So here we are, the penultimate episode of the outstanding Season 3 of True Detective. I am going to be genuinely sad when it’s over. This week’s episode, “The Final Country,” seemed to lay everything out, solve the majority of the mystery, and in a sense wipe the slate clean in preparation for what I imagine is going to be an ending that will flip the tables over and trash everything in sight. Maybe not in the story of “Whatever happened to Julie Purcell?” but in, “Whatever happened to Purple Hays?”
Many of my earlier suspicions were seemingly proved right—not that you had to be a super sleuth to figure out Hoyt was probably at the centre of Julie’s disappearance, but confirmation came that Hoyt’s daughter, Isabel, had lost her little girl and her husband in a car wreck in 1977.
This terrible tragedy understandably affected her mentally. Hays and West learn from the Hoyts’ former maid that Isabel confined herself to the estate for years, until one night she took a car out and put it through a guard rail, causing a major accident. I assume this was a suicide attempt and, as Hays commented, was more than likely when Harris James (then a highway patrol officer) met Isabel, leading to his employment with the Hoyts. But why? Had he witnessed something at that scene that the Hoyts wanted to keep quiet? James was still a cop when he planted Will Purcell’s backpack at Brett Woodard’s house, implicating him in the murder of Will and disappearance of Julie. What exactly had Hoyt offered him?
The maid stopped working for the Hoyts in 1981, shortly after Will’s death, because her movements within the Hoyt residence became restricted. She believed this was because Isabel was “getting worse,” but chances are that this was when Julie came to live at the house—in the basement which Isabel had taken over entirely, where she likely played Mom to Julie in the Pink Room. Did Isabel’s father arrange this or was this all the idea of Isabel herself? I suspect that, after Isabel’s attempted suicide, he wanted to do whatever he could to make his daughter happy—including replacing her lost daughter with someone else’s.
As I suspected the man with the dead eye did turn out to be Isabel’s driver (and caretaker). Known as Mr. June, he rarely spoke to the other staff; he was one of the few people allowed down in the basement area and kept Isabel under lock and key. June was not his real name—Watts most likely was—and I have a feeling that he was not really one of the bad guys. If he is the man who visited Amelia at her book launch, then it appears he was worried about Julie’s safety, and Amelia’s book may have made it harder to keep her safe. The book could also lead Julie to the truth since, at this point, it seems that she doesn’t know her brother is dead, and she was told her father was a monster. The voice message she left made it clear that Julie wanted nothing to do with Tom. She believed he was an imposter, maybe not because of the rumours around town that we had all heard, but because she was told a different story by her captors (plus the fact that Hoyt may actually have been her real father). Mr. June, it appears, was allowing Isabel to go to the woods regularly, probably to meet the children and groom them into going with her to live in the Hoyt house. Did he develop a deep affection for Julie? If so, her learning the truth of what really happened could ruin their relationship. His nickname being Mr. June rings bells, too—remember how Julie’s friend at the convent said she called herself Mary July? Were these pet names for each other?
So, while the bigger picture is being painted as a possible people-trafficking or paedophile ring similar to the story of Season 1—and wasn’t that an absolute delight to see Rust and Marty’s faces on the internet in 2015?—I am not entirely convinced that this is the answer here, at least not in relation to Julie’s story. I can’t quite believe that Lucy Purcell or Dan O’Brien knowingly sold those children to a paedophile ring. Neither of them were the most upstanding members of society, but they weren’t evil. Lucy did love her children, and I still believe she wanted better for them. Sending them to live at the Hoyt house, where they would not have to want for anything, would have seemed merciful to Lucy in her desperation. Amelia’s visit to the bar where Lucy used to hang out shed some light on how Dan may have been involved in setting up what was possibly intended to look like a kidnapping. Dan had been spotted speaking to the black man with the dead eye, but Lucy herself had not.
Amelia’s investigations also led her to Lucy’s old pal, Margaret, one of the few remaining people living in the town who was directly involved in the aftermath of the crime. She was one of the few to see the children riding off to the park the day they disappeared. Her home is run down, she hoards everything—a way to remember what happened to them—and even has a photograph of the children on Halloween, being pursued by two adults dressed as ghosts (most likely Isabel and Mr. June, who gave them the dolls). This could have been the first time the children were approached—not a signifier of a paedophile ring, just a gift from a mother to “her” children. Michael Myers tells us all we need to know about Halloween: it’s the one day of the year anyone can go outside in a disguise and no one bats an eye. This was Isabel’s chance to be outside of the house without anyone noticing.
I am still not totally convinced that Will was murdered. I stick by my theory that he could have had an accident while running away from Freddy Burns. Isabel and Mr. June may have found him and laid him to rest. The dolls led Hays to the discovery of his body, but this was no sacrifice. This was Isabel, who is most likely very religious, positioning the boy in a way that he could be delivered to God. If this is what happened then it is sad to think that he was running to what he thought was a safe place, to be with people he trusted would take care of him, unaware of his fate either by murder or being held captive for years. Isabel and Mr. June couldn’t have informed the police about this without alerting them to her plan—especially if they had already taken possession of Julie at this point—but they still knew they couldn’t just leave him there alone.
We got no closer to finding Julie this week, but once again someone posthumously took the fall for the girl’s kidnapping and Will’s death: their father, Tom Purcell. At the end of Episode 6 death seemed the likely outcome for my favourite character. Nevertheless, I was sad to see that it had happened—his body propped up at the water tower, fake suicide note in hand. You really didn’t need to be a detective to work out that Tom would not have typewritten a suicide note and that it couldn’t be considered reliable evidence without his handwriting. Plus, he’d lost a shoe on the steps. Clearly he’d been dragged there while unconscious, after being hit in the back of the head. We know who by, too: Harrison James, the Hoyts’ head of security. What is still a mystery at this stage is whether Tom really did see his daughter in the Pink Room and, if so, was she there willingly? I would guess that yes, she was, if she still believed all the lies she was told about her dad.
Does this mean that Julie had escaped at one point, but has been recaptured?
In 1990, Hays discovers phone records showing that James had spoken to Lucy Purcell around the time of her death, in addition to flight records that placed him in Las Vegas at the time of her death. This evidence of his involvement leads Hays and West to take another detour off the official lines of enquiry. They track James down and take him to the barn where they had some violent fun with the paedophile in episode 2. James all but admits they are on the right track in accusing him of Lucy’s murder, and the murder of Tom Purcell, too. The pair beat him pretty badly, enough to make them believe him when he said his lung was punctured and he couldn’t breathe, but it was a trap. Hays uncuffed him from the post and James attacked him, giving Roland no choice but to shoot—several times. What interested me about James’s death is that he wasn’t scared in the lead-up. He was arrogant, almost wanted it to happen. Whatever secret he was protecting, he felt it was worth dying and killing for.
So here we are, and the underlying mystery appears to be all but solved. Hays and West’s big fallout happened at this point. West blames Hays for using Tom Purcell’s tragic death as a way to encourage him to keep pursuing the case, leading to him to kill by being a manipulative, egotistical…you know what he was going to say but didn’t. As Roland said himself, “I just want you to know that I’m thinking it.” That cut deep. All those years, all the times Roland had stood by him, no matter how strong their friendship, Hays’s colour was still a factor and something that could be used to hurt him enough to put a pause on their friendship for 25 years.
But of course there is, for sure, a larger conspiracy at play in addition to what happened to Julie. Her roommate at the convent confirmed that to Amelia while getting tearful about what happens to girls there. The police are in on it, especially Arkansas Attorney General Gerald Kindt, and it probably reaches as far as the church and politicians. In 2015, Elisa, the true-crime reporter (and his son Henry’s lover) puts it to Hays that he suspected this, that he never went along with the official version of events and that is what ruined his career. Hays won’t be drawn into this though; he knows what she’s saying is true and uses his memory loss as a reason to end the conversation. Going on film pleading ignorance and towing the party line might just save his (or someone else’s) skin, or at least buy him some time to work the case behind the scenes. He really is being watched. The black sedan parked outside his home is no illusion. Have 25 years passed and Julie still not been found?
The episode ends with Hays and West in 2015, still discussing the case. West is trying to convince Hays to give it up but he won’t because the “ghost” of Amelia told him to finish it. West understands his need to do this, but he is in full knowledge of what really happened to Amelia—how did she die, and when? This is perhaps the most important thing we need to keep in mind for the finale.
Hays takes to the street with a baseball bat to confront the stranger in the car. It speeds off, but not before West gets its number plate. Then everything goes dark. In a stunningly shot scene, Hays is alone in the street and spies a fire in the distance. He tracks it, to a place in his memory: the night that West killed James, when he stood in his yard and burned his clothes to get rid of the evidence. Amelia finds him and is noticeably frightened to consider exactly what he has done. He promises her that they’ll speak in the morning, but when morning comes, their conversation is rudely interrupted by a phone call from Hoyt, who knows exactly what has happened to James. Hoyt makes it clear to Hays that his family is in danger if he doesn’t comply. With little other choice, he reluctantly gets inside one of the black cars waiting outside for him.
Of course we know that he comes back from this visit as he’s still alive in 2015. He probably does continue his conversation with Amelia upon his return, maybe tells her everything, for her “ghost” reminded him that there was something that could be found in the woods—quite possibly the remains of Harrison James. We also know that at some point around this time Amelia decides not to write a second book on the case. I imagine this is to keep their family safe, but also perhaps Julie.
Wayne and Amelia’s relationship has been the most intriguing and fascinating story for me this season. We learned that Wayne actively encouraged Amelia to write the book, even being willing to give up his work on the case to allow her to follow her dream. Something changed through the years though; his support for her was overtaken by his ego. Amelia was in some ways a better detective than Wayne, and was in a position to investigate without the bureaucracy on her back, allowing her to have the boldness he was not able to show without risking his career. Only now, in his late years—and perhaps too late—was he able to investigate the way he always wanted to. So when the tables were turned and he returned to work on the case in 1990, was Amelia as supportive of him? The answer to that is no, but her attitude was perhaps understandable.
The first scene in this episode is perhaps the most important of them all. Hays drives his daughter to her first day at school. This does not happen in a time that we have visited before. It is after 1990, closer to his older years, most likely around 2005 when Becca would have been around 20 and Hays was reaching retirement. To add a new time to the mix at this stage must be of major importance—perhaps new memories reaching the surface of Hays’s mind that he hasn’t been able to unpack before now? It is still so difficult to separate what is Hays’s dementia and what is perhaps PTSD. We know he buried many of those memories deep, but they return in the form of ghosts. What does this tell us about his visions of Amelia?
The ghosts we have seen arrive in his home are those of people he likely killed, or was at least responsible for their deaths: Vietnamese soldiers, Woodard, James. If Amelia’s ghost means that he was responsible for hers then this would explain why his daughter won’t see him, cannot forgive him. His son Henry clearly doesn’t feel the same way though, maybe because of his job as a police officer. I am still vaguely holding onto my far-reaching theory that this true crime documentary is not what it seems, and Wayne is actually under investigation or assessment for his state of mind at the time a crime was committed.
Wayne doesn’t remember why Becca won’t see him and Henry is tetchy about giving him details as to why, so whatever happened can’t have been good at all. Amelia’s ghost was clearly not happy with Wayne either. Even so, she pushed him to finish it, one way or another. This couple, both so similar, both so determined to crack this case, both so in love with each other really, but the case always took precedence and was also the glue that held them together. I feel that finishing it will spell the end in every sense.
All of the Purcell family are dead except Julie as far as we know. Dan O’Brien had every reason to be paranoid it seems, and took his secrets to a shallow grave.
If Julie did escape once, how did she manage that? My money is still on old school pal and landscaper Mike Ardoin. How and why or even if she returned to the Hoyt house will be fascinating to learn.
Who is spying on Hays? Could it be Julie?
Is Margaret as innocent as she looks? That wreath she was making for Tom was very similar to the twigs bound at the scene of Dora Lange’s sacrifice in Season 1. Are these two stories really related? While my suspicions say no, I would truly love it to be the case. Will we hear of the Tuttle Cult and the Yellow King again?
Creator (and absolutely brilliant storyteller) Nic Pizzolatto confirmed on Instagram that West is not gay. In light of this, one has to wonder why he and Lori split up and he appears not to have had any further relationships. My feelings remain that he has intentionally removed himself from society—no one can get hurt if he has no one to care about. He’ll hear them coming a mile off, if and when they come. He’ll be prepared, and so will his dogs. Did he learn this lesson from what happened to Hays and his family? I think this is what we will find out next week in the finale episode.
Next week I will leave you in the excellent hands of Andrew Grevas, and we will both catch up for a series wrap-up in a few weeks time!