WARNING: HEAVY SERIES SPOILERS BELOW. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 7 here.
On Sunday night, Mahershala Ali sat waiting patiently in the dark of the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. That patience was soon to be rewarded; by the end of the evening he was presented with his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in two years.
While it would be his portrayal of the pianist Don Shirley in Green Book that would earn him his statuette, his thoughts were – by all accounts – on another character he had played recently.
Could Ali add an Emmy to his ever-growing collection of awards for his role as Detective Wayne ‘Purple’ Hays in the third series of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective? We wouldn’t bet against it. The 45-year-old Moonlight actor was at the Oscars in body, but in spirit, he was far away. After the ceremony he was apparently seen speaking to True Detective producers about how the finale went down with its audience after it hit US screens on Sunday night. Such is his connection and dedication to the show and character.
The answer? Pretty damn well. On the whole.
Episode 8 was the final instalment of what has been a truly excellent series. After the wildfire success of series 1 and letdown of the follow-up, the future of True Detective very much depended on how this series fared. Luckily for fans of prestige TV drama, it surpassed all expectations.
That’s not to say that this final episode was perfect, though. Some bows were left untied, flapping frustratingly in the Arkansas wind – which is quite an impressive feat, given this last slice of True Detective clocked in at almost 80 minutes.
‘Now Am Found’, like a lot of this run, has serious shades of the McConaughey/Harrelson True Detective that captured our attention some five years ago. Two hard-bitten southern cops, stretched to emotional breaking point, finally solve a case involving dead and missing children. Yet somehow they both miss a palpable sense of closure from doing so. We were even treated to a mysterious gardener proving pivotal once again.
To the plot… Julie Purcell, as we suspected, was sold by her mother to a wealthy local woman, Isabel Hoyt, after the chicken empire heiress lost her own daughter in a car accident. Julie’s brother Will was killed accidentally in woods, with Ms Hoyt and her one-eyed carer/butler/PA Mr Junius Watts covering up the death. She was raised in a ‘pink castle’ at the Hoyt mansion, drugged on lithium until Watts aided her escape as a young teen. Julie then holed up in a convent and, with the help of the sisters there, escaped recapture by faking her death and helping her start a new life.
Julie then gets together with her old school friend – and now landscaper – Mike Ardoin and the two have a child. We learn this at the same time that Hays does, but his worsening ‘condition’ has him forget the information almost as soon as he learns it. That results in a lack of closure for him (and his partner Roland), but all but guarantees the safety and future of Julie and her new family.
So for all the hints at paedophile rings and malevolent Michael Rooker-shaped poultry barons, the answer lies less in evil and more in tragedy. The boy was killed by accident and the girl was taken by a mentally ill woman and her overly loyal employee and father figure.
Previous series of True Detective – the debut run especially – saw the show’s writers take flak for their slightly one-dimensional approach to female characters and lack of interest in how the marriages and relationships of the central characters operated and evolved. The same cannot be said here. Only this series was as much about Wayne and Amelia’s battle to let down their guard and connect with each other as it ever was about the battle to find out what really happened to the Purcell kids.
The crimes also took a backseat to Hays’ dementia as the series went on. The striking horror flick music here evoked a sense of dread that something truly evil was afoot. But that was merely a ploy. The real wickedness came from what Hays’ memory loss was doing to him. What ageing does to us all.
Fans of pulpy crime thrillers and Southern Gothic might not have appreciated these scenes, but viewers drawn to character studies, personal demon fighting and drama played out on a raw and emotional level will have lapped them up.
So the wide-ranging and interconnected conspiracy theories from fans of the show didn’t come to anything. And we didn’t quite get that huge sense of relief from A Bad Guy and a shoot-out. What we got instead was an involving, gripping, stylish, clever, mature and thought-provoking eight hours of television. The kind that doesn’t come around too often.
Roll on series 4…
What did you make of True Detective series 3 episode 8? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…