Lieutenant Kevin Burris — played expertly by James Frain on True Detective — is the kind of shadowy background figure that makes for a perfect mystery killer: He’s not that obvious, but he’s also not a last-minute surprise. He’s in every episode, he makes vague pronouncements, he’s smart, and he seems like the kind of guy a television writer might pin the murder upon.
The notion that Kevin Burris might be behind the death of Ben Caspere is not exactly novel. He’s one of the first people many expect, for exactly the above reasons. But what if there is a twist: What if Kevin Burris did kill Ben Caspere, but he’s also one of the good guys, or at least he thinks he is. What if Burris killed Caspere not out of malevolence, but for the greater good? What if he’s doing it to protect Attorney General Geldof, who he believes to be the best man for the job of California governor?
Inspired by a mind-blowing-if-true Reddit theory, I went back and re-watched all of Kevin Burris’ scenes in True Detective today to see what the case for Burris as the killer might look like.
Here’s what we know:
It was Burris who brought the disappearance of Ben Caspere to Ray’s attention and assigned him to the missing person’s case. He wanted Ray to investigate Caspere, maybe not to find the true killer, but to uncover what Caspere was hiding, the missing disk drive. After the murder, it was Burris who insisted that Ray and the Vinci PD be involved in the investigation, despite the fact that it wasn’t technically in Vinci’s jurisdiction.
Later, when Ray asks if he’s supposed to actually solve the murder, Burris tells Ray that “dualities must be accepted to serve the public interest.” That may suggest Burris is accepting his own dualities by working within the Vinci PD in order to serve another interest, also known as Geldof.
Remember, too, that the Birdman shot Ray with riot shells, “like a cop would use.” However, he didn’t want to kill Ray. He just wanted to get that hidden disk drive.
Here’s where the fascinating Reddit theory comes into play: What if, when Ray was knocked unconscious after being shot with riot shells, he wasn’t actually speaking to his father in a dream, but he was speaking to the Birdman/Burris?
It makes sense.
Ray’s dream was already being affected by outside stimuli… the Conway Twitty song. What if he was also hearing Burris speaking to him? Consider this: The first thing that Ray’s dream dad says is, “You’ve got your father’s hands,” so the Birdman has to be someone who knew Ray’s father. Ray’s father knew Burris. Ray’s dad spoke about Burris later in the episode, in fact, saying that Burris is “good man” who left his old job and joined the Vinci PD because “he’s f**king smart.” What if he’s also “f*cking smart” enough to work for Geldof in order to further his career?
Ray’s dream dad also warned Ray that people were trying to kill him. Maybe Burris is “a good man.” Maybe he was trying to protect Ray — after all, he could’ve killed him. But he wanted to keep him alive. He’s not after Ray. He’s just after the disk drive.
Then, Ray asks his dream dad, “Where is this?” and his dream dad responded, “I don’t know. You were here first.” So, if Ray was actually speaking to the killer, then he lead the Birdman to Caspere’s sex dungeon. He led the killer to the disk drive he was no doubt trying to torture Caspere to find in order to protect Geldof.
Note, too, that Burris was at the crime scene the next morning, even though — again — it wasn’t in his jurisdiction. But he wanted to stay ahead of it and make sure that he knew everything about the investigation.
Later in that episode, in a room with the other authorities discussing the shooting, it’s Burris who asks Ray, “And you didn’t get a look at him?” as if ensuring that he/The Birdman wasn’t identified.
Moreover, recall again in the fourth episode, before Ray got involved in the shootout with Ledo Amarilla that Burris asked, “Do you feel all this manpower is warranted?” Maybe he was trying to protect the officers because, deep down, he thinks he is a good guy. Maybe at this point, however, Ray had gotten too close to blowing it open, so Burris set him up.
Finally, if Detective Dixon was working for Burris, it would make sense that Burris would show up to Ray’s house in the most recent episode, not to ask about Ray, but ask him about Dixon. He “had a lot of photographs, maybe he was was into some people,” Burris suggested of Dixon, trying to find out if Ray knew anything. To find out if Ray was a threat.
In sum: Burris is not just a good hunch based on who he is on the show. The evidence actually lines up to suggest that Detective Burris could actually be the killer, but that he’s probably working not for Chessani, but for Attorney General Geldof.