Season three of “True Detective” had incredibly high expectations to live up to. After the critically unacclaimed season two, comprised of undeveloped characters and unconnected murders, Nic Pizzolatto had to prove that he could live up to the standards set by McConaughey and Harrelson in season one.
It started strong but lost steam around episodes four through six, and then rushed to resolve the murder mystery –– which actually proved to be shocking. Even though this season was drastically better than the prior, it lacked a resolution that left the detectives, as well as the audience, without proper closure.
Like season one, season three had a dazzling cast that opened up layers of raw emotion on the screen. Starring Mahershala Ali as Detective Wayne Hays, and Stephen Dorff as Hays’ detective partner, Roland West, the show starts with the two Arkansas detectives investigating the disappearance of two children.
Throughout the show, the camera lens shifts and tells the mysteries, not chronologically, of the murder case at different points in the detectives’ lives. It switches from when they first started working the case, to when the case was reopened for investigation, and finally discover the truth behind the children’s disappearance when they were old men. It featured a powerful female writer, Hays’ wife, Amelia, played by Carmen Ejogo, as she unlocks clues and motives while writing a book about the case. The acting, more so than the plot, supported the show in its entirety.
Even though Tom and Lucy Purcell, the missing children’s parents, were only supporting actors, their minute-long screams of horror and streams of tears permeated through the screen, and you could feel their pain. There were some excellent one-liners tossed here and impressionable passages read aloud from Amelia’s book, but is good dialogue enough to make a fine show into a memorable one?
The first episodes were riveting as you teetered between time periods and characters and began to feel that fresh chill of discomfort and apprehension. Towards the middle of the season, very similarly to season two, they introduced and reintroduced characters that had no connection to the case and tried to tie a very small relationship into the disappearances. It became hard to distinguish the shift in time, and what was happening in the past-present and the present-present.
What struck a moment of confusion was Hays’ sporadic hallucinations of his dead wife, Amelia, which made me wonder how much of his findings were real or a bi-product of a possible PTSD trauma mixed with memory loss. The last two episodes were overloaded with information. You discover what happened, but realize that there is some deceitfulness hidden within every truth, a very common theme that riddled the episodes. However, the “resolution” came from places and people that should have been emphasized more. Maybe it was Pizzolatto’s way of showing how our eyes tend to overlook the things we choose not to notice, but if so, he missed the point with some of his character development.
“True Detective” achieved what it sought to do: deliver a gripping and unexpected ending filled with twists and U-turns during the journey. The beginning and end lived up to the high expectations, but the middle, the meat of the season, got lost in its ambition. It was worth the eight hours it took to watch, not only because of the core actors and actresses, but also the underlying pattern: There wasn’t just one person who was responsible. The whole town was accountable for the crimes. No one was perfectly righteous, yet no one was perfectly innocent either. Even the detectives showed how their selfish actions led to the mystery being solved when it was too late to help, which speaks for true crime in America today. If that’s what this season was trying to portray, we should all watch and open our eyes to the truth and injustice around us.