The two episode season premiere of HBO’s True Detective set expectations as to what audiences will see. The third season will span three eras, looks like it will be character driven, and has an engaging mystery involving missing children. The show also has a lot to live up to since the first season was so well received while its follow up was met with mixed results. Season three got off to a great start. Was that a sign of things to come or false hope?
One of the most important themes of the newest season of True Detective is memory. Mahershala Ali plays Detective Wayne Hayes and up to now two things have been established about him. His partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) considers Hayes a good detective due to his attention to detail and tracking abilities. Unfortunately, Hayes’s memory – which has always been suspect – has only gotten worse with age. This is shown very well during the episode, especially during the second half. The intense stare of Hayes initially seems studious, but later it is one of confusion. Hayes is an undoubtedly good tracker, but there are reasons to believe he may not be as good of a detective as others believe. It also begs the question of just how long has Hayes memory been a problem.
‘The Big Never’ also does a great job of using the faulty memory of Hayes to unlock more clues. There are some events that definitely happened. Kids in Arkansas went missing and he married and had a son a daughter for example. Everything else on the show can be looked at with hesitation, however. It adds to the ever deepening mystery and keeps the audience engaged.
It is not uncommon for mysteries to have a a big reveal then suddenly say someone had blocked it out of their memory. True Detective is going in a different direction. Memory is definitely playing a big part in the story which has provided True Detective with an unreliable narrator, but it also not being used as a deus ex machina. Hayes’s memory has been under scrutiny since the first episode. There is already the obvious mystery of the missing children, but there is also the question of Hayes involvement in the case.
True Detective tells its story in a non linear fashion as the show jumps across three decades. This is done very well and once again memory plays a huge role. For the most part there are smooth cuts between the time changes. Sometimes the camera work makes it look as if characters are rethinking what had happened. More impressive is when it looks as if the characters are looking ahead in their lives. It is as if they are “remembering forward”. These moments effortlessly blend into the episode and make what can be jumbled and confusing more cohesive.
The first three episodes of True Detective have done a great job of examining the working relationship between Hayes and West. Ali and Dorff have great chemistry and the scenes with the two together are the best moments of the show. It is clear that at some point, the two stopped working together and the second episode implies the end of their working relationship may not have been completely amicable. ‘The Big Never’ delves deeper into this, revealing what has happened to both men and implying why they went their separate ways. The revelations explain a lot about both characters.
Watching the two detectives investigate the disappearances are the episode’s highlights. It is interesting seeing them both look over clues and put them together. West is definitely the more confrontational of the two and watching him interrogate people is as interesting as seeing Hayes track things down. The two have a great dynamic that sparks further interest in the case.
Director Daniel Sackheim’s direction looks best when shooting the large park volunteers are searching for the children in. The area takes on an otherworldly look that brings a deeper tension to the story. The camera work does an excellent job of highlight the tracking ability of Hayes. There are also some angles that give the impression that someone is watching the detective as he works. It gives the scenes an added paranoia and tension the rest of the episode does not have.
There are some odd choices may in the otherwise stellar episode. Dorff does a great job of keeping up with Ali’s performance, but at times is saddled with generic tough guy dialogue. There is also a typical scene in which Hayes takes his children to a Wal Mart years after the initial kidnappings. What happens next is predictable and add little. The soundtrack may be the weirdest part of the episode. It is either the standard fare you would expect from this sort of show or it is not appropriate for the scenes. Simple conversations will have tension filled beats while crime investigations will have music better suited for a horror movie. While these do not make True Detective unwatchable, they are noticeable.
‘The Big Never’ continues to progress the investigation and characters introduced in the premiere of the third season of True Detective. The show moves at a steady pace and brings more mystery and questions into an already intriguing story. There are some rough moments with dialogue and the soundtrack does not seem to fit the current tone of the show, but overall it is a very enjoyable experience.