who are both wanted on suspicion of murder.
Is there other stuff I should know?
Should is an interesting word. But yes, here are some things to know, if you’re, god bless you, still reading. At this point Caspere’s murderers look to be Erica/Laura, a young woman we saw once in episode three, and her brother, who, this being a TV show, we have also probably seen before, but in some fleeting and minor capacity. (Maybe the set photographer on the movie, for example.) Next week’s 90 minute—yes! 90 minute—finale should involve Velcoro and Bezzerides trying to find Laura and Leonard and going to the Feds “or CNN” with the conspiracy, because if they don’t, they are going to be murdered by Burris and Holloway et al. The finale should also find Frank using lots of guns to try and steal $12 million from Osip and Catalyst before fleeing the country for Venezuela with his wife Jordan, who, just for kicks, might betray him.
Is there any real reason to think Jordan (Kelly Reilly) is disloyal?
Only because that part is so god awful, that might make it more interesting, on paper anyway.
Last question: When it’s all done, will it make sense?
You know what they say. Time is a flat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Paskin's original article also has helpful photos of the characters, and some clips from the show. Check it out here.
Special thanks to Willa Paskin, who went through all the trouble to piece this together so I could understand what the hell is going on. I mean, I kind of knew what was going on, but now I REALLY know what's going on. So thanks, Willa!