Throughout Season 3 of True Detective, Andrew Grevas (Editor in Chief) and Laura Stewart (Content and Experience Manager) alternated weeks covering the show. Their styles were distinctly different, with Laura chasing theories and Andrew diving into the characters and social aspects of the show. With Season 3 now over, the two recently sat down to discuss the year as a whole and trade notes on what they both agreed was an amazing season of television.
AG: With as much as we’ve talked about Season 3, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you how you felt about Seasons 1 and 2 of True Detective.
LS: I loved Season 1, Matthew McConaughey really made it for me. I think it was the first time I’d seen him in a serious role and realized just what a great actor he was. It was a perfectly ‘me’ TV series, I like having to try and figure out “who dun it”, especially with the mythological ties to the story, but I think everyone agrees that it was the relationship between him and Woody Harrelson, or least between Rust and Marty that made it so special. Season 2, honestly I can barely remember what happened. Like a lot of people, I was disappointed. I always enjoy Vince Vaughan, but even with such strong actors it just fell flat. I don’t think I am saying anything original there really. How about you?
AG: Season 1 really pulled me in with the characters and the world it was set in, but I remember not being overly concerned with who actually committed the crimes. To me, it was really all about those characters and their stories. I suppose that’s a good thing considering how the Season 1 finale played out. Season 2 I almost feel like I need to revisit. I remember getting frustrated with it and then losing interest. Not sure if I would feel any differently now or not but I kind of want to try again without the large shadow of Season 1 hanging over it.
LS: Yes, I think the brilliance of Season 1 was hard to beat. Had Season 2 come first, it probably wouldn’t have been so panned. It’s interesting you say that you weren’t really interested in who committed the crimes in Season 1, as you have been very much like that about Season 3 too. Whereas I went full armchair detective, you were more involved in how the relationships between the characters played out, and it turns out that this was way more important in the end.
AG: It’s a testament to the writing. I love playing armchair detective too, but the characters in Seasons 1 and 3 of True Detective were so rich and layered that I find myself gravitating to them. To place the focus on Season 3 again, I got the impression very early on that this season wasn’t going to be a large elaborate mystery. It always felt like it was more about what the case said about the people and the impact it had on them.
LS: Absolutely. I reflected a lot on this on my drive home from work this evening. I really enjoyed trying to figure out the mystery, and I think I did guess almost everything; I didn’t think Will had been murdered from quite early on. As you said it was about the relationships between families, lovers and friends. I suppose all the way through though, I was expecting there to be a big reveal of what had happened between Wayne and Amelia, and actually, nothing major had happened. It turned out to be one of the most honest and natural relationships I remember seeing portrayed on screen. They had a really beautiful thing, despite most of the time we saw them arguing or in tense situations with each other. They stuck together for a whole lifetime.
AG: I know in my writing about this season, I kept going back to this idea I had that Wayne always chose Amelia over everything. That’s something that I was only half right about, though, because they always chose each other. It was a really honest portrayal of how love and relationships work and that was refreshing to see. The same with their kids. Our trained television detective minds had most people waiting for a shoe to drop with their daughter especially but it never did. There’s some commentary on us as a viewing audience in there waiting to be analyzed.
LS: Exactly. We were led to believe that because Wayne couldn’t remember, that his son was keeping something from him when he told him that she was living far away and that was the only reason why she wasn’t around. Turns out that was the only reason. The same goes for Wayne and Roland’s relationship. I suspected poor Wayne of doing all sorts of monstrous things that he couldn’t remember, and those being the reason for his relationship breakdowns, but they just were what they were. Roland forgave him for persuading him to keep going deeper in the investigation which led to Roland killing Harris James. Yet somehow that still wasn’t a good enough reason for them to fall out? Of course it would be in any given situation in real life, but on TV we do expect more drama.
Nic Pizzolato has been extremely clever here, as it made the story all that more compelling. There didn’t have to be a massive twist for it to be totally satisfying in the end, for me at least. Though I admit I had a Twin Peaks Season 3 moment during the final episode. Wayne and Amelia’s chat around the table was lengthy, and for a second I thought to myself, how are we going to fit all that is left to come in the time we have left? Just like I did when Cooper and Carrie/Laura took that long drive back to Twin Peaks. It dawned on me then that there wasn’t going to be a big dramatic ending. This was the reveal we had been waiting for, the moment between these two making the decision to stop investigating—choosing each other over the case.
AG: Was there anything you wished we had more clarity on, or anything that left you feeling unfulfilled in any way?
LS: Not unfulfilled as such—I guess after learning of what happened to Julie and Will from Mr. June, most of that side of the story was sewn up. I did find it strange though that it was the “ghost” of Amelia that made the true revelation of Julie’s life after her escape. I am still wondering if this was Wayne’s wishful thinking, telling himself that the story was finished on a happy ending, or if he did know this to be the truth all along, he just had to remember Amelia’s clues from a long time ago to piece it together.
Was there anything missing for you?
AG: I wouldn’t say anything was missing for me. I felt pretty happy with how everything turned out. I think the true genius of the show is that we’re left to discuss issues specific to Wayne mostly and there’s a lot left to analyze with him that really don’t have much to do with the case. Using failing memory as a storytelling device really paid off.
As for Amelia’s “ghost,” there’s a lot of ambiguity there. Was she the “true detective” of the season? Was this Wayne needing her to feel confident enough to finish this? You could read it as his dementia and PTSD having him in an in-between state of sorts and he almost tapped into that to solve the case. There’s a lot of ways it could be spun and I’m not entirely sure what I believe yet.
LS: I am in the same place as you there. The ending almost felt too nice to be real? I think we both assumed that Wayne passed away, sitting in the gorgeous sunshine, flowers blooming, his family and best friend around him, his beloved wife coming to reveal as a happy an ending as that tragic case could get. That doesn’t feel quite right somehow. I hope it is what happened of course; it did feel like everyone had come to be with him in his final moments, his daughter just seemed to ‘know’, but I am not sure that any of his surroundings were real. Then seeing him back in the jungle as a tracker, one of the memories he had buried deep in his psyche a long time before his dementia took hold, I think that is what made me believe that he had died, as if he was released from the pain of the human condition, of disease, and his mind was free.
AG: I caught some backlash for saying in my article that he died but I stand by it. I certainly acknowledge that it’s not a clearly defined outcome and people can easily define it in other ways. That being said, I’m 99.9% convinced Wayne died on the porch.
This season was a lot of things and had many themes, but it was perhaps a love story above all. As we’ve already discussed, Wayne and Amelia always seemed to choose each other, no matter how difficult things were. Whether she was real, imagined or something in between, the fact is that Wayne needed her to finally put Julie Purcell’s case to rest. He let go of the case in 1980 to help her start her career. He let go of the case in 1990 to save their marriage and family. In 2015, she helped him solve it and from a narrative perspective what does Wayne always do when he lets go of the case? It only makes sense that he went to be with her again.
LS: I agree 100%. I had assumed that it was going to be Hoyt’s influence that stopped her writing the second book, but he didn’t even have to tell her about what exactly happened with him for them both to trust each other enough to give up the case and do other things, going back to teaching in Amelia’s case, and Wayne to take a job in Security. They both could put their minds and skills to other things and be happy and that’s what they did. While its easier to remember back to watching their bad times, we forget about all the scenes where they worked so well together. Theirs was a very normal relationship. I felt almost awkward listening to Amelia shouting at Wayne at times, thinking, yup that’s me! I used to have this argument all the time about what was more important, the writing or the home life. It was brilliantly written.
I was led down so many paths that turned out to be red herrings—I was always suspicious about how and if the Rust & Marty case could have actually been linked; I am glad it turned out to be just an Easter egg.
AG: I am too. What were some of your favorite moments or scenes from this season?
LS: Anything with Scoot McNairy. He was just so brilliant as Tom Purcell, whose character changed so much from when we initially met him. His scene in the police station being questioned by Roland and Wayne; Roland who had to really push himself to be hard on him, both of them played that to perfection. Stephen Dorff seriously impressed me too. I hope for many more great roles for both of them in future.
What were yours?
AG: I have a lot. Roland with the dog in the parking lot broke my heart. Dorff really made you feel every bit of pain Roland was in there, after killing a man, essentially ending his friendship with Hays and really just being in a terrible place. That dog, after trying to turn him away, became all he had in the world there in that moment. The most haunting moment for sure was the massacre at Woodard’s house and the exchange between him and Hays before Hays killed him. That was as powerful a scene as I had watched in a long time.
To wrap things up here, what were your overall thoughts on the season?
LS: It has been without a doubt one of the best shows I have watched in years. The amount of character development they managed to get into just 8 hours was outstanding. Some people thought it was slow, but going at a faster pace than that would have ruined it for me. Every little detail, every facial expression was exquisite. The cinematography, the way the scenes jumped from decade to decade, and the makeup! They should be getting awards for such brilliant ageing makeup.
I am genuinely sad that it is over. I wanted to spend more time with these people I grew really fond of over the last 8 weeks.
AG: Absolutely agree. I have a feeling we’ll be continuing to talk about and write about True Detective Season 3 for some time to come.
Laura, it’s been a blast sharing the writing duties with you for this season of True Detective. I’m glad we, as the two people who covered the show for the site, got to have this conversation. Next week we’re going to have a full roundtable discussion about Season 3 with a few additional writers. Thanks everyone for checking this out and we’ll be back next week for the roundtable discussion!