True Detective Ep. 6: “Hunters in the Dark”

True Detective Season 3 just keeps getting better and better. On the surface, Episode 6 appears to dish up several answers to this mystery on a plate, but I don’t buy that for a minute—what we don’t see may be more important than what we do. The title for the episode, “Hunters in the Dark,” sums it up perfectly, but who is hunting who?

Let’s start with Tom Purcell. This week in 1990 Detectives Hays and West reluctantly place him under investigation for his son Will’s murder and his daughter Julie’s disappearance after she phoned the police hotline to ask them to keep “the man pretending to be her father” away from her. It appears Julie does not know that her brother is dead, but she has been told that Tom is not her father by whoever has been keeping her “captive.”

Now, very worthy accolades have been given to Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff for their performances in this series, but Scoot McNairy is winning all the awards for me this week for his portrayal of Tom. Never has a man’s devastation been felt so deeply on screen. His roar of pain shook me to my core. This is a man who, after living ten years in a nightmare, has slowly built his life up again. He cut the alcohol, found religion—which may be part of the issue here—and was awarded the most beautiful prize; his daughter was alive after all this time and they may be reunited. It should have been the happiest moment of his life. Instead, he faced the worst.

Scoot McNairy plays Tom Purcell in True Detective, Season 1, Ep6
Scoot McNairy’s tremendous performance as Tom Purcell

This voice message led to a drastic downward spiral for Tom, who we learn is a closeted homosexual—something that did not go down well with his co-workers at the factory, nor did his coming to work drunk. He was more than likely going to lose his job even before he quit back in 1980. By 1990, despite being sober now, he was in a lot of debt, had a gambling problem—or at the very least gambled to try and win enough to pay the bills. His wife, Lucy, was aware of his sexuality and she was disgusted by it, thought of him as less of a man, an embarrassment to her, and a bad father to their children. This looks like it led her to the decision to sell them.

It is completely impossible to fathom anyone being at such levels of despair to do such a thing, but for Lucy, this may have felt like the only way. She knew the home she and Tom made for the children wasn’t a happy one. Both had their secret lives, love affairs, and addictions. She wanted more for them than hearing their parents scream and shout all the time. It is probable that Julie was not the biological daughter of Tom, but more likely the daughter of Hoyt, Lucy’s former boss at Hoyt Foods where she processed chicken.  After Hoyt lost his granddaughter, which devastated his daughter, did he replace the lost little blonde girl with another?

I suspect that Hoyt promised Lucy a great deal in return for her children, something she misguidedly thought was best for everyone involved. The children would be with their father (at least in Julie’s case), who was wealthy enough to give them anything they wanted, and they would have a mother figure played by Hoyt’s daughter—someone who Lucy may have felt deserved to be a mother more than she. Tom would have been free to be the man he really was. Clearly none of these decisions were rational, but they were made out of love, including her decision to send the ransom note. It was heavily implied in Episode 5 that the note was Lucy’s doing, when she commented to Amelia that “children should laugh”—the same words found in the note. Why would she do that? Maybe to give some reassurance to Tom that Julie was ok? To try and put the police off the scent? It didn’t work of course.

The ransom note sent to the Purcells after Will

Alternatively, it wasn’t Lucy that sent the letter, but Hoyt or Hoyt’s daughter as a way of getting a message of reassurance to Lucy that Julie was still alive (it is not like they could call her after all). Had Lucy herself been groomed and persuaded into the decision to give up her children? Had she been told that children should be in a happier home than the one she could give? Where was she the night of the children’s disappearance as she certainly wasn’t at home? Maybe her quiet friend that is often nearby has a few answers about that night.

Things didn’t go as expected. Could they ever have? Was the plan just to make the children’s disappearance look like a pair of runaways? Had Julie herself been planning that? The peephole between her and Will’s bedrooms may not have been that at all, but a hole for them to pass messages to each other through, without their parents finding out. In 1990, Hays visits a derelict house on Shoepick Lane: the same house he ended up at in 2015 and couldn’t remember how he got there. There’s something important in that building, a memory or clue that needs to weasel its way out. There’s a peephole (or message hole may be apter) just like the one at the Purcell home. Julie was here. Who was on the other side of the wall? Why couldn’t she speak out loud?

At this point, I wonder if Will’s death was even intentional. Yes, it’s true that the Hoyts only needed a replacement daughter and Will may not have been part of the plan. In fact, the death of Will and the abduction of Julie may be two very separate incidents. I would guess at the fact that it is Hoyt’s daughter—the blonde lady seen with the black man with the scar and dead eye (possibly just the driver of a vehicle for her, but more on him later)—who took Julie. She trusted them enough to go with them willingly and had drawn pictures of the dolls and of a castle before she was abducted, which likely means she had visited The Pink Room in Hoyt’s house at least once before her disappearance. She may have considered it a safe place to be. Don’t forget, Hoyt himself was abroad at the time of the abduction/murder—was this planned to put him out of the picture? Were the children meant to join him wherever he was?

The man with the dead eye and scarred face in True Detective Season 3
What secret is the man with the dead eye and scarred face keeping?

What went wrong then on that fateful day? Did Will and Julie get split up while playing at the water tower? We know that outcast stooge Freddy Burns had seen Will and bullied him into leaving his bike behind and running off into the fields. Did Will head for a safe place he played often with his friends/sister or maybe even this mystery woman? I can imagine friends playing Dungeons and Dragons together, but not quite so much an adult playing this with children. What if Will just fell while running and smashed his head? If this is the case then someone must have found him, most likely someone from the church, and posed his body like it was in his communion photograph. This would be sSomeone who had access to the dolls that were sold at church events. Perhaps the dolls were a purposeful lead to his body, maybe even a form of spiritual protection for him rather than a sacrifice as it appeared?

Whatever truly happened here, Lucy, after passing through initial grieving stages, started to push her luck with Hoyt. She wanted more money and probably threatened to tell the truth if she didn’t get it, and that is most likely what got her killed. Her heroin overdose was staged to look like a suicide, and let’s face it, no-one would bat an eyelid at her for doing that considering her history. Her brother, Dan O’Brien, shows back up in 1990 with a few tales he wants Hays and West to know—for a price: $7k. That’s a very precise amount. Dan is strung out on heroin, nervous and paranoid but cocky nevertheless. He may owe that sum to his dealers and he’s desperate enough to be cheeky to the cops to get it. He says he knows that other people (besides the police) are looking for Julie, but he wants Julie to be safe; he also wants the money before he gives them the name. He then reveals something very interesting: that Lucy came to live with him when he was two years old and she was four, after her mother had died. I assume this means they shared a father, but this was not explicitly stated. Creepily, Dan mentioned that he and Lucy “hit many milestones together.” I’m guessing that means they had more than just a brother/sister relationship. Whether she was ok with that is a question for another day. In any case, Dan believed that his sister was murdered because she didn’t know when to stop pushing. She lived off the money that (presumably) Hoyt paid her, but she got greedy.

Dan O

And now we’re at a similar juncture with Tom. During his interrogation it’s the fact that West doesn’t defend him, that he presses him as much Hays, that upsets Tom the most. The pair clearly have a close bond. I assumed it was because of their united sobriety but now I’m wondering if there was more to their relationship. I don’t think the pair were lovers, but that they may both be gay, and they have, wherever possible, kept each other’s secrets. Tom says to West, “You know where I was that night.” Tom has no alibi other than being at home drinking beer and watching the game, so how does West really know? The night of the children’s disappearance West was definitely with Hays, there’s no doubt about that, but maybe over the course of their friendship, Tom made some admissions to West that he never made public—things that could have caused West problems in his life, too.

While Hays and West search the Purcell property for evidence, West comes across a church pamphlet in Tom’s drawer which states, “Homosexuality can be cured.” Evidently, Tom isn’t happy with his status, or at least isn’t allowed to be in this small town of judgement. I don’t know for sure, but I believe Tom attends the same church that his children did, the same church where West met his girlfriend Lori. Fast-forward to 2015 and we learn that they didn’t work out: “No wife, no children.” West has commented a couple of times about how Hays’ suggestion of prison rape to intimidate suspects is uncalled for, and I have a strong feeling that if Hays found out about his partner’s sexuality, he may not have been quite as accepting as West is of him.

Is this the reason why the pair didn’t speak for 25 years? My gut tells me that West is one of the good guys. He stood up for Hays wherever he could and understood how difficult it was for him as a black detective, the persecution he felt. Would Hays take offence then, that all that time West was pretending to be something he was not to avoid similar persecution? It is unlikely West would have climbed as far on the career ladder if the force knew he was gay. Unlike West, though, Hays couldn’t hide his “differences”; he had to face the institutional racism and bigotry every day and fight a much harder battle to be taken seriously. Does he have a right to feel bitter?

There’s also the point that West didn’t stand up to District Attorney Gerald Kindt like Hays did. It seems that Kindt is running the show here. He purposely scuppers their investigation with televised statements giving some of their best leads away and allowing two people to take the fall for these crimes who weren’t really involved at all. Firstly Brett Woodard, who ended up killing ten people at the shootout at his home. Next up, Tom Purcell. It’s an easy set up for them—his daughter pretty much put him in the frame for it—but with very little evidence otherwise, they have to let him go. Why would they do that so easily?

The very creepy Head of Security for Hoyt Foods, Harris James in True Detective Season 3 Ep 6
The very creepy Head of Security for Hoyt Foods, Harris James, the hunter?

Hays and West go to Hoyt Foods again to visit the extremely unnerving Harris James, a former patrol officer who retired from the force in 1981 to become a security officer for Hoyt (and on a very pretty pay packet). The trio share a couple of sarcastic exchanges about this fact, Hays clocks a photograph of him in hunting gear out in the woods, and James makes a sleazy comment about Hays having a good body, which really seems to surprise Hays—I bet he’s not dealt with many gay (former) cops before. They question James about how he found the missing rucksack belonging to Will in the floorboards of Woodard’s blown up house. Of course, James puts Tom at the scene, just standing there, staring. For anyone other than West and Hays this would make Tom the prime suspect, but they know better and neither of them report this to Kindt.

Tom is released, but I am suspicious about what happens next: Tom asks to see West and is allowed to go up to his office alone (you’d think he’d be escorted considering he’s very emotional, and possibly a murderer) but West isn’t there. Instead, he eavesdrops on a very loud and rehearsed-sounding conversation between two other detectives working the case, who couldn’t be more obvious in the details they give out. They talk about Dan being back on the scene and Tom is already riled up about Dan after Hays foolishly let him know about the peephole between his children’s bedroom. Tom presumes, as I think we all did, that Dan had an unhealthy interest in Julie and so he tracks him down at a motel, where he almost bashes his brains out. Before he goes all the way, Dan convinces him not to shoot him and tells him the name of the man who was paying Lucy to keep quiet about the whereabouts of Julie.

It feels far too convenient for me. Did the police set Tom up, knowing he’d go round to see Dan and maybe get rid of him for them? Or did they figure that Tom wouldn’t go as far as killing Dan, and Dan would definitely tell them the name and just let that play out? For in the last excruciatingly tense few minutes of the episode, Tom casually broke into Hoyt’s house, all the while being watched on security camera, until he finds himself deep down in what can only be described as a castle dungeon. He opens a steel door and steps inside The Pink Room. Tom looks ahead and exclaims, “Julie?” and behind him James creeps up and the credits roll.

A few things: (1) I am pretty sure that was theme music from Season 1 playing, which made me even more nervous; (2) as the credits roll, for a few seconds there was a very Twin Peaks-y style electricity buzz—I think Tom may have been tasered. If this is a nod to Twin Peaks, then fans of that show will know that The Pink Room is a piece of music by Angelo Badalamenti which is played in The Pink Room scene of Fire Walk With Me. This particular scene features the teenage Laura Palmer and her two friends being pimped out to older men, who they take drugs and perform sexual acts with in a seedy club. It’s a stretch to say there is any link to this story, of course, but it’s a nice Easter Egg for those that want it to be.

Tom Purcell discovers The Pink Room in Hoyt

Hopefully, this doesn’t spell the beginning of the end for Tom (who is now my favourite character) but I fear it might, with Hoyt’s previous go at making murders look like suicide. Tom’s place is a mound of evidence pointing to a million reasons why he might take his own life: gambling debts, being ashamed of his sexuality, and now his daughter practically accusing him of hurting her and her brother. It’s almost too perfect. What Tom’s debts tell us is that he was not receiving any money to keep quiet like his wife was. This may clear him further down the line.

Other intriguing parts of the story this week focus again on the relationship between Wayne and Amelia. The very first scene is of the couple in bed, after having sex for the first time, post-Wayne’s dramatic day at the office. He promises he’ll never judge her, a promise that he will most definitely break once they’re married. Amelia tries to get inside his mind and wants to hear his stories of the war. I found it interesting that he said he said he never thought about it, didn’t really remember. I wonder just how much of his memory loss is Alzheimer’s/dementia, and what has been buried so deep he just can’t access it. In both of these conditions, it is short-term memory that tends to go first. Long-term memory function can deteriorate as the disease progresses. Yet, Wayne can and does remember quite a lot from the past. It is only when he is pressed on something that makes him uncomfortable that he tends not to remember. Or maybe he doesn’t want to.

Whatever happened back in 1990, it must have been traumatic enough to bury deeper than him executing Woodard and the massacre that happened that day. We’re still waiting to learn what really happened to Amelia and why his daughter won’t speak to him. Those that guessed Wayne’s son and Sarah the documentary maker were having an affair were spot on. I can’t shake the feeling that all is not what it seems here—the way she pushes Hays does feel like she’s just a pushy journalist, but also like she’s trying to get into his head, like a therapist. I wonder if the whole True Crime documentary thing is a ruse, a way to get Hays to talk in a way that he wouldn’t do otherwise. Is his son now working the case? That’s definitely one of my more far-out predictions of the week for sure.

Amelia’s story is twisting. She’s becoming less and less suspicious in my mind as the weeks go by. Her book, Life and Death and The Harvest Moon, is launched where she reads a sample from the book to a small audience. Her words tell the tale of a mother losing her children in two of the most dreadful of ways—Lucy’s story. The two must form a relationship of sorts for this to have come about. The book was written while Julie was still missing, presumed dead, so with the revelation of Julie’s existence, her publishers ask for book 2. It’s not an offer she can turn down, but it just may be a decision that seals her fate. The black man with the dead eye and scar shows up at the book release, storms to the front and shouts at Amelia for profiting off the Purcell family’s misfortune. What does he know? All Amelia could utter in her shock was “dolls.”

Amelia Hays at her book launch in True Detective Season 3 Ep 6
Amelia Hays at her book launch in 1990

Amelia did her own investigations into places where Julie had been seen. This led her to a convent where a former roommate disclosed that Julie, who was known as Mary or Mary-Julie/Mary July had told her that she lived in a pink room. She was the Queen of the Pink Castle. The question is, how did she escape? The friend had a feeling that Julie didn’t know who she really was, but that since she’d been out she had turned to drugs and turning tricks. From the bedroom window, both the girl and Amelia spot a landscaping truck pull up outside, with the name Ardoin displayed. You may remember that Mike, the young boy from Episode 1—the boy who waved as Julie and Will cycled by, the boy who had a crush on Julie and knew about the dolls—his surname was Ardoin. Could Mike have helped Julie escape? He could well have had access to the Hoyt house if he had work there. Whatever the case, the girl looked a little uncomfortable at seeing the truck. Amelia would definitely have recognised the name as his teacher, so I have a feeling she’ll be paying him a visit soon.

Is that Mike Ardoin all grown up? True Detective Season 3 Ep 6
Is that Mike Ardoin all grown up?

Final thoughts: Wayne didn’t have to face any ghosts this week (I’m still curious to who the suited ghost was) but in 2015 he is working the case again with Roland. Roland appeared concerned that Wayne had access to a gun in his condition. (I feel you Roland!) That could end really badly the harder Wayne finds it to separate hallucinations from reality. In a very touching moment, Wayne leaves the room to go to the bathroom and is shocked to find Roland in the room when he returns. He’s forgotten he was even there in that short space of time. At least that’s what it appears. I’ve heard some theories that Wayne is putting on at least some of his dementia as a way to help him learn the real truth. In asking Roland to look out of the window to see if a dark Sedan was outside, I felt that was a test of Roland’s honesty. Roland says no, but we can’t be sure as we didn’t get to see the street. As I said earlier, it’s what you don’t see that might turn out to be the most important.

Did Roland lie? And if so, why? He didn’t want to feed Wayne’s paranoia? If Wayne forgets in just seconds, has he been asked the question over and over? It could be that Roland is scared and didn’t want to rock the boat. There’s a reason Mr. Popular moved to the middle of nowhere with only dogs for company. He’d hear a vehicle coming a mile off, and his dogs would hear anyone on foot. So maybe Roland is as paranoid as Wayne. Maybe he has every right to be. Being a recluse and alcoholic in his later years is not what Roland imagined for his life. One way or another, this case really did ruin the lives of everyone involved in it.

The girl tells Amelia with tears in her eyes that the real story is in what happens to children there—girls (she emphasises girls for a reason). Did she mean the convent? The town in general? Maybe both? At this point it seems like the big players in this larger conspiracy—maybe a paedophile ring or child trafficking—could be Hoyt, the Church, and the Police. Can two old former detectives, one with a drink problem and the other with memory loss, really be the ones to kick it all down? Are the hunters being hunted?

Until next week! Let me know in the comments if you picked up anything I missed or have any theories of your own.


Written by Laura Stewart

Laura is the Assistant Editor-In-Chief, a Writer and Assistant to the Webmaster at 25YL. She has been part of the team since May 2017 when she began writing about her favourite TV show of all time: Twin Peaks. She currently oversees the Film, Music and Gaming Departments. 25YL is her passion project and is constantly delighted at how big and beautiful it has grown.

Laura lives by the sea in Gower, Wales, with her husband and very special little boy.


Leave a Reply
  1. You have great insight and your a great writer. I suspected so many of the same things but not all of them. Your insight on this wonderful series is the best I have read over and over through every episode. That’s why I saved it when it was posted on FB. and now joined. I posted some of the same things last night and I also agree with you and that is there is more than one storyline going on here and believe Hays may be faking the forgetfulness. Do you blame him ? Thank you. ?

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Andrew and I have had so much fun writing about this Series, its given us such a lot to ponder, which makes it enjoyable to write about.

  2. This made me think of the episode in a whole different way. I thought it was “too convenient” that Purcell would overhear the cops talking. But now, maybe it was all part of something else. Great analysis! Very well written!

  3. Your observation and insight would make even Wayne smile. Clearly there’s a reason you top the IMDB critic review list.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Yesterday: Thoughts on Russian Doll, Part 2

Laura Palmer doppelganger screams in the black lodge

Do You Recognise Me? Laura Palmer’s Missing Doppelganger