‘True Detective’ Recap: Regrets and Resentments Drive The Penultimate Episode and We’re Still No Closer to Julie Purcell
“Somebody’s gotta stay. Somebody’s gotta remember.”
Where is Julie Purcell? We still don’t know after the penultimate episode of this third season of True Detective, but with only one hour or so to go, certain things seem to have come into clear focus. I think we can definitively say that Harris James, head of security for Hoyt Foods, was responsible for planting evidence related to Will and Julie Purcell in 1980 at Brett Woodard’s home, for the overdose death of Lucy Purcell in 1988, for the disappearance/death of her cousin Dan O’Brien in 1990, and for the staged suicide/death of her husband Tom Purcell in 1990. That’s a lot of heat for one guy! And as we now know, Wayne Hays and Roland West are responsible for the death of Harris James, a shared act of unexpected violence that contributed to the severing of their partnership in 1990.
That image of Harris sneaking up behind Tom, out of focus but lurking, in the pink room in the Hoyts’ basement was terrifying and resonant—Harris seems like a regular guy, someone entrusted with a fair amount of power, and who because of that authority, and his utter ordinariness, is able to slip in and out of situations that would ensnare nearly anyone else. Could you even pick Harris James out of a lineup? Bland white guy, bland features, bland personality, all hiding something darker underneath—someone willing to do terrible things for personal gain. Someone willing to trade integrity for wealth.
Is that what happens to Hays by the end of “The Final Country”? Is that what Edward Hoyt (who will be played by Michael Rooker, as I mentioned in last week’s recap, and as reported by Pajiba alum Joanna Robinson over at Vanity Fair) is offering him with that threatening phone call? Hoyt insinuates that he knows everything Hays and West did to Harris James, and we know from the 2015 timeline that Hays never told West about this phone call—he just stopped being the police detective that West knew him to be. So yes, that argument between them while digging James’s grave—the word West almost says, but doesn’t, but tells Hays that he’s thinking about saying, which is pretty much the same damn thing—is the first part of a fissure, and I think Hoyt’s conversation with Hays is the second part. What the hell went down in that shiny black sedan?
Let’s do the time warp again!
• If you are a sucker for being emotionally ripped apart by Scoot McNairy, this is your shit! With so much of this episode focused on Roland’s grief over Tom’s murder, we see the former offering the latter a helping hand as he is clearly drowning—too much booze, too much sadness, too many memories. “Whatever it takes to stop feeling. … There’s no point. Ain’t nobody left to feel anything for,” Tom says of his abandoning of the house on Shoepick Lane, but even when faced with such utter defeat, Roland doesn’t give up. He offers Tom his help. He gives him his personal phone number. And no, I don’t think this scene means they were romantically involved, but I do think Roland West probably didn’t put himself out there for most anyone. And so extending help to Tom took on greater meaning then, an effort that is torn apart by Tom’s murder and staged suicide 10 years later.
• Of course Amelia references Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood when offhandedly discussing the vision for her book, and it’s interesting to see that in the beginning, Hays supported this goal. “It’s not like the 6:00 news is gonna do it. Somebody oughta point out what they’re saying doesn’t fucking hold,” he says, but what over the next 10 years pushed him away from this initial encouragement? Their kids? The everyday routine of domestic life? The stifled nature of Wayne’s own career? Or was it that he wanted Amelia to be a crusader and an avenger when it only served his purposes, and her own agenda of “writer” didn’t fit with that?
• The resentment between West and Hays simmers over throughout this episode, and I wouldn’t say it feels rushed—I think we’ve seen them interact enough this season to know that they view the world in ways that are often contradictory—but that it certainly feels like a lot all at once. So let’s track it: First there is the fight after they find Tom’s body, during which West seems to admit that he didn’t think the case was solvable, but that he brought Hays in as a favor, which doesn’t land well with the other man (“You don’t think there’s better detectives around?”). Then there’s the shared bitterness when they realize Dan is gone (“We fucking lost him. We’re burned”), and how clearly Hays works Roland when he comes over to share the information about Harris James having called and visited Lucy in Las Vegas around the day she overdosed. (Aside: Where was Roland’s girlfriend when this conversation was happening? Did they not live together?) And finally, after they play bad cop and worse cop with Harris, and after Roland shoots him when he attacks Wayne and goes for his gun, they work together to bury his body, a scene in which Roland’s frustrations with Wayne finally overflow. He feels taken advantage of, like his friendship with and affection for Tom were manipulated for this purpose, and he’s not wrong—and he’s also not wrong that they have nothing else to show for this.
A man is dead at their hands, a man who killed two other men who could have provided them with answers, and now they’re murderers, too. And I think that this might have been the first man Roland killed, period. I could be wrong—I should probably go back and watch the shootout at Brett’s house to confirm—but we know Wayne has killed people. We know Wayne killed people in Vietnam while Roland worked as a mechanic; we know that Wayne killed Brett while Roland was sidelined with an injury. But is any of that enough for Roland to become the kind of white man he’s been claiming not to be this entire season? Is any of that reason enough to say the one word—“uppity”—that we all know leads to that other word, the one Roland won’t say? But the damage is already done.
We see how these moments affect the two men, years down the line. Roland is basically a hermit, a recluse, a man who can’t be around other people. And while we’re getting Wayne’s memories of his relationship with Amelia and Becca, we don’t actually know how those went. Did Wayne close himself off further? When he is burning his clothes that night, his face looks like a mask, an expression of frozen blankness. How much of the rest of his life did he live like that? What did the division between Wayne and Roland do to these men? How much of their lives did it claim?
• The scene of Roland and Wayne pulling over Harris was the absolute best of the season, no comparison. That music! My god! Foreboding and disorienting, adding a sort of operatic intensity to everything that happened, like Harris’s death was inevitable, like all of this was already decided somehow, like there was no going back for Roland and Wayne after that moment. “You got a dark look, Lieutenant,” was a great goddamn line!
• Also in 1990: Amelia shares with Wayne the news about the man who visited her book reading, and later learns from one of Julie’s coworkers at the bar that the same man was there once, chatting with Dan O’Brien. Those pieces seem to be fitting together—that Lucy and Dan were involved with something related to the Hoyts that Tom had no idea about. And Lucy’s best friend confirms this, saying that Lucy would never be involved with a black man (because that bitch was outwardly racist in a place where everyone is already inwardly racist), but that doesn’t mean Lucy didn’t have another relationship—a business one, maybe.
• Ah yes, the Hoyts. As if it wasn’t already clear that the chicken tycoon seems to have a special connection to that asshole Klindt—who after Tom’s suicide, switches his story again to claim that he was responsible for Will’s death and Julie’s disappearance all along, further throwing the detectives under the bus—pay attention to what he says to Hays during that phone call:
“Harris James. I’d like to discuss the events of last night, as I understand them. I could come inside, if you like. I’d be pleased to meet your family. Your wife, the writer. Little Henry and Rebecca. It’s lucky having a family. … Maybe you’d like to come out and talk to me. My preference, you understand, is to keep this between us—for the moment. You may not realize this, but I’ve been pretty damn patient with you already. Perhaps I should take my information to the prosecutor’s office. Or, like, I say, happy to talk inside.”
A lot of power being thrown around there, a lot of authority, and the sureness that the prosecutor’s office will be on Hoyt’s side. This is a man who has already gotten his way for a decade now. But still, let’s not forget the central question in 1990: Where is Julie Purcell? I’m sure Hoyt still wants to know that, and I wonder how much of that query will consume their conversation in next week’s season finale.
• We’ve wrapped on the true-crime documentary portion of this season, I think, with Wayne’s declaration “I’m tired of walking through the graveyard. The story’s over for me.” But before then, Elisa offers some good insight in her observation that the events of 1980 and 1990 were almost identical in their broad strokes (“a sudden act of violence, a dead man, and the case is closed”) and reveals that the sequel Amelia was working on of Life and Death and the Harvest Moon never moved forward. Was that because Hays, after meeting with Hoyt in 1990, put an end to it?
• Nic Pizzolatto repeats himself again, this time relying on a “domestic”—black woman—character to provide insight about her white employers. (Remember Miss Dolores’s “Rejoice, Carcosa” from season one?) Anyway, Wayne and Roland meet with Regina (Valeri Ross), who used to work for the Hoyts and who fills in quite a bit for them: that the Hoyts’ daughter, Isabel Hoyt, lost her husband and daughter in a bad car crash; that she was basically confined to the basement of the mansion, where the black man with the dead eye, identified as Watts/Mr. July, lived (and where we know the pink rooms were); and that starting in 1981, the household staff was restricted in their movements in the house. 1981, which was also the year when Julie was probably there. But where did she go after that? How did she get out before 1990?
• As an aside, everything Mahershala Ali did in that scene, from how slack Wayne’s face became to signify being lost in time to his later apology, years late, to West for manipulating his feelings about Tom, was perfect. His “I hope we can move past it” tore me up, obviously, as did Dorff’s returning “We’re past it, bro.” Just two old dudes working through their shit and hurting me deep in the place where my feelings are!
• “Humor a crazy old man, Detective West”: Yes, the sedan watching Hays was real! And its Arkansas license plates are T14 4TF. Anybody feel like assigning some importance to those letters and numbers? Elaborate away!
• Becca lives! Or at least she lived long enough to go to college! We get our first glimpse of a timeline in between 1990 and 2015 when Wayne drops Becca off, and Amelia isn’t around. Why wouldn’t she be there to help Becca settle in for her first day? Is there something Wayne isn’t remembering about this moment? Either way, good dialogue between the two of them that of course, as it does so often on True Detective, alludes to a deeper truth:
“What am I gonna do without you?”
“You’re a tough guy, you’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that.”
Some odds and ends:
+ “Why y’all still police at your age?” BECAUSE THE ECONOMY IS BROKEN AND NO ONE CAN RETIRE AND OUR WORLD IS DYING, REGINA.
+ Remember in the first season, when Rust Cohle said “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town”? That’s the vibe of West Finger in 1990, now with shut-down factories, boarded-up homes, and overgrown neighborhoods. I will commend both the first and third seasons of True Detective for their on-point production design, and how effectively they capture the helplessness and hopelessness of certain areas of rural America.
+ I rewatch these episodes with closed captions on because Mahershala Ali is a bit of a mumbler, and I loved that the CCs noted “eerie soundscape playing” during the final scene when Wayne gets into Hoyt’s car. Great music throughout this episode, and I am guessing this is T Bone Burnett’s doing? Thanks, T Bone!
+ Does Wayne maybe never tell Amelia about what happened with Harris James? The way he responds “I’d be a son of a bitch if I did that to you” when she says “With you, I need to know everything,” seems very in line with what he said to Henry last week about keeping the affair with Elisa a secret from his wife. But at what point does protecting someone by lying to them become hurting them by denying them truth?
+ Hey guys! Hey Rust and Marty! Hey! Hey!
+ I honestly look forward to the next few decades of Mahershala Ali’s career because he is great as a 70-year-old man. The gravitas he adds to lines like “Being police, there’s no certainty; lot of the time, there’s no clarity at all. You just do your best and learn to live with ambiguity” is masterful.
+ The horror Amelia feels when she thinks Henry and Becca have been taken out of her car matches Wayne’s mania at Walmart, I think, although I’m impressed the kids were able to lay down and fall asleep that fast. It was only a few minutes between when Amelia looked the first time and then the next time, when they seemed gone.
+ My favorite Stephen Dorff line deliveries this week: “Oh, great. ‘Cause we don’t see each other enough” and “You can stop saying that now. I’m not simple.” That whole scene was great—Wayne has never been presented as a truly smooth operator like how Rust Cohle was in the first season; we’ve seen him be more successful with threatening people with violence, and rape in particular, then being convincing or persuasive. When forced to do that here with Roland, he grows repetitive and a little rote, but he didn’t have to work too hard on Roland anyway. West wanted revenge, even if neither man thought their altercation with Harris would go as far as it did.
And finally, the teaser for next week’s finale, “Now Am Found”:
Some quick thoughts on that! I think we have yet another additional timeline in that clip, with Amelia and a sleek bob haircut reading Delmore Schwartz’s “Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day” to another class. The lines she reads are excerpted from this:
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn …)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(… that time is the fire in which we burn.)
On point for this season! (The New Yorker analyzes that poem here). Other moments of note in that preview: Hays seems to be walking around a campus, looking for someone (Becca?), Roland looks like he’s fighting with someone, maybe in a bar, who is wearing a Nazi iron cross, there are MORE creepy dolls, and it looks like the 2015 versions of Hays and West finally make it into the Hoyt basement. Until Sunday!
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