Archetypes: Television: ‘True Detective 2 Season Finale’: Greek Tragedy and the Ani-Antigone Thing



Hardly anyone will argue about the density and lack of clarity in plotting and dialog throughout “True Detective”’s second season. The thing did have a most distinctive “pop,” though, which emanated from an unlikely source: its Greekness. In fact, there was so much Greece – the birthplace of tragedy – that Season 2 could easily have been subtitled “Taverna.”

It’s impossible to think writer Nic Pizzolatto didn’t have something fated in mind here. He called the finale “Omega Station,” which refers to the final letter of the Greek alphabet. The use of the word “omega” also upends the idea that a divine entity is the source of beginnings and endings, by alluding to the Chessani father-and-son team: the corruption that keeps on begetting and giving.

There was also the Panticapaeum Institute, a mouthful of a place, named for an ancient Greek city. In modern Greek, the name suggests that everything (panti) in modern Vinci was a lid to a cover-up (kapaki).

And then, of course, there was the Bezzerides clan. The father, Eliot, a hippie who was associated with Panticapaeum, has two daughters, Antigone or Ani (Rachel McAdams) and Athena (Leven Rambin). From here, it’s an easy segue to Sophocles’ play, “Antigone.”

In that ancient drama, Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, is out for justice. In the civil war in Thebes, her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles fought on opposite sides of the battle, where they perished. Thebes’ new ruler, Creon, orders that Eteocles will receive honors and rebel Polyneices will not. In fact, Creon even forbids Polyneices’ burial, opting for his body to rot. Antigone’s mission is to defy Creon’s edict, and her sister Ismene won’t go along with the plan.

After Antigone buries her sibling, she’s captured by Creon. Ismene is taken into custody, too, but later freed. Antigone, though, is imprisoned in a cave. Teiresias, the blind prophet, warns Creon that the gods aren’t happy with him. In the end, Haemon – Creon’s son and the fiance of Antigone – and Antigone both take their own lives.

The correspondences between what happens in Sophocles’ drama and “True Detective 2” are hardly one-on-one. But the allusions are there. In “True Detective 2,” Ani (Rachel McAdams), the detective from Ventura, works with her “brothers” Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a highway patrol officer and Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a Vinci cop originally working with the forces of corruption. If Antigone is faced with taking a moral position against Creon, then so is present-day Ani, who opts for justice, through the media, after her professional brothers, fighting no less of a war than Polyneices and Eteocles, meet their deaths. Of course, misguided fatherhood – moderns have learned nothing from the ancients – figures big here. As does blindness – with the gauging out of Ben’s eyes a warped allusion to the sightless elder Teiresias – and the rotting of Frank’s corpse in the desert. There’s even the lauded burial, fueled by a rotten underbelly, of  “sibling” Paul, and sibling-fueled revenge.

In the finale of lauded television drama “The Shield,” the equivalent of Vic Mackey’s being banished to a cave is his being assigned a desk job. Ani’s dark, underground place is a city in Venezuela although, now with an infant in tow, she’s unlikely to terminate her own life.

Pizzolatto’s finale suggests his plan, all along, was a more clear-cut reworking of “Antigone.” Human motivations – to betray, steal, lie, exercise and seize power and kill – are sloppy and hard to pin down, no matter what period of history. In “True Detective 2,” however, getting at the details of the “Greek” thing, especially because of haphazard clues, was douleia. That’s the Greek word for “work.”

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