The second episode of True Detective’s new season continues to reveal an intriguing mystery and some fantastic acting.
The third season of True Detective premiered this past weekend with the first two episodes. You can check out our review of episode 1 here, but today we’re diving into the second episode. The story begins with Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), a Vietnam Vet and former Detective who in 2015 is losing his memory as an old man. Hays is haunted by a case from 1980 centered around the disappearance of Will and Julie Purcell, a set of young siblings who disappeared after going for a ride on their bikes. Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) wrapped up the case in the 80’s only for it to be reopened in 1990 when the person convicted of kidnapping and killing the kids attempted to clear their name. Now in 2015, Hays works to remember the details of the past while being interviewed by a film crew documenting the case.
This episode leaned heavily into the fact that the 70 something year old Hays in 2015 is losing his memory, and while diving back into the Purcell case helps, he’s still slowly losing everything. We find out in this episode that him and his wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), had another child, a daughter that rarely speaks with Wayne. His son, Henry (Ray Fisher), has a family of his own, and we get to see them share dinner with Wayne, as he shows more signs of losing his memory. It’s a difficult scene, and it’s a testament to Ray Fisher’s acting chops as he holds that scene together in the best way possible. And when Henry finally breaks and walks away from the dinner table, we can intensely feel his pain without him having to say a single word.
As for the case, in 1980 the two detectives speak with “Cousin Dan” (Michael Graziadei), Lucy Purcell’s cousin who stayed at the house for a few months and recently left. When first looking through the house, they found a small hole in Will’s closet that peeked into Julie’s room. Dan stayed in Will’s room, leading the detectives to believe Dan may have had a part in Will and Julie’s disappearance. While they’re unable to get a good read on Dan at Will’s funeral, they later chase a lead on a man who served time for pedophilia. They end up beating up and torturing the man, but find that he’s not responsible for the Purcell case.
The only lead they have is a bunch of dolls made of straw, which honestly bring back feelings of Season one’s devil’s nests. The dolls were left in a trail to Will’s body in the first episode, and they’re essentially the only clue they have moving forward. Against the detectives wishes, the mayor and the other higher ups decide to release the information about the dolls to the public. As they believe Julie was given one while trick or treating the week prior to the kids’ disappearance. This leads to raised tension within the town, and an outcome that isn’t quite clear yet, but is sure to raise tension across the board moving forward.
Finally, in 1990, we learned at the end of the first episode that Julie may still be alive. Her prints were found at a robbery in another city. In 1990 they’re trying to reopen the case to free whoever was convicted of the kidnapping and killing, while also trying to find Julie. Hays is given this info about Julie during a deposition for the currently convicted suspect/criminal’s trail. He talks with the district attorney who also helped on the case in 1980 and they agree to work together a bit to move forward and solve this all once and for all.
It’s clear that this case haunts Hays in every single year. His discovery of Will’s dead body definitely caused him to have a strong connection to the case in 1980, the fact that he may not have done the right thing in 1980 is haunting him in 1990, and the outcome of all of it, continues to haunt him in 2015. The episode ends with him realizing he’s at an intersection of his neighborhood in 2015, but unsure of how he got there, exactly where he is or why he’s there. It helps build up the memory loss element of this story but there honestly seems to be something darker still at play.
This season is honestly doing an excellent job of showing and not telling. The first season of True Detective was heightened by the fantastic monologues of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). The second season tried to carbon copy that formula and it failed horribly. This season is focusing on the story and letting the actors do their work. Ray Fisher doesn’t comment on how his father’s memory loss is ripping him apart, we see it in his performance. Mahershala Ali doesn’t have to say how much the case haunts him and how much it affected his life, and how dark a path it led him down. We see it in the way he describes things, the small tells in his face as he talks. True Detective is the type of show that can be given to an actor and they can use it to show how much depth and range they have in their repertoire. And the second season may not have been as good about showing that, but two episodes in, this third season is knocking it out of the park in the same way season 1 did. Hopefully it’ll continue on this high streak moving forward.
True Detective airs each Sunday at 9pm ET on HBO. You can watch the first two episodes on HBO Go, HBO Now, and any HBO VOD service.