Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for HBO’s True Detective Season 3
This season was going to be the return the greatness. After a much maligned second season of HBO’s series True Detective, writer and producer Nic Pizzolatto took ample time to write and release the third season to ensure the creative process was not rushed. Following the success of Season 1, HBO executives had requested a pretty quick rush on Season 2 – and it flopped horribly.
For seven episodes True Detective Season 3 looked the part. The season returned to many of the same aspects that worked so well in Season 1 – three intertwined story-lines from three different decades and a two detective partnership with characters whose difference brought out the best in each other. And it was working great.
Actors Mahershala Ali (Wayne Hayes) and Stephen Dorff (Roland West) both did an incredible job of playing the lead detectives and brought gravity to their characters and the various life stages they go through.
As I watched through Season 3, they did an amazing job of making it difficult to zero in on the culprit behind the murder of Will Purcell and the mysterious disappearance of Julie Purcell.
There was allusions to a massive cover-up by the local chicken factory empire, the Hoyt’s, with the assistance of seedy former police officer, Harris James. There was questions about the kid’s mother, Lucy Purcell’s, involvement and how much she really knew. There was a mysterious one-eyed man known as either Mr. June or Watts. Some reader theories even had a crazy wildcard of Amelia Reardon (Wayne Hayes’ wife) possibly in on the conspiracy. Could you imagine…
Leading into the series finale, it was hard to have any answers – which has always been the beauty of the show. Leaving the viewer guessing, creating their own theories. It’s why there are so many fan sites and articles dedicated to solving the True Detective mysteries.
The season was building so well – it was back to Season 1 greatness!
In the end, all options and all grand finales turned out to be red herrings.
There would be no massive cover-ups by big money corporations, religious institutions, or the police themselves. There would be no final firefight or gun battle as we saw in Season 1.
Instead, we find out that Mr. Jun(ius), the one-eyed man who worked for the Hoyt family, helped the Hoyt daughter Isabel pay Lucy Purcell to allow her to play and spend time with her kids after Isabel lost her own daughter in a car crash.
When an accident occurred one day while they were all playing in the woods that lead to Will’s death, Harris James does help cover up the murder by simply paying off Lucy Purcell. That’s it – that’s the entire coverup.
Julie grows up under the care of Isabel at the Hoyt mansion and after feeling bad for what happened, Mr. Junius helps her escape one day by leaving the door unlocked.
Julie finds shelter at a convent where they take care of runaway girls and when Mr. Junius tracks down Julie to this location finally in 1997, he is told she passed away back in 1995. End of the search, or so it seems.
It is here we get our only plot twist of the finale – old man Hayes and West in the 2015 story-line piece together that the landscaper at the convent is the same Mike Ardoin that was Julie’s childhood classmate. Hayes realizes this from Amelia’s book and deduces that Julie is alive and well and now with Mike Ardoin.
Hayes goes to visit the Ardoin residence and although his memory is briefly fuzzy and he forgets where he is, he ultimately comes back to reality and has his closure – Julie Purcell is alive and well and he has found her.
True Detective does pride itself on bittersweet endings, but even as bittersweet goes, I can’t help but feeling a bit let down by the conclusion. Yes, Hayes gets closure in some sense, but I just didn’t find the ending to be thrilling.
Perhaps I wanted the reality of what happened to be worse – or at a minimum more interesting. More conspiracy, more cover-up, more ties back to Season 1, perhaps.
While still better than Season 2, I thought we were back to Season 1 greatness (and it looked it for so long), but it was not to be in the end.
Perhaps nothing will ever be as good as Season 1, and we should stop trying to hold the following seasons up against it. It would probably be best if I did.
But who am I kidding – I am sure there will be another season of True Detective, and I am sure I will be watching – getting my hopes up again.