‘True Detective’ Recap: Nic Pizzolatto Shoulders Both Writing and Directing ‘The Hour and the Day,’ and the Story Turns Derivative
“This is my life. You got some missing pieces. I need ‘em.”
After the SAG Awards last night, during which Mahershala Ali’s Supporting Actor win for Green Book made him the first actor in the ceremony’s 25-year history to win the same award twice, Ali mentioned that his role on True Detective is his first leading role on TV. Kathleen over at Lainey Gossip broke down his comments in the press room, and it’s worth reading. And I’ll say this again, because it bears repeating: Ali is phenomenally good in this third season of True Detective, even when the material lets him down, and I think that is particularly obvious as we reach our season midway point with fourth episode “The Hour and the Day.”
Series creator Nic Pizzolatto takes over directing duties for this episode on top of co-writing it (alongside David Milch, of NYPD Blue and our beloved Deadwood), and although this season has already felt derivative of various season one elements, “The Hour and the Day” is inarguably so. So many dramatic moments from season one are recreated here: a domestic fight turns into an emotionally fraught sexual encounter (just like Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan in season one, when she picks a fight about his ambition and not being the same guy she knew in college); the detectives find themselves in a potentially violent situation in a run-down black neighborhood (just like Cary Fukunaga’s long tracking shot when Matthew McConaughey posed undercover to infiltrate that drug house in the projects); and we’re teased with a climactic shootout (just like Harrelson and McConaughey vs. Reggie and Dewall Ledoux in their drug-cooking and child-holding compound).
And look, I think the first season of True Detective was flawed but ambitious television, and I liked it very much, and I get wanting to recapture some of that magic. But to this degree of mimicry? “The Hour and the Day” never develops its own strengths.
Anyway, here’s some stuff that happened:
• Mahershala’s Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff’s Roland West visit the church that the Purcells attended and speak to the priest, who shares that he took the communion pictures, that Julie was excited to see an aunt (although she doesn’t have any biological aunts), and a parishioner who is a “dear good woman” made chaff dolls quite similar to those found near the body and in the bag of toys Will and Julie played with. But that woman turns out to be a racist old bat who can’t provide any more details about who bought the dolls from her, aside from “he was black.” The look Mahershala gives us her is Night’s King levels of icy disdain! Anyway, her tip leads the detectives to a black community, Davis Junction, literally on the other side of the railroad tracks, where they essentially take a man hostage (and where Roland is sneeringly comfortable in his white privilege), but don’t get any worthwhile information from him. On the ride back, Roland goes full “I’m more careful around black people because I’m so progressive, duh,” and his overly zealous justification of his behavior during the altercation feels like another fissure between him and Hays.
• The first official date between Amelia and Hays was incredibly painful, wasn’t it? And I’m not sure the show intended it to be that awkward? But it feels like Pizzolatto not quite knowing what he wants the relationship between Amelia and Hays to be, so he’s throwing this “she’s a sexy bad girl with a resentful-yet-lustful view of authority” stuff at the wall, and it’s not really working. But some things I liked during this scene, uncomfortable as it was: How Hays’s face collapses when Amelia brings up the murders to discuss over dinner; the way he can’t really keep up with her constantly changing the subject; as badly written as it was, Carmen Ejogo’s delivery of “You’re my first police. You gonna rough me up?” was solid; and Hays’s admission that whatever their relationship ends up being, “That’s down to you.”
I’ve noted before in previous recaps that Hays seems quite passive in his interactions with Amelia, and we also see that when the narrative jumps forward to their marriage in 1990, when he admits to her that if she keeps “talking shit about me,” “I’mma start crying.” I would feel more impacted by their failing marriage if I totally bought the relationship that preceded it, but I do think that their fundamental issues make sense: The two were drawn together as outsiders in this closed community; Amelia resents Hays for resenting her success; and Hays will never accept that she focused on the missing Purcell children to launch her writing career. “Let me just use this awful tragedy to take myself onto better things” is the kind of insult that suggests deep intimacy and profound disappointment.
• So, Lucy totally wrote the note that the Purcells received, right, about how “children should laugh”? She mimics that language when speaking with Amelia before throwing the teacher out of the house, and although she admits to hating her domestic life, I’m not sure if her “I’ve done a terrible thing, God forgive me” is an admission of being complicit in her children’s kidnapping or just an acknowledgement that she was an awful mother.
• Hays and West pick up the long-haired teen, Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield), who admits that he took Will’s bike. “He was looking for her. He was begging us. He ran into the woods,” Freddy admits, which seems to sync up with the detectives’ understanding of events: Whoever took or attacked the children was primarily after Julie, not Will. And Hays pulls out the prison-rape threat one more time against Freddy, leading him to collapse into panicked, hysterical sobs—I don’t think there’s anything else the teen would be hiding.
• “Front Toward Enemy” reads the explosive device that Brett Woodard sets up in his booby-trapped house as the town racists chase him with murderous intent. (I thought the way Michael Greyeyes ran home was the most tense part of this episode, and a scene I’ll remember for a long time.) I’m guessing whatever happens next is where we see the shooting that Hays mentioned to West last episode.
• Hays is now officially a special investigator working on the reopened Purcell case, but West is leading the unit, and I can imagine there will be friction there over time. We’ve seen them each speak in the depositions about each other before the investigation is reopened, and there doesn’t seem to be any ill will between the two of them outside from Hays’s not-wrong belief that West succeeded partially because of his race. But we haven’t seen them speak yet after the investigation reopened in 1990, so what happened then to keep them apart for 25 years? (Also very noticeable in 1990: West’s limp, which Hays alluded to last episode by mentioning that West got shot. I’m guessing in the shootout we see teased at the end of the episode?)
• Julie is alive! Or at least she seems to be! Wayne sees her on the Walgreens tape.
• Wayne meets with Elisa (Sarah Gadon) in her hotel room, and it certainly looks like she had company—two wine glasses, messy bed, is she fooling around with Henry or not?—and she shares a piece of evidence that Wayne didn’t know: that the bones of creepy cousin Daniel were found in southern Missouri. Were they hidden?
• We learn that Henry is also a cop, which may lend some credence to the theory that the true crime documentary is a farce cooked up by Elisa and Henry to pick Wayne’s brain for details about the Purcell case. That seems a little out there for me, but I do know that theory has been kicking around, so we might as well acknowledge it! Anyway, Henry agrees to help find Roland, because his father literally doesn’t even know if his old partner is still alive.
• And maybe that confusion is complicated further by Wayne seeing even more dead people this time—the Viet Cong who crowd his office as he tries to remember details about that brown sedan, who murmur and whisper and agitate Wayne’s mind. But there’s someone else in that crowd of dead people, too: a white man, in a suit and tie, with what looks like a bullet wound in his chest. Who is that? And is Wayne only seeing people he killed? If so, why did he see Amelia in the last episode? Questions, questions.
And finally, something I want to note that is outside of this general “what happened in 1980, 1990, and 2015” layout: How quickly the white people of West Finger fall back to racist language and actions and behavior when things don’t go the way they want. But only one of the characters in the narrative is forgiven for this slight: Scott McNairy’s Tom Purcell. We see how his relationship with West was cemented in 1980, when Roland comes to pick him up from a bar, and on the drive home Tom throw out the n-word when discussing Hays. It’s a reminder of how he treated Hays that first night when the detectives arrived at the Purcell house, but West isn’t having it: “He’s the best detective on the case, trying to find your daughter,” Roland emphasizes, and that urges a moment of clarity. “I apologize. For the word I used. My god, I’m so sorry I used that word. Don’t tell him,” Tom begs, a fresh round of tears leaking down his face. West extends pity in that moment: “He’s been called worse by people meant it more than you did,” Roland reassures Tom, but that’s not enough for Purcell: “I’m sorry for that, too.” This scene was profoundly emotionally manipulative, yes—look at these white men, trying to shake off the racist structures that raised them!—but I must admit that I found McNairy quite powerful here, and my heart broke for his character anew. I still don’t think he’s a suspect.
But this is all in contrast to Lucy, who acts in a racist way toward Amelia and to whom the show doesn’t seem to extend this same forgiveness. When Amelia comes to the Purcell house to drop off some of Will’s and Julie’s things, I’m unsure of whether she was coming strictly benevolently or if she was also, in her own way, looking for information about the case. Lucy doesn’t seem to pick up on that, but she does become enraged by Amelia’s mention of Wayne, and throws Amelia out of her home by calling her “You pickaninny bitch. You snooty cunt!”
Do we then get another scene where Lucy apologizes for the language she used? Or for turning on Amelia, one of the only people who seems to have shown her any kind of kindness, or even attention? Nope and nope. I’m not sure if this is because there’s some other revelation awaiting us regarding Lucy, but I do think it’s worth noting that the show provides us with numerous glimpses of the racism and prejudice roiling through this town, but only one scene with anyone feeling any sort of regret about it. If the show is trying to sway us toward Tom and away from Lucy, I would say it’s working.
And some odds and ends:
+ There were signs of Milch’s dialogue style all over this episode, from Dorff’s West (“Man signs up to go without fucking for life? Either he don’t know himself for a liar, or he’s some type limited edition psycho. I mean, everybody’s fucking something”) to Ejogo’s Amelia snarking that Wayne should look up “vicissitudes” when she throws it at him during a fight to the argument about the terms “pussy hound” vs. “dick holster” during Amelia’s and Wayne’ date. Very romantic!
+ Much like Rust and Marty in season one, Wayne and Roland have no time for religion in this season, either. I particularly appreciated how consistently Wayne shuts down the priest’s attempt to get him back in church: “I reckon I’ll let it pile up a little more,” he says when rejecting the priest’s confession offer, and finally ends the conversation with, “I get to feeling penitent, I’ll let you know.” I bet he won’t!
+ “White children. If it’s in the paper, it’s white children,” says the man that Roland and Wayne try to interrogate in Davis Junction, and he’s not wrong. (Also, the man says he used to work at a chicken factory—did he work at Hoyt Foods with Lucy?)
+ The look that Becca and Henry give each other in 1990 when they hear their parents start having sex and rhythmically bumping into the wall feels like a less intense parallel to Marty’s daughter Audrey drawing pictures of naked people and sexual acts in season one. These kids know more than they should.
+ “Fucking Walmart.” Preach, Wayne!
+ Also amazing: “What the fuck is a Donahue?”
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations
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