Warning: Spoilers ahead.
With only one episode left, everything is starting to come together in season three of HBO’s True Detective. The real nature of the awful 1980 crime seems to have been discovered. Possible suspects are disappearing while likely culprits are showing up in the most grisly ways. Plus Detectives Hays and West seem to nearing the end of their partnership. Or are they rebuilding it? And what does this all have to do with the first season?
Watching the partnership of Hays and West play out over the decades has been one of the most interesting parts of True Detective. At the start of the case, it is obvious the two have worked together for a while. There is a deep respect here. By 1990, the two have gone their separate ways but the respect is still there. When West is first shown in 2015, the partnership and friendship has been over for decades.
Episode seven sheds light on what happened between the two to cause the split. In doing so, it also reveals more about how the case affected Hays. The previous episode made it abundantly clear the 1980 kidnapping has ruined a number of lives. This was shown in Hays’s life primarily through his relationship with Amelia.
‘The Final Country’ showcases the other long relationship in the Arkansas detective’s life. It has been foreshadowed and hinted that something awful happened after the case was reopened in 1990. Even as West is inviting Hays to join the new investigation, there is a tension between the two that did not exist in 1980. This only builds as the two spend more time together and discover more clues about the case.
At first it seems as if Hays is taking the case too personal. The lack of an impersonal investigation seems to clouding his judgement. The episode also shows the depths to which Hays will sink to try to close the case. His actions in this episode more than any other shows how much the case has impaired his thinking.
Trust has also been an important factor in True Detective. Hays has doubted Amelia since early in the season (and possibly since the beginning of their relationship) and has always questioned the actions of his superiors in the Arkansas State Police. Episode seven gives the audience reason to question the motivations of someone else in Hays’s life. It may end up being a red herring, but it is subtly laid out for viewers to question in an excellent bit of writing.
In what seems like a first for the season, the music is actually appropriate to what is happening in the show. As things become more tense, the hard stuttered drums that seemed out of place before fit in perfectly. They add to the tension and seem to be setting a pace for the show. Even better is a scene towards the end of the episode. The two detectives revisit a location that is run down and looks like a set piece out of a 1980’s slasher. The music not only plays well with scene, but forces viewer to pay extra attention.
The writing has been easier to appreciate as the season has progressed. Early on, it was hard to get a handle on how good it was. This was no fault of writer Nic Pizzolatto. True Detective works at a more methodical pace and takes time to take in. Some things are obvious from the get go: the strong performances, the Southern gothic feel, the fact the crime has lingered. The writing takes time and revelations to develop and form a true opinion about.
As the season draws to its close, the beauty of Pizzolatto’s writing has become evident. The character development thought to be found in earlier episodes is much deeper. The relationships are more nuanced and the case has many layers. It has been a complex season that can only be fully appreciated by taking a full view of it. It makes sense to look at a show’s complete body of work to judge it, but this is more true of Pizzolatto’s work. Many times it can be said that a show has consistently good writing. It is rare to need to watch an entire season to capture a sense of how well the writing works. It is even more rare for later episodes to make viewers want to go back to get a better idea of how well written a season was. Yet, True Detective pulls it off.
Season three of True Detective has gotten better with each episode. Now that the mystery is about to draw to a close, the excellent writing is starting to come out. Early episodes that seemed to be merely good have taken on more meaning. This season of the show is worth a rewatch not to catch any missed clues but to marvel at the well paced writing.