The fourth episode of a given season of True Detective is apparently where the action comes in. After the first season kicked off with three episodes of deep philosophizing, “Who Goes There” gave us a heart-in-your-throat action chase in one of television’s most ambitious tracking shots. The fourth episode of the second season, “Down Will Come”, similarly launched us into a shitshow shootout that we’d eventually learn was the high point of the season.
The third season’s fourth entry brought us right up to that point, prepping us for a major action sequence…and then it cut to black right at the literal detonation. It’s somewhat rare to have a dearth of action sequences in our modern film and television entertainment, regardless of the genre. Outside of Mindhunter — which had not a single car chase, shootout, fistfight or explosion over the course of ten hourlong episodes — police procedurals are especially reliant on action. NCIS and the like have at least one set piece per episode.
It matters little when such taut dialogue is at play in the “quiet” scenes of “The Hour and the Day”, an episode that hurtled forward toward breaking points in three separate timelines. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing is confident as ever, if a bit derivative of stuff he already wrote in the first season. The blow-up between Wayne and Amelia Hays is especially affecting, a sort of action scene in mere vocabulary. A lot of great writers mine action from the seemingly mundane — I’m thinking of Tom Wolfe, who makes a scene about searching for a parking spot into a thrilling balls-to-the-wall safari hunt — and True Detective has become a prime example of that. So it’s a little disheartening when Wayne and Amelia suddenly decide to have angry sex as an argument-capper in the exact same way Marty and Maggie Hart did back in Season One. Sigh.
Suspect-wise, we’re almost certainly being steered toward Lucy Purcell (who casually dropped the “children should laugh” line that appeared in the ransom note in the second episode) and toward her cousin Dan O’Brien (who gets a mention in both 1990 and 2015). Though it may not be the case as far as the actual detectives are concerned, Lucy’s a common Suspect #1 amongst ‘Tec viewers for a number of reasons:
- Mainly, we don’t actually know where she was while the kids were abducted. She’s given an alibi, sure, but so has everyone else. We only met her after the abduction, so who knows what she was up to before that.
- Tom’s grieving parents note that Lucy got around and that the kids might not even be his.
- She worked at Hoyt Foods. Wayne found a Hoyt bag in Julie’s room containing reassuring notes written in an adult’s handwriting.
- She gave Wayne this look as he leafed through Julie’s drawings in that same scene, and the camera lingered a little too long:
- Lucy would be one of the few to have seen Will’s First Communion picture pose, which was replicated in his final resting place.
- The quoting of the ransom note doesn’t help.
None of these things incriminate Mama Purcell on their own, and even taken together there’s still a healthy dose of doubt. But Lucy almost certainly knows something, and her affiliation with her creepy cousin Dan only supports the sense that Lucy’s somehow involved. At the end of the day it’s unlikely that she kidnapped her own kids, killed Will, and raised Julie in secret. But she might know who did, hence her outpouring of guilt in “The Hour and the Day”, and she might have been on board with the abduction if someone convinced her that Julie could have a better life somewhere else.
That notion — the Purcell home is an unhappy, violent home, and that someone kidnapped Julie as a humanitarian rescue of sorts — sort of incriminates Amelia, of all people, a mentor to the Purcells who would have seen the effects of their parents’ behavior as she taught Will and Julie at school. The numerous clues don’t quite line up, of course, and it’s probably unlikely that Amelia is that sinister. But it raises two possibilities in that a) not all of the clues are actually related to the kidnapping, like the peephole from Will’s room into Julie’s, and that b) Julie wasn’t kidnapped at all. Maybe Julie went along with whatever transpired on that November afternoon, maybe Will died because he tried to stop her, and maybe she’s off to live a “better life”, Gone Baby Gone-style, far away from her unhappy home.
In 2015, our suspicion is definitely being directed at Elisa, showrunner for the mysterious True Criminal series in which septuagenarian Wayne is involved. Two wine glasses on the nightstand of her apartment and a number of furtive looks gave some credence to the theory that True Criminal is a front to get Wayne to open up about his recollections, and that Elisa and Wayne’s son Henry are actually police detectives themselves.
Here’s an eleventh-hour theory, one that won’t be fleshed out in this review but one that has been clawing since the credits rolled on “The Hour and the Day”: Wayne kills Amelia in 1990. This theory might have nothing to do with who kidnapped the Purcells and killed Will, but the pieces do start to fit. Wayne is clearly growing increasingly resentful of Amelia in 1990, their relationship fraught with arguments and deep-rooted insults. In 2015, Old Wayne hallucinates a number of soldiers — Vietnamese and American — as well as a man in a tie with a bullet hole in his chest. If these are men he’s killed, then his previous hallucinations of Amelia tie in strongly. It would explain Wayne’s estrangement from his daughter and the general air of frustration from Henry.
It doesn’t all quite fit snugly, but it works to a certain degree. Maybe the case we’re trying to solve — the Purcell case — isn’t actually the primary case at hand in Season Three, or at least not the only case. Maybe Wayne isn’t the detective but the suspect. In a season where dialogue seems like action, everything seems like a clue, and even Wayne’s memories seem tinged with falsehood, True Detective might just be twisting everything on its head.