The Hidden Meaning of True Detective Season 2


True Detective was one of the most fascinating television series of the last years. Author Jay Dyer explores the deeper meaning of the massively underrated second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s hit series and finds traces of the same elements of subtle esoteric themes, almost as intense as the first season’s psychodrama. “If season 1 was the outer journey into metaphysical questions relating to the higher dimensions and portals, season 2 is the inner journey of the psyche and the dream state unconscious”, Dyer writes.

This article was originally published at and is reposted here with Dyer’s approval.

“All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes. This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas, created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.”

-Carl Gustav Jung, The Structure of the Psyche (1927), in Collected Works Vol. 8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, P. 342

Those elements unknown

Nic Pizzolatto’s second season of True Detective was quite a blend, spicing and saucing us with influences that ranged from classics of neo-noir like Chinatown, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks, The Black Dhalia and a dash of Weekend at Bernie’s with a side of CHiPs. In the midst of all this homage, however, we do find traces of the same elements of subtle occult and esoteric elements, almost as disturbingly intense as last season’s psychodrama.

In this essay and analysis, we will examine and highlight those elements ignored and unknown to the mass of online critics, whose state school “arts” education long ago disabled any semblance of ability to recognize any meaning or significance beyond trite, boring gender obsessions. Indeed, this season’s disregard for politically correct absurdities is welcomed and likely a source of much of the critical opprobrium.

The name game

Last season’s intention I argued was to capture the essence of the soul’s grappling with the forces of darkness and light in a world where it seems darkness owns the day. Even a nihilistic Nietzschean Übermensch can be tamed, and the heart’s senses rekindled anew, as we witnessed Rust Cohle’s transformation and Marty’s moral cowardice.

Here things get much more complex, with a variety of characters and a labyrinthine plot of crooked cops, diamonds, New age cults, human trafficking, drugs and gangs, big land deals, elite sex parties and mobster moves.

Of particular interest to myself was the surprising fact that even Vanity Fair was willing to go down the rabbit hole in JaysAnalysis fashion, correctly likening the secretive, full-moon sex parties of the elite to their most obvious Northern California analogue, the infamous Bohemian Grove Club. (Although the rumors surrounding Bohemian Grove don’t involve gorgeous Eastern European women.)

Each character’s name is also significant, where Frank Semyon (Russian for Simon) means I would speculate “frankly, God has heard.” It also might relate to the vice of simony, or selling spiritual things for money. In either case, Frank’s attachment to money, for his noble goal of having offspring ends up being the end itself, since what was supposed to be a means becomes the unfortunate end, as Frank dies in an arid, landless desert. Irony is apparent here, since Frank is the one who poisoned the California land to ensure farmers would move away providing ease of access for his rail corridor investment.

This life is death

Season 2’s focus was both hermetic, yet straightforward. Each of our main characters will face the future successfully only insofar as they allow the relationships to their archetypes in the nuclear family cloud or ruin their present relations. Notions of paternity, progeny and seed dominate, with the phallus taking the center stage from last season’s anal focus.

For Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), the ability to have children to pass on his budding mobster empire to as inheritance, to have land, is the ultimate goal, yet he finds himself impotent through erectile issues.

Frank, we discover, was abused as a child, beaten and left for dead, locked in a dank basement he ponders may have actually been his tomb. As we will see with Ray, Frank is correct in his pillow talk musings, that his life is a dream, as if he is dead, all is “paper mache.”

The esoteric theme for season 2 will be that this life is death, and death is entrance into the waking life.

For Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), the uncertainty of the biological paternity of his son mirrors his own drunk father’s failures, as Ray takes on “the sins of the fathers,” as they pass on to the sons. Lost in his own mentally-constructed prison, Ray struggles to maintain his sanity amidst a haze of booze, pot and coke, in the hopes he can gain custody of his pudgy, soft son.

Ray’s disastrous relationship with his possible son and wife are disastrous due to his own mistake in seeking inside information on his wife’s rapist. Linking up with Semyon and going on bad information, Ray takes justice into his own hands and murders the wrong thug, leading to a downward spiral of more abuse, more outbursts and emotional train wrecks that bring Ray to the edge of self-imposed death.

Waking up

Ray’s name is Raymond, which signifies “wise protector” in German, and certainly Ray exemplifies this virtue, yet his last name betrays his fault, the strange modern artifact of “velcro,” which is an artifact of synthetic attachment. Ray is attached like velcro to his own past traumas that are largely self-inflicted.

As a man of the law like his own father, Ray unfortunately became compromised (like his policeman father) and began a side project of working as Frank’s secret inside the force tough guy. Leading a double life, Ray is never able to reconcile this doubleminded double identity, as he edges closer and closer to death with each episode. In fact, he even briefly crosses the bridge into oblivion when he is shot with riot shells and passes into the aether, conversing with his father about how, exactly he will die in the tall trees as Conway Twitty wails “The Rose” in full 70s glitz. One of the keys to this season will be this scene, with Ray’s father telling him to wake up, in concert with the lyrics (more on this below).

The inner shamanic journey

Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) was also abused as a child by her creepy hippy commune father’s Mansonesque vagabond cohort, snatched away for days in a VW van and molested in the woods. Hardened by suppressed abuse, locked away in her unconscious mind, Ani’s rough and tough exterior masks a voracious sexual appetite that shocks and startles her average male partners, leading to her own interest in porn as she simultaneously struggles to swat raid porn pushers, lecture her sister on sexual ethics and dismiss both her lovers on the force.

Ani’s relationship to her father determines her course, as her inner anger at the molestation is placed on her father’s below lackluster parental performance. Seeking solace in bizarre new age spirituality, Ani’s father is distant and removed, like each of the other main characters.

The subtle references to Carlos Castenada and the Chessani family’s preference for psychedelics by the creepy plastic surgeon suggest the inner shamanic journey, which each character will be forced to embark upon, as a contrast to last season’s outer worlds focused metaphysics.

Like Sophocles’ play, Antigone has disowned her sister and ends up a stubborn heroine just like her Greek analogue. Ani’s sister is a direct parallel to Ismene, as both docile and beautiful, serving as Ani’s foil.

Like Antigone in the play, Bezzerides defies the corruption of the state to honor the name of her son through Velcoro, meaning that unlike the ancient Antigone, she exits the cave of death. The interesting question here is how she exits the cave of death, which I read as her life previous to the conclusion of season 2.

Only by facing the corrupt elite at the Eyes Wide Shut style orgy and gaining the information necessary to expose the criminal network could this be done, and in turn, that could only be achieved by posing as a prostitute herself, taking ecstasy and regressing to her childhood self where she sees the face of her molestor.

The drug trip forces Ani to embark on an inner journey set to a dreamy Disney-like score that suggests a possible mind control programming that recalls something out of Fantasia, The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland.

Monarch butterflies

Highway Patrol Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) also deals with sexual issues in the case of his suppressed homosexual desires manifest in his instances of drug bingeing and blacking out. A former vet and private security operative with the curiously titled firm Black Mountain, Paul is both tempted and repulsed by his former partner and war veteran lover.

Paul is missing a father figure in his life, too, with a derelict gambling addict mother we discover was a former showgirl who admits she never wanted a child for career reasons.

What all these character studies demonstrate is the immense damage absentee and abusive parenting can create, especially in the case of the role of the “missing male,” a trope I have highlighted many times, hearkening back to Odysseus and his journey.

Monarch butterflies in this case are significant, as representation of the process of transformation. As is often the case, for all 4 principal characters, trauma-based mind control appears, as all 4 are imprisoned to the Monarch butterflies in this case are significant in reference to Paul Woodruff, as a representation of the process of transformation. As is often the case, for all 4 principal characters, trauma-based mind control appears, as all 4 are imprisoned to the “system” they serve, ultimately in their own minds.

Paul as a name of course recalls St. Paul, and just as the travelling evangelist longed to be on the road and forget his past life of persecution, so does Woodruff seek to remain a highway man. Implicated in a tabloid sex scandal involving a Hollywood actress who falsely accuses him of harassment, Paul’s assassin past as a veteran and member of Black Mountain Security never cease haunting him, with “Woodruff” being a quite obvious innuendo translating to rough wood. Unintentionally siring offspring, Woodruff is intent on “being a good man” to make up for his murderous past that inflicts severe PTSD.

Like the other characters, the traumas they have experienced have resulted in split personalities in varying degrees, with only Ani successfully facing and overcoming her trauma. In this regard, season 2 is ultimately a retelling of Sophocles’ Atingone. Yet much more is at work still that should be explored.

The full moon party

Having explored the characters’ psyches, we look now to the plot details and imagery that constitute the esoteric backdrop to the show’s conspiracy-laced themes.

Quite clearly the Bohemian Club and possibly even ritual sex magick are in the background, though this is only hinted at. The logo for the elite sex party features twin peaks with a moon in the background, and while we only see sex and drugs at the party, the land developer explicitly mentions that deals are best done “on a full moon.” The scene ends with a full moon visible as the camera fades, suggesting the possibility of cultic meaning behind the timing of the orgy.

The locale of the party and Ani’s Guerneville Commune come close to the locale of Bohemian Grove, and the overt references to Twin Peaks impel us to remember the “owls are not what they seem.” (The owl of Bohemian Grove, that is). In fact, episode one shows Mulholland Drive’s street sign, as well as Ray talking into his audio recorder, channeling Agent Cooper’s disembodied Diane.

Blood and soil

As mentioned, Ray’s aetherial dream sequence gives the ominous prophecy of his death through the sage figure of his own father, as he is instructed to “wake up,” from the dream.

The dream has a double meaning, both to the literal dream, and the present life, which both Ray and Frank describe as death and a dream. Both characters are continuously aware of their dates with destiny, as the wheels of fortune decree the wages of their sins will be paid through opposition to the corruption they helped foster, paid in their own blood that is to be spilled on the land. Blood and soil here serve a redemptive, sacrificial purpose, since both men are murderers whose blood will spilled in return to atone for the havoc they wreaked.

As for California as the setting, the parallels to Polanski’s Chinatown also bear mentioning, since William Mulholland, a key figure in the development of California’s water system, plays into that fictional presentation of real-world corruption.

The basis for Chinatown was the “California Water Wars” and the inside corruption on the part of elites who manufactured drought conditions to mask a massive water scam involving land deals. In True Detective season 2, the land deal figures prominently, where a land deal for a railway corridor with billions in state-funded subsidies operating as the boondoggle’s true treasure chest.

Photos in the Vinci Mayor Chessani’s office show him colluding with Republican big wigs like the Bushes also suggest Bohemian Grove, since the Grove has tended to favor a more neo-conservative and corporate roster. Note that Ani’s would-be sex partner at the orgy is an “oil man.” Could the timing of season 2 with California’s drought have a twilight language reference to Chinatown? I suspect.

Santa Muerte

Also crucial in this season are the numerous images of Marian statues and “Santa Muerte,” specifically referenced more than once.

Santa Muerte is the syncretistic worship of Mary as “Saint Death,” often associated with MS13, the Mexican Cartel responsible for Frank’s untimely demise.

In season 2’s plot, MS13’s collusion with corrupt officialdom is made manifest in the Santa Muerte statue at Caspere’s sex pad. Along with dildos and numerous other fetish oddities, Caspere’s lavish abode is decidedly marked by the statue of “Saint Death.”

We later learn the cartel was, in fact, running the drugs with the approval of corrupt cops that had also hired Black Mountain Security for the blackmailing of Woodruff. Black Mountain is a stand in for Blackwater and Blue Mountain, both of which have figured prominently in the last decade in connection to the debacles of Iraq and Benghazi. Indeed, it is even hinted the infamous LA riots may have been more than they appeared.

Hollywood is implicated, too, as the set for an apocalyptic film is the real location of the season’s killer, where unexpectedly a set photographer was involved in the child trafficking network having been nabbed with his sister during the riots.

As Caspere’s death is covered up, ready-made news footage (that recalls season 1) rolls out as other crooked politicians and officials step in to take over the vast land deal. Stolen diamonds are the source of the troubles and the diamonds are of more import than appears on the surface. In alchemy, the diamond is a representation of the self and the reconciliation of opposites.

The turn of the season

M. L. Von Franz comments, “The Self is symbolized with special frequency in the form of a stone…. The nuclear center, the Self, also appears as a crystal…. The crystal often symbolically stands for the union of extreme opposites – of matter and spirit.” (“The Process of Individuation,” in Man and his Symbols, ed. C. G. Jung). The diamond’s four-sided geometry signifies our four main characters, and recalls the four elements of the ancient world.

Without proper transformation, the alchemical process results in disintegration and dissolution, and this is why only Bezzerides survives of the four, being the only one who overcame her personal trauma and changed as a result, becoming a mother through giving her love in union to another to Velcoro with the intent of producing offspring. Carl Jung speaks of this as follows:

“In the Practice of Psychotherapy, Carl Jung discussed the archetypal underpinnings of love between people in terms of the rose: “The wholeness which is a combination of ‘I and you’ is part of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped in symbols like the rose or the coniunctio (Conjunction).”

This is why the “rose” and “springtime” are mentioned numerous times in this season. The turn of the seasons is also quaternary like the geometry of the diamond, divide into fours like our main characters. Trapped in their own cyclical, spiraled, psychical prisons that echo Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, Betty in Mulholland Drive or Fred in Lost Highway, the symbol of the rose is the signpost for exiting the winding, spiraled lost freeway of California fame that populate the opening title sequence.

If season 1 was the outer journey into metaphysical questions relating to the higher dimensions and portals, season 2 is the inner journey of the psyche and the dream state unconscious. As we read in Bette Middler’s song lyrics that characterize the narrative, it’s not just the transmission of seed in the sexual act, love is also about the transformation of the individual’s psyche throughout this life of death, in preparation for death, which is entrance into real life.

It’s the “dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance,” in the case of Woodruff, Velcoro and Semyon, and for Bezzerides as Antigone, the seed of life will blossom into the rose of her new life, both in her psyche and in her offspring.

Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger an endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower and you, it’s only seed

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking that never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying that never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the winter snow
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose


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Jay Dyer

Jay Dyer’s graduate work focused on the interplay of film, geopolitics, espionage and psychological warfare. He is a public speaker, lecturer, comedian and author of the popular title Esoteric Hollywood: Sex, Cults and Symbols in Film. Visit his website for more in-depth analysis of movies and TV series.

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