The third episode of True Detective‘s third season continued the show’s promising start from last week, when we saw the first two episodes air back to back. This week we saw relationships take center stage, really allowing us as an audience to see Roland West in particular in a better light and ending any worries that he might be a watered-down version of Marty Hart. We also got more insight into the dynamic between Wayne and Amelia, both in 1980 and in 1990, leading to a pretty surreal and cryptic moment in the modern day that we as an audience will surely debate over for weeks to come. While we aren’t much closer to figuring out the larger questions being asked, a world has been created in these first three episodes that I am more than happy to live in for a while. Let’s get into it.
Our investigation picked up where we left it last week. During a car ride, Wayne questions if the Purcell kids have perhaps been lying about their after-school activities for a while. This suspicion is confirmed when they question the classmate who had previously told them about Julie and the doll. Roland and Wayne go back to the Purcell home to search for more clues. In Julie’s room, Wayne finds several cryptic notes inside a tote bag from Hoyt Foods, a local food company where her mother used to work. Wayne puts these notes in his pocket, separate from the other evidence collected. Before they leave, Wayne also finds a photo album which includes a picture of a ten-year-old Will at his confirmation, with his hands folded exactly how they were when he was found dead. As an audience playing detective, the first question we have to be asking ourselves is who all has seen that picture? Are we looking at a scenario where one of the parents (or Uncle) is going to be looked at as a suspect?
Later in the episode, we see Wayne in the woods, still desperately searching for some clue that can help him find Julie. What he finds instead is a bag of toys and a bloodstained rock, which indicates that this is where Will was killed. Wayne and Roland question an older man who lives nearby, who claims to have seen the children numerous times in the area. He also tells them that he’s seen a brown Sedan in the area before, with a black man driving and a white woman with him. The car is noticeable because it is said to have been nicer than most cars in the area.
This all gets the mind going. Did the Purcell children know Will’s killer / Julie’s abductor? The toys in a bag—toys their father says he didn’t buy for them— seem to indicate a relationship. Was Will perhaps being distracted with the toys so his killer could nurture their relationship with Julie? The notes hidden in her room seem to indicate a more intimate relationship, which plays well considering she was kept alive and her brother wasn’t. Did the killer murder Will after he felt he had won Julie over enough to come along with him? Kids from a distressed home would seek out adults who pay attention to them. Whoever did this seems to have knowledge of the kids’ home life and the picture of Will. If it was a black man and a white woman, should we be looking at Lucy Purcell as a suspect?
Another theme from this part of the story was the many leads the detectives were chasing, some credible, most not. In a scene that could easily be forgotten about in a tightly packed hour of television, the detectives visited the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, founded by a man named Hoyt (of Hoyt Foods) whose wife lost her daughter. When talking with our other True Detective writer here at 25YL, Laura Stewart, she asked me if I thought Hoyt could have arranged the kidnapping of Julie to give his wife a “new daughter” and if Will was killed because they “didn’t need him.” It’s an interesting theory, and one worth noting.
The other big arc from 1980 was the beating of Brett Woodard, dubbed “Trashman” by the locals. He’s an easy target as he’s mysterious, lives alone, and is considered “different” by the locals. This is a story that will pick up next week, as after his beating, Woodard goes to his shed and grabs a large green bag. While the internet is buzzing about what’s in the bag, my guess is weapons and not a body. What could his revenge look like?
The show’s middle time frame was perhaps my favorite this week. While light on big-picture clues, this portion certainly gave us the most insight into relationships and perhaps even motivations. Roland really had a chance to become a three-dimensional character in this episode, between checking on Tom Purcell (more on him in a moment), standing up for Wayne in the deposition, and then in a final scene, verbally sparring with his former partner before asking him if he wanted to be a detective again—giving him an opportunity to look for Julie again, this time with Roland as his boss. Roland stood out as an individual of high character who genuinely cared about not only his former partner Hays, but also people in general.
Roland’s home visit to see Tom shows Tom as a recovering alcoholic, reciting AA terminology, five years sober. In the conversation, we learn that Tom is clinging to the hope that he’ll see his daughter again after hearing about her fingerprints. We also learn that Lucy died in Las Vegas. Whether that lends credibility to Lucy being a part of the original crime or not can be debated.
At home, things are tense between Wayne and Amelia, with him seemingly in a personal decline and her career as a writer moving upwards. The case of the Purcell children really seems to be their common bond, something they’re both obsessive about, although Wayne carries a guilt Amelia doesn’t. Amelia seems to be enjoying playing the role of reporter whereas Wayne is still shaken, ten years later. The scene where Wayne takes his children shopping and loses his daughter Rebecca shows that, in his mind, she was going to be another Julie and he began melting down. Later that night at home, he takes those feelings out on Amelia after she comes home grinning ear to ear over a successful day chasing clues with cops over Julie’s fingerprints found at a Walgreens.
Accompanied by his son, Wayne is seeing a doctor who tells him he’s going to have to make lifestyle choices, dancing around the fact that Wayne is apparently suffering from dementia. Wayne tells his son that he will kill himself if he’s forced into a home, which is the last thing anyone with an elderly parent wants to hear. Wayne records more of his interview for the true crime documentary and this time, he’s pushed on why the detectives didn’t follow up with several witnesses who are on record claiming they saw a brown Sedan but were never interviewed. Wayne hears “brown Sedan” and the gears are turning.
The scene most likely to be studied and taken apart word by word begins with Wayne sitting alone at his desk, reading case notes. He hears his wife behind him and she begins to speak to him cryptically about his current mental situation. She pushes him to remember something, something he left in the woods, and then tells him to “finish it.” Let the theories begin…
Between the reporter pushing Wayne about witnesses not interviewed, Amelia’s cryptic messages, and Wayne’s state of being in 1990, it’s seeming likely that Wayne covered something up in 1980, leading to a false conviction being overturned in 1990. What did Wayne cover up? The internet is blowing up with theories about Amelia being the killer, citing her fascination with traveling under new identities, eagerness to write a book about a subject that tortures her husband, and the recent trend of femme fatales on TV, but I’m not buying it. It strikes me as being much more likely that Wayne made a mistake—a mistake that perhaps he made in 1980 by allowing Amelia to be too close to the case. I could also see a scenario where Wayne finds himself in a situation assisting Brett Woodard in his confrontation with the locals who attacked him—one Vietnam vet with serious baggage helping another—and it somehow leading to a mistake being made. I’m intrigued by the idea of Amelia being there for her husband as his mind fails him. She’s pushing him to “finish it,” to solve the case that has defined his life and was a big part of hers. To me, that feels like a love story: the deceased partner helping the living one to get over that final hurdle in life. Of course, this is True Detective and we have five hours of story left, so there are no safe bets yet.