Television is an unforgiving medium. Superficially, the longer format should theoretically give rise to opportunity for deeper character development than can usually be accomplished in a two-hour film. Among many takeaways from the first chunk of episodes of True Detective‘s third season was this: Wayne Hays is a great television character that would likely turn out differently in almost any other medium. The other edge of this sword, of course, is that a whole season of television is a fairly long time to invest in any specific narrative. And among many takeaways from ‘Tec‘s third season finale “Now Am Found” was this: Wayne Hays deserved a much better ending.
The issue with the climactic hour — which has already proven fairly divisive amongst both fans and detractors of this season’s arc — lies less in what happened than in how it happened. In our review of the penultimate episode “The Final Country”, we listed a few things that we expected out of the finale. Not all of them came to pass:
- Hoyt’s ace. We figured he had one up his sleeve, likely involving a threat to Wayne’s family unless he drops the case in ’90. This technically happened, but Michael Rooker’s anticipated appearance as Hoyt lasted one scene and sort of did nothing to advance the story.
- Becca lost. I (and many others) had been reading Becca’s absence as a result of estrangement, perhaps rooted in Amelia’s death. Not only was Becca’s absence not actually important, but specifics of Amelia’s death were never referenced either.
- Julie found. As we guessed, meeting a 45-year-old Julie in 2015 did best underscore the longevity of Wayne’s search for her…but, well, more on the how of that revelation in a minute.
- Wayne/Roland defeat. This was less an explicit parting of ways between Wayne and Roland and more a scene in which Roland gets the shit kicked out of him and befriends a dog in a parking lot. Can’t believe we didn’t predict that one!
- Wayne/Roland victory. The Elderly Gentlemen’s Detective Club does indeed crack the case, inasmuch as figuring out who took Julie and why can be called “cracking the case.”
- Stephen Dorff Face. Oh yeah. Nostrils a-flaring.
“Now Am Found” was the season’s longest episode, and it felt like the longest one, too. One of the most admirable things Nic Pizzolatto has accomplished as a writer (both in Season One and Season Three of ‘Tec) is to maintain a palpable sense of tension throughout two or three time periods in the same story. Narrative tension boils down to not knowing what happens next, and jumping around the timeline inherently robs the story of that uncertainty. Or it can, in the hands of a lesser writer. The vast majority of this season averted that in a clever way, using Wayne’s memory gaps as a source of tension rather than a cheap opportunity to cherry-pick important information.
“Now Am Found” seemingly forgot this entirely, especially in the back half of the episode. Each of the timelines seemed to reach conclusion or moment of clarity only to jump across to another timeline. It robbed each successive conclusion of the tension it would have had on its own. Here at Motion State we’ve harped all season about how awesome some of the narrative flourishes have been, from the moon-in-the-puddle shot in the pilot episode to the Wayne-in-the-glass moment in “Hunters in the Dark”. But those moments were awesome because they serviced the story by putting us in Wayne’s state of mind. In “Now Am Found,” when the twirling camera spins around a moving car and gives us a kaleidoscopic look at 1980, 1990 and 2015 versions of Wayne and Roland, for the first time it felt like the visual gimmickry of the shot outweighed the need to keep us rooted in Wayne’s experience.
The second storytelling qualm was the double-twist. Some of the greatest conclusions in cinematic history are double-twists, endings where you’re surprised to learn one thing and then more surprised to learn something new at the eleventh hour. Here, the first twist was that the theories about a prostitution ring and a massive conspiracy headed by multinational magnate Edward Hoyt were wide of the mark. Isabelle Hoyt, having gone insane after the death of her daughter, accidentally killed Will and then took Julie as her own surrogate. She had the help of Junius Watts, caretaker for the Hoyt Family, who eventually freed Julie in 1990 after discovering the true extent of Isabelle’s dominance over her. Julie spent some time at a convent and then died, buried in a grave marked “Mary July.”
Before we even get to the double-twist, Twist #1 played out in a more hamfisted manner than expected. Mister June sits at the table and explains everything for five minutes. After seven episodes of intricately-woven timelines that shifted and bled into each other with indiscriminate elegance, five minutes of Here’s What Happened dialogue didn’t register as the pivotal aha! moment it should have been. Mister June’s entire character felt a bit shoehorned in, especially taking a step back to consider that the case might never have been solved if this eyewitness (get it?) who knew everything about the Purcell case hadn’t simply parked outside the detective’s house 35 years after the murder/kidnapping. Rarely has ‘Tec been accused of narrative convenience, but the accusation is sadly earned here.
The real gut punch, personally, is that Twist #2 is the superior revelation both in theory and in how it plays out in the episode. Julie’s not dead after all, but is living as a 45-year-old wife and mother in a quiet part of Arkansas called Greenland. She even has a daughter that she names Lucy, after her own mother, and we see an aging Wayne bump into little Lucy in “Now Am Found”. For a season entirely wrapped up in Wayne trying to help a lost Julie, seeing a happy Julie helping a lost Wayne was far and away the best scene of the episode. Maybe Wayne even remembers himself for a second as he’s drinking that glass of water, choosing not to burden Julie now that she’s truly living a life of her own. Still, the moment of wow, Julie’s still alive ended up playing out only a few scenes after the moment of huh, I guess Julie’s dead. The double–twist simply lessened the impact of that second revelation. If we had figured Julie for dead in 2015 before the events of “Now Am Found”, the Greenland scene as written might have been more effective. As it stands, there wasn’t enough time to really process Julie as truly dead and gone.