TV

‘True Detective’ Case Files: The Body Count Rises As We Speed Toward The Finale


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There’s a time for rules and a time for breaking rules. This is relevant both to the events of this week’s episode of True Detective — the last before next week’s finale — and the structure of this write-up. For the first six episodes, I tried to put everything into neat and tidy categories. Breakdowns of the timelines, a list of suspects, examinations of new evidence, etc. As I watched this episode, though, I realized that this kind of structure just won’t work anymore. Too many things are happening across too many time periods — a few scenes even appeared to slip in between our usual 1980/1990/2015 timelines — and to try to separate them all out would be more confusing, actually. Let’s not do that. Let’s keep this simple, dammit, rules be damned. Hopefully, no one ends up dead in a barn.

What we’re going to do instead is pull things into three straightforward categories: What We Know, What We Kind Of Know, and What We Don’t Know. That should help us all get on the same page heading into the finale. I hope. A lot of things became clear this week, from the fracturing of the Roland-Wayne relationship to the often-referenced “thing we done” that makes Roland so skittish about Wayne talking to the news lady. Other things, important things, somehow became more confusing by muddying-up what seemed like a straightforward explanation. It was a lot and it ended with two cars in two timelines menacing Wayne outside his house.

Here we go.

WHAT WE KNOW

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The body count just went up

Rest in peace to Tom Purcell, a decent man who got dealt a crap hand by life. The last time we saw him, he was filled with sorrow and rage and alcohol, kicking Cousin Dan in the jimmies and hopping fences outside mansions and discovering hidden pink rooms where his missing daughter was probably held captive in some way a decade earlier, with the bastard Harris James sneaking up behind him. This week, we found him dead on a rickety steel tower with a gun and a flimsy “suicide note” next to his body. To make things even worse, everyone’s favorite slimy attorney general went and pinned the decade-old murder of his son on him after exonerating the first innocent dead man they tried to pin it on. All of this is fishy. None of it is good. Goodnight, my sweet, sad, mustachioed prince.

Rest in something slightly less than peace to Harris James, as well. Circumstances could change (they have a few times as the plot unfurled this season), but it looks right now like James was responsible for the deaths of both Lucy and Tom Purcell after being involved in the disappearance — if we’re still calling it that — of one of their children and, at the very least, assisting in the cover-up of the death of the other. (Maybe Cousin Dan, too, but who cares?) The man was a menace, a highly-compensated goon who sold his soul for a piece of a chicken fortune, and while I believe in the criminal justice system and do not condone extrajudicial retribution that takes place in barn (or anywhere, I guess, but especially in a barn), it was hard to feel too bad for him when he met his fate.

Again, I reserve the right to double-back and even do a full 180, if necessary, should the finale exonerate the man somehow, but for now, we shed no tears for the bastard Harris James.

These two deaths are what led to the big falling out between Roland and Wayne

We knew something happened in 1990 that put a severe fracture in the relationship of the former partners. Roland referenced it when we first met him in 2015, with all his talk about Wayne owing him an apology and all the references to a very bad thing they did, which the Ghost of Amelia also brought up when she was taunting Wayne in the study. Well, here it is: Wayne, the hard-charger who can’t do anything halfway (even the dishes), used Tom’s death to get a bummed-out, AM-drinking Roland all heated-up about Harris James, which led to Roland tuning James up extra hard in the barn, which led to the scuffle and Roland shooting James dead to save Wayne.

I mean, that’ll do it, right? It’s clear that all of it messed Roland up pretty good, too. He more or less said as much, with his talk about Wayne effing his entire life and his getting thisclose to saying a racial slur to Wayne’s face. Roland did get his apology eventually, 25 years later, when Wayne remembered what happened and how he pushed so hard after Tom’s death. The telling line in this apology was Wayne saying he didn’t realize how different they were. They were both fine with crossing the line in some ways (like when they used the same barn to beat up a potential suspect in 1980), but this — the killing, the pushing Tom about the tape, all of it — was too much for Roland, and Hays didn’t see it. I once stopped talking to a friend for a month because he borrowed my grill without asking and then broke it. I get it.

Shots of abandoned playgrounds are creepy as hell

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This was a quick shot that was plopped in just before Amelia went to talk to Lucy’s hoarder friend, the one who commented about the town being dead and how “someone has to remember.” Presumably, it was in there to set that tone. That’s fine. But let me put this out there for the record: Shots of decaying, abandoned playgrounds are super creepy. Almost as creepy as shots of children riding their bicycles in slow motion, like the one from the premiere. I don’t even know what I would have done if this shot had children riding their bikes in slow motion through the decaying, abandoned playground. I might have just turned the episode off. I’m not built for all that, man.

Anyway, if the finale includes a shot of an old stuffed animal with an eye missing, they’ll have hit the Creepy Children-Related Thing trifecta. Please make a note on your scorecards.

There’s something strange going on with the Hoyt family

We’ll get deeper into this in the next section. A good chunk of it is just speculation so far. The facts, though, courtesy of a former Hoyt family staffer who Roland and Wayne interviewed in 2015, go something like this:

  • Hoyt’s daughter, Isabella, lost her daughter and husband in a “bad wreck” of a car crash prior to 1980
  • Harris James was a highway cop in the area at the time and may have responded to the scene
  • Our one-eyed man appears to be a man named Watts (aka Mr. June), who worked for the Hoyts and looked over Isabella as her mental condition deteriorated
  • Isabella mostly stayed in the basement and, at some point around 1981, Watts started preventing other members of the staff from accessing the area
  • Mr. Hoyt will show up outside your house in a caravan of black cars and threaten you over the phone if you kill and disappear the longtime security consultant who protects his family secrets

That last one is actually from 1990, not the 2015 interview, but I’m including it to say that I very much do not want to be a part of anything that results in a powerful millionaire parking outside my house and threatening me over the telephone. Hard pass on any of that.

WHAT WE KIND OF KNOW

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The mystery might not be what we or the lady documentarian thought it was

People who saw the teasers for the upcoming episodes knew this was coming but I still whooped a little bit when she pulled up the article about Rust and Marty from season one. It means the two seasons exist in the same universe and also raises the possibility that Ray Velcoro’s saluting red-haired son from season two is sitting around doing whatever in 2015 while a graying Wayne and Roland are hunting for clues. I hope there’s like a five-minute scene in the finale that’s just him sitting on the couch reading Amelia’s book in total silence. Single shot, camera perfectly still, no explanation before or after. I would laugh straight through the week.

Anyway. It looks like the documentary is attempting to tie everything together and possibly uncover some sort of massive child abuse ring that operates across state lines throughout the south. We were kind of pushed toward a similar conclusion throughout this season, the belief that this was all a fancy episode of SVU with children abducted and held hostage in high-class dungeons for the pleasure of powerful adults. What it looks like now, or at least could look like, is something slightly different.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The “interracial couple with the fancy sedan” could have been Isabella and Mr. June (and yes, I am intrigued about this name given that Julie was going by “May July” afterward), and he could have “procured” young Julie to replace the daughter Isabella lost in the crash, and they could have kept Julie in Isabella’s locked-off basement with her as a kind of forced family situation. I’m sure a bunch of you put that together, too. It’s still horrifying, just in a different way. And I would still very much like to hear Ice T’s character from SVU try to make sense of it.

Heeeyyyy Michael Rooker!

You recognized Hoyt’s voice on the phone, right? It took me a second but I got it. It was Michael Rooker! Yondu from Guardians on the Galaxy, the blue dude with the Mohawk and the magical murderous arrow! I could have very easily put this in the What We Know section because it was confirmed in the credits and his appearance in the finale is already listed on IMDb, but I’m leaving it here because, until we see his face, there’s no way to rule out that his face is blue and this is all a super-convoluted backdoor tie-in to the Marvel movies. Which means that, given the Rust/Marty thing we mentioned earlier, we also can’t rule out that Ray Velcoro’s red-haired kid vanished when Thanos snapped his fingers. I am not insane. That’s the main thing I want you to take away from this paragraph.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

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Exactly what happened to Julie

Did her mom sell her to a rich family as a kind of black market adoption? How long was she with them? How and when did she escape? Was she let go? If she did escape, is that why Mr. June was so pushy about her whereabouts at Amelia’s reading in 1990? What was she up to between then and 1990, besides hanging out with other runaways and robbing a Walgreens? What was she up to after 1990? Why does she blame her dad for all of it? Is she alive now? And so on and so forth.

How Will ended up dead in all of it

A fair question that not a lot of people seem to be asking right now!

Freddy Burns said that thing about how “they” were looking for Julie, implying Will and someone else were out there. If Julie was taken, this would check out. But who was with him and what happened that ended with Will dead in a cave in his communion pose? Was it all a cover-up to send the authorities on a cult-based goose chase?

TELL ME ABOUT WILL

Who was in the car that’s been parked outside Wayne’s house in 2015?

I very much love the “old dogs hunting again” part of the show that’s happening in 2015. I am all for old people solving crimes on television. It’s like these two are in an episode of Murder, She Wrote now. I must know who was in that car and why and I imagine we’ll find out soon enough. Could be anyone: a private investigator, Julie herself, Angela Lansbury, also investigating the case, which would put Jessica Fletcher in the MCU too, depending what happens with that cliffhanger from 1990.

Leave me alone, I’m having fun.

Will the finale pull it all together in a satisfying way or be a weird mess of a letdown?

I guess we’ll see!

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