Almost three and a half years after its last season ended, True Detective has returned to HBO. The first two episodes of season three debuted and introduces its audience to a brand new mystery. The anthology series takes place over three decades and centers around the disappearance of two children in the Ozarks. The season also seems to be more similar to the first season than the polarizing second one. Is this a good thing or does the latest installment of True Detective play out as a carbon copy?
Episode 1: The Great War and the Modern Memory
True Detective wastes no time in establishing the mood of the season. Set in rural Arkansas, the bleak and depressing atmosphere presents its audience with a hopeless feeling. These houses are run down and there is not a sidewalk to be seen. These are clearly working class people who seem to have little prospects for improvement. It is telling when Detective Wayne Hays and Detective Roland West are first introduced they are sitting in a junkyard drinking beers.
Many mysteries have a sense of dread or tension. In ‘The Great War and the Modern Memory’ there is not as much a feeling of anxiety as there is curiosity. The story takes place over three time periods: the 1980s, 1990, and 2015. The overarching story involves the disappearance of two children in the 1980s. The narrative jumps around between the three different eras and progresses the mystery. Each part of the episode provides a clue that gives more information to the entire story. Meanwhile the mystery deepens, keeping the audience interested. The episode is always giving a little bit of information while opening up more questions.
Mahershala Ali is fantastic in the episode. The Academy Award winner plays Detective Hays with compassion, cynicism, and subdued passion. It is made clear that the most important things in Hays’s life are his family and the case that came into his life. Ali communicates emotion through his eye. Whether he is staring at another character or investigating a crime scene, Hays is focused on whatever the situation is.
The pacing is methodical. While this does provide for time to fully develop all the characters and story, it may frustrate some. Fans of the first season of True Detective will be familiar with this writing style and probably will not be bothered by it, but some may be turned off by what they see as a slow television show.
Episode 2: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
The second episode of the series builds on many relationships. The partnership between the two detectives, the relationship Hays has with his family, and the interaction Hays has with other coworkers aside from Detective West are all explored during the episode. Looking at the relationships Hays has had over three decades paints a picture of the man while also showing how much he has changed. ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ shows the determination and dedication of Hays. It also shows how hard it is for Hays to let people into his life and how difficult it is for him to trust.
Story wise, the second episode has a surprising amount of revelations. This early in any season of a mystery more world building and looking for clues is to be expected. There may be a minor reveal (which this episode has with a detective’s nickname) but there is a major revelation. While it may seemed rushed, it makes complete sense as it explains what is happening in the 1990s and gives insight as to why the case is still talked about in 2015. There is also a comment about West that is placed as a seemingly throwaway line. The characters barely react, but it immediately leads to many questions.
The two episode season premiere of the third season of True Detective will remind long time fans of the first season. There may some similarities, but this is definitely a new story. The characters and story are engaging while the show is already asking questions about trust and our own memories. The pacing may seem a little off at times, but this is easily a show worth checking out.