The third season of True Detective has been a time hopping narrative focused on the disappearance of two children in 1980. What separates the HBO show from other police dramas is the attention paid to character development. Obviously, the kidnapping and murder of young kids is the driving force behind the show, but the what keeps audiences engaged is the many relationships that are in the show. The fourth episode continues to explore the show’s many interpersonal connections.
‘The Hour and the Day’ takes a deeper look at the relationship of Hays and his son, Ray. Earlier episodes of the season have shown that Ray essentially serves as his father’s caregiver. The elder Hays’s memory has reached the point that he is a danger to himself. Ray is very firm with his father and takes a leadership role in the relationship between the two. Ray has taken such a decisive role, that his father must resort to outrageous threats in order to get his way. Episode four shows the younger Hays at work which explains his no nonsense attitude.
The episode also looks at marriage between Hays and Amelia. Previous episodes have done a good job in showing the almost instantaneous connection the two had between them. From watching them flirt in the 1980s to seeing the on a stakeout in 1990 it has been clear that the two have a very strong relationship. When Hays is alone later in life, he spends much of his time thinking back on his wife.
The relationship building done in previous episodes makes the scenes in “The Hour and the Day’ come off as pointless. It seems like part of the reason is to show the toll the lingering case has had on the life of Hays. But that has been done better already. At times it also looks like the writers are trying to show how much the couple love each other. But that has been done effectively also. What the audience ends up with are drawn out scenes that seem more like padding.
The pacing of the episode is odd. The closing moments are tense and the episode’s highlight, but the rest of the show is all over the map. One example, is the amount of silly banter in the show. They are appropriate for the particular moment, but there is more of it than any other episode of the season. This is easily the funniest episode of the third season, but halfway through the season seems like an odd time to have a laugh a minuet episode.
Transitions also lack the smoothness from earlier in the season. Whereas before they looked like flashbacks and even flash forwards, in ‘The Hour and the Day’ scenes simply fade to black as the show heads into a different era. This may be thematic – and there is not anything necessarily wrong with the choice – but after a season of creatively done scene changes, it is noticeable. Especially when the episode randomly seems to stop using them before suddenly doing it again.
The main takeaway from the show is how it has handled racism. There has always been an undercurrent of the division between people. Episode three even had some moments that were very clearly race related. Episode four has a number of scenes that confront the race issue head on. These moments do an excellent job of not just showing what the people of the region are like, but of displaying the escalating emotions. There is a silly scene between Detective West and John Purcell that comes off as pandering to the audience, but otherwise the scenes are well written.
Episode four of the third season of True Detective is an example of a good idea not executed to its full potential. The most noticeable problem with the show is the writing can get unfocused. Scenes tend to wander into uninteresting pageants or seem completely irrelevant. But when the show deals with its characters and case without straying, it is impossible to look away.