‘True Detective’ Recap: Lies are Crafted, Cover-ups Revealed, and Things Fall Apart in the Pink Room in ‘Hunters in the Dark’
“One thing I learned, in the war? Life happens now. Then later’s now, you know. It’s never behind you.”
We know where Julie was: The pink room is in the basement of the mansion of the Hoyt Foods CEO, the man we still haven’t seen onscreen, the person in that hunting photo with police officer-turned-overpaid lackey Harris James. (Fun fact: Lovely Pajiba alumna Joanna Robinson confirmed over at Vanity Fair today that Guardians of the Galaxy’s Michael Rooker will play Hoyt.) The image of James lurking behind Tom’s crumbling face as he sees something on that pink wall that reminds him of his missing daughter is haunting, and I’ve already had a nightmare about it, and maybe that means I’ve moved on from Hereditary, so this is progress!
There are only two episodes to go now in this third True Detective season, and “Hunters in the Dark” picks up the pace by filling in some key elements of this story, some of which we’ve suspected, some of which arrive out of nowhere. In 1980, Julie was being held by the Hoyts, and after she left them—we don’t know why—she started running with street kids around 1990, going by names like “Mary Julie” and “Mary July.” Maybe she had to turn to prostitution, maybe she was forced into doing things she didn’t want to do, but whatever happened, it turned her against Tom Purcell. Her uncle Dan O’Brien and her mother Lucy were involved, somehow, in whatever happened to her; father Tom seems totally in the dark.
But Tom has his own secrets, from money problems and what seems like a gambling addiction to the issue of his sexuality, being forced to live in the closet, turning to “pray the gay away” programs—now we know why he seemed to cling so strongly to AA, to church, to a way to become “normal.” (Please be aware that Tom’s whole story is one of the primary tragedies of this season, and if you haven’t seen The Miseducation of Cameron Post, do that right now.) And in 2015, that affair we suspected between true-crime producer Elisa and Hays’s son Henry? Yes, totally happening, and the revelation makes Hays turn introspective. Did he withhold love from his family? Did he set a bad example for his son? Why would Henry make these choices? What stuck with him from his childhood? Why does anyone do anything?
Lots of lies crafted this week, lots of cover-ups revealed, and lots of realizations that sometimes things just fall apart, outside of your control, outside of anyone’s. Let’s do the timelines thing.
• We see now how quickly district attorney turned state’s attorney Gerald Kindt throws the whole case on Brett Woodard, how thoroughly he shakes the dead bodies off his conscience, how very little he cares about actually solving this case. “It only goes one way,” these white, powerful men say to Hays, and when it’s clear that he objects to their cover-up, that he finds it distasteful and lazy and weak, it’s not that hard to draw the lines between this interaction and Hays’s failed career aspirations through 1990. And note also here that Kindt orders for Hays and West (still in the hospital for his shot leg) to turn over all their evidence, all their interview notes, every scrap of anything they’ve collected while searching for Julie’s and Will’s kidnapper/s and killer/s. (Funny how quickly Kindt changes his story in 1990 to accuse Hays and West of shirking their responsibilities and not thoroughly investigating Tom, when we clearly see that he decides to lay all the blame on Woodard. Kindt is that motherfucker.)
• Speaking of Tom: That pink room in the Hoyt family mansion is horrifying, all different shades of pink on the trim and door and wall and light fixture, and it feels like a place stuck in time, very intentional, like a trap. And note its location in the Hoyt house—in a basement, down a hallway, behind a heavy metal door. Whoever took Julie there, and whoever knew she was down there, knew they were doing something wrong. Given that Harris James joined Hoyt Foods as chief of security in May 1981, a short time after Julie disappeared, I’m guessing he’s known what goes on in the pink room for quite some time.
• Also speaking of Tom: Roland sure is convinced that Tom couldn’t have hurt Julie and Will, and why is that? Is their close friendship based on a shared understanding—maybe a shared identity? Think of how Roland explains himself to Hays in 2015, how he says that Hays is mistaken when he thinks Roland got married, had a wife, had children, had a family. Why wouldn’t Roland want those things, or make those choices? Maybe because he’s hiding the same thing that Tom was?
• I thought last week that maybe it wasn’t really Julie calling the tip line and launching into that tirade about Tom, but no, it was—the finger prints on the truck stop pay phone match the ones from Walgreens. But, now for another question: In 2015, is Julie still alive? Or did she slip through everyone’s fingers back then?
• Far less relationship drama between Hays and Amelia this week, but still, they’re not on level ground, especially when she reveals she is working on an update to the book now that Julie is revealed to be alive. This would probably have required too much effort, but if HBO had paid for a ghostwriter to write a version of Life and Death and the Harvest Moon as a tie-in for marketing purposes, I would 100% buy and read that shit. Amelia has a good voice! “A lost child is a story that is never allowed to end” is a good line!
• Oh, and yeah: Looks like we found the guy with the filmy eye and the scar! He comes to Amelia’s book reading to harass her (with language that seems very similar to her husband’s: “making your money and milking their pain”), and yup, he sure seems like someone who is after finding out where Julie is. Kind of like the men Dan O’Brien warned Hays and West about …
• Dan O’Brien, you twitchy, sketchy scumbag. What did you and cousin Lucy do? (Aside from probably fool around, which, gross.) I’m not surprised in the least that he tried to sell his information to Hays and West, and that he later folded when a fallen-off-the-wagon Tom threatened his life, but I am a little surprised he managed to stay off the grid for 10 years. But do we think now that his death, and the abandonment of his bones at the bottom of that Missouri quarry, are Hays and West’s doing? I’m not so sure anymore. But I do think he gives us our clearest glimpse into Lucy’s motivations when he describes of her, “She didn’t know when to stop pushing … She’d keep on pushing until she got what she didn’t want.” Was she complaining about her children at work? Did someone offer to take them away? Did she agree to something from which she couldn’t then back out? The woman seems consumed by self-loathing—think of her continued nastiness toward Amelia in 1980—and maybe it’s because of something she did. Something she thought would help her children (who we know now were passing notes through that hole in their bedroom walls—not a peephole, but a communication bridge) laugh, but that didn’t work out the way she anticipated.
Finally, in 2015:
• The show has obviously focused a lot on how the Julie Purcell case has haunted Hays over the years, but I wonder what other detective work may come back to Hays in the middle of the night. His “It’s terrible what this work makes you ponder” suggests a weariness that goes broader than this alone.
• Some of the writing felt a little too on the nose for me this episode, but I liked how Hays tells Elisa to reconsider her assumptions about the case. “What you just did is speculation, that leads to projection, we call it. Twists what you see, obfuscates truth,” he remarks, and I would imagine the concern of “obfuscating truth” would resonate deeply with a man who keeps struggling to remember who he is and what he’s done.
• When Hays tells Roland that he realized Will and Julie were passing notes through what they thought was the peephole, West says to his former partner, “That’s right. That’s correct.” How much of what Hays is telling West does he already know? Are there truly even any mysteries left behind the two men, or does West already hold all the pieces? Also, my money now is on Hays and Roland having done something with Harris James, but I’m not sure anymore about Dan. But … if West doesn’t see the car that Hays was convinced was spying on him … does that mean West was driving that car? DUN DUN DUN (I don’t actually believe this, this isn’t a real theory, I’m sorry).
Finally, some odds and ends::
+ My closed captioning called what Tom did in that interview room with Hays and West as “roars” and “howling,” and yup, that was a guttural, heart-wrenching mess. I am running out of words to describe Scoot McNairy’s performance here. If Mahershala Ali is a pillar of hardened exhaustion, Scoot is like a scarecrow come to life, a punching bag with his insides spilling out, a man barely holding himself together. I feel for him deeply.
+ I thought angry 1990s Stephen Dorff in this episode looked particularly like his vampire self in Blade, and let’s revisit, you’re welcome.
EXCUSE ME LOOK AT THESE VISUAL EFFECTS. SO HI-TECH.
+ BRB, crying: “It’s 2015, isn’t it?” “That’s right, pal.”
+ That diner scene with Dan operated as a reminder of Hays’s particular feelings about young white men: Wayne grabbing the forkful of eggs out of Dan’s mouth and reassuring him “I speak crazy. I’m fucking fluent” was a bit of a flashback to how he scared the teens back in 1980.
+ Hays tells West while they’re driving that Devil’s Den back in 1980 “was a homo cruising spot.” Did we know that before? I just remember it being mentioned as a place where teens drank, did drugs, and partied.
+ “You got a good body, Detective,” was a weird thing for Harris to say to Hays, but not that weird given that Arkansas still seems pretty steeped in racism, and in white people treating black people like property. West makes this very clear when Hays gets out of the car after their fight: “People see your black ass skulking around, you’re gonna get yourself shot.”
+ I appreciated Hays’s advice to Henry to not tell his wife Heather about his affair with Elisa, because you know, I think I agree. What good does sharing that information do? Why cause pain to assuage his own guilt? But at the same time, does this speak to other things Hays might have hid from Amelia, or vice versa?
+ My favorite exchange of the episode:
West: “I thought it took God seven days to make the world.”
Hays: “He rested on the seventh. I always thought he shoulda put the extra day in, instead of half-assing it.”
+ Why in 1990, when Amelia was interviewing that young woman, did the camera cut to the landscaper outside? Red herring? Or something that might come up again?
+ “You oughta write a book. Write about what happens to kids out here. What happens to girls,” that young woman says to Amelia, but it makes me sad to even voice this: Who would have listened in 1990? We can barely get anyone to listen to women’s pain now, nearly 30 years later.
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