Series: True Detective

Man is the cruelest animal.

Martin Hart: You think, you wonder, ever, you're a bad man?
Rustin Cohle: No, I don't wonder. Marty. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

True Detective is an American drama series created by Nic Pizzolatto for HBO and shaped like an anthology, with each season focusing on a different case with a different set of detectives.

The first season stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart respectively. Initially opening in 1995, the duo is assigned to investigate a gruesome ritualistic murder in Louisiana, which involves a missing woman and occult overtones. Jumping between then and seventeen years later, the two are interviewed in the almost-present by two detectives (Michael Potts and Tory Kittles) who suspect they're Working the Same Case, and that the real Serial Killer is still out there.

Using the interviews as a Framing Device, the series jumps around three periods: from 1995 to explore the progress of the investigation, as well as 2002 and 2012 to show how the case affected the pair's personal and professional lives, and how it drove them to a falling out. The first series which premiered on January 12, 2014, and was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Following the widespread success of season one, a second season was produced and began its broadcast in Summer 2015. It involves an entirely different setting and directors. The story is set in Southern California and follows a larger group of detectives. The season stars Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn. A teaser can be seen here.

True Detective contains examples of:

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    Season One 
  • Abandoned Area:
    • The Church at the end of episode 2 ("Seeing Things") with the painting of a naked woman with antlers on the wall.
    • And the (even creepier) abandoned school.
    • The abandoned Civil War fort that Errol has turned into his shrine.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Strongly implied with Dora Lange's father.
    Mrs. Lange: Why wouldn't a father bathe his own child?
    • Beth, Dora Lange's friend, has a similar situation with her Evil Uncle.
    • This is the partial source of the Yellow King killer's insanity, as he was sexually abused and tortured by his father along with countless other children as part of the cult's rituals, which is what drives him to do the same to countless other children and young women
  • The Alcoholic: Both of the detectives are alcoholics.
    • Cohle is a relapsing-remitting. He's mostly sober in 1995, though he frequently falls off the wagon over the course of the case. He arrives at the Hart residence drunk, chugs cough syrup on the way to interview a CI, and drinks from a bottle of Jameson before going undercover. He's also got a bit of a drug problem.
    • Hart descends into this over the course of the investigation. Early on, he brags that he can have one beer with lunch and "not need twenty more." However, as pressures build, he drinks more and more and becomes a belligerent drunk. After the case is initially closed, he joins a program as part of his efforts to win back his wife. After he returns to the investigation in 2012, he also starts drinking again.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: The Iron Crusaders are outlaw bikers who perform drug deals and armed robberies.
  • All There in the Manual: Nic Pizzolatto stated in an interview that the reason Serial Killer Errol lapses into a random British accent is because after he was burned as child, he taught himself to speak again through watching old video tapes.
  • The Alleged Car: Rustin still drives the same red pickup he had in 1995. In 2012, it's revealed that he never even repaired the tail light that was damaged in his fight with Hart in 2002.
  • Arc Number: Five, which is heavily associated with the Cult of the Yellow King. Examples include:
    • The way Audrey Hart staged her dolls, five standing around a sixth on the ground.
    • The picture of Dora Lange (at her mother's house), surrounded by five horsemen dressed for Courir de Mardi Gras.
    • The tin-men that Rust slowly sets up during his interview with the police
    • in the videotape, there are five men, all dressed in a twisted version of Courir de Mardi Gras, that torture and kill Marie Fontenot.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • The Devil traps, appearing at scenes associated with the murders.
    • Stars. They appear in Dora Lange's diary, as a tattoo on her acquaintance's arm, and are mentioned by Ledoux. In one scene, asterisks frame Cohle. Cohle mentions looking up at the stars in Alaska and making up stories about them. In the final episode of the first season, Cohle stares at the stars out of his hospital window. He and Hart have a conversation describing stars as "light versus dark," in which Cohle concludes that light is winning.
    • Spirals. They're drawn on the murder victims, which helps link the murders together. When a perpetrator is revealed he's mowing the lawn in a spiral. In the season one finale, Cohle sees a spiraling vortex in a starry abyss in the darkness of Errol's inner sanctum. Reggie Ledoux and Errol Childress have spiral brands on the back of their neck, as well.
    • Horns are also a recurring theme. The first case involves a murdered woman with horns placed on her head. There are a few drawings of women with horns on their heads. Ginger the biker has a chest tattoo of horns curving up to the sides of his neck.
    • Circles are a recurring metaphor. Cohle in particular talks about cycles repeating themselves and people moving in circles. Marty's marriage cycle of fighting and then reconciling is visually described when he rollerskates in a ring with his family. As his kids go to take "one more lap around," Marty begins to reconcile with Maggie and start the cycle over again. In 2002, Cohle revisits the Dora Lange crime scene and sees a wreath of branches and twigs at the tree where they found the body. And in 2012, Cohle describes his own life as a circle several times.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: While directing a child to seek shelter in a bathtub during a gun battle, Cohle gestures with his gun and points the barrel right at the kid's head.
  • Author Avatar: But not for the author of the series. Rust's nihilistic philosophy is straight out of Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. (Ligotti's Lovecraftian fiction is an acknowledged influence on this series.) Rust's childhood in rural Alaska is probably a nod to another modern weird fiction writer, Laird Barron, with whom he shares this background.
  • Badass: Cohle, who did undercover work with outlaw bikers and Mexican cartels. After a fistfight with Hart, in which Cohle got the upperhand, Hart still realizes that Cohle was holding back.
  • Bad Liar: Hart. When he lies he either stumbles and avoids eye contact if improvising or uses unnatural words in a robotic way that makes it obvious he's reciting a rehearsed story. He does surprisingly well hoodwinking an old colleague in 2012 however.
  • Beneath the Mask: A subtle example with Hart. On the surface he presents himself as a laid-back, easygoing family man who bears the responsibility of his job. Underneath, he's a philandering husband, a bad father, a bit of a drunk, and has rage issues.
  • Berserk Button: For both Hart and Cohle, it's hurting children. Prior to the timeframe of the series, when Cohle was an undercover narcotics cop in Texas, he shot a tweaker for injecting a baby with crystal meth. Later on, Hart executes a handcuffed Ledoux when he finds two chained, tortured children, one dead, in his garage. Hart also eventually quits the force after a particularly upsetting and gruesome crime involving a dead baby. And both Cohle and Hart are compelled to see the case through after watching the Marie Fontenot video.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: That silent, sulky, world-weary tavern owner that Rust works for? He's actually a brutally effective sniper.
  • Bigger Bad: The Tuttle Clan and their cult are this to Errol Childress. The family patriarch, Sam Tuttle, is presumably long dead by the time the series begins, but this still leaves the unseen Senator Edmund Tuttle.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Beneath Hart's laid-back Good Ol' Boy facade, he cheats on his wife and is dealing with psychological issues. Contrast with Cohle who doesn't bother with a facade and is utterly upfront with all his flaws.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Surprisingly closer to the upbeat end of the spectrum. Hart and Cohle manage to kill Errol Childress and survive, becoming Fire-Forged Friends in the end. Hart manages to at least come to terms with his relationship with his family, and is genuinely relieved to see them when they visit him in the hospital. Cohle also manages to find hope in the world, after believing that he will reunite with his daughter and father in the afterlife. However, the other cultists remain at large, and some have even died without getting any retribution, but the detectives have at least managed to put down the worst one. Note that the cult won't be able to be as active with the attention on them.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Hart and Cohle are both very flawed men who do morally questionable things throughout the first season, but the major antagonists are unambiguously evil, with no redeeming qualities.
  • Blatant Lies: Cohle and Hart insist that Cohle took personal time in 1995 to visit his ailing father, to cover for his brief trip to Texas and their involvement in the Beaumont shootout.
  • Boom Head Shot: How Hart kills Ledoux and how Cohle kills Errol.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Appropriately for this show, a dark variant on the trope, as Marty's older daughter is dressing as a goth and having sex with two guys at a time after the Time Skip to 2002.
  • Brick Joke: As they leave the Bunny Ranch, Marty gives $100 to Beth, one of the Ranch's underage girls, to try and get her out of prostitution. Rust quips that Marty's putting down "a down payment" on the girl, which raises Marty's ire. Seven years later, Marty's having an affair with Beth. Another one when Rust talks in episode one about how a seemingly insignificant detail can lead to a revelation and a crack in the case, then in episode seven he's dumbfounded when Marty notices fresh green paint on a house.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Burt shits himself when questioned by Cohle. Literally.
  • The Brute: This was apparently Errol's role in the cult. He's just a lowly handyman, but he's large, strong, and a particularly depraved sadist.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Cohle - darkly pessimistic, a misanthrope who sleeps under a crucifix (despite being non-religious) and with a tendency to philosophize at random, is explicitly identified as a good detective.
  • The Butler Did It: The gardener, actually.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Cohle sends their info to everyone and their mother in the final episode.
  • The Cavalry: Papania and Gilbough arrive with reinforcements once our two heroes have defeated the final villain.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster discussed early in the show and the Lawnmower Man who gives some exposition in episode 3 turn out to be the same man as well as one of the primary killers in the conspiracy.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What happens to the victim, by way of a knife.
  • Comically Serious: Cohle, especially in Episode 3, where Maggie manages to set him up with one of her acquaintances. He has the same stoic expression on his face even when he's dancing.
  • The Conspiracy: It's a group of killers, some of whom are connected to politics and the police.
  • Consummate Liar: Contrary to Hart, Cohle lies very naturally and makes it very believable that he was a part of whatever fictitious event he's describing. Understandable, considering his past as an undercover cop.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Cohle does this. A lot. Lampshaded by Hart.
    Hart: Stop saying shit like that, it's unprofessional.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Although the show is Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, Cohle's nihilistic attitude and deeply cynical philosophy match the cosmic futility found in this genre. The show certainly is inspired by the works of weird fiction writers Thomas Ligotti and Robert W. Chambers. Additionally, there are unexplained references to some seriously eerie mythology. Ultimately subverted by the ending, in which Rust manages to find some measure of peace and the overall mood is one of cautious hope rather than inevitable despair.
    Miss Dolores: Him who eats time, in robes.
  • Cowboy Cop: Cohle pays scant regard to police protocol or procedure and engages in his own investigations, which doesn't sit well with his partner or superiors.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Hart. When he sees his mistress, Lisa, going home with another man, he breaks down her door and terrorizes him. He promises to skull-fuck Lisa for personally telling Hart's wife about their affair in retaliation for Hart's breaking-and-entering. After his wife leaves him, Hart begs her to give him another chance at the hospital where she works and has to be held back by security, leaving only when prompted by Cohle regarding their case.
  • Creator Cameo: Nic Pizzolatto plays a bartender in "Who Goes There".
  • Creepy Child: One of the girls that Hart and Cohle saved is like that as of 2002 and is said to be only getting worse.
  • Crown of Horns: The ritualistic murder that opens the series has a woman posed nude wearing a crown of deer antlers.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: The cultist's strange religion includes references to "the Yellow King" and "Carcosa" from Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow.
  • The Cynic: Cohle. Unlike most examples, it isn't played as him being simply grumpy or downbeat but having genuine existential despair about life and humanity and shows what a wreck he is. By the end of the investigation, he's shown to be getting better, in his own nihilistic way.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Happened prior to the opening of the series, but the death of Cohle's daughter seems to qualify.
  • Daylight Horror: While many of the more terrifying scenes take place at night, plenty take place during the day where the bright Louisiana sunshine just makes the horror worse. The series opens with a dead woman found in broad daylight. The scene where Rust and Marty confront Ledoux also takes place in broad daylight.
  • Da Chief:
    • Major Ken Quesada in 1995. He is quite agitated by the political pressure he's facing to solve this case.
    • Major Leroy Salter in 2002. He has little patience for shenanigans and resorts to the classic Turn in Your Badge and gun disciplinary method.
  • Dead Little Sister: In Cohle's case, a dead daughter.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Hart and Cohle have their moments.
  • Death Seeker:
    • Cohle implies this is his motivation in 2012. He just wants to solve the Dora Lange case first. He gets better.
    • Childress believes that being killed will bring him to a new existence.
  • Deep South: Season 1 takes place in Louisiana.
  • Defective Detective:
    • Cohle is really messed up, at least when he's not on the job. In 2002, even his professionalism starts to crack.
    • Hart is outwardly more stable, but he's not much better than Cohle under the surface. His home life is extremely dysfunctional.
  • The Determinator: Cohle will solve the Dora Lange case, no matter the cost. This is shown to great effect in "Form and Void", where he manages to survive getting stabbed by Childress and nearly bleeding out.
  • Diagonal Billing: For McConaughey and Harrelson in the opening credits.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Reggie Ledoux
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The victim, Dora Kelly Lange.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: The initial victim, Dora Lange, is found naked. The detectives link the murder to a variety of other cases involving naked women.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Cohle's reaction to Gilbough and Papania trying to get him to not smoke, all within the first five minutes of episode one.
  • Everybody Smokes: in the 1990's scenes, at least. Gilbough and Papania both try and stop Cohle from smoking during his interview, but that goes as well as you'd think it would.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite both being extremely cynical and flawed anti-heroes, Hart and Cohle are both utterly horrified and enraged by the ritualistic rape, torture, and murder of children that they uncover that has been (and continues to be) perpetrated by the cult, and by the end of the series are utterly fixated on bringing them down even at the cost of their own lives.
  • Evil Brit: Played with in the case of Errol. In his one POV scene, after he's revealed to be the final villain, he spends much of it affecting an upperclass British accent and spouting high-brow quotes.
  • Eureka Moment: Marty connecting the green ears on the portrait of the "Spaghetti Monster" with the freshly-painted house.
  • Fanservice: With HBO, it's a given.
    • The lingering shot of Michelle Monaghan's ass during her introductory scene in bed.
    • Also Lisa, Marty's mistress (Alexandra Daddario) fully naked in episode 2.
    • Beth, Marty's new mistress, appears naked in one episode 6 scene, and poses in front of a mirror in lingerie in another.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The sex scene between Maggie and Rust. It's brutal (yet consensual) and animalistic but is deliberately intended to not be titilating.
    • In the final episode of season 1, Errol Childress and his half-sister.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The burly outlaw biker Ginger. It's apparently a reference to his red beard.
  • Forced to Watch:
    • The cartel torture method Cohle describes; it involves a mirror being propped up in front of you while you're castrated and worse.
    • Also, what 'the tall man with the scars' did to Kelly Rita.
    • Hart and Cohle getting Steve Geraci to talk honestly about the Marie Fontenot case by showing him the cult's videotape.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • As revealed at the end of the first episode, Cohle and Hart did not manage to stop the killings in 1995, so the mystery will remain unsolved after the case is officially closed.
    • Watching carefully enough at Hart's hands during the 2012 sequences shows that he doesn't wear any wedding ring. When his flashbacks goes when his wife is back with him, you immediately understand that she definitively left him later.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Audrey's macabre display of her toys and the grouping of Rust's tin men (which he makes throughout the interview) lead up to the videotape in Episode Seven, which is the first display of the Yellow King cult's ritual.
    • Audrey's pictures include one man, penis out, groping a woman. He appears to wear a mask. It's later revealed that the ritualistic slayings involve masked perpetrators, though Audrey is never confirmed to have any knowledge of the cult.
    • Two more visual clues leading to the videotape: the first appearance of Ledoux at the end of Episode Three, animal-like in his underwear, and gas mask and the picture of Dora Lange during Courir de Mardi Gras.
  • Framing Device: The detectives interviewing Hart, Cohle and Maggie separately 17 years after the case was investigated.
  • Friend to All Children: Marty's problems with his own daughter aside, he's really sensitive about seeing violence against kids. That's what made him execute Ledoux on the spot and eventually, quit the force entirely.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The first we see of Ledoux is a long shot of him striding through a field wearing nothing but underpants and a gas mask, giving him a freakish and bestial appearance. It later becomes clear that he's dressed this way because he's a meth cook.
  • Genre Savvy: Maggie, when being interviewed by Papania and Gilbough, says that after being married to a cop for so long she's aware of the tricks used in interviews, and tells them to just get straight to the point.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Cohle to Hart after Hart's wife leaves him.
    Hart: Hell of a bedside manner you got there.
  • Get Out: As Rust realizes that Maggie had sex with him as a way of getting back at Marty, he gets uncharacteristically angry and starts shouting for her to "Get the fuck out!" of his apartment.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Ledoux's surviving victim mentions a third perpetrator, whom she describes as a giant with scars.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Mostly averted, but when Marty looks at the tape of a girl surrounded by men in animal masks closing in on her, we only see (and hear) his reaction. Also serves as Nothing Is Scarier. This is also in full effect when Marty sees a recently microwaved baby, shown in the same episode. Creator Nic Pizzolatto and Director Cary Joji Fukunaga specifically stated in interviews that whatever they could show on the video would not be as bad as people's imagination, and so avoided showing it directly to make it that much worse.
  • Hallucinations: Cohle sees a number of strange things while investigating the case. Their source is mysterious, but Cohle explains them as acid flashbacks.
    • Cohle has these in episode 2, seeing blurring lights on the highway, a weirdly neon-pink wave that spreads across the cloudscape and a flock of birds forming the symbols on Dora Lange's body.
    • The hallucinations come back full swing in the season one finale, where he sees a spiraling, alien constellation while standing at the heart of 'Carcosa'.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Both Cohle and Hart count as modern-day spins on this trope, but especially Cohle with his poetic cynicism about the world around him.
  • Hollywood Satanism: The killings are occult in nature and said to be Satanic by a number of people. Reverend Tuttle states early on that the rituals are "anti-Christian." This is apparently to throw the cops away from him. When speaking of their mythology, the murderers never use any explicitly Satanic language. Instead they refer to "Carcosa" and the "Yellow King".
    Sheriff: Those symbols, they're Satanic. I saw a 40/40 about it.
  • Homage:
    • The final dialogue between Cohle and Hart in episode 8, about the stars reflecting the struggle between light and dark, is pretty much the same as the dialogue between two dying aliens in issue #8 of Alan Moore's Top 10. Nic Pizzolatto has said that he's a fan of Moore's comics, so the reference is almost certainly intentional.
    • The first season includes a number of references to The King in Yellow
      • A figure in the evil cult is called the Yellow King. When Cohle reaches Carcosa, he comes across a room with an altar resembling a throne upon which a macabre collection of bones is on display, draped in tattered yellow robes.
      • "Black stars" figure into both the book and the cult's mythology.
      • "Carcosa" is occasionally mentioned. In the book it's the land ruled by the King in Yellow. It's unclear what it means to the cult, although the season finale implies it is the derelict complex located on the property of the Serial Killer.
  • Homage Shot: Towards the end of the second episode there's an extended visual homage to Cassilda's song from The King in Yellow.
    Along the shore the cloud waves break,
    The twin suns sink behind the lake,
    The shadows lengthen
  • How We Got Here: The two detectives narrate the story leading up to the present. At around the end of episode 6 and moving into episode 7, the story catches up with the present, after which the story is told more or less in a linear progression (with the exception of the odd flashback).
  • Hypocrite:
    • In episode 3 ("The Locked Room"), 2012 Hart natters on about the importance of family, while 1995 Hart bursts into his mistress's apartment and beats her date up.
    • Hart is just full of this really. He justifies his affair with a courthouse employee essentially as letting off steam and states that it is ultimately "for the good of the family." He is saying this in 2012 with a left hand entirely devoid of a wedding ring.
    • Hart continually calls out Cohle for his perpetual angst, but indulges in it just as much himself where his family life is concerned. Even in the car, which he designated an angst-free zone after Cohle's first misanthropic rant. Cohle points out that the difference between him and Hart is that Cohle isn't in denial about who he is.
    • Both men use self-deception to bury their problems — Hart hides his dysfunction under a veneer of civility and boundaries, and Cohle tries to convince himself that he knows the "truth," which is that nothing matters and he doesn't care, to erase the truth of the pain he feels because he does care. Obsessively. His speech may frequently refer to nihilistic/existential philosophies, but all his actions are to fight against the abyss. The real nihilists are the murderers he's pursuing. Hart calls him out this conflict in episode 3:
    Hart: For a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot.
    • After Maggie confronts Marty about his second affair and admits to having slept with someone else as retaliation, Marty gets angry and calls her a whore.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Of a sort.
    Rust: What is this, some kind of hillbilly bunny ranch?
    Madame: Excuse me, you might wanna talk to Sheriff Bilson before you start tossin' accusations around.
    Rust: Nah, I got nothing against hillbillies.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Ginger tests Cohle's legitimacy by making him take a snort of cocaine and then rob a drug stash house with him.
  • Impersonating an Officer: The Iron Crusaders wear police uniforms whilst robbing the stash house in Texas. It is not very convincing, since they do nothing to hide their long, stereotypical biker beards.
  • Implacable Man: Errol absorbs three headbutts from Cohle and a few bullets from Hart and is still is fighting shape. Only a headshot takes him down.
  • Indy Ploy: The entirety of Cohle's escape from the ghetto in Beaumont, TX was pretty much improvised. Whatever plan he had in mind to capture Ginger, it was useless the moment one of the bikers shot a hostage.
  • Informed Attribute: One of Errol Childress's two distinguishing physical features is supposed to be his great size, but he's actually no taller than Cohle when they finally meet. Errol is frequently described as a "tall man" by witnesses. Cohle laments not being able to notice Errol's height when they first met because Errol was sitting down. One of Errol's victims even calls him a "giant," which is particularly odd given that she was also tormented by Reggie Ledoux, whose height is listed as 6'7 and is visibly a head taller than Hart.
  • The Insomniac: Cohle.
    Cohle: I don't sleep. I just dream.
  • Insufferable Genius: Cohle gives off this vibe when he talks about his philosophic views.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Cohle has such a prominent pair that it's almost a deconstruction because it shows what a psychological wreck a person becomes by wearing them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Cohle comes across as abrasive and is extremely cynical about humanity in general, but when he shows up drunk to dinner with Hart's family, he genuinely apologizes. Also, even though Marty tries to arrange an alibi for him to leave gracefully, Rust stays because he finds that he actually enjoys spending time with Marty's family, more than he thought he would.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ginger gets dumped in a ditch by Cohle, but otherwise escapes all punishment for his drug stash invasion and general scumbaggery.
    • Cohle and Hart admit themselves at the end that they could never have caught all of the cultists, most of whom are never even identified, let alone apprehended or punished, and are shown to still posses a vast amount of power and influence in Louisiana due to the lofty political positions of many members of the cult's core family.
  • Killer Cop: Hart straight-up executes Ledoux after discovering the extent of his crimes. Cohle previously executed a meth head who injected his own daughter with crystal meth.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Cohle often preaches about the futility of humanity, but nonetheless works as a detective to, as he says, "bear witness".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Annoyed at how a bartender is making him spell out what he wants, Marty asks the man, "Why do you make me say these things?" The man is played by Nic Pizzolatto, the show's creator.
    • After Cohle swaps out cocaine in the evidence locker for a bag of sugar, he mutters to himself "We really should have a better system for this."
  • Light Is Good: The occultists' mythology includes "black stars." In the end, Cohle states that the stars represent "light versus dark" as a metaphor for good versus evil. Hart says that dark seems to be winning, but Cohle counters that there was only darkness in the beginning, so light is winning.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: What happens when Reggie Ledoux's meth-cooking partner steps on a land mine.
  • Machete Mayhem: The first time we see Reggie Ledoux, he's carrying a machete, in his underwear, wearing a gas mask.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The Cult of the Yellow King, who never take their masks off in the video.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Rust is this when dealing with suspects, especially in the interview room. He'll sympathise with them, show he understands them and make them believe that confessing is the best option. Hart mentions that Rust spots weakness better than anyone he'd ever met. Papania even calls him a manipulator in the season one finale.
  • Match Cut: In Episode 5, the camera focuses on a toy tiara that Audrey throws up into a tree, to show the passage of time. In 1995, it is new. In 2002, it is tarnished.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Several moments throughout the show remain unexplained — Dora Lange seeing "the King in Yellow walking through the forest" when she closes her eyes, the various quotations from the play, Miss Dolores' freak-out about Carcosa and "him who eats time, in robes," Cohle seeing a swirling, starry abyss during the final confrontation, and multiple references to "black stars," among others.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Rustin Cohle. Hart and Cohle's surnames are homophones for Heart and Coal.
    • Also, Ginger, referring to his hair color.
    • Errol Childress is revealed to be an abuser and killer of children.
  • The Mole: Cohle was one for four years while working for a DEA task force in Texas. Undercover cops are supposed to be pulled out after 11 months, but Cohle kept going because the DEA was essentially using his self-destructive behavior to further their own ends and could do so with impunity because of a previous shooting that would otherwise have put Cohle in jail or, at the very least, off the force.
  • Never My Fault: Hart is prone to this, variously blaming his family, job, a midlife crisis, his father's death and even Cohle for his affair.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In episode 6, Marty delivers one to the teenager who was having sex with his daughter.
  • No Social Skills: Subverted. Cohle is stoic and generally abrasive to other people. However, it becomes clear that Cohle is perfectly able to be social when he wants to be. He's an outstanding interviewer and can also adopt realistic personalities while undercover. He even maintains a brief relationship so as not to arouse suspicion. When he's not playing a part, however, he simply chooses not to be sociable.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A tape of the cultists' ritual sacrifice. We see only a brief glimpse of a blindfolded girl. Otherwise we only see the viewers' horrified reactions.
  • Odd Friendship: Rust and Maggie, to Marty's displeasure.
  • Off the Wagon: Cohle, who identifies himself as a recovering alcoholic, shows up to dinner with Hart's family drunk. By 2012, he's fully relapsed.
  • Only Sane Man: Rust feels this way when he is suspended and told he will need to attend counselling sessions to get reinstated.
    Rust: "I'm the person least in need of counselling in this entire fucking state".
  • The Oner: A really impressive 6-minute sequence shot in "Who Goes There". It features Cohle undercover in a crapsack neighborhood during a riot as he takes a suspect through numerous shootouts and obstacles, all in a true Oner. This article explains exactly what went into shooting the scene.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Cohle in 1995.
  • Pet the Dog: Cohle may be a misanthropic nihilist, but he still makes sure to individually direct two kids to hide in their bathtubs for safety in Episode 4 just before and during a riot.
  • The Profiler: Cohle has elements of this. Hart warns him not to be; if he's trying to fit the evidence into a presumed narrative, he'll bias his judgment of the facts.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The detectives get back together in 2012 when they finally realize that the Dora Lange case isn't solved yet.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Definitely. Although there actually isn't that much sexual assault shown on screen, this show goes a long way towards looking at the aftermath of some pretty horrific ritual sex-crimes both in terms of the areas where such crimes took place, and the psychological effects they have both on the victims and the people who tried to stop them.
  • Red Herring: Fukunaga referred to the Big Bad of the show as the Beast in the Tall Grass. Early on, Cohle and Hart talk about the villain who's still out there, and the show cuts to a man striding ominously through tall grass, but we learn later that this is actually Reggie Ledoux, the man they chased down midway through the show. The real Beast in the Tall Grass is actually Errol Childress, who is introduced and reintroduced while cutting overgrown lawns.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: One of the basic difference between Hart and Cohle, particularly in 1995. Martin Hart is red, being an impulsive womanizer with rage issues. Rustin Cohle is the blue oni, with a stoic and stiff personality. In the present, they've both moved closer to the center, showing how much the case has changed them.
  • Red Right Hand: The Beast in the Tall Grass is visually distinguished by his facial scars. When hunting him down, Hart and Cohle often make the same hand gesture around their chins when asking about "The Man With Scars."
  • Refuge in Audacity: Ginger's plan to rob the stash house in the ghetto is incredibly audacious. To wit, he dresses himself and two other guys in cop uniforms (keep in mind they are still bearded, tattooted 1%er bikers), rolls into a ghetto, takes a few hostages and proceeds to rob the gang. Once the plan is in full swing, however, it becomes clear that he only thought as far as getting into the house.
  • Revenge: Maggie gets revenge on her husband by having sex with his partner.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Cohle has one. His apartment is nearly devoid of furniture, and he does nothing there all day but drink and stare at an increasingly disturbing assortment of crime scene photos and relics associated with the murders. The only thing missing is the writing on the walls. He later graduates to a storage container with the writing on the walls.
    • Carcosa, Errol's massive structure of bone, bodies, and wooden structures, is an entire infrastructure of crazy.
  • Scenery Porn: Or Gorn, depending on how you look at it. The series loves to show wide, sprawling landscape shots of rural Louisiana, especially the juxtaposition of the dank marshlands with industrial landscapes. Certain episodes make use of abandoned buildings such as schools and churches. Other charming locales include backwards bayous, meth shacks, and housing projects rife with crime. Not exactly the French Quarter during Mardi Gras...
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Rust leaves the force after being suspended and subsequently attacked by Marty
  • Serial Killer: The creators of the series refer to him in interviews as The Creature in the Tall Grass. It's eventually revealed that the murders are a mixture of cult sacrifices and lone killings by a remnant of the cult: serial killer Erroll Childress.
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • The Smart Guy: Hart highlights Cohle's intelligence several times just in the first episode.
  • Stealth Pun: Rust never sleeps. "I don't sleep; I dream."
  • Straw Nihilist: Cohle spends a lot of time talking about how humanity is evil and life is pointless. Hart lampshades how annoying his nihilist rants are.
  • Take This Job And Shove It: After a fistfight with Hart in the parking lot of headquarters, while Cohle was on suspension, Rust decides he's had enough of it and quits. Though it turns out later that it was at least partially because he wanted to investigate the case without oversight telling him not to.
  • Tattooed Crook: All of the criminals in the show are covered in tattoos, some with meaningful designs. Cohle also sports a tattoo on his forearm that is probably a result of four years spent undercover as crooks.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Cohle and Hart don't particularly care for each other right from the start, but have to work together because they're partners. Even after a violent falling out, however, they reunite and pursue the main case out of shared revulsion for the crimes.
  • That One Case: Cohle is convinced that the 1995 murder case is still unfinished. He continues working it long past its closure, believing that there are additional perpetrators to be found and that the crimes are still ongoing. He's right.
  • Time Skip: Besides the time skip that occurs every time the show cuts back to the Framing Device, the show leaps forward seven years from 1995, when the Dora Lange case was closed, to 2002, when Rust started investigating it again.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Iron Crusaders, a group of racist hick-bikers who go into a black neighborhood dressed as cops (even with their long hair and beards), break into a house, loudly abuse the people in the house, shoot one of them, and proceed to get the shit killed out of them.
  • Torture Cellar:
    • Reggie Ledoux has one, where he tortures kids. Hart's immediate reaction after seeing it is to the execute him.
    • Errol Childress's "Carcosa" seems to function as one as well as a temple.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Hart's daughter Audrey have a disturbing fixation with sex, posing her dolls in positions that resemble a gang-rape, and getting in trouble at school for drawing people having sex in her notebook. It foreshadows 2002, where she is picked up by Sheriffs about to have a three way with two adults in a pickup truck.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Invoked by Leroy Salter for Rust, briefly before he quits for good, following the latter's Cowboy Cop antics and reopening of old cases.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: We're occasionally shown things that contradict the narration of the two detectives. It's where the "True" part of True Detective comes from.
    • Cohle and Hart state that they took some time off while Cohle tended to his sick father, when in reality Cohle went undercover in a biker gang and participated in a robbery. The interviewing detectives realize that the cover story is fake.
    • That gunfight with Reggie Ledoux that Hart and Cohle have been referencing for a few episodes? It never happened. Hart shot a handcuffed Ledoux when he found the kids he had locked up, and he and Cohle managed to spin it into a promotion for both of them.
  • Verbal Tic: Hart is prone to making a "psst" sound when being dismissive of something. Cohle sometimes absently clicks his tongue, especially in the 2012 timeframe. He's also a lot more "groovy" and overall McConaughey-sounding by this point, though he does occasionally talk this way in 1995 as well.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Some media sources have speculated that the Hosanna Church Sex abuse scandal (and the somewhat dubious story given by the main culprit as to the supposedly occult motivations for his crimes) was a direct inspiration for the disturbingly similar abuse meted out by the Tuttle schools.
  • Villainous Incest: Errol indulges in this with his half-sister. It's also strongly suggested to have been done by his father upon Errol as a child, and that this is a reason behind Errol's psychosis.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "The Secret Fate of All Life". Hart and Cohle track down Reggie Ledoux, and Hart snaps and executes him after discovering two children in a Torture Cellar, provoking the two of them into a cover-up. Papania and Gilbough accuse Cohle of the 2012 murder and a few others. And then there's the school...
    • "After You've Gone", the penultimate episode. There is a group of men involved in the murders, including many higher-ups. There are possibly dozens of victims, many children. And it's strongly implied that the Lawnmower Man from Episode 3 is the Spaghetti Monster.
    • "Form and Void", the first season finale. The final showdown of the season happens when Cohle and Hart finally track down and kill Errol Childress, the Spaghetti Monster and one of the group's foremost acolytes. While chasing him into a horrific compound near his house ('this is Carcosa'), Childress sneaks up on Cohle and brutally stabs him, and buries an axe in Hart's chest. Nonetheless, Cohle manages to kill Childress, and both men survive the ordeal to become Fire-Forged Friends.
  • Wham Line:
    • At the end of the first episode, the 2012 detectives present Cohle with a new crime scene that has similarities to the Dora Lang murder.
    Cohle: How can it be him, if we already caught him in '95?
    • Followed up shortly afterwards with another one that implies 2012 Cohle knows a lot more than he's letting on:
    Cohle: Maybe you'd better start asking the right fucking questions.
    • In the second episode, when investigating Dora Lange's former lodgings, they find her diary and read from it:
    Cohle: (Reading the diary) I closed my eyes and saw the King in Yellow moving through the forest.
    • In Episode 5, when Cohle interrogates Guy Leonard Francis, a man accused of two murders during a robbery-gone-bad. The man claims to have information about the Dora Lange case, which Cohle dismisses as bargaining for a plea, until he utters the following line. It's not just the line, but the fact that Cohle goes apeshit over it.
    Guy Francis: I'll tell you about The Yellow King.
    • At the end of episode seven, the penultimate episode of the first season, we finally get a revelation of who the real killer is, combined with a Wham Shot:
    Lawnmower Man: (as the camera pans out and the lighting changes, revealing his scars) My family's been here a long, long time.
  • Working the Same Case: The reason the present-day detectives claim to be interviewing Hart and Cohle. However, they eventually reveal that Cohle is the suspect they're after. Also, in the first episode, the detectives suspect a missing girl, Marie Fontenot, may be a victim of the same killer.
  • World Half Full: Cohle, who refers to himself as a pessimist.
    Cohle: Look, I'd consider myself a realist, alright, but in philosophical terms, I'm what's called a pessimist.
    By the end, he fully subscribes to the "world half-full" view of things, concluding that the world is slowly—if painfully—getting better.
  • Worst Aid: After Rust gets stabbed, he pulls the knife out, leaving a gaping, bleeding wound.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The entire "Yellow King" cult/Tuttle ministry runs on this, with the ritualized molestation, rape, torture and murder of children being the lifeblood of the cult in the distant to recent past, and the main obsession of the series main villain in the present.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Hart and Cohle are both particularly disturbed by violence against children. They both summarily execute a suspect that has harmed a child. Cohle advises the Marshland Medea to kill herself. Hart quits the force after seeing a baby in a microwave. A big part of why the main case haunts both detectives is the inclusion of murdered children.
  • X Meets Y: Southern Gothic meets Detective Drama, with occasional references to Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Hart is a serial womanizer. In 1995 he's having an affair with Lisa, the sexy young courthouse admin worker. Rust points out to Marty that Lisa looks like a younger version of Maggie. In 2002, he starts an affair with Beth, a former prostitute he met in 1995.
    • Maggie pulls this on Marty after finding the pictures of Beth on his phone by seducing Rust.

     Season Two 

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Frank laments how his father would lock him in the basement during his drunken benders, and once forget he was there for an entire week. He was left starving, in the pitch dark, with only hungry rats for company.
    • It is implied that Bezzerides childhood, growing up in a spiritual commune, may have also been abusive. She tells Dr. Pitlor it was a 'fucked up' environment for kids, given that out of the five living in her house she was the only one who didn't commit suicide or go to jail. It is later revealed she was kidnapped and repeatedly molested/raped for a week as a child by a member of her fathers commune.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Mayor Austin Chessani is noticeably drunk, and continues to drink and make mixers, during his morning meeting with Velcoro and Bezzerides.
    • Velcoro has become a drunken mess since he made a deal with Semyon and killed his wife's rapist. He's seen Drinking On Duty and passes out drinking at his local watering hole. After the events of episode four he decides to go sober to increase his chances of winning custody of his son, however after he spends some time with his son, during which they don't interact very well and he realizes that Chad is going to find out his father isn't his biological father, Velcoro goes on a drug and alcohol binge that ends with him begging his ex-wife to drop the paternity test in exchange for never seeing his son again.
  • Alliterative Name: Lacey Lindel, the actress Paul pulls over in episode 1 who later makes false accusations towards him.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • Twin dark spots, which resemble both Caspere's burned-out eyes and water damage patterns Frank associates with his childhood.
    • The Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte. Figures of the folk saint are seen in Casperes apartment and the house used by Amarilla's associate. Amarilla himself also speaks of the Santa Muerte just before he is shot by Velcoro and Woodrugh.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Paul. He makes an exaggerated comment about wanting to beat up a 'fag' who was flirting with him, he watches male prostitutes from his apartment balcony at night, and requires Viagra and intense concentration to maintain an erection with his girlfriend. We later learn that he had a sexual experience with a fellow male mercenary while stationed overseas. It later comes back to bite him in the ass, as if he had just been accepting of who he was, he wouldn't have been blackmailed into attending the meet that wound up getting him killed.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Frank is a badass brawler, as evidenced when he put a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on a criminal associate.
  • Axe Crazy: Lenny Osterman, who brutally attacks Holloway with a large kitchen knife in the Anaheim train station.
  • Badass Boast: From the knife-wielding Ani Bezzerides.
    Bezzerides: Man of any size lays his hands on me, he's gonna bleed out in under a minute.
  • Badass Gay:
    • Paul Woodrugh, who demonstrates his proficiency with firearms in the episode four shootout. In episode seven he later takes out four highly trained mercenaries with nothing more than a handgun. In the dark.
    • Miguel Glib, another Black Mountain mercenary Paul had relations with whilst deployed, also counts.
  • Bait and Switch: The premiere opens with a tease that it'll have a similar setup to Season 1, with Velcoro being interviewed along with a flashback to the time he's talking about.
  • Bat Deduction: Ray putting together who the kids in the picture grew up to be based on seeing them as adults, and that they were behind Caspere's murder.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Despite it's popularity with fans, Frank never actually says "Caspere knew this."
  • Big Bad Ensemble: A rather elaborate example.
    • The killer, who is at first presented as the main threat of the season, but is really just another consequence of the Colliding Criminal Conspiracies plot, and turns out to be easily the most sympathetic antagonist.
    • The local Vinci government is introduced as being blatantly corrupt, and we are almost immediately told that they prosper by exploiting workers and bullying naysayers. Their cops openly discuss their criminal interests among themselves while the Mayor overlooks.
    • The Catalyst Group poisons farming land in an effort to drive down real estate prices so they can make a huge fortune building a massive railway.
    • Frank and his crew are all career criminals, while his ally Osip Agranov is very clearly The Mafiya.
    • The local Mexican gangs are a major presence in Vinci.
    • The victim is another corrupt politician.
    • The real twist is that all of these groups are connected. The Catalyst Group, the corrupt police, Osip, Frank's men, and even the victim were working together to exploit the above land deal. The District Attorney joins the group later on. The implied Big Bad is the Mayor's ambitious son, who has been blackmailing everyone in a bid to solidify his own power base in Vinci.
    • Several Vinci police officers and the victim were involved in a much older plot, in which they committed a double homicide-robbery that left them quite wealthy and a pair of children as orphans. This subplot is revealed to be the killer's motive, and the cause of much grief for the Catalyst Group as they attempt to recover missing blackmail material.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Frank Semyon lives in a glassy, modern mansion in the Hollywood Hills. He reveals in episode two that it's been double-mortgaged. In episode five, it is revealed that he and Jordan were forced to sell, and downgrade to a suburban home in Glendale.
    • Vinci mayor Austin Chessani lives in one as well. His is in Bel Air, and it seems to be in a state of constant party with his son, his Russian bride, and his daughter.
    • The mansion in episode six, where the sex party attended by various powerful men, and an undercover Bezzerides, is held.
  • Binge Montage: After Ray realises he is going to lose the custody battle for Chad, and also find out for definite that he isn't the boy's biological father, he goes on a binge of cocaine, whiskey and beer, and trashes his house.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Miguel Glib, Pauls friend and former lover from his Black Mountain days. He is introduced as seemingly wanting to rekindle his friendship with Paul, and convince him to be accepting of his homosexuality. He is later revealed to be a Honey Trap working security for Catalyst Group, and blackmails Paul into attending a meet which ends up getting him killed.
  • Black Comedy: More prominent than in the last season, particularly due to Velcoro.
  • Blackmail:
    • Tony Chessani and McCandless invite 'men of influence' to their sex parties, and then takes incriminating photos of them in order to secure federal grants/funding for their various illicit activities. These people include senators, oil tycoons and the California Attorney General.
    • One of the girls at the sex parties tried to do the same thing, but was discovered and murdered in a cabin in the woods.
    • Teague Dixon takes incriminating photos of Paul with another man, threatening to reveal his homosexuality he has fought so hard to keep secret. These photos are later used by Holloway and Catalyst Group to coax him into a meet which winds up getting him killed.
    • It is later revealed that unlike Holloway and Burris, Dixon wasted away his share from the 1992 robbery, and was planning on getting more money from them by threatening to reveal their complicity in the robbery/murder. Burris then sets up the shootout in episode 4 by tipping off Amarilla specifically to get Dixon killed and silence him.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Blake Churchman, one of Frank's men, is secretly working for Tony Chessani and Osip trafficking girls for parties in his spare time. In episode seven he informs Frank that Ivar has also been bought by the Russians.
  • Boom, Headshot: Several in the episode 4 shootout.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The drug dealers in episode four spray automatic fire through a lengthy shootout. We never see them reload, and they seem to have unlimited ammo. The police officers, by contrast, are seen reloading and have a limited supply of ammo.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ray's father is a racist, drug-abusing drunk, which saddens Ray, who used to see his father as a great police officer.
  • Bully Hunter: Velcoro uses police dispatch to find his sons bully's address, then beats the boy's father in front of him as a warning.
  • The Butler Did It: The set photographer, actually.
  • Bury Your Gays: Both Miguel and Paul Woodrugh are dead by the end of episode seven.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Ani hands over her case file on the corruption in Vinci over the journalist Ray assaulted in Episode 1. Whether or not it will lead to a new investigation remains an open question.
  • The Casino: Frank owns the Vinci Gardens Casino to use as a legitimate front to his illegal activities. At the end of episode one, an intoxicated Bezzerides is seen being escorted from one by security.
  • Central Theme:
    • Emasculation:
      • Woodrugh is an Armoured Closet Gay who has great difficulty engaging in sex with his girlfriend and is deeply ashamed of a previous sexual experience. He's accused of soliciting a movie star for a blow job, an embarrassing charge that he denies.
      • Semyon has to go through IVF to have a child with his wife, and has difficulty getting an erection to provide a sperm sample, which his wife criticizes.
      • Velcoro's son is the product of rape. In spite of his efforts to be a father, his wife's new husband is replacing him. Velcoro's insecurity over his fatherhood causes him to beat up the father of his son's bully in front of the bully.
      • Bezzideres emasculates a sexual partner, first by making him uncomfortable in the bedroom, then casually blowing him off when he tries to set up another date. When he gets upset, she threatens to beat him up. When he walks away, her partner makes fun of him.
      • The murder victim's cause of death was having his pelvis blown off.
    • Parental failure:
      • Velcoro's dad is a racist drunk, who Ray has become disillusioned with. His own fatherhood is a serious point of contention for him.
      • Bezzerides blames her cult-leader father for her messed-up childhood, and for ruining the lives of her siblings.
      • Woodrugh's mother is a diseased prostitute who is a little bit too touchy with him.
      • Semyon desperately wants to be a father, but is so far incapable of doing so. His own father was extremely negligent and abusive, and Semyon is still haunted by his childhood.
      • Caspere is revealed in the finale to be the illegitimate father of both Len and Laura, the "orphans" of the 1992 Jewelry store robbery. Len only learns this well after murdering him and Laura never learns it, even though she slept with him while infiltrating his sex parties.
    • The futility of corruption
      • Velcoro murders the man he thinks raped his wife, only for the true rapist to be caught years later. He has a near total Heroic BSOD when he realizes he sold his soul for nothing.
      • Woodrough brings home a bag of cash from working as a Private Military Contractor in Iraq. It's unclear what he did to earn or steal it, but reporters accuse his unit of war crimes. Then his mother finds the money and blows it all anyway.
      • Bezzerides sleeps with a subordinate, then blows him off when he tries to make a relationship of it. He then accuses her of sexual harassment, and after the Time Skip it's shown that it's severely damaged her career.
      • Semyon has a huge deal fall through due to Caspere's murder, and is forced to burn every bridge he's built to dig himself out of the hole it left. When Velcoro comes, gun in hand, to Semyon's house to confront him, Semyon basically admits that Velcoro is the closest thing to a friend he has left.
      • The Mayor of Vinci is a pathetic day drunk with no real responsibilities with a ridiculous family and a trashed house. It is later implied that despite all the power he holds in Vinci, he had no idea his son was in cohorts with the Russians to try and take his place.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While infiltrating an orgy, Bezzerides snags a carving knife from a food tray in case things go bad. Sure enough, she soon uses it to carve up a goon who attacks her.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The people who killed Caspere and attempt to blackmail those involved in the conspiracy are revealed to be the orphaned Osterman children from the 1992 jewellery store robbery, AKA the kids in the photograph AKA the set photographer and Casperes assistant.
  • Chekhov's Skill: At the beginning of episode six, Bezzerides is seen practising knife fighting moves on a target in her apartment. Later in the episode, she uses the same moves, whilst drugged, to take down a bouncer who tries to kill her when she is undercover at a party.
  • Cliffhanger: The second episode ends with a guy wearing a bird headdress gunning down Velcoro with a shotgun. The victim then squirms on the floor before the birdman makes a point blank gut-shot of uncertain fatality. The next episode reveals he was not killed but shot with rubber bullets.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Caspere had his fingers in a lot of pies and multiple criminal groups are sent scrambling when he is killed since they do not know if it was a direct attack on them. Mayor Chessani and his cronies need to know if Caspere's death makes them vulnerable to a state investigation into their corrupt practices in Vinci. Frank Semyon wants to recover the millions of dollars of his money that went missing while in Caspere's possession and needs to know if the murder of Caspere was meant to sabotage Frank's attempt to make a fortune as part of the Catalyst land deal. The Catalyst Group is in the middle of a massive land scheme and are afraid that Caspere's death will bring to light blackmail material he had on various Catalyst executives and their political supporters.
  • Commune: The Panticapaeum Institute, home of the spiritual group known as 'The Good People'.
  • Conveniently Timed Distraction: The California state government sees Caspere's murder as this. They place Paul on the detail investigating his murder so he can also find concrete evidence of corruption in Vinci, which the state can use to prevent further government funds being misused by the likes of Chessani and Frank.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Various criminal meetings are held at a very glitzy club called Lux Infinitum, filled with colored lights, wild music and dancing.
  • Corrupt Cop:
    • Detective Ray Velcoro is in the pocket of Frank Semyon, and acts as police muscle for him until he quits Vinci PD in episode five, in addition to abusing police resources to exact personal revenge for his son.
    • Detective Teague Dixon is revealed to have been manipulating the Caspere investigation for the Vinci PD and secretly following up on diamonds stolen from Caspere behind the taskforce's back.
    • Vinci Police Chief Holloway, who throughout most the season is seen as neutral, is seen in cohorts with Chessani's son, McCandless and Osip at a party in episode six. In episode seven, he is shown to be in cohorts with Catalyst Group, and orders their security guards to kill Paul.
    • Lt. Kevin Burris is implied to be the 'tall, thin, white cop' that paid off Ilina to pawn Casperes possessions. In episode seven, he is shown to be in cahoots with the whole conspiracy, and murders Paul after he escapes Holloway and Catalyst security.
    • In episode seven it is revealed that whilst Burris, Dixon and Holloway were working for the LAPD in the 90's, they used the 1992 riots as cover to commit a brutal jewellery store robbery which left two children orphaned. They then used the stolen diamonds to buy into the Vinci crime syndicate, and later joined Vinci PD with six figure salaries.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jacob McCandless, the CEO of Catalyst Group.
  • Corrupt Politician: A recurring problem in the season.
    • Austin Chessani, the mayor of Vinci. He is in cahoots with pretty much all of the criminal enterprises in the city, and uses misappropriated funds to live a lavish life in Bel Air.
    • Richard Geldof, the California Attorney General, is also implied to be in collusion with the Vinci underworld. After the massive shootout in episode 4 he suddenly declares the Caspere case closed, and decides to make a run for governor. In episode six, he is a guest at the sex party orchestrated by Tony Chessani, Blake and Pitlor.
    • Tony Chessani, Austin's son, has 'political ambition' and would likely wind up just as corrupt (or worse) than his father. In the season finale this becomes reality, as he is shown being sworn in as the new Mayor of Vinci.
  • Couch Gag: The lyrics to Leonard Cohen's "Nevermind" are re-cut for each episode's opening.
  • Country Matters: Austin Chessani repeatedly called Bezzerides a 'cunt' after discovering she and Woodrugh searched his house and talked to his family.
  • Covered with Scars:
    • One side of Woodrugh's body is covered in burn marks, which he got before his time in the military.
    • A waitress in the bar Velcoro and Frank frequent also has multiple scars covering her face.
  • Cowboy Cop: Velcoro is admonished by Bezzerides for investigating on his own.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Bezzerides is a Knife Nut and carries multiple knives on her person in case a male suspect tries to get his hands on her. She later reveals that she was abducted by a man as a child for three days. After getting attacked by a security guard and using her knife skills to fight back, she admits that she's been waiting for that day her whole life.
  • Darkest Hour: As of the season finale, Davis and Woodrugh are dead, and Ani and Ray are both wanted for murder.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bezzerides, upon first meeting Frank Semyon in the season finale.
    Frank: So, you're a lady cop.
    Bezzerides: What gave me away? The tits?
  • The Determinator:
    • Bezzerides. When she finds her missing person whilst undercover at a sex party, she stops at nothing to get her out safe, killing one man and seriously injuring another. The fact she does all this whilst drugged makes it even more impressive.
    • Even after being stabbed in the gut and stranded in the middle of the desert, Frank is able to walk a considerable distance before finally checking out. Even after he collapses, in his mind he is still walking.
  • Defective Detective:
    • Ray Velcoro has a substance abuse problem, anger issues and is in the pocket of a career criminal. On top of all that, he is separated from his wife and estranged from his son, (who is likely not biologically his).
    • Ani Bezzerides has a toxic relationship with both her father and sister, her mother committed suicide, has one failed marriage under her belt, and is implied to have gambling and alcohol problems. In episode six, it's implied that she was sexually assaulted as a child.
    • Paul Woodrugh is a military veteran with a dark past and battle scars (it's implied he was a mercenary at some point), suspended from duty due to false accusations and is implied to struggle sexually. He also seems to either be an adrenaline junkie or have some sort of death wish, as he races his motorcycle at a hundred miles an hour down the highway, without a helmet, at night, and with his headlight off.
  • Dirty Cop: Detective Ray Velcoro is in the pocket of career criminal Frank Semyon after becoming indebted to him for tracking down his wife's rapist. He intimidates a reporter who is exposing Semyon's illicit activities, and it doesn't seem to be the first time he's acted as Semyon's thug.
  • Downer Ending: Paul is killed by Burris after barely escaping with his life. Velcoro gets killed after a tracker is placed on his car when he visited his biological son one last time. Frank's deal with the Mexicans catches up to him and he dies slowly from stab wounds. Burris, Geldof, and Tony Chessiani get away with their crimes, Tony even becoming Mayor with the Mexicans as his henchmen and Geldof being elected Governor. Bezzerides managed to escape the US, have Ray's child and deliver the evidence to a reporter with a history of crusading against Vinci corruption, but she, Jordan, and Nails are most likely going to have to remain on the run for the rest of their lives. Even if the truth comes out, everyone's lives have been completely screwed over.
  • Drinking On Duty:
    • Velcoro is seen drinking throughout the working day, and goes through half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue before responding to the Caspere murder scene. His colleague, Teague Dixon, is also seen drinking from a hip flask in the early morning.
    • Played with with Bezzerides. She is shown being ejected from a casino for being too drunk (presumably off-duty), but then needs to go back on the clock to accompany her partner to the Caspere crime scene.
  • Elite Mook: Catalyst Group attempt to silence the protagonists by hiring a company called Ares Security, who are actually highly trained mercenaries who previously worked for Black Mountain. They were able to kill Velcoro in the forest.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Several of the pimps and gangsters who observe Frank beat up Danny Santos are visibly shocked and disturbed when he proceeds to remove Santos grill with pliers.
    • Despite his anger that she can no longer be of use to him dead, Frank is also disgusted that the Mexican cartel members slit Irina's throat before she could meet with him.
    Frank: Why the fuck did you do this? Why hurt the girl? The fuck is wrong with you?
  • Exact Words: After Frank makes a deal with the Mexican cartel. He asks them to arrange a phone call with a missing Mexican girl, and then to arrange for Frank to see her. They arrange a 30 second call where Frank gets minimal information, and then let him see her ... after they murdered her. They then expect him to keep his half of the bargain.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Before his wife was raped and he descended into corruption, the long haired and moustached Velcoro was a clean-cut sheriffs deputy (seen in a flashback). He gets this again after the mid-season the Time Skip, shaving his moustache.
    • Before leaving the US for Venezuela, Bezzerides dyes her hair black and cuts it short.
  • A Father to His Men: Frank is genuinely angered and saddened when Stan, one of his men, is killed in a manner similar to Caspere. He and his wife later visit Stan's family to personally console his wife and son.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the season, Velcoro asks about Bezzerides' Knife Nut habits, and she tells him that men are bigger than women, but if any man ever lays hands on her he's going to bleed out. Sure enough, in episode 6, a man starts strangling her, she gets stabby, and he collapses and dies before he can choke her out.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: At the end of the season finale, you can see the Mexican cartel members present at Tony Chessani's inauguration as Mayor of Vinci, showing that they are indeed affiliated with him.
  • Genre Shift: Sort of; while both the first and second seasons are detective dramas, the first season examined rural Louisiana and flirted heavily with elements of the Cosmic Horror Story, while the second season is more of an urban neo-noir.
  • Graceful in Their Element: Paul during the gunfight in episode four. He is the most adept shooter during the battle and when Velcoro and Bezzerides begin to break down afterwards, he does nothing more than calmly holster his weapon as backup arrives. This contrasts considerably to his behaviour earlier in the episode, where he is hungover, on edge and lamenting to Velcoro about being unable to function in the real world.
  • Guilty Pleasures: Caspere's was spending exorbitant amounts of money on young prostitutes. However, his guilt over indulging in such actions led him into a depressive state for which he had to seek therapy.
  • Hippie Parents: Bezzerides' father is a long-haired, high-ranking member of the Panticapaeum Institute; a new age spiritual commune in California.
  • Honey Trap:
    • One of Bezzerides's superiors suggests she get Ray to reveal his corruption by making him think she'll sleep with him. She treats this suggestion with contempt.
    • Miguel was revealed to be this for Paul which eventually led to his demise.
  • Hope Spot: After evading Holloway and his thugs, Paul is on the verge of escaping when he is shot in the back by Burris and killed.
  • Hypocrite: Ani Bezzerides. She chastises her sister for living an 'unhealthy' lifestyle in the porn industry, yet she herself has drinking and gambling problems.
    Ani Bezzerides: You can't live like this. It's not healthy.
    Athena Bezzerides: Oh really, not healthy? What would you know about being healthy?
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: How Ani's sister, Athena, views her career as an online cam girl.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Ray Velcoro. The only reason he descended into corruption was to avenge his wife after she was raped, and only remains in Frank's pocket so he is able to provide for his son. Despite his violent and sometimes erratic tendencies, he is shown to care deeply about others; warning a group of children not to play near toxic waste and later tackling Bezzerides out of the way of a moving truck whilst they pursues a suspect, whilst having multiple cracked ribs.
    • Frank as well. He can be petty, use slurs when mad, and lets his pride get the better of him, but he deeply cares for his wife, his subordinates, and even Ray.
    • One of Frank's subordinates, Stan (whose biggest scene was roughing up a guy with Ivar) is described as having a "heart of gold" by Frank.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Between state, county and local law enforcement. Woodrugh (California Highway Patrol), Bezzerides (Ventura County Sheriffs Office) and Velcoro (Vinci Police Dept) must work together in the Caspere murder case. They eye each other suspiciously when they all meet at the crime scene, and their respective superiors are later seen arguing over who has jurisdiction over the investigation. The body was found in Ventura County so the Sheriffs Office has primary jurisdiction. However, Vinci PD already has an investigation open into Caspere's disapearance/kidnapping and they have possession of the evidence from his house and office. With the unspoken threat that Vinci PD will refuse to cooperate with a Ventura County Sheriffs investigation, a compromise is reached with Bezzerides being the primary investigator on the case and Velcoro as her partner and second-in-command. The Highway Patrol's claim to jurisdiction is the weakest but they have the backing of the state attorney so Woodrugh is allowed to join the investigation as a junior investigator. The real reasons for this jurisdictional fight are political. The state and county governments are fighting Vinci's government over tax revenue and they want to use the investigation to obtain leverage that will let them eliminate Vinci City as a political power in California. The Vinci City officials want to avoid this at all cost and Velcoro is tasked with tanking the investigation if necessary.
  • Karma Houdini: Burris, the only remaining perpetrator of the '92 jewel theft, gets away with only a bullet to the arm after killing two of the top billed stars. And even that seems to have healed by the time Tony Chessani is elected to his father's old position.
    • Tony Chessani and Geldof, who are arguably the masterminds behinds the conspiracy, are never brought to justice, and become Mayor of Vinci and Governor of California respectively.
    • However, there is a possibility that Bezzerides releasing her evidence to the press can change things, but whether it is successful or not is never shown.
  • Kill 'em All: Of the four main characters, Ani is the only one still breathing by the end of the series. A large chunk of the supporting cast is killed as well.
  • Kosher Nostra:
    • Osip is a Jewish mob boss of Russian-Israeli extraction.
    • Frank makes a deal with a crooked diamond merchant who is an Orthodox Jew and has his own Orthodox Jewish enforcers.
  • Knife Nut: Detective Ani Bezzerides. Her apartment features books on knives and knife fighting, a wall covered in blades, and a knife fighting practice dummy. She carries three knives while on duty. In episode four, it's revealed that one of her knives is her mother's. In episode two, she explains that as a female officer, she needs to level the playing field in a fight with a man.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Semyon and his wife have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child for some time, while Woodrugh knocks up his girlfriend, who was on the pill.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Velcoro does this a few times in the first episode:
      • When looking through a newspaper article, he says, "This is the first of an eight-part series?"
      • And later in regards to the (fictitious) City of Vinci.
        Elvis Ilinca: What the fuck is Vinci?
        Ray Velcoro: A city, [beat], supposedly.
    • Ray's reply causes Elvis to hiss "This is bullshit" and walk away in disgust, a hilarious dig at viewers who may check out early out of disinterest for the new plot.
    • Following the cliffhanger episode, when Velcoro is being cleared for duty, the doctor asks if he wants to live, at which point Velcoro stares directly into the camera, at the viewers before the scene switches to an X-ray image hanging on the far wall.
    • Seymon's wife is not convinced by Frank/Vince Vaughn's Break Her Heart To Save Her stunt: "You can't act for shit."
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: A theme in the season.
    • Paul Woodrugh has to take a little blue pill and wait for a half hour before being able to have sex with his very keen girlfriend.
    • Frank is unable to rise to the occasion to give a sperm sample, in spite of his wife's best efforts. He complains that he's under too much stress.
  • The Mafiya: Frank tries to get into a partnership with a Russian mob outfit run by Osip, a Russian-Israeli.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Frank's imagined conversation with Jordan may be a short afterlife experience, or a dying hallucination.
    • Ray's similar hallucination after being shot by the Birdman, where his father describes him being chased in a forest by men with guns, implies that Ray could have temporarily visited a sort of afterlife where time doesn't exist. Or again he may have just dreamt it.
  • Mayor of a Ghost Town: Austin Chessani. Despite over 70,000 people working in Vinci each day, only 95 actually live there permanently. This is typical of similar industrial towns in the area, like the City of Industry and Vinci's real life equivalent, Vernon.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ani's full name is Antigone, which means 'in place of ones parents'. Fitting, considering she acts like more of a parent to her sister, and is considerably more concerned about her foray into porn than her father is.
    • Nails, one of Franks henchmen, extracts information from someone using a nail gun. In the final episode, it's revealed that his Undying Loyalty is because Frank saved his life after being attacked with a nailgun.
  • Mexican Standoff: Two take place in episode six.
    • The first is between Ray and Frank, after Ray discovers the info Frank gave him on his wife's rapist, which caused his initial descent into corruption, was false. Frank insists he thought it was legit, and they eventually part, alive, on neutral terms.
    • When Frank and his men search a house used by Amarilla's associate who pawned Casperes things, they are confronted by the Mexican gang who want to do business with Franks club (previously owned by Danny Santos).
    Frank: That's one off the bucket list, a Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: Bezzerides and her colleagues raid an isolated house on a tip an illegal prostitution ring involving trafficked girls is being run out of it. However, it turns out to be a legal webcam porn company employing American women. They even have a business license.
  • Near-Death Experience:
    • Velcoro is shot twice with anti-riot shotgun rounds and has a vision of his father sitting with him at his local watering hole. Their conversation teases that Velcoro is in the afterlife, but Velcoro wakes up and only has cracked ribs for his trouble.
    • Bezzerides is drugged and lifted off her feet in a chokehold by a bouncer whilst undercover at a sex party. Thankfully, her knife skills come in handy and she escapes alive, unlike the bouncer.
  • Never Lend to a Friend: Frank trusted Caspere to invest his money in land around the site of a proposed high speed railway, so when it increased in value he could sell it back to the government for a higher price and make a profit. Unfortunately for Frank, Caspere was killed before he completed the purchases from the current landowners, leaving Frank short of around $10 million. It's also later revealed he was trying to screw Frank over, claiming the land cost $10 million whereas the landowners later tell Frank they only wanted $7 million.
  • Never Suicide: It is strongly implied that Tony Chessani murdered his father and made it look like he overdosed on drugs, fell in the pool and drowned.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Several real-life media agencies appear in the series. TMZ reports on the scandal between Woodrugh and Lacey Lindel, and FOX broadcasts show both Geldof declaring his candidacy for governor and Ray's fugitive status and later death. A CBS news crew is also seen covering the Vinci workers protests in episode 4.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The season premiered in June 2015, but dates on paperwork seen in the first episode suggest it initially takes place in mid-October 2015. After the Time Skip in episode four, the rest of the season likely takes place in early 2016.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The fictional city of Vinci is strongly based on the real life city of Vernon; a small industrial city on the outskirts of LA plagued with corruption and crime.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Velcoro puts one on the father of his son's bully using brass knuckles as a means of intimidating the bully.
    • Frank is challenged to a fist fight by Danny Santo's, and despite being 'really little' and 'old' compared to the obese club owner, proceeds to savagely beat him and remove his grill.
    • Velcoro delivers another to 'Dr. Pitlor on behalf of Frank, after discovering that he is working with one of Franks lieutenants secretly.
    • Velcoro, once again, brutally beats a man guarding the sex party Bezzerides infiltrates in episode six.
    • Frank smashes a whiskey glass into the side of Blake's head, pushes the shards into his skull by standing on his head, and strangles him. He then shoots him in the stomach and lets him bleed out, slowly.
  • No Kill Like Over Kill: After shooting and killing Osip in the head, Frank unloads the rest of his clip into the corpse. He had some anger issues to work out.
  • No Warrant No Problem: Velcoro and a fellow detective simply pick the lock of a house they need to search.
  • Parental Incest: Caspere was sleeping with Laura and Leonard's mother, fathering at least Laura. She then unknowingly seduced him in disguise to find out about the men who killed their parents.
  • Passed-Over Promotion:
    • Paul is told by the California Attorney General that if he succeeds in managing the Caspere case he will be promoted to detective. However, he is less than enthused, requesting simply to 'go back to the bike' and traffic duty once the case is solved.
    • Frank tells Ray that if he keeps working for him, he could get him promoted to Vinci Chief of Police in a few years. The only catch is that Ray hates the idea of having that much responsibility, even if it pays $300,000 a year.
  • The Plan: A complicated one was set up before the beginning of the season: Semyon conspired with Catalyst Group's predecessor company to massively pollute the land that was going to be developed by the addition of a high speed rail corridor. This dropped the value of the land to pennies on the dollar so that they could buy it up, and then sell it back when the value skyrocketed due to rail development. It worked out for everyone except Semyon.
  • Plot Armor: The three main cop characters are the only survivors of a massive shootout at the end of episode four, ending up surrounded by the corpses of cops, crooks and civilians.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The disappearance and death of Vinci's City Manager Ben Caspere kickstarts the season.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Teague Dixon, the detective who helps Velcoro search Caspere's house in episode one, does not know basic police calling codes.
    Velcoro: We need to treat this like a 207.
    Dixon: What?
    Velcoro: [beat] A kidnapping.
    • Velcoro also has his moments. Upon discovering a soundproofed room full of suspicious contraptions, creepy music and easily half a gallon of blood on the floor, his first thought is to holster his weapon instead of clearing the rest of the house. It later results in him getting shot. Twice.
    • The massive shootout between the gang members and the police task force show many critical mistakes made by the police that result in massive casualties. For example, their decision not to wait for a SWAT team, their failure to cut off all possible escape routes, attempting a police raid with only handguns and a single shotgun, and not taking cover under the building the shooters are firing from, which would make them harder to hit.
      • Only those weren't mistakes, the raid was a setup orchestrated by Holloway and Burris.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Delivered by Frank when Danny Santo's prepares to remove his rings before fighting him.
    Frank: You can keep your rings on, it won't matter to me.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Also delivered by Frank before he decides to strangle Blake to death.
    Frank: Keep your eyes open, I wanna see your lights go out.
    • Frank gets another one in the finale, following up on his earlier Badass Boast to Osip. He then fires a single bullet to the head.
    Frank: Huh, I guess it was today.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Mayor Chessani's son affects an urban vernacular, which is good for his promotion business.
  • Private Military Contractor: Woodrugh, a military veteran, worked for "Black Mountain" before he joined the police, an obvious stand-in for Blackwater. He's very defensive and secretive about his actions during the war, hinting at the accusations of war crimes that Blackwater drew during the same war. Black Mountain later re-brands itself as "Ares Security", and begin servicing only one client: Catalyst Group.
  • Quickly Demoted Leader: A few months after the gunfight in episode four, Bezzerides, the leader of the Caspere investigation, has been demoted to sergeant working in evidence storage. Velcoro, the second in command, quits Vinci PD and begins working as security for Frank.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Nevermind", by Leonard Cohen, although edited to remove the Arabic singing from the background.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Commander Heschmeyer, Woodrugh's superior in the California Highway Patrol.
    • Katherine Davis, a States Attorney. She reopens the Caspere case after it is improperly closed by Geldof, presumably in collusion with the Vinci government so it can be resolved properly. She even declares Bezzerides and Velcoro 'special investigators' so their identities can be kept a secret. Because of her desire to reveal the corruption surrounding the deal, she is murdered in episode seven with one of Ray's guns, framing him as well.
  • Red Herring: Ray notes that the Birdman shot him with non-lethal riot shells, specifically adding "You know, like cops use." That, plus the Birdman's slim, tall figure, suggested Burris as the man under the mask. Burris turned out to be corrupt, but it was Leonard Osterman who wore the mask.
    • Similarly, after the cops were made aware of the Osterman orphans, before realizing they were Erica and the set photograher, the only characters of that age and similar complexion were Chessani's kids.
  • Rape as Drama: Velcoro's wife was beaten and raped prior the events of the story.
  • Sacrificial Lion: State Attorney Katherine Davis and Detective Paul Woodrugh in the penultimate episode.
  • The Scapegoat: Velcoro lampshades the fact that he, Bezzerides and Woodrugh would make great scapegoats for their respective police departments if the behind-the-scenes politics require it. He specifically warns Bezzerides that antagonizing Chessani is a bad idea because if the Vinci and state governments reach a deal, Chessani is likely to request Bezzerides's badge as part of the deal and the state attorney would not hesitate to throw her to the wolves.
  • Second Love: Ani for Ray.
  • Sensitivity Training: Bezzerides is forced to attend sexual misconduct seminars after a harassment complaint is lodged against her by the deputy she had sex with in the first episode.
  • Set The World On Fire: After Osip and his men betray Frank and buy out his casino, club and men, Frank retorts by setting both buildings on fire, rupturing the gas lines and getting the hell out of dodge.
  • Sex for Services: An actress Woodrugh pulls over offers him a blowjob in exchange for getting out of a ticket. Although he refuses, she lies and says he did, resulting in him getting suspended pending an IA investigation.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Bezzerides is introduced wanting to do something so kinky in the bedroom that the guy she is sleeping with freaks out and refuses. However, she is very critical of porn and the adult entertainment industry, and is viewed by her sister as an anti-sex prude.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: How Velcoro elects to deal with his son's bully; brutally beating the boys father in front of him and threatening to harm his family if he continues bullying other kids.
    Velcoro: You ever bully or hurt anybody again, I'll come back and buttfuck your father with your mom's headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • Shotgun Wedding: When Paul's estranged girlfriend announces she is pregnant and keeping the child, the first thing he does is propose to her in an attempt to further repress his homosexuality.
  • A Simple Plan: Episode 4 has Ani, Ray, and Paul tracking down a possible suspect, who happens to be a gang leader. When the gang's hideout is found, they are informed that the nearest SWAT will take some time to arrive, possibly giving the leader time to slip away from them, so Ani decides to stage an impromptu raid using the officers from the task force, believing it to be an dangerous but not insurmountable mission. The result is downright carnage, as the gang discovers them, and pins them down with automatic fire while attempting to escape by driving through a nearby demonstration. This attempt fails as their car crashes into a bus, so the gang instead tries to shoot their way out. All of the gang, most of the taskforce and a number of civilians are caught in the crossfire.
  • Sleazy Politician: Vinci's mayor, Austin Chessani, is the embodiment of this trope. He openly gropes his trophy wife's ass during a formal fundraiser, grossly misuses city funds for his own personal gain and drinks in the morning whilst meeting with police detectives.
    • Most of the men who attend the sex parties organised by Chessani's son, Blake and Pitlor, including the State Attorney General and various congressmen.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Ani has Ray's child in Venezuela.
  • Story Arc: Several happen after the murder of Caspere.
    • Velcoro is tasked to retrieve whatever was taken from his secondary residence by the VPD and by Frank, which includes a hard drive that contains "incriminating" data.
    • Bezzerides and Ilinca work on a missing person's case that concern an ex-maid who went missing and was last seen staying at her father's "spiritual" commune.
    • Woodrugh goes to investigate the cache of diamonds that Detective Dixon previously investigated and learned that they were among several diamonds that went missing in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots.
  • Straight Gay: Paul. However this is helped by the fact he activley goes to great lengths to hide and conceal his homosexuality.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Danny Santos, the corpulent club owner, seems to think that he would be able to kick Frank's ass. Needless to say, It doesn't go too well for him.
  • Sudden Principled Stand:
    • The sleazy and inept Teague Dixon takes one upon hearing Paul's homophobic comments.
    • After voicing how tired he has become of his corrupt lifestyle, Velcoro refuses to take a wad of cash left for him by Frank at the bar.
    Waitress: Ray [gestures], your money.
    Velcoro: That's not my money.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: The actress Paul pulls over later goes to TMZ with her false accusations about him soliciting her, which they publish in addition to looking into his military past.
  • Talk to the Fist: Dr. Pitlor smugly tries to talk down Ray by analysing him during their second meeting. Ray will have none of it.
  • The Tooth Hurts: When Frank is challenged by a mob leader with a grill of gold teeth, Frank pummels him into submission and removes his gold teeth with pliers.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: At the end of the second episode Ray is shot twice, and then the episode ends. The tension is undercut somewhat, given that Velcoro is shown in the premiere trailer for season 2, participating in several scenes that had yet to occur by the time episode two rolled around.
  • Tranquil Fury: Woodrugh for the first four episodes has been a seething ball of anger, but when the bullts start flying in episode four, he's the most collected of any of the characters. He's back in his element.
  • Undying Loyalty: Franks bodyguard, Nails. Unlike the other hired muscle, he never leaves Frank's side once, and Blake reveals that unlike himself and Ivar, Nails was never bought. Long after Frank is dead, Nails is still keeping Jordan and Ani safe.
  • Uriah Gambit: The big shootout in episode four is revealed to have been this. The cops were given false intel and Amarilla's men were warned about the raid by Burris. The primary target was Dixon and any of the other characters getting killed would have been a bonus.
  • Vice City: A Los Angeles Times article refers to Vinci as this in episode one.
  • Violence Is Disturbing:
    • After the heated gunfight in episode 4, both Velcoro and Bezzerides begin to break down after the adrenaline wears off and they observe the bloody carnage caused.
    • Bezzerides is a bit of a mess after she kills a bouncer whilst undercover at a sex party in episode six. The fact she was drugged probably doesn't help either.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Down Will Come." Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh lead a raid against Ledo Amarilla, a local pimp and suspect in the Caspere case. Amarilla's gang proves to be prepared for the detectives' arrival and initiate an extended and bloody firefight that results in the deaths of the gang members, several civilians, Teague Dixon and the rest of the raid team save for the three main leads. In addition, Mayor Chessani, Caspere and Caspere's psychiatrist Dr. Pitlor are revealed to have been in business together for decades, Bezzerides is suspended from her precinct due to a sexual harassment complaint and Woodrugh's girlfriend reveals that she is pregnant.
    • "Other Lives" Three months have passed and every single character is exactly where they said they didn't want to be. Ray has become Frank's muscle, Frank was forced to sell most of his expensive items, Paul's a detective, and Ani's still banned from the Sheriff's Department. The case is secretly reopened when the Attorney General begins running for governor, raising Davis' suspicions. Dixon, who died in the shootout, turned out to be much more important than believed when it's discovered he was looking into the disappearance of Caspere's diamonds before Caspere was murdered in the first place. Alicia's rapist turns out to have been alive after all because Frank gave Ray a fake name.
    • If you thought the detectives were at a low point in "Other Lives", things get worse in "Black Maps and Motel Rooms". Velcoro and Bezzerides are fugitives after Velcoro is framed for the Davis' murder and the body of the security guard Bezzerides killed is discovered. Woodrugh receives blackmail photos of his homosexual relationship. Meanwhile, Semyon is forced to burn down all of his business to avoid having to hand them over to the Catalyst Group. As Velcoro and Bezzerides have sex, Woodrugh goes to confront his blackmailers, finding out that his old PMC is also in league with Catalyst, and is killed while attempting to escape.
  • Wham Line: Uttered by a hallucination of Jordan as an injured Frank vows that he will "never stop moving".
    Jordan: Oh babe, you stopped moving way back there.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?:
    • Invoked by Ray when he finds out the kid bullying his son is called 'Aspen.'
    • Antigone 'Ani' Bezzerides and her sister, Athena. Her father is a hippy cult leader.
  • White Collar Crime: Frank is attempting to move up from the blue collar crime of running clubs and pushing drugs to investing money in illicit land deals involving big businesses and the government. It later falls through after McCandless, Osip and Caspere screw him over, and he is forced to go back to his blue collar crime roots just to keep money coming in. He later admits he isn't cut out for that sort of work, and also reveals in the season finale that he never wore a suit until he was 38.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    • As Ray leaves Franks house after confronting him at gunpoint about the false information he gave to him about his wife's rapist.
    Frank: You might be one of the last friends I got.
    Ray: Wouldn't that be fucked up?
    • Paul's lover, Miguel, and the rest of his Black Mountain buddies are revealed to be working security for Catalyst Group, and attempt to kill him in the penultimate episode under orders from Holloway.
  • You All Share My Story: The first episode has three police protagonists investigating their separate cases when, at the tail-end of the episode, everything is tied together when Caspere is found murdered.