True Detective: The Big Never

“You feel like maybe being a detective again?”

I’m sensing the overall theme of this season is uncertainty.

This appears evident in the fractured point of view Wayne Hays, the detective with the faltering memory and a dark and troubled past. A past he is equally longing to remember and desperate to forget.

Old Hays seems just as uncertain of the truth within the Purcell case as his past selves, and finding the truth has never been harder now that he is dealing with not only senility creeping in, but the ghosts of the pasts as well. The ghost of the late Amelia strongly hints that there are things he has allowed himself to forget, things which might compromise the proud integrity that lingers even in his twilight years.

Elisa, the documentary director, may have planted this seed of doubt in his mind when she reveals that there happen to be a lot of holes in the original 1980 investigation. Several members of the community were apparently never questioned, and Hays cannot account for a few who were questioned and divulged pertinent information.

Information which Hays and West get a lead on in this episode. Hays discovers Will’s backpack near the spot in the woods where he was likely murdered. And a local brings to their attention new suspects, a black man with a scar and a white woman who both rode in a brown sedan. They also find that the abductors might have known the children through church, since an old family photo shows Will in a prayer position similar to the one his corpse was staged in.

New suspects might not matter, since I was right about the West Finger rednecks going on a witch hunt and attacking Brett Woodard. The mysterious bag Woodard furiously retrieves from his property can’t bode well. Pretty sure they’re barking up the wrong tree, and I’m thinking he’s going to retaliate and end up making himself look even more guilty than he already did before.

Meanwhile, we get a bit more elaboration on what’s going on in 1990. Hays and Amelia’s attempt at sleuthing in the name of finding Julie only leads to strife in their marriage. Hays panics when he briefly loses track of his daughter at the super market. And since he’s still the only one truly aware of the darker side of the case, Amelia’s enthusiasm at her budding investigatory skills only irritates him.

We get a lot more of Roland West in this episode than we have previously. In 1990, he’s made lieutenant and doing very well for himself. Hays later suggests that his success is a result of being white and getting shot in the line of duty; I guess we’ll see that happen later. Lt. West still greatly respects his former partner, so much so that he invites him onto the task force he’s leading in the new Purcell investigation. Finding no joy in being reduced to desk duty following the first investigation, Hays accepts.

This last scene was my favorite. It establishes that there is a lot of friction between the two men, but they still share a bond over their past as partners in addition to their general cheeky cop’s sense of humor. A lot of great back and forth dialogue in this scene.

I’m glad that they seem to be dropping the deposition format at this point; the documentary aspect in 2015 doesn’t really count, in my opinion. As I’ve said before, fun though it may be, it’s a bit too similar to season one. And this story deserves to be its own thing.

Bits and Pieces:

* This episode highlights something I overlooked in the premiere episode, which is that 70-year old Hays keeps his service revolver handy in case he “needs it.” The implication being that he’s frequently contemplating suicide. Whether this is solely to avoid being put in a rest home by his son or to atone for his past remains to be seen.

* West maintains ties with Tom Purcell of all people in the years following the 1980 case, even helping overcome his alcoholism. Tom has subsequently become a born-again christian in 1990. Lucy seems to have died somehow in the years in between.

* We’re introduced to the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, which posted a reward for Julie Purcell’s return and subsequently led to many false reports of her whereabouts. It was established by the Hoyt family, which also owns Hoyt Foods, where Lucy Purcell used to work. And the OCOC was founded after the loss of Hoyt’s granddaughter. A bit suspicious. The past two seasons have featured dark conspiracies at the heart of their respective investigations. Either this is it or it’s one big red herring.

* Speaking of possible misdirections, Hays wasn’t happy that Amelia went out for dinner and drinks with one of the detectives overlooking the Walgreens robbery where Julie’s fingerprints were discovered, ostensibly to flirt information out of him. Are we meant to wonder if she cheated on Hays, or are we just meant to think Hays is wondering? He’s clearly paranoid when it comes to his family.

* The poem Hays and Amelia keep discussing is called Tell Me a Story by Robert Penn Warren. It also seems to highlight the theme of uncertainty I mentioned. I found it interesting that Amelia tells Hays in 1980 that we separate ourselves from something when we name it, and the next scene features Hays in 1990 telling her he still can’t read her book because he keeps seeing his name in it; I guess he’s already separated himself from the case, or rather the story of the case.

* “Purple” Hays probably has more significance beyond being just a funny nickname. Many interpret the song “Purple Haze” as evoking some psychedelic experience, but Jimi Hendrix apparently saw it as more of a love song. This might be fitting, as Hays’ relationship with Amelia seems to be as meaningful as his trippy relationship with time and memory. “Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?”

Quotes:


Old Hays: People don’t remember being babies. Good we get to revisit this stage at the end.

West (1990): I think once we stopped working together, we just stopped. Sometimes it’s like that with people.

Amelia’s ghost: Scientists now theorize an infinite number of dimensions outside our own. Einstein said past, present and future are all a persistently stubborn illusion… And are you waking up to that illusion, now while things fall apart? Are you starting to see them clearly? And at the end of all things, are you awakening to what you withheld? Did you confuse reacting with feeling? Did you mistake compulsion with freedom? And even so, did you harden your heart against what loved you most? Oh sweetheart, did you think you could just go on and never once have to look back?

Still very good, but I believe the next episode will offer a bit more clarity on what we've seen so far. Four out of five backpacks full of toys.

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