If you’re as into this season of True Detective as I am, “Hunters in the Dark” had it all.
Plot-wise there were developments we knew were coming, like the wrongful incrimination of Brett Woodard in the 1980 timeline. There was a whole bunch of stuff we probably didn’t know was coming, mostly stemming from the 1990 timeline and Tom Purcell’s regression back into a suspect in the eyes of the police. There was, of course, a big ol’ reveal at the end, one that we’ll talk about in a second after we issue a spoiler warning for that spoilery spoiler.
Character-wise there was the resurgence of previously-introduced characters (Cousin Dan O’Brien), the proper introduction of others (Officer Harris James), and confirmation of a connection between two we might have suspected were hiding something (Henry and Elisa, having an affair). Possibly the most impactful character-centric moment came in 2015, when Old Wayne and Old Roland talk shop in Wayne’s home. Wayne goes to the bathroom and comes back surprised to find his old friend Roland standing in his office. It’s a sad gut-punch of a moment, one in which both Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff are stunningly convincing in spite of prosthetic beer bellies and facial makeup. Earlier in the episode, 1980 Wayne all but brags about his ability (which Amelia calls a “superpower”) to purposefully not remember his Vietnam days. The turnaround to 2015, when Wayne would do anything to remember his past, is heartbreaking.
Case-wise, going into the penultimate hour of the season, there were a few tantalizing breadcrumbs that signal we still have much to learn about what actually went down in 1980. The most puzzling may be the encounter Amelia has at her book release signing in 1990, when a black man with a dead eye chastises her for “makin’ [her] money and milkin’ they pain”. A man matching this description was supposedly cruising around in a nice Cadillac with a white woman in 1980, and might also have been the one to purchase the wicker dolls found at the scene of the crime. Notably, Amelia seems to recognize something vital in this man’s appearance. “Dolls,” is all she says. Huh.
Storytelling-wise, there was a bit more of that awesome overlapping-timeline stuff that we drooled over in our review of last week’s “If You Have Ghosts“:
And, yes, of course, “Hunters” had the most significant shouldn’t-this-be-happening-in-the-finale case revelation so far this season, coming in the final moments when Tom Purcell takes matters into his own hands. We now know that there is in fact a very clear connection from the Hoyt Family to the disappearance of Will and Julie Purcell. Julie’s references to the “pink castle” and her drawings of a pink room are now more than just references and drawings. Though we still don’t know exactly what went down, you can bet that the previous “loss” of a Hoyt Family granddaughter prompted someone in that family to take drastic measures to fill that void. And because Julie’s drawings show the room that Tom discovers in 1990, we know that Julie was going there before the abduction. By the standards of this mystery series, that’s a major revelation.
Tom Purcell is the only in-world person to have this revelation; Nic Pizzolatto might refer to Amelia as the “third detective” in the HBO “Inside the Episode” segment following this hour, but from where I’m standing Tom’s amateur sleuthing has just cracked the case. It’s interesting that someone other than Wayne and Roland makes this discovery, but it’s even more interesting that we viewers are in on it too. Season One did that as well, when we learned before the detectives did that Errol Childress was the man responsible for the murder of Dora Lange. Given the themes of memory this season, it feels fitting that we now have more perspective than a character who loses most of his.
And sticking with the real-world perspective, it must be noted that Scoot McNairy has always been compelling in pretty much everything in which he’s appeared. He was a hoot as the moronic Maurice LeFay in Fargo’s third season, crucial to the likes of Argo and Killing Them Softly, and poignantly heartbreaking throughout Halt and Catch Fire. Heck, the dude even gave a powerful voiceover performance (no easy task) in Narcos: Mexico. But Tom Purcell might just be his best role to date, and “Hunters in the Dark” was an absolute showcase for what this actor can do. If Batman v. Superman had actually used McNairy instead of shoving him into a worthless bit part, that movie might actually be watchable.
If there are any lingering doubts going into the final two episodes, one might be that the 1980 timeline — you know, the one that could be subtitled the reason we’re here at all — might just fizzle into nothing as the 1990 and 2015 stories hone in on Wayne’s desperation to solve the case. Now that Woodard’s been indicted, 1980 feels pretty wrapped up; it’ll be interesting to see if any more data points emerge from that timeline over the final two hours. I hope all three storylines remain as compelling as they’ve been so far, and I hope there’s still enough mystery left now that we know of the Hoyt Family involvement. And jeez, I hope poor Tom makes it.