The third season of True Detective is drawing to a close. As it nears its end, answers are starting to form and hard realizations are coming to the forefront. It is also clear the show is as much about consequences as it is about truths.
***Warning: Spoilers ahead***
Episode six immediately addresses the cliffhanger from the previous episode. There were plenty of questions as to whether the person originally convicted of the 1980 disappearances was actually guilty. Even ignoring the fact the case is still being investigated almost three decades later, there is something about the whole incident that just does not sit well. Still, the mysterious phone call at the end of episode of five is one of the biggest surprise’s of the season.
Starting with the season’s premiere, Tom Purcell has constantly been shown as the victim. It is almost impossible for the audience to not want to take his side. After his children are kidnapped, everything begins to fall apart in Tom’s life. There is always the initial suspicion that falls on the parents when their children go missing. True Detective deftly avoids those lingering doubts.
Instead, Tom is portrayed as a down on his luck character who is constantly being kicked in the teeth by life. His wife cheats on him, his co workers mock him, and his in-laws despise him. He is poor and an alcoholic. When Tom is first seen in 1990, he is recovering from his addictions thanks to Detective West, but even then there is a sense of despair that surrounds him. Tom is the most pitiful character of the season.
The sixth episode of the season goes a long way to reinforcing this personification. What the show also does is revisit questions that should have been dealt with when the mystery first occurred. Much of ‘Hunters in the Dark’ is a look at how Tom’s mind has been destroyed by the events of 1980. This is somewhat obvious; he is the parent of missing children, after all. But the events of the episode show just how fragile is mind is.
The season has also spent much time exploring the how destructive the case as been to so many lives. Thought it initially brought Detective Hays and Amelia together, it also looks like it may have been the catalyst that tears them apart. By the time 2015 has come around, Hayes is essentially a hermit who does not even want to hear about the old investigation. Even those on the fringes of the 1980 disappearance seem to have seen their lives negatively impacted.
Hit most of all by the shocking kidnappings is the town itself. Small and poor to being with, the area looked like it was a forgotten part of Arkansas that only its residents knew existed. In episode six it is explained the town died after the tragedies. This is unsurprising since the people have a very strange relationship. Because it is so small, everyone knows each other. Even the deepest secrets seem to be common knowledge. This leads to the entire place being quick to jump to conclusion. It also leads to an odd sense of looking out for each other. It is a tenuous bond and it is unsurprising to hear it has fallen apart. Still, it is sad.
There are some very strong performances in the episode. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff have been consistently excellent. Scott McNairy has also done a great job throughout the season and really has the chance to shine here. He is still a character to be pitied, even when he decides to take matters into his own hands. Michael Graziadei may have been in the best scene of the episode. Playing Lucy Purnell’s cousin Dan O’Brien, Grazadei plays perfectly off of Ali, Dorff, and McNairy. Hays and West can arguably seen as background characters to the drama of the episode.
It is in ‘Hunters in the Dark’ that the excellent pacing of the show really stands out. True Detective has been a show that has allowed its story to breath. Nothing has been rushed and its characters and mysteries have been allowed to develop at their own pace. Some may even find the pacing of the show too slow.
As the season comes to its end, it is becoming obvious that everything in the show has been done for a reason. Clues that were discovered and solved are being reexamined and shown in a new light. Comments made in episode one are taking shape in episode six. This has been a show with no wasted motion.
For all it has done right, the show does have some flaws. Early on it seemed like there was something more to the relationship between Hays’s son Ray and true crime investigator Elisa. The true nature is revealed in the episode and it is anticlimatic. It seems like the entire purpose of the affair is to allow Hays to deliver a monologue on never holding information. (In all fairness, this does play into events from the episode, but it still comes off as a stretch.)
The ending and direction the season appears to be heading in will probably be very polarizing. True Detective has always been more than your standard police procedural, but this season seemed to go all in on its grounded mystery. Previous episodes have hinted to a larger conspiracy, but ‘Hunters in the Dark’ is teasing the crime is much more fantastic than initially expected. The last few episodes of the season will determine how well this is received. However, is a shock to see a gritty and realistic mystery seemingly take a twist similar to one seen in a horror movie.
Episode six is probably the most engaging of the third season of True Detective. This makes perfect sense as the show is coming to its finale. The acting has somehow gotten better while the story remains intriguing. It will be interesting to see where the mystery heads after the episode’s shocking conclusion. How this season ends will determine its overall legacy.