True Detective is back for a third season, and it seems to have returned to it’s darker roots in the best way possible.
The third season of True Detective premiered last night with the first episode, “The Great War and Modern Memory.” The story begins with Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), a Vietnam Vet and former Detective who in 2015 is losing his memory as an old man. Hays is haunted by a case from 1980 centered around the disappearance of Will and Julie Purcell, a set of young siblings who disappeared after going for a ride on their bikes. Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) wrapped up the case in the 80’s only for it to be reopened in 1990 when the person convicted of kidnapping and killing the kids attempted to clear their name. Now in 2015, Hays works to remember the details of the past while being interviewed by a tv crew documenting the case.
The new season is starting off strong with the same dark tone that it flourished in for season 1. Like that first season this season already feels incredibly character driven, with a lot of focus on Ali’s Detective Hays. It’s evident from the beginning that there’s more to this story than Hays is revealing so far, the question is whether it’s due to his memory loss, or if he’s hiding something darker. He says at one point that before the Purcell case everything was “before ‘nam and after ‘nam,” but after, it all became “before the Purcell case, and after the Purcell case.”
One of the personal elements evident in the case is the meeting of Hays’ future wife, Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), an English teacher at the Purcell kids’ school. There’s an immediate chemistry between Amelia and Wayne, and we see in 2015 that Amelia eventually wrote a book about the case after it was reopened in 1990. Amelia and Wayne would also go on to have at least one son named Henry (Ray Fisher), who takes care of Wayne in his old age, as Amelia seems to have already passed in 2015.
The majority of the episode establishes the rapport between Detectives Hays and West, who clearly respect each other and have a great working relationship. It also begins unfolding the mystery of the case at the center of this series. The Purcell’s are children to Lucy (Mamie Gummer) and Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy), a couple who are having marital issues as Lucy seems uninterested in being a wife and mother anymore. It’s unclear if they had any connection to the disappearance, but there does seem to be something dark going on at home that has yet to be revealed.
Overall the first episode does an excellent job of slowly starting the story, giving us just enough to be invested and interested right off the bat. A major aspect of this is the exceptional work by Mahershala Ali. His performance is, as always, is top notch. There’s a reason why Ali has become a hot commodity in recent years, and why his name has continued to come up in conversations about Oscar nominations, even after just winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar two years ago. The man knows how to give EVERYTHING when he’s on screen. And he doesn’t hold back in True Detective. When it was announced that he was leading this season, it was a major point in the series favor. Now, it’s clear that having him lead this season is what will make it on par or maybe even better than the exceptional first season. No matter what, we’re invested and excited for whatever comes next. Which is a good feeling after 5 years of waiting since season 1.
You can catch True Detective each Sunday at 10pm ET on HBO, and watch previous episodes on HBO GO, HBO Now and HBO VOD.