“This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me, ‘Time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again…”
– Rust Cohle, True Detective series 1
When Nic Pizzolatto created True Detective for HBO back in 2014, he had no idea that his brooding crime drama, complete with its nihilistic Nietzsche-quoting lead played by Matthew McConaughey, would be such a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. Its striking mix of beautiful cinematography, dark themes, engagingly odd characters, philosophical monologues, obscure literary references and hat tips to the occult won the show a sizeable cult following. One that was to give the eventually disappointing second season a pretty tough act to follow.
For its third run, Pizzolatto has gone back to the original winning formula. Let’s get this cleared up nice and early… True Detective series 3 is much more similar to its debut outing than its sophomore effort. Much, much more similar.
The comparisons are obvious from the get-go. It doesn’t feel like a ‘homage’ or a cowardly return, either. More of a realignment. And, after the misstep of the jarringly confused and messy second series, a very welcome one, at that. It feels as if we’re back in the same universe, such are the parallels and similarities.
We’re also back to a pair of slightly mismatched cops driving around the Deep South looking for child killers. There’s a multi-timeline structure here too; this time we’re watching the story unfold across three passages of time (1980, 1990 and 2015). There’s also a return of the foreboding atmosphere, the Southern Gothic ambience, the symbolism and even the frequent scenes of two grumpy investigators mumbling at each other in a car. The resemblance between series 1 and 3 is striking.
While the likeness to the maiden series is obvious and intentional (there’s even mention of the ‘crooked spirals’ so beloved of the amateur internet sleuths that make up the show’s most dedicated fanbase), this is no lazy carbon copy. From the off, there are different themes at play here in season 3. One topic that’s touched upon subtly here in this first part is racism. The main issue, though? The reliability of memory and how much can we trust ourselves and our own version of what happens in life.
The excellent Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali plays the lead, Wayne Hays. A former Vietnam veteran, we watch this outsider cop across the trio of time periods trying to work out exactly what happened to Will and Julie Purcell, a pair of young siblings that disappear one day from their Arkansas home. Stephen Dorff plays Hays’ partner Roland West, another former armed forces type and ‘man’s man’, not unlike season 1’s Marty, played by Woody Harrelson.
As this premiere draws to a close, there’s a break in the search for the missing children. Hays, an expert tracker from his days as a ‘lurp’ – or ‘long-range reconnaissance patrolman’ – in Vietnam finds the body of young Will. His corpse is posed in a praying position, with a series of ominous poppet-like dolls dotted all around, leading to the scene. The second timeline has Hays giving a deposition to some colleagues about his findings on the case, the insinuation being that there’s been a break in the case ten years on and the man they had originally put away for the crime may well be innocent…
As an older man, in 2015, we find out that Wayne’s memory is deteriorating. He’s developed a form of dementia and it’s clouding his mind, regardless of how much he insists to his son Henry (Ray Fisher) that thinking and talking about the old Purcell case is a good way to exercise his brain. The fascinating thing about having the older Hays as one of our guides through the story is that he is, through no fault of his own, the very definition of the unreliable narrator.
How will the story play out? Who will be turn out to be responsible? It’s too early to say, of course. Our early thoughts? Well, given the tone of True Detective, they’re suitably Nietzschean. With the overarching theme seeming to be the unreliability of memories and knowing how dark True Detective can get, we think there’s a chance that Hays – and us by extension – will never really find out who killed Justin Purcell.
Let’s wait and see. “This is a world where nothing is solved,” after all.
Did you tune in to watch True Detective series 3 episode 1? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below…
Read Steve’s review of episode 2.