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Series / True Detective

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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. Largely using an interview in 2012 as a Framing Device, the story explores the pair's investigations dating back to 1995 into a string of ritualistic murders with occult overtones in rural Louisiana. The first season premiered on January 12, 2014, and was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

The second season follows a larger central cast including Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams as law enforcement officers from various departments and Vince Vaughn as a crooked businessman who all become tangled in a web of corruption, depravity and murder in a Southern California industrial town. It premiered on June 21, 2015.

The third season stars Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff and Ray Fisher in a story line about missing children throughout the state of Arkansas. It premiered on January 13, 2019.

The fourth season, titled True Detective: Night Country, is set in Alaska and it stars Jodie Foster, Kali Reis, Fiona Shaw, and Christopher Eccleston. It is the first season not to be written by original series creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto. The series premiered on January 14, 2024.

True Detective contains examples of:

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    Multiple/All Seasons 
  • Abusive Parents: A running theme, appearing in multiple seasons.
    • Strongly implied with Dora Lange's father in Season 1.
      Mrs. Lange: Why wouldn't a father bathe his own child?
    • Beth, Dora Lange's friend, has a similar situation with her Evil Uncle.
    • Also in Season 1, 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.
    • In Season 2, Frank laments how his father would lock him in the basement during his drunken benders, and once forgot 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 Ani's 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 father's commune.
    • In Season 3, after kidnapping Julie, Isabel Hoyt basically became this to her, especially as she drugged and brainwashed Julie into believing they were mother and daughter. Also, Julie's birth mother, Lucy, is responsible for her being sold, too.
  • Armored Closet Gay:
    • Paul in Season 2, who on being reminded of his relationship with another man, reacts violently.
    • Tom in Season 3, possibly a more tragic example: he is shown to have pamphlets from a church for those "struggling with homosexuality" and clearly wants to be a good husband and parent.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality:
    • In Season 1, Hart and Cohle are both very flawed men who do morally questionable things, but they are well-intended protagonists who try to stop an unambiguously evil cult who rape children and commit murders.
    • In Season 3, Wayne and Roland killed their chief suspect after kidnapping and beating him, but they were genuinely trying to find out what happened to Julie and to avenge Tom.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jacob McCandless, the CEO of Catalast Group in Season 2, and Hoyt of Hoyt Foods in Season 3, who allowed his daughter to kidnap a child and (accidentally) murder another, and chose to cover it up years after the fact.
  • Crapsack World: Ritual sacrifice, kidnapping, and child rape appear as near constants, with murderers going free also being baked into the formula.
  • Evil Counterpart: Reggie Ledoux to Bret Woodard. Both function very similarly in the story, with the act of violence at the midpoint of the season that changed all the characters. However, Reggie Ledoux was a child rapist and a kidnapper, while Bret Woodard never harmed a child and is actually completely innocent of all crimes.
  • Genre Shift: Downplayed. 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 Californian neo-noir. The third season then returns to the rural South, but has very few Southern Gothic elements and is much more grounded about poverty.
  • Good Counterpart:
    • The church in Season 3 is this to Season 1's Yellow King cult. The nuns faked Julie's death for her so she could live a happy life with Mike, free from the trauma she'd previously suffered, in contrast to the Yellow King, where the rape, torture, and murder of children was one of their central activities.
    • Tom in Season 3 and, to a lesser extent, Ray in Season 2 is the good counterpart to the sheer amount of awful fathers on the show (with even Hart from the first season slapping his daughter and growing far apart from her). Although Chad may not have been Ray's son, and he did give some truly awful advice at times, Ray was desperate to take care of him and tried to be better than his own father. Tom was suspected of being a rapist father in line with the other fathers on the show, such as Errol Childress's and Dora Lange's, but he actually adored his children and is completely broken by their disappearance.
  • Half-Witted Hillbilly: All varieties show up consistently throughout the show, especially in rural areas.
  • How We Got Here: In season 1, 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). Season 3 changes back and forth more frequently, but it also has multiple elements of How We Got Here due to being set over multiple timelines.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Baked into the premise. The killers escape from justice for a great number of years in all seasons, but in the end at least a few of them face justice. The only subversion so far is Isabel Hoyt in Season 3 as she is already dead, but it still goes for Junius, at least in the sense that he gets his karma by learning that Roland and Wayne can't give him the punishment he deserves rather than going to prison.
  • Layout of a Season: The first three seasons (those written by the original creator) had roughly similar episode breakdowns. Even season 4 hit most of the same plot beats, albeit in different places (since it was only 6 episodes instead of 8).
    • Episode 1 established the central crime, as well as the framing device in seasons 1 and 3.
    • Episode 4 leads up to a violent climax, in which several characters (but not the main ones) are killed. In season 3, the confrontation begins at the climax of episode 4 but the bulk of it is shown in episode 5.
    • Episode 5 deals with the aftermath of the previous: the main characters are often demoted or Reassigned to Antarctica, the investigation is officially closed, but the protagonists believe that the true culprit is still at large.
    • And in episode 6, the characters decide to team back up again, in order to take down the person(s) truly responsible.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome:
    • Name-dropped in an episode of Season 3.
      If it's in the papers, it's white children.
    • In Season 4, Annie Kowtok, an Indigenous activist against the mine in Ennis, is found murdered. Her case goes cold; Evangeline Navarro claims that if Annie had been a white woman, the Ennis police department would have solved it in the case in a matter of months.
  • Rape as Backstory: One of the criticisms leveled at Seasons 1 and 2 is that this shows up with alarming frequency in the background of every single major female character, except Maggie.
    • In Season 1, Beth, Dora Lange, and obviously all the victims of the cult are rape victims.
    • In Season 2, Ani was kidnapped and raped by a member of her father's commune and Ray's wife was raped by a meth addict.
    • Season 3 averts this, as sexual assault isn't a part of the story and no major characters have it in their backstory.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • 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 sex crimes, both in terms of the areas where such crimes took place, and the psychological effects they have on the victims and the people who tried to stop them.
    • In Season 2, Ray's wife was raped by a meth addict who knew Semyon, and Chad may be his son.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • In Season 1, Martin Hart is the red oni, an impulsive, down-to-earth womanizer with rage issues, and Rustin Cohle is the blue oni, an aloof, stoic, and stiff nihilist. Their differences are most striking in 1995; in the present, they've both moved closer to the center, showing how much the case has changed them.
    • Season 3 has Roland and Wayne, but it's played with. Wayne starts off the timeline as the extremely chill, stiff-upper-lipped stoic, while Roland is a blustering hothead. This changes when Roland gets promoted after the 1980 incident; in 1990 their roles are practically reversed. In 2015 they've both mellowed out and are more balanced.
    • Season 4 has Navarro and Danvers, and it's played with again. On the surface, Navarro seems more cold and efficient, but her personal connection to the case of Annie K (and her direct experiences with racism) make her more hot-blooded underneath. Conversely, Danvers is more outwardly personable and high-energy, but she's dispassionate and collected in a crisis, calmly thinking her way through problems.
  • Satanic Panic:A Running Theme.
    • Season 1 is about an occult conspiracy of ritual murder and child abuse, but the bad guys use the Satanic Panic as a cover.
    • It also gets several references in Season 3, including the famous belief that Dungeons & Dragons was Satanic. Which is in fact a Red Herring, to underline how different the mystery of Season 3 is than Season 1.
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.

    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.
    • The even creepier abandoned school.
    • The abandoned Civil War fort that Errol has turned into his shrine.
  • Actor Allusion: When Cohle is brought beer, and starts drinking it, the name is visible. The beer is called Lone Star, a popular beer in Texas. Matthew McConaughey appeared in Lone Star (1996).
  • 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 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.
  • Anonymous Public Phone Call: In Season 1, a robber who claims to have information about The Yellow King gets a call from a remote payphone and then kills himself before he can reveal anything. The caller even wiped his fingerprints off the phone.
  • 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 video tape 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 the 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 necks, as well.
    • Horns/antlers are also a recurring theme. The first case involves a murdered woman with antlers placed on her head. There are a few drawings of women with horns/antlers on their heads. Ginger the biker has a chest tattoo of horns curving up to the sides of his neck.
    • Circles are a frequent 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 represented 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. As Reggie Ledoux says, "Time is a flat circle."
    • Mirrors. In 1995, Cohle uses a tiny mirror for meditation (Hart even stares into it once, before asking if you were supposed to see one eye or both at once). In 2002, Beth's room contains several mirrors of different sizes. In 2012, Hart's office and living room both have large wall-to-wall mirrors, while the bar where Cohle works has a mirrored back wall.
  • 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. In his very slight defense, he had been forced to snort a significant number of drugs not long prior.
  • 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.
  • Beneath Notice: The Big Bad used a gardener job to get close to potential victims.
  • 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.
  • 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 thanks to their ties to political or religious power players, and some have even died without getting any retribution, but the detectives have at least managed to put down the worst one. The cult won't be able to be as active with the attention on them.
  • 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, Headshot!: Hart kills Ledoux and Cohle kills Errol by shooting them in the head. In both cases, a serious chunk of the skull gets blown away.
  • 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.
    • 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 eight he's dumbfounded when Marty notices fresh green paint on a house.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Burt shits himself when questioned by Cohle.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Well, half-sister, anyway. Errol's, specifically.
  • Calling Card: The twig sculptures show up everywhere, from crime scenes to an Abandoned School.
  • 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.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: The tension in the season climax is heightened by the fact that the heroes cannot call for backup because there is no reception at the evil lair.
  • Chained to a Bed: As part of their foreplay, Lisa uses Hart's handcuffs to tie him to metal bars above her couch.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster discussed early in the show and the landscaper who gives some exposition in episode 3. They turn out to be the same man as well as one of the primary killers in the conspiracy. Lampshaded by Cole in the final episode, where he resents the fact that he came across the monster back in 1995 without noticing the facial scars and the size of the man because he was dirty and sitting on a mower.
  • Conspicuous Gloves: You know something's up when Hart puts on his black gloves at the holding cell with the two adolescents who messed around with Hart's daughter.
  • The Conspiracy: It's a group of killers, some of whom are connected to politics and the police.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: During the final confrontation, Cohle shoots Errol in the head from behind Just in Time before the latter can finish off Hart.
  • 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 Thomas Ligotti, Robert W. Chambers and David Benatar. 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Nic Pizzolatto plays a bartender in "Who Goes There".
  • Crown of Horns: The ritualistic murder that opens the series has a woman posed nude wearing a crown of deer antlers.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Cohle explaining to Marty how the Mexican cartel deals with their victims.
    Cohle: They'd cut around your face, grip your scalp, yank down, rip your face off. And they'd put a mirror in front of you so you could get a good look at yourself. And they'd cut your dick and your balls off...shove 'em down your throat until you bled and choked out, while you were watching.
  • Cue the Billiard Shot: In Episode 2, a bar scene starts off with a billiard shot.
  • Dark Is Evil: 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 has a lot more territory; Cohle agrees, then says Marty's looking at it wrong: once, there was only dark, but light is winning.
  • Dead Man Switch: Cohle warns Sheriff Geraci that if anything happened to him or Hart, they would forward evidence about Geraci's involvement in the case to media outlets.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Straw Nihilist and Misanthrope Supreme tropes, as well as Thomas Ligotti's philosophically pessimistic, anti-natalist beliefs as he depicted in his book The Conspiracy Against The Human Race. Pizzolatto showcases just what kind of person would believe something like that: someone who's been deeply disturbed and broken by the world around them. Cohle isn't some philosophical crusader who sees the truth, he's a miserable, deeply hurting human being who uses pessimism and nihilism as coping mechanisms for his inability to face the grief and sorrow he feels after losing his daughter. It takes him facing death from Childress to realize that he has something to look forward to and that perhaps there is something still worth living and fighting for.
  • Deep South: Season 1 takes place in Louisiana.
  • Diagonal Billing: For McConaughey and Harrelson in the opening credits.
  • Dramatic Irony: In episode 7, Papania and Gilbough get directions from a man they meet on the road. The audience is then treated to the close-up of his face: his cheeks are covered in scars, fitting the murderer's description that Rust and Marty got from the surviving victims and didn't share with Papania and Gilbough.
  • Eldritch Location: Childress' labyrinthine temple may be a downplayed example.
  • Environmental Symbolism: The labyrinth Cohle finds himself in during the Final Battle symbolizes the twisted mind of the antagonist.
  • 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.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Marty connecting the green ears on the portrait of the "Spaghetti Monster" with the freshly-painted house.
  • 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.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: The hair style of the main characters change between the events to help the audience know where we are at every moment.
    • In 1995, Cohle and Hart have full hair.
    • In 2002, both have somewhat shorter haircuts.
    • In 2010, Cohle is clean shaven with long grey hair.
    • In 2012, Hart has almost lost all of his hair while Cohle has long, grey hair and a mustache. Also Hart's wife has her hair different.
  • 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 have sex. Both are very dirty, very unattractive people.
  • Fanservice: Enforced. According to the director, all of the nude scenes in Season 1 were pay cable mandated by HBO.
    • The lingering shot of Michelle Monaghan's ass during her introductory scene in bed.
    • Lisa, Marty's mistress (Alexandra Daddario), is 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.
  • Flies Equals Evil: During the climax, before Hart finds the corpse of Billy Childress in the shed, the reveal is heralded by the sound of flies.
  • 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.
    • 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. Throughout his flashbacks, you'll know that his wife will eventually leave him for good.
  • 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.
  • Friend on the Force: Cohle contacts Hart in 2012 because he needs his connections to get hold of the old police files.
  • 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.
  • 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!:
    • Lisa screams at Hart to leave her apartment when the latter is all over the guy she brought home with her.
    • As Rust realizes that Maggie had sex with him as a way of getting back at Marty, he yells for her to "Get the fuck out!" of his apartment.
  • 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. In the flashback in the same episode, Marty sees a recently microwaved baby; the audience only sees Marty's face.
  • Grief-Induced Split: After Rust accidentally ran down his young daughter, he and his wife split up due to his guilt and her anger at him.
  • The Grovel: After his first cheating incident, Hart tries to make good with his wife at the Ice rink, promising to change himself and getting away from the bottle. She tells him that he has a long way to go.
  • Hallucinations: Cohle sees a number of strange things while investigating the case. Their source is mysterious, but Cohle explains them as acid flashbacks.
    • In episode 2, Cohle sees 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'.
  • Happiness Realized Too Late: Marty acknowledges this as a fact of life when he looks back on his time investigating the crime in the 1990s, in between the present day (where he and Maggie have split up due to his infidelity), and his daughter Audrey is a miserable Emo Teen rather than the cute kid she once was. However, it's also the Running Theme of the entire show, such as when Wayne looks back on his marriage to Amelia after her death and realizes how much he loved (and neglected) her.
    Marty: You know the good years when you're in them, or you just wait for them until you get ass cancer and realize that the good years came and went? Because there's a feeling you might notice it sometimes... this feeling like life has slipped through your fingers... like the future is behind you, like it's always been behind you. You know, I cleaned up, but maybe I didn't change. Not the way I needed to. Remember what I said about the detective's curse? The solution to my whole life was right under my nose. That woman. Those kids. And I was watching everything else. See, infidelity is one kind of sin, but my true failure was inattention. I understand that now.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: De Wall Ledoux gets killed by one of his own Booby Traps.
  • 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: Them symbols, they're Satanic. They had a "20/20" on it a few years back.
  • 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''
  • 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. And Rust going with them is an officer impersonating a biker Impersonating an Officer.
  • 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.
  • Interrogation Flashback: The story is framed by the two detectives interviewing Hart, Cohle, and Maggie separately 17 years after the case was investigated.
  • 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.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In Episode 2, Cohle gets directions to the whorehouse in the woods by physically torturing two uncommunicative mechanics.
  • 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 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 possess a vast amount of power and influence in Louisiana due to the lofty political positions of many members of the cult's core family.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Annoyed at how a bartender is making him spell out what he wants, Hart 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: In the end, Cohle states that the stars represent "light versus dark" as a metaphor for good versus evil. Hart says that dark has a lot more territory; Cohle agrees, then says Marty's looking at it wrong: once, there was only dark, but light is winning.
  • Lonely Bachelor Pad: Rust Cohle's apartment contains almost no furniture except a mattress and a lawn chair. As you might expect, he's a miserable misanthrope.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Reggie Ledoux's meth-cooking partner steps on a land mine and explodes into gibs.
  • Machete Mayhem: The first time we see Reggie Ledoux, he's carrying a machete, in his underwear, wearing a gas mask.
  • 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. Whether those are just hallucinations or there is actually some supernatural force at work is never disclosed.
  • Microwave the Dog: Hart quit his job after witnessing the aftermath of such an experiment done on a baby.
  • Mook Chivalry: The guy in the tracking shot has Rust on the floor at his mercy, only to tell him to get up. Rust handily dispatches him.
  • Moral Myopia: Marty has a case of this with regards to his infidelity, flying into a violent rage when he discovers that Lisa, the woman he's cheating on his wife with, is cheating on him. He later experiences it again when he freaks out and beats up Rust because Maggie cheated on him with him, ignoring the fact that he's also cheating on her with Beth.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In episode 6, Marty delivers one to the teenager who was having sex with his daughter.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A Gory Discretion Shot is used to this effect twice: when Marty looks at the tape of a girl surrounded by men in animal masks closing in on her and a recently microwaved baby, we only see (and hear) his reaction. 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.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Marty comments on Charlie Lange's description of Reggie Ledoux, "Had to be tough, living with somebody spouting insane shit in your ear all day long," pointedly looking at Rust.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • It's almost inconceivable at that the hardened, cynical veteran Cohle could be disturbed by anything, so when he very overtly stands with his back turned to the cult videotape as it plays, you know that it's some seriously twisted stuff.
    • Cohle also always speaks in a calm and even tone. The only time he doesn't is when he realizes that Maggie only had sex with him as a way of getting back at Hart. The event causes him to utterly lose his stoic composure and he half-way yells, half-way screams at her as he demands that she "get the fuck out" of his apartment.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The last episode ends with the camera panning up to the night sky.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: In the final moments of the series, Cohle decides to leave the hospital on his own terms with the help of Hart.
  • 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.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: During the interrogation, Cohle uses a flattened beer can to explain how fourth-dimensional beings would look upon us in the third dimension.
  • Pistol-Whipping: During the neighborhood riot, Cohle lays out a handful of whips on Ginger and a couple of attackers.
  • Police Code for Everything: Cryptic police codes are thrown around a lot.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Rust and Marty get back together in 2012 when they finally realize that the Dora Lange case isn't solved yet.
  • Questionable Consent: The circumstances that lead to Rust and Maggie having sex are purposely unclear whether it was consensual on Rust's part. While he does give in to her advances, he at first resists and only reciprocates when Maggie forcefully kisses him. It's also made clear that he's drunk at the time, while Maggie is sober. She's also aware that what she did to Rust was wrong, tearfully apologizing, but it's never acknowledged as rape. Later, Marty points out in the final episode that Maggie told him it wasn't Rust's choice, implying that she knows it wasn't consensual. Rust, on the other hand, disregards this and claims he did have a choice, and that he blames Marty more than anyone.
  • 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.
  • Reel Torture: A non-humorous version. After restarting their investigation into the Yellow King murders, Cohle and Hart find a former colleague who helped the cult cover up more killings. When he refuses to help them, they show him a videotape of what his work led to: the ritual sacrifice of a young girl. The audience isn't shown the footage, but him screaming in horror is heard.
  • 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's house 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 structure of crazy.
  • Say My Name: During the final confrontation, Marty screams Rust's name a lot. Then, he whispers it even more dramatically when the fight is over, and they both are badly wounded and waiting for help.
    Marty: That's the last thing I remember. I was on the ground. Sirens. Saying my friend's name.
  • Scenery Porn: 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.
  • Soulless Bedroom: Rust Cohle, befitting his reputation as a cold, calculating detective, sleeps in a bedroom that consists only of his mattress on the floor, a few meager possessions piled in one corner, and a crucifix over his bed (in spite of being an outspoken atheist). His only other decoration is a tiny round mirror on one wall that Rust stares into as a form of meditation.
  • Southern Gothic: Set in Louisiana, oppressive heat, lots of death, dark secrets, inbred hillbillies in a decaying farmhouse, all tied up with family, religion, and Voodoo... yeah, it's Southern Gothic.
  • Stealth Pun: Rust never sleeps. "I don't sleep; I dream."
  • Take Our Word for It: A tape of the cultists' ritual sacrifice. We see only a brief glimpse of a blindfolded girl and the viewers' horrified reactions.
  • 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, and he spent four years undercover as a crook.
  • 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: Ginger's ill-conceived heist. He and his biker goons immediately make themselves conspicuous in the ghetto by dressing as cops while not doing anything to conceal their long hair and beards. They break into a rival drug dealer's house while leaving their getaway car unattended, take the dealer and his friends hostage, and quickly draw the attention of all the other dealers in the neighborhood. The bikers find themselves surrounded and then dead after they foolishly shoot one of the hostages and instigate a bloody firefight.
  • Torture Cellar:
    • Reggie Ledoux has a hut where he tortures kids. Hart's immediate reaction after seeing it is to the execute him.
    • Errol Childress's "Carcosa" functions as his chamber of horrors and as a temple.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Leroy Salter suspends Rust, briefly before he quits for good, following the latter's Cowboy Cop antics and reopening of old cases.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: In the pilot, Cohle mentions to the prostitute at the bar that he doesn't sleep. Cut to Maggie in her bed sleeping.
  • 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.
    • In episode 3, Marty's big talk about the importance of family and boundaries frames a flashback of him bursting into his mistress' apartment to beat up her date.
    • 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.
    • Maggie denies knowing why Cohle quit his job while we see scenes of the aftermath of the fight between him and Hart over Maggie's infidelity.
  • 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.
  • 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 Lange 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.
  • Worst Aid: In the last episode, after getting stabbed, Rust pulls the knife out. This is a very bad idea because the knife sticking in the wound acts as a plug, and pulling it out leaves a gaping, bleeding wound.

    Season Two 
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Mayor Austin Chessani is introduced two-fisting champagne at a reception and drinks throughout his office meetings, even in the morning.
    • Velcoro has become a drunken mess since he made a deal with Semyon, who complains that Velcoro is "getting a load on" during their meetings. When Velcoro cleans up and goes sober, Semyon says its nice to speak to him when his head isn't nodding. It doesn't last, however.
    • Dixon drinks from a hip flask and is said to smell like liquor.
  • Alliterative Name: Lacey Lindel, the actress Paul pulls over in episode 1 who later makes false accusations towards him.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Mayor Chessani uses Yiddish words on a noticeable number of occasions, but we get no confirmation on his actual religious background.
  • 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 Caspere's 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, the majority of the rest of the season proceeds chronologically, with only a handful of flashbacks.
  • 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, 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 Catalast 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, except the actual killer, are connected. The Catalast Group, the corrupt police, Osip, Frank's men, and even the victim were working together to exploit the above land deal. The District Attorney, and later gubernatorial candidate, 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 Catalast 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, Paul's 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 Catalast 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 Catalast 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.
  • Blade Enthusiast : 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.
  • 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. With the help of his sister, the secretary.
  • 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 to 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 there 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 fears his 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.
      • Woodrugh 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 cahoots with the Russians to try and take his place.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While infiltrating an orgy, Bezzerides snags a cheese 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 Caspere's assistant, AKA Caspere's own (unknowing) children.
  • 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 Velcoro 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 Catalast land deal. The Catalast 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 Catalast 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 Catalast 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 Caspere's possessions. In episode seven, he is shown to be in cahoots with the whole conspiracy, and murders Paul after he escapes Holloway and Catalast security.
    • In episode seven it is revealed that while Burris, Dixon and Holloway were working for the LAPD in the 90s, 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 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. He claims to his girlfriend that they have nothing to do with his military service, but later points to them saying that he "bled" for the money he brought back from the war.
    • 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 Blade Enthusiast 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 while 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: Catalast 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 sheriff's 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.
  • False Rape Accusation: Paul is introduced being offered Sex for Services by an actress after he catches her driving while intoxicated. After he refuses, she turns the story around and claims that he was the one who propositioned her. Since Paul happens to be Armored Closet Gay and could easily refute the accusations if he just admitted the truth, this ends up demonstrating what a Fatal Flaw his sexuality is for him.
  • 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' 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.
    • Velcoro's dream sequence in the beginning of episode 3 explicitly states how Velcoro is killed in the redwoods in the final episode.
  • 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.
  • 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 behavior 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?
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Velcoro spots the location tracker under his car from the reflection of its bright red LED.
  • 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 tackling Bezzerides out of the way of a moving truck whilst they pursues a suspect, whilst having multiple cracked ribs, and acting almost fatherly towards Paul in offering hangover cures and encouragement in regards to the paparazzi that chase him everywhere.
    • 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 Sheriff's Office) and Velcoro (Vinci Police Department) 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 Sheriff's 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 costs, 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. 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. Bezzerides releasing her evidence to the press might change things, but whether that's successful or not is never shown.
  • Kick the Dog: Semyon uses just about every ethnic slur there is over the course of the season to remind you that he's an Anti-Hero, not a hero.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 Viagra 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.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: The Velcoro family drama essentially centers on it. The mother was raped 9 months before she gave birth, the son looks nothing like her husband, but doesn't look like the rapist either. It eventually unfolds that it wasn't even the real rapist, and the false tip was supplied by a man who does look like the son, but the real rapist eventually turns out not to look like the son either. The ultimate conclusion comes in the surprising paternity test: Ray Velcoro, the husband, is actually the father, and his next child also has bright red hair like his first.
  • 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 he may have just dreamt it.
  • 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.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: All the male main characters are killed, while the female one survives.
  • 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 Caspere's things, they are confronted by the Mexican gang who want to do business with Frank's 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.
  • Mushroom Samba: Ani goes undercover as a prostitute at a sinister gathering of corrupt politicians and businessmen. On the way there, she gets dosed, and then has to get in, get what she's looking for, and get out alive while tripping balls and flashing back to her abusive childhood.
  • 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, California. Vinci, like Vernon, is an industrial city on the outskirts of L.A. plagued with corruption and crime. Both cities employ thousands of people but only contain a tiny number of actual residents. The "City of Vinci" water tower seen frequently on the show is actually Vernon's own landmark with the name replaced.
  • 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 Santos, 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 Frank's 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 Dixon simply pick the lock of a house they need to search.
  • Parental Incest: Unknowingly. Caspere slept with Laura and Leonard's mother, fathering at least Laura. She then seduced him in disguise, not knowing he was her father, 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 Catalast 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 results in him getting shot. Twice.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Delivered by Frank when Danny Santos 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 follows it up with a single shot to the head, then an entire clip to the body.
      Frank: Huh, I guess it was today.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Mayor Chessani's white, upper-class 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: Catalast Group.
  • 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 drive to reveal the corruption surrounding the deal, she is murdered in episode seven with one of Ray's guns, framing him as well.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: 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. Also a case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, as the shootout was incredibly dangerous to both police and public (many officers and civilians were killed), and resulted in the case being closed unsatisfactorily due to the prime suspect being killed. The unspoken implication is that the higher-ups scapegoated Bezzerides and Velcoro.
  • Recycled Premise: Frank Semyon's plot is largely lifted from The Long Good Friday: a happily-married mob boss is on the verge of going legitimate by making a huge land development deal in partnership with a foreign crime organization, but finds himself under attack by unknown agents. Struggling first to keep the deal together and then just to stay alive, he uncovers that his number two has betrayed him, so he kills him personally. Ultimately, he assassinates an enemy leader, but gets murdered anyway, leaving his wife a widow.
  • Red Herring:
    • Ray notes that the Birdman shot him with less-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.
    • Ray's son. Given the reveal that the rapist he murdered turned out not to be the guy and that this information was supplied by the prominently redheaded Blake, it's easy to read between the lines and see that he raped Ray's wife and is the father of her son. Only it turns out Ray is the father after all.
  • 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 boy's 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.
  • 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 suspect who happens to be gang-affiliated. 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 while 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.
  • Straight Gay: Paul. This is helped by the fact that he actively 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.
  • Television Geography: Being roughly a seven-hour drive away, it's pretty weird that the party Ani goes to in Monterey was getting its girls from LA.
  • 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 bullets 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, 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 while undercover at a sex party in episode six. The fact she was drugged probably didn'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 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 prior to Caspere's murder. Alicia's rapist turns out to be alive after all, because Frank gave Ray a different 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 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 Catalast Group. As Velcoro and Bezzerides have sex, Woodrugh goes to confront his blackmailers, finding out that his old PMC is also in league with Catalast, 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".
  • Wham Shot: Paul escapes the underground tunnels of Vinci with the crucial evidence in hand, and Lt. Burris walks up behind him and shoots him in the back.
  • 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 Catalast Group, and attempt to kill him in the penultimate episode under orders from Holloway.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Mayor Chessani uses Yiddish words on a noticeable number of occasions.
  • 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.

    Season Three 
  • Anachronic Order: Much like the first season, it jumps back and forth in time between 1980, 1993, and 2015.
  • Animal Motifs: Foxes.
  • Arc Symbol: Letters and the written word in general, tying in to the season's theme of memory. The season's intro song is "Death Letter". Wayne and Roland find some notes written to the kids. A letter is sent to the Purcell's by Lucy telling them not to worry. Wayne reads Amelia's book to gain insight on the mystery. Tom Purcell's suicide is faked by dumping his body with a forged suicide note.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The rednecks who keep harassing Woodard all get blown to shreds and gunned down by him after they surround his house with the intention of murdering him.
    • Although she is also a Jerkass Woobie, a lot of sympathy is lost for Lucy Purcell when flashbacks reveal that she knowingly sold her daughter to an insane heiress and, although she was devastated upon learning that Will had accidentally died in the "exchange," she kept quiet about it in exchange for more money.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hays figures out that Julie Purcell is still alive and happily married with a child; however, his dementia strikes just as he's pulling up to her house to confront her. Even so, everything else in his life (besides the aforementioned dementia) is good, he has rekindled his friendship with Roland, and his children are both doing well. Henry also seems to be aware that the address is significant, even if his dad isn't.
  • Category Traitor: Racial issues are more prominent in this season. At one point, during a heated argument, Hays refers to Amelia as "high yellow," a somewhat offensive term for a light-skinned Black or mixed-race person who is perceived as being a "traitor" to their race.
  • Connected All Along: If not the second season, the third is definitively confirmed to take place in the same world as the first one, with cameo appearances from Rust and Marty, and an explicit Call-Back to the Yellow King cult murders. Hays' interviewer in 2015 references the cult and their crooked spiral motif, though Hays explicitly denies such a cult was involved this time around.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Woodard's house is riddled with mines, booby traps, and hidden guns in the event that the racist townspeople come after him.
  • Creepy Doll: The white dolls leading to Will Purcell's body.
  • Deconstruction: Of true crime stories and conspiracy theories. While Elisa suspects the death of Will Purcell and disappearance of Julie Purcell are tied to a child trafficking ring, the former was a genuine accident and the latter a non-malicious (but still illegal and harmful) kidnapping by a mentally ill woman from a rich family. Hoyt, the local business tycoon supposedly at the heart of the conspiracy, is actually a despondent alcoholic who didn't know about the kidnapping at the time and mainly wants to protect his family and company's reputations, and the lone surviving kidnapping conspirator is guilt-ridden and quickly confesses when Wayne and Roland confront him years later. The district attorney/attorney general who wanted the case closed is implied to have done so out of convenience and political ambition rather than to cover up a vast conspiracy. In the end, while the original murder and kidnapping were still tragic, the Hoyt family's attempts to cover it up ruined even more lives.
  • Death Faked for You: The nuns faked Julie's death from AIDS so that she could escape her traumatic past.
  • Death Seeker:
    • After slaying the entire lynch mob and a couple of police officers responding to the scene, Woodard tells Hays to put him down, which Hays does with great reluctance. It had already been established that Woodard was severely troubled by the war and his inability to readjust to civilian life, so him feeling suicidally depressed isn't surprising. It's clear he felt the only thing he was good for was being a soldier, so he wanted to go out fighting. It also explains why he had more respect for Wayne, a fellow veteran, and thus wanted him to take the shot.
    • Junius. He says he's waited for months, if not years, for Wayne and Roland to find him. When they reveal that they have no authority to punish or imprison him, and Roland coldly tells him to kill himself, Junius follows after them, begging them to punish him.
  • Due to the Dead: Will Purcell's body is arranged in an attempt at twisted kindness, posed in a similar way to his first Communion photo and sheltered by a cave. This is because his death was an accident, and the killer was genuinely sorry.
  • Freudian Trio: Amelia is the naive but well-intentioned superego, Roland is the ego, trying to hold back Wayne's impulses but always being tempted by them, and Wayne himself is the id, though he is also confronted by a variety of separate ids (Lucy, Woodard, Junius, all to a greater or lesser extent).
  • The Kindnapper: Deconstructed. Isabel thinks she's doing this to Julie, and so does Junius, but only because he isn't aware that Isabel is drugging Julie to make her seem happy. When he figures it out, he helps Julie escape.
  • The Lost Lenore:
    • Amelia is this to Wayne in the present. Despite their tulmultuous relationship, he genuinely loved her and wishes she were still with him.
    • Julie was also this to Mike, although he was eventually able to get her back.
  • Innocence Lost: A recurring theme throughout the season, both in the dead children and in the general sense that society is getting Darker and Edgier.
  • Last Stand: Woodard, when confronted by a lynch mob, retreats to his booby-trapped house and prepares to go out guns blazing. He ends up killing all of his attackers and a couple police officers responding to the scene before committing Suicide by Cop via Hays.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Lucy Purcell is portrayed this way, although she has a few sympathetic moments where she expresses guilt over her trashiness and negligence. The hicks who attack Woodard are even worse.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Following from Season 1's ambiguous Lovecraftian Horror, Hays occasionally influences past events when he has dementia-related hallucinations. Younger Hays stares at where 2010s' Hays will be, and looks discomfited. At one point the elder Hays possibly causes a door in 1990 to swing open when he hallucinates the decades-old memory. Or the door randomly swung open as they sometimes do.
  • Missing Child: The central case involves the disappearance of two children. Much focus is given to the agonized reaction of the Purcells to their children's disappearance.
  • Never Suicide:
    • Tom is revealed to have committed suicide in the 1990s, apparently because he killed his son and abducted and killed his daughter. He didn't; he was framed by Harris.
    • Lucy is believed to have accidentally OD'd after spiralling into addiction in despair. Hoyt killed her because she asked for more money.
    • This is one of the theories floated regarding Harris's disappearance. Wayne and Roland killed him.
  • Nuclear Family:
    • The Hayes: Wayne and Amelia have two children, Rebecca and Henry.
    • The Purcells: Tom and Lucy with Julie and Will. Although they're a far more dysfunctional version. Lucy only has one brother, too, which implies she falls into this trope.
    • Wayne's two grandkids are a boy and a girl, implying that Henry and Heather also form this.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Roland and Wayne's aggressive interrogation of Harris resulted in his death, which gave the Hoyts the material they needed to blackmail Wayne into dropping the case and ultimately ruined Roland and Wayne's friendship.
  • One True Love:
    • Amelia for Wayne and vice versa.
    • Surprisingly, Julie for Mike. He's also able to recognize her when nobody else is.
  • Red Herring: With the Stealth Sequel reveal, viewers would expect that Julie Purcell's kidnapping and her brother's death must be related to something rather sinister with many high level cover ups. It turns out Julie's kidnappers weren't a pedophile ring at all, simply a powerful family with a mentally fragile woman who thought Julie must be her daughter after her real daughter died tragically. And the Attorney General who always seems interested in shutting down the case as soon as possible isn't (presumably) in cahoots with the Hoyts, he simply is a grandstanding politician who wants to look good for the press at the cost of a case being closed prematurely.
  • Red Skies Crossover: In Season 3, the woman who is interviewing Wayne Hays brings up of what Rust Cohle and Martin Hart did during Season 1, and suggests that the Purcell case has some connections to it. Wayne shoots the idea down however.
  • Replacement Goldfish:
    • The older Roland's dogs clearly become this for his relationships with Wayne and Tom, as he meets his first stray dog after being beaten up following his devastation over Tom's suicide and Wayne's demotion.
    • Julie turns out to be a victim of this at the hands of Isabel Hoyt after the death of her own daughter, Mary.
  • Saintly Church: Although a grittier version, the church helps the deeply traumatized Mary/Julie to fake her own death in an attempt to help her recover from her abduction.
  • The Scapegoat:
    • Woodard is posthumously convicted of the Purcell murders by Wayne's superiors. This is motivated by the shoot-out he'd been in, the discovery of Will Purcell's backpack at his house, and the preexisting mistrust the townsfolk had towards him for being a lowly scavenger (and non-white at that). As the future segments quickly reveal, it wasn't him.
    • Tom then becomes the new scapegoat after his apparent suicide. Hays finally raises the possibility that Woodard wasn't actually the killer and kidnapper after all, and his children successfully petition the police for a posthumous pardon.
  • Scatter Brained Senior: Wayne becomes one in the present day, for ambiguous reasons. We are to presume he's suffering from dementia, but given the show's ambiguity when it comes to the supernatural, it's possibly of a more otherworldly nature.
  • Stealth Sequel: It is revealed that season 3's story is in the same continuity as season 1, when Rust and Marty's exploits in 2012 are brought up as being similar in nature to Hays and Roland's case. Specifically little children being kidnapped, which is being covered up by people in power, possibly in connection to a pedophile ring. The twist is that the case Hays and Roland are pursuing is ultimately revealed to be a result of very mudane and somewhat less sinister causes, rather than the machinations of the complex and nebulous conspiracy that Rust and Marty were up against.
  • Sleuth Dates Cop: Amelia is a journalist and aspiring writer who dates - then marries - Wayne.
  • That One Case: The disappearance of the children is one for Wayne and Roland.
  • The Vietnam Vet:
    • Wayne is one. A Scarily Competent Tracker who operated deep inside enemy lines for long periods, alone and outstandingly.
    • Woodard is a darker example, suffering from PTSD-related anger issues, depression, and public suspicion of his quirks.
  • Wham Episode: The fifth episode has a recording of a 911 operator talking to someone who claims to be Julie. She says that she doesn't want to go back and that the man on TV is not her real father.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's not stated what happened to Elisa or her documentary.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: One of the season's recurring themes, given how many examples there are.
    • Lucy sold her own daughter, which led to her son's accidental death. She's devastated, but not devastated enough to tell anyone, which ultimately results in everything bad happening, especially her husband's murder and frame-up. But she's so broken-down, miserable, and seemingly aware of her faults that it's possible to feel some sympathy with her.
    • Junius. He helped Isabella to kidnap Julie after Isabella accidentally killed Will, but he's motivated solely out of love for Isabella and a hope that she'll recover following the death of her husband and daughter, as he'd raised her basically like his own child.
    • Woodard. He is a Friend to All Children who is wrongly suspected of being a pedophile as he is homeless due to his Vietnam-triggered PTSD. After he's attacked by corrupt hicks who believe that he's the killer, he turns the tables on them, killing several of them in a shootout and bombing.
    • Isabella. While she was a fanatical kidnapper and (admittedly accidental) murderer who imprisoned a young girl after killing her brother, and drugged her with lithium, she was also completely emotionally and mentally broken, even slipping into a vegetative state, following the deaths of her husband and daughter in a car accident. After that, she only showed happiness when she was with Julie. After Julie escaped, Isabella committed suicide.

    Season Four 
  • Action Girl: Navarro is a military veteran who beats up several people over the course of the season.
  • All There in the Script: The credits reveal that Travis, the ghost that leads Rose out onto the ice to discover the bodies in Part 1, has the surname "Cohle", implying a connection to Rust from Season 1, but this is never brought up in the series.
  • Animal Motif: Polar bears. Both Danvers and Navarro encounter a one-eyed polar bear, nearly getting into accidents. The former keeps a plush polar bear (missing one eye) that used to belong to her son. At least until she pitches it out her door in "Part 4".
  • Arc Symbol: Spirals. Annie K has a spiral tattoo that she saw in a recurring dream. Clark gets a matching one. Danvers and Navarro find a trailer filled with spirals. A spiral is drawn on one of the scientists' heads. Spirals are drawn on rocks as a warning against thin ice and the danger of falling into "the night country". In the ice caves, there is a giant spiral formed by the bones of some sort of sea serpent frozen in the ceiling.
  • Arc Words: "She is awake."
  • An Arm and a Leg: One character is found frozen into a "corpsicle" after several days. The police only realize he's still alive when an officer accidentally breaks off his forearm and he screams in pain. The hospital has to remove both his legs as well, and his remaining arm isn't looking great, either.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Through the season, Peter Prior's marriage to Kayla grows more strained as he keeps prioritizing his job and the murder investigation over his family.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Hank is obviously getting the classic catfishing treatment from his supposed Russian bride-to-be, so we know what to expect when he arrives to pick her up from the airport. The plane empties out with no Russian bride in sight, leaving Hank expectedly heartbroken... but what's this? A beautiful Slavic-looking woman emerges from the cabin, and she promptly shuts the cabin door, revealing that she's a stewardess.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Navarro receives a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from four men, but by the time she meets Danvers the next day, she doesn't look much worse than disheveled.
  • Call-Back:
    • Apparently the Tuttle family from the first season was funding research at Tsalal Station.
    • Rose's deceased romantic partner is named Travis Cohle. A relative of Rustin Cohle, perhaps?
    • Spirals are an Arc Symbol once again.
    • Clark states that "time is a flat circle," just like Rust Cohle does.
    • Danvers describes a raid she performed with Navarro on a suspect's house years ago, but the her description does not match what we see happen, which is one of them executing the suspect they find there. This same scenario plays out with Harte and Cohle in season 1.
  • Catfishing: Underscoring how pathetic he is, Hank is revealed to be getting catfished by someone claiming to be a beautiful Russian woman whose mother is sick and needs cash for her treatments. The ploy is so obvious that it's not really treated as a twist when he learns the truth.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Navarro shot a man who had abused and murdered his wife in cold blood, and Danvers helped cover it up.
    • Hank Prior is in the pocket of Silver Skies. He helped cover up the murder of Annie K for them and was promised a position as chief of police, but that fell through. He then murders Otis Heiss for the same promise.
  • Driven to Suicide: Julia, Evangeline's sister, kills herself in Episode 4 by walking out onto the frozen sea until she falls through. Navarro claims it's a family curse that drove her to do it.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: Tsalal Research Station was completely abandoned by its crew on the first day of night, and when a delivery of food comes in four days later, all that's found is a tongue, sans body.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The "she" referenced by several characters. All we know is that she's apparently worshipped by the local Native Americans, said to have terrifying eyes, and transcends time.
  • Extreme Doormat: Our two sympathetic male characters are characterized by their extreme passivity toward the female cast.
    • Peter is such a push-over that he can never say no to orders from Danvers, even when she drunk-dials him on Christmas Eve night. He doesn't respond to frequent abuse from Leah, and his own girlfriend affectionately calls him an idiot.
    • Qavvik is almost superhumanly easy-going, even around the volatile Navarro. He lets her come and go at odd hours, insult him, and steal his toothbrush, offering only weak objections at worst and emotional support at best.
  • Feminist Fantasy: This season is the first to focus on two female detectives, and most of the drama centers on feminist themes of female bonding, motherhood, and sisterhood. In the end, it's revealed that the killers are a bunch of female janitors, perhaps aided by a supernatural, unnamed "she" who transcends time. Meanwhile, all the men in the story are either villainous or henpecked.
  • Fingore: It's mentioned that people who work at the fish cannery often lose bits of their hands and fingers. We don't see it happen, but we do see one minor character with two missing fingers. This becomes significant in the final episode, when they find matching handprints in Tsalal.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When the police investigate Tsalal, someone notes that their mission is impossible because genetic material deteriorates when it thaws. In the end, it's revealed that the scientists started using pollution to make their mission possible.
    • The hidden compartment containing the DVD player at Tsalal foreshadows the hidden passage to the ice bunker.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Alaska Police Force, the organization that Navarro is a part of as a state trooper, doesn't exist.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: After Navarro and Danvers find Clark, they tie him to a chair in Tsalal and force him to listen to the video of Annie's death on loop while they go off to get coffee.
  • Karma Houdini: The culprits who killed the Tsalal Scientists— a group of women from Ennis seeking vengance for Annie Kowtok— are never tried or prosecuted.
  • Lethal Negligence: What ends up killing Julia Navarro in "Part 4". She has a mental health episode and is found wandering around while taking off her clothes in midwinter. She resists Danvers (who tries to help her) and is having hallucinations. Instead of being declared a danger to herself and others and getting committed, she is checked into the Lighthouse, a local mental health facility. Because it's a voluntary facility, it has no security to prevent patients from leaving, so she's able to slip away and commit Suicide by Sea. Evangeline accuses the front desk employee of negligence.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: The police accidentally snap the arm off of one of the frozen scientists. He screams, revealing that he was not actually dead yet.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Some seemingly magical events are resolved as conventional, but others remain unexplained:
    • The caribou herd in the opening scene gets collectively spooked by something happening under the ice they are standing on, and they run away in such a fear that they all jump down what looks like a suicide height cliff.
    • Clark freaks out and announces, "She is awake!" immediately before the power gets cut off. It's never revealed how he came by the premonition.
    • When the power goes out in the Tsalal facility, cell phones also go dead at the same time. Since the power was simply cut by a bunch of janitors, it's not explained why cell phones also went dead.
    • The bodies of the Tsalal Crew are found by a woman who's led out on the ice by the ghost of her dead husband. There's no real mundane explanation for this other than extreme coincidence.
    • Both Navarro and Danvers hear eerie voices telling her "She is awake"; in the case of Danvers, she hears her dead son, Holden.
    • Navarro has a message for Danvers from he late son that references a private family memory. Did the dead really talk to her, or did she just get lucky with her message?
    • The surviving scientist's talk with Navarro has no mundane explanation beyond a hallucination.
    • After her sister kills herself, Navarro claims that her family is cursed to be pulled into the sea by something calling out to them. Congenital mental illness, or is there actually something out there?
    • The oranges the keep rolling to the feet of Navarro and Danvers. Supernatural or just a coincidence?
    • The veterinarian says that the men did not die of hypothermia, but the story given by the killers would indicate that they would have died of hypothermia unless the unspecified "she" killed them.
    • The tongue found at the facility was not placed there by the killers, and there is no explanation for its appearance.
  • Mail-Order Bride: Danvers teases Hank about his "mail order bride," but it's actually even more pathetic than that: He's been sending money to a catfishing swindler posing as his Russian girlfriend.
  • Married to the Job: Peter is always in trouble with his girlfriend because he's always away from home doing Danvers' bidding, lacking the spine to say no to her even on Christmas Eve. He never tries to defend himself by noting that he's only been putting in extra hours for several days to investigate a septuple homicide, which suggests that he's been kept away on much more trivial matters before.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Several years ago, Navarro and Danvers worked together on the Annie Kowtok murder case. Kowtok was an Indigenous activist and Navarro, who is Indigenous herself, points out that had she been White, the case would have been solved quickly.
  • Never Found the Body:
    • At the end of Episode 2, when all of the corpses are thawed, it's discovered that two of the researchers are missing. One was previously accounted for as the screaming corpse; the other, Raymond Clark, becomes the prime suspect.
    • In Episode 3 we find out that the screaming man was Anders Lund and he somehow survived the ordeal and the surgery, despite being horribly scarred. He does not react well when he wakes up.
  • The Night That Never Ends: Semi-realistic example, since Ennis is in the Arctic Circle, it has about two months of total darkness, where the sun doesn't rise, in midwinter.
  • The Nothing After Death: Danvers believes in this and is skeptical of the claims that the dead walk in Ennis.
  • Only Mostly Dead: The Ennis Police are understandably shocked when they accidentally break a whole forearm off one of the frozen scientists... and he starts screaming in pain.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: Peter recruits a veterinarian to look over the frozen bodies and give his opinion on the cause of death. Although he's just a vet, the man knows that mammals don't freeze to death with anguished poses and expressions.
  • Patricide: The ending of Part 5 sees Peter kill his father, Hank, as he's about to shoot Danvers.
  • Police Are Useless: Evangeline Navarro, an officer from the Alaska State Troopers, has this opinion of Ennis's police force. After the murder of Annie Kowtok, an Alaskan Native activist protesting against the mining operations in Ennis, Navarro claims that if Annie was a white woman, the police would have solved the case in a matter of months.
  • Softer and Slower Cover: The soundtrack features a number of these, covering some pretty unlikely songs, like Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Save Tonight" and The Beatles' "Twist and Shout."
  • Spotting the Thread: Peter manages to deduce that Danvers and Navarro covered up a murder because Navarro made it look like a suicide by shooting William Wheeler, an abuser and murderer, in the right side of the head... but Wheeler was left-handed. To obfuscate this, Danvers edited photos documenting Wheeler abusing his wife prior to her murder, but missed that she had a birthmark, and its incorrect positioning tips Peter off.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Leah is in a relationship with a 16-year-old girl who is supportive of her attempts to connect with her heritage, unlike Danvers. The idealistic pair volunteer to attend a protest, but rather than bring them closer, the protest turns into a violent riot. Leah is attacked by a burly policeman, and when she calls out for help from her petite girlfriend, the terrified 16-year-old runs away.
  • Tap on the Head: Navarro gets knocked out by a trash can to the head, but wakes up a minute later to beat up her attacker. Other than holding some frozen vegetables to her head at one point, she seems none the worse for wear.
  • Title Drop: At the end of Part 4, Otis Heiss says that Clark, and everyone in Ennis, is in the Night Country.
  • Tongue Trauma: The discovery of a missing, severed tongue (without a body) alongside a mass disappearance triggers the mystery of this season.
  • Toxic, Inc.: Silver Sky Mining, which runs the mine that employs half of the population of Ennis, is polluting the area and affecting the Native population disproportionately, as they can't afford the overpriced food in the town's stores, and can't drink the poisoned water. Part 5 reveals that both Silver Sky and Tsalal are both funded by Tuttle Ltd., and Danvers makes the connection that Tsalal fabricated pollution numbers to make it seem like Silver Sky is less harmful than it actually is. Clark elaborates further in episode 6 that the pollution actually helped the scientists get through the permafrost faster in search of microorganisms, to the point where they were quietly encouraging the mine to pollute even more.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Danvers has a stuffed polar bear missing one eye that belonged to her son, Holden, who died under unknown circumstances prior to the start of the series. Its resemblance to an actual polar bear that's been seen by both Danvers and Navarro has yet to be explained. She pitches it out into the snow on Christmas day when Navarro questions why she keeps it around, despite not believing in an afterlife.
  • Tragic Stillbirth: In "Part 3", the leader of a meeting to protest the mining operation announces that a couple in the community just suffered one and asks for a Moment of Silence. In "Part 5" Danvers's stepdaughter tells her that there have been nine stillbirths in the villages in the last three months. It is implied that they are associated to the pollution caused by the mine.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Episode 1: The last shot of the first episode we see the frozen head of two of the missing scientist's head sticking out from the ice.
    • Episode 2: Two: the first scene where it's revealed that Anders Lund is (barely) still alive, and the shot of the thawing ice clump melting enough for the police to realise that one of the scientists is missing.
    • Episode 3: In the last scene Navarro and Danvers see the last video from Annie Kowtok before she got murdered. Annie reveals she found something under the ice, and is petrified. She tries to say something but is dragged away by something not seen.
    • Episode 4: Danvers finds Navarro in the basement of the dredging platform, bleeding from her ears after a vision of her dead sister, Julia.


Video Example(s):



The moment Velcoro finds out about Aspen, the boy who bullied his son, he goes to his house and promptly beats his father to threaten Aspen and warn him what he would do if he continues to bully.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / BullyHunter

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