“You got some major cognitive dissonance,” Detective Wayne Hays tells his wife Amelia after she suggests their heated argument here in episode 4 be solved with a little underwear-dropping, against-the-wall marital action. And he may be right. But then again, when it comes to following the intricacies of a series of True Detective, it pays to be able to juggle multiple theories and ideas in your mind at once. No matter how conflicting, jarring and incompatible they may be with one another.
This fourth episode of series 3 – and twentieth in total – is the very first to be directed by the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto. A writer by trade, you’d be prepared to allow a little meandering or a slight lack of focus to creep into the drama here, but the reality was quite different. This was easily the sharpest, most absorbing and tightest hour of True Detective’s third season yet.
So intent was Pizzolatto on shifting things on here, he seemed to forget a few of the more stylistic flourishes employed by this third series to date, with the timeline shifts being slightly too workmanlike and lacking in any real subtlety or pizazz. Still, he did make it easily the funniest episode so far, with at least four or five laugh out loud one-liners peppering the script this week. Freddy Burns’ interrogation scene, for example, wouldn’t have been out of place on Saturday Night Live. It was a notable tonal shift on previous weeks, but a welcome one nonetheless.
It was also the run’s most revealing episode. Up to this point, there’s almost been a kind of constipation around details. Sure, we’ve got a crime, a cast of characters, some suspects and even a few clues. Yet we’ve also had a real feeling that things are being held back. Emotions, plot points, character development… All that began to change here as we neared the midway point, though. If the first half of the season was mostly about story pitching and mood setting, we’ve got a hunch that we’re in for a real ride now in the second half.
Alongside the main ‘detective’ plot, we saw more of how Wayne and Amelia’s relationship works/worked. With her seemingly adept at being to manipulate and control Hays, even when he’s intent on shutting down emotionally. While still far from malevolent, Carmen Ejogo’s character continues to hint at a darker side.
Easily the most notable theme dealt with here though was race. From how the detectives and the gathering crowd interacted with each other during their tense visit to the trailer park (“How you gonna wear that badge…?” “It’s got a little clip on it.”), to the visit to the old lady that made the dolls, race relations is a topic that’s never far away. Given the Purcells’ casual use of the N-word and other pejorative terms, there’s little wonder too.
This fourth slice of Southern Gothic ended with a serious promise of an explosive opener next week. Quite literally. As the ‘nam vet ‘Trash Man’ Brett Woodard is chased back to his house by the angry mob of rednecks that have made him Scapegoat Number One, Hays and West attend the scene. They jump out of their car just as a booby-trapped bomb looks set to explode and a possible firefight may well ensue. The resulting bullet exchange perhaps accounting for Roland’s limp. We’ll have to see.
As for who killed Will Purcell… Well, we’re still not all that much closer to finding out who was behind it, or who took his sister Julie. In 1980 we’ve got the teenage Freddy Burns weeping suspiciously in custody and a messy search for a one-eyed black man causing diplomatic incidents (apparently missing eyes were surprisingly common in the industrial sun belt of America back before the advent of Health & Safety).
Then there’s the creepiness of the Purcells’ Catholic priest and the continuing oddness surrounding the family of the town’s big employer, chicken folk, the Hoyts. Oh, and there’s the cousin Dan O’Brien (who we discover is now dead), the overly guilty mother Lucy, the booby-trapping Trash Man and whoever drives that elusive brown sedan…
There are reasons to suspect all of them. Maybe they all did it. Now there’s a theory that really does require some major cognitive dissonance.
What did you make of True Detective series 3 episode 4? Let us know down in the comments…