True Detective: The Hour and the Day

“I wanna know the whole story.”

The fourth True Detective episode usually features a big action scene that solidifies the halfway point in the story. The harrowing one-shot sequence in season one. The relentless shooting spree in season two. This is more of a prelude to this season's intense powder-keg separating the first half of the story from the second. It's another way that this new story toys with paying lip service to what came before while contenting itself with being its own thing.

What this does instead is take its sweet time in fleshing out what exactly is going on in each of the three timelines and the states of the characters as they exist within each of those eras. It sets the stage for what comes next in the season, while also being character and dialogue heavy. It also takes more time to explore the themes of the season, which I especially enjoyed.

Racial Divide

The issue of race is finally examined, which I feel the show has been dancing around until now.

I felt it was always in the background, noticeable in the lingering, guarded or just suspicious looks that are directed at Wayne Hays, the black detective in rural Arkansas. I've noticed it from the very first episode. Some people don't realize that prejudice is not always overt. In fact, I'd say a majority of it goes understated or unspoken, in that Travis Bickle sort of way.

The thing is most of the people who regard Hays in this way probably aren't even malicious about it, or would even consider themselves racist; I know people like this. You've got ones like state prosecutor turned Attorney General Gerald Kindt who clearly looks down on Hays with this smug, dismissive superiority. Then you've got people like Mrs. Faber who will maintain politeness but always see him as an other, holding that look of thinly veiled fear and suspicion. Then there's guys like Tom Purcell, who'll drop racial slurs in moments of anger or frustration and then quickly feel ashamed; that reaction exists somewhere in their upbringing, but they know it's wrong.

No matter the shade in which it presents itself, there's no doubt it sticks in the craw of men as dignified as Hays.

Or men who aren't, as displayed when Hays and West pay a visit to Sam Whitehead, a possible lead on the one-eyed black man who bought the ominous dolls. Was his immediate rabble-rousing and accusations of racial profiling and witch-hunts just a natural reaction from an old black man who has experienced decades of injustice from white cops, or was it an easy way of avoiding direct answers to the questions he was asked? It's not entirely clear.

The hectic encounter with Whitehead and the other residents of that local ghetto did highlight the nuanced dynamic between Hays and West, which I've enjoyed throughout this season. While clearly a bit of a good ole' boy, West does not seem prejudiced. He even seems rather progressive for a man of his era, region and occupation, given his deep respect for his partner and stony admonition of Tom for his aforementioned drunken insult toward Hays. And Hays, while constantly on his toes about the racial divide between them, seems to recognize West's empathic quality, even enjoys it when West jokingly needles him about this sensitivity. It's another reason I dig this partnership, that understanding between two no-nonsense individuals.

Another character who appears not to be clouded by the resident race elephant is the priest at the Catholic church attended by the Purcells. Although West distrusts him on account of being a priest -- which would make even more sense today than in 1980 -- the man is very helpful in organizing his congregation to aid the detectives. He seems sincere in his assessment of Will and Julie and he hopes Hays, a former altar boy, would be open to confession. Nice guy, but there were certain things about his scenes that made me wonder if he might be involved in what happened to the kids.

Couples Counseling

More personal than societal, but equally important are the various relationships we are faced with in this story. It's heavily suggested that they have quite a bit of bearing on what's going on.

The big one is Wayne and Amelia's relationship. The contrast between their blossoming romance in 1980 and their rocky marriage in 1990 is very striking. We first see that the later stage is marred by feelings of resentment from Wayne and accusations of inadequacy from Amelia, despite the love they still share. After ten years, they've become worn down by the flaws and neurotic tendencies they seemed so excited about discovering at the start of their romance.

The first dinner date between Hays and Amelia was certainly the best scene in the episode. It was very cute, even sexy in a surprisingly subtle way. And their dialogue back and forth was just wonderful. Despite being so different in terms of background, occupation, politics and temperament, there was an instant chemistry that both recognized. Almost like these two people who each claim to have never wanted marriage or kids saw in each other the possibility of a future together in this first foray into intimacy.

Initially, though, there's Tom and Lucy Purcell. A couple whose furiously tumultuous marriage bred an unhappy family life, which may have played a factor in their children's secretive meetings with mysterious strangers and their eventual abduction.

Amelia gains an insight into this as she tries to comfort the distraught Lucy, and ends up getting the feeling that Lucy might be hiding something and ends up getting cursed out by the latter thanks addressing it. Not a very good first attempt at junior detective work, but she may have just unearthed a clue without realizing it. Lucy claimed that "Children should laugh", the same phrase included in the cryptic letter sent by Julie's abductor. Either Lucy was just wistfully acknowledging the logic of that message or it could be that she had something to do with what befell her children. It's still ambiguous.

As for Tom, we get to see the beginning of his and West's odd friendship as West gives the heartbroken Tom a place to stay away from his sad home. It's another indication that West is a naturally empathetic person, despite occasionally coming off as a hardass. Though it might be that his empathy has dampened somewhat in the years since.

It's a shame that the 1980 dynamic between Hays and West doesn't return when Hays is brought on board the task force of the second Purcell case ten years later. A shame, but realistic. No way the dynamic is the same after Hays got the shaft and West became the successful, award-winning career lawman who shook hands with young, pre-controversy Bill Clinton. And the fact that Hays, lead detective on the original case, is now expected to follow West's lead doesn't help. No-nonsense or not, old friends or not, pride asserts itself. To put it bluntly, dicks will inevitably be measured and pissing contested.

Haunted Houses

Now let's get more cerebral. The first season's tagline was "Touch darkness, and darkness touches you back", vey Nietzsche-like. That seems to be a constant theme throughout this series. The ways in which human horror and trauma can have dramatic effects on a person's sense of self and their reality. How they might serve as some explanation of what we see as the spiritual, supernatural and even paranormal.

It's introduced well-enough. Tom and Lucy Purcell feel trapped in their house, the place where the kids, the only thing that united them, were raised. Tom can't stay there, broken by their absence. And Lucy seems to stay in it as self-imposed prison for her failings as a mother. A disturbing situation where the place that is meant to be home feels more like hell.

The Hays household experiences a similar phenomena later, which Old Hays admits. He came to believe his unending obsession with the case infected Amelia and their children, sullying their chances at a stable, happy family. That he ended up cursing them with his own restless demons.

This takes on what could be a more literal meaning as Old Hays finds himself reminiscing on the past at the same time he struggles to beat back the ghosts in his mind. It's an incredibly haunting scene, watching him struggle to grasp the memories of his life as men he killed in Vietnam (and one caucasian man in a suit) close in and hover over him like phantoms, whispering, accusing. And the show has played so fast and loose with the line between psychologically unhinged experiences and what might be darker forces that exist on the fringes of existence. Rustin Cohle had his drug-induced visions which at times appeared to grant him insights into hidden otherworldly realms. Ray Velcoro's near death experience offered a bizarre yet prophetic glimpse into a possible afterlife. Now Wayne Hays' years of multi-faceted PTSD compounded by dementia conjure menacing ghosts from the past.

"Purple" Hays, indeed.

Escalating Confusion

But themes aside, the more concrete plot points are there as well.

In 2015, a dogged Old Hays enlists his son -- revealed to be an Arkansas State Police detective like his father once was -- in finding West to help him remember the details of the two Purcell cases. To my surprise, he tells Elisa Montgomery in their private meeting that the 1990 case haunts him most of all. Elisa informs him that she and her team of investigators discovered that the skeletal remains of Dan O'Brien, Lucy Purcell's cousin and suspect in both cases, were recently found in a drained quarry after he went missing around the time of the second case.

Which is interesting, because Dan O'Brien was already missing prior to 1990.

But Hays makes a possibly huge development in the second case when he spots a mysterious young woman who could very well be a grown up Julie Purcell on the security footage of the store where her prints were found.

Meanwhile, in 1980, Hays and West end up traumatizing Freddy Burns when his prints are discovered on Will's abandoned bike; I'd totally forgotten him drunkenly riding it at Devil's Den in the first episode.

The detectives and feds are drawn away from this obvious red herring when they catch wind of the redneck lynch mob advancing on Brett Woodard's home, who has prepared for this event with a military arsenal that's sure to deliver on the action spectacle we've all been waiting for.

Bits and Pieces:

* “The Hour and the Day” was co-written by David Milch, creator of Deadwood. This explains why the characters, dialogue and themes felt even richer than usual in this episode. Milch is almost as acerbic and literary as Nic Pizzolatto, if not more.

* There's a framed picture of a brunette woman on West's desk in 1990. I'm betting that's Lori, the girl he was putting the moves on at the church.

* Hays sarcastically raising his hand during a briefing was another fun little callback to the first season.

* Not sure if it was explicitly stated before, but Kindt, the state prosecutor in 1980, appears to have blatantly used the Purcell case to snag himself the Attorney General office. What a guy.

* Black Sabbath has been around since the late ‘60s. Seems kind of strange that a bunch of men in their 30s act as if it’s some strange new thing in the early '80s. Perhaps its mainstream recognition in my generation is simply coloring my perspective.

* During his ghostly encounter, Old Hays makes note of a dark sedan that is staking out his house.

Quotes:


Amelia (1990): Let go of me, Wayne.
Hays (1990): Stop talking shit about me!
Amelia (1990): Or what?
Hays (1990): … Or I’m gonna start crying.
Wasn’t expecting that.

Sam Whitehead: And you. How’re you gonna wear that badge?
Hays: It’s got a little clip on it.
Ha!

Hays: Can we say this was anonymous vandals?
West: We’re not going with irate negroes?

Hays (1990): We ain’t doing any of that shit they just said, right?
West (1990): Wasn’t planning on it.

Priest: Would you like to confess now?
Hays: I reckon I’ll let it pile up a little more.

Hays: Thing of it is, Father, we’re about ninety percent sure that whoever took Julie or Will is one of yours.
Priest: I find it difficult to believe that anyone here could do something like that.
Hays: They don’t exactly wear a signboard says “psycho killer.”

Four out of five Claymore mines.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Thanks for an excellent read, Logan.

Really enjoying your TD reviews.

Tim