As we head into the season finale of True Detective (and here’s Roxana’s fantastic, insightful, seriously excellent must-read recap of the penultimate episode), much of the mystery has been pieced together. There are only a few outstanding questions remaining, including the present whereabouts of Julie Purcell, whether Roland was working in cahoots with Edward Hoyt, and who actually killed Will Purcell.
There is one other strand that continues to bug me, however, and that’s the role of the documentary. There are a lot of theories floating around about the documentarian Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadot), including that she’s Julie Purcell’s daughter, or that she’s actually sleeping with Hays’ daughter, Becca, in California (which would be super weird because she’s sleeping with Hays’ son, Henry, in Arkansas). One theory that creator Nic Pizzalatto seems to tacitly approve (judging by his likes on Instagram) is that the documentary is essentially the personification of its own fans — that it represents our desire to tie the murder of Will Purcell and the abduction of Julie Purcell into larger conspiracies, including the Yellow King from season one (Pizzolatto has also rejected any connection between season three and season one, save for the fact that they take place in the same universe).
There’s one detail about the documentary, however, that nags. In the behind-the-scenes footage of this week’s episode, Nic Pizzolatto says that “Wayne has a secret that he doesn’t want anyone to find out about, which is a large part of the reason he’s going along with this documentary. It’s imperative that he find out what they know about him.”
This felt like new-ish information in light of what we now know, so I went back to the TV series to find evidence of this being the precise reason why he’s participating in the documentary. And it is true: He spends some of his time with Elisa fishing for what she knows, trying to piece together whether Elisa knows his secret, which we now know is that Wayne and Roland killed Harris James. Hays has not solved the case, and he did not solve the case in 1990 and forget that he had (this is also confirmed by Pizzolatto on Instagram). But what he’s most interested in is keeping his secret from leaking out.
But what would Hays do if that secret leaked?
That seems to be answered in the first episode of the season. In fact, it’s the second scene with Mahershala Ali, and the first set in 2015. In it, Hays is preparing for his first interview for the documentary and listening to a tape recording he made the day before to remind himself of what’s at stake. “Remember why you’re talking to them,” Hays says to himself. “Figure out how much they know. You don’t need no surprises this late in the game.”
Then he adds, “Remember the nightstand if you need it.” Before Hays goes out to film his first scene in the documentary, he looks in his nightstand and finds his revolver.
Why would Hays need his gun. He’s obviously not going to use it to kill Elisa. Ergo, he must plan to use it to end his life, but only if his secret — that he murdered Harris James — ultimately comes out.
We’ll find out on Sunday, when the season finale of True Detective airs its finale, which has been extended to an hour and 16 minutes and will air, inexplicably, during the Oscar telecast).