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Take Note, 'True Detective': This Is How To Fake Killing Off a Character

By Dustin Rowles | True Detective | July 6, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | True Detective | July 6, 2015 |

There are spoilers for the first three episodes of True Detective, and the second episode of Mr. Robot, and — to be safe — the fifth season finale of Game of Thrones.

The second episode of True Detective this season ended on a scene where our mystery killer — wearing a crow’s mask — sneaked in behind Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), who was investigating a murder scene in a sex dungeon, and shot him in the arm before Velcoro could fire back. Before we could even process that a shotgun blast to the arm might not kill Ray, the Birdman killer walked over to Ray’s body, aimed the shotgun at Ray’s chest from about a foot away, and blasted another round into his sternum.

For a brief and heart-stopping moment before the credits rolled, it felt like True Detective had done something truly ballsy: They’d killed off the biggest star of this season of True Detective, and they’d done it after only two episodes.

Within five minutes, however, no one on the Internet truly believed Ray was dead anymore than we believe that Jon Snow is dead on Game of Thrones. It would’ve been dumb (even dumber than this season of True Detective already is) to kill off Ray at this point because his arc had barely begun, because he’s the biggest draw on the series, and — as we learned from season one of TD — Pizzolatto doesn’t have the courage to kill off his main characters.

So we waited a week for what we knew would be an anti-climactic reveal (after all, there were scenes from future episodes with Ray in them in the trailers for the series), only to find out that Pizzolatto had punked out with a riot-gun. I don’t know a lot about riot gun shells, but here’s a guy in 2011 being shot at close range with one.

Clearly, it was a sh*tty thing for the cop to do, but the blast didn’t even knock his victim unconscious. Why then was Ray knocked out for hours and subjected to a Conway Twitty impressionist? That’s just cruel for both Ray and the viewers at home.

It was a lame reveal, and further cost us trust in Pizzolatto (in fact, after Stan died in the third episode, many online were already suggesting that he’s not actually dead).

On the other hand, if you’re watching Mr. Robot — and you should be, because it’s the best show of the summer — we were treated to a similar cliffhanger at the end of episode two. In it, the sketchy Mr. Robot (played by Christian Slater) compelled the lead character, Elliot (Rami Malek) to tell him about his father’s dead.

Elliot, in turn, relayed that, when he was eight years old, he broke his father’s trust by revealing to his mother that his Dad was dying of leukemia. In return, his enraged father pushed him out a window, which resulted in Elliot breaking an arm. After sharing this sad tale with Mr. Robot, our sympathies for Elliot were never higher.

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That’s when Mr. Robot asked, “Did you ever think he was right?”

“About what?”

“About hurting you that day. For what you did to him. Did you ever think you deserved it?”

“I didn’t do anything to him. I was trying to help him,” Elliot asserted.

“By betraying his trust?”

“I was eight years old ….” Elliot said, before Mr. Robot PUSHED HIM OFF THE LEDGE.

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End episode.

That was a terrific, heart-stopping moment. In fact, I rewound the scene three or four times because I thought I’d missed something. Did Mr. Robot really just push him off the ledge after Elliot poured his heart out? Holy Shit.

But here’s the thing: I do not believe for a second that Elliot is dead. But it also doesn’t matter, because Elliot’s death is not necessary for that scene to be effective. It was shocking, yes, but not simply for the sake of being shocking. That scene provided more insight into both characters. We learned about Elliot’s mysterious backstory. We learned why he’s probably fucked up the way he is today. We also learned that Mr. Robot does not fuck around. When he said earlier in the episode that he was prepared to kill people to carry out his mission, we believe him. Mr. Robot also does not suffer fools or work with people who betray his trust. “You didn’t commit to the sacred pact you formed.”

The scene brilliantly set up the next episode, not because we are concerned about Elliot’s fate (I assume that he’s injured in the fall, but not fatally), but because it shifts the dynamic between Elliot and Mr. Robot. Will Elliot turn against Mr. Robot for shoving him off the ledge? Or will Elliot come to the same conclusion that Mr. Robot had: That eight-year-old Elliot had betrayed his father by revealing to his mother that her husband had leukemia. That he shoudl accept responsibility for it, no matter how old he was.

The moment left us reeling, but it also furthered the plot, developed the characters, and left us in suspense not about Elliot’s fate, but about the aftermath. Meanwhile, the best thing to come out of Ray Velcoro’s brush with death is that he pissed himself, which seems like the perfect metaphor for the series so far this season.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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