The third season of True Detective is in the books. There were twists and turns and red herrings. There were broken relationships that got fixed through time and confessions. There were more dogs and hugs than I expected, to be honest. This last one is not a complaint. None of them are, really. There are quibbles to be made if you’re a quibbler, and we’ll get to those in a bit, but for the most part, the season rode on the backs of strong performances and a plot that went about 50 degrees to the left of where we thought it was going to go, and it all pretty much worked for me. You don’t expect a happy ending on a show about murdered and missing children, and this one wasn’t happy like a Disney movie is happy, but it was happier than any of us thought it was going to be, I think.
The dogs and hugs helped. At one point someone hugged a dog. I’m not too proud to admit this may have influenced my reaction to the ending. Let’s get into it, though. Here’s what we know, what we kind of know, and what we still don’t know after the season three finale.
What We Know
This was all much less sinister than it appeared at first
When the season started, with all of its creepy dolls and religiously-posed dead children and menacing shots of mean teens staring at children riding their bicycles in slow-motion, it sure felt like we were headed down an evil path. There was little to disabuse us of that notion as we went along. We saw powerful people try to stop the investigation cold two different times, and we saw planted evidence, and we saw people who got close to the answer end up dead in some remote area. But in the end, instead of Will Purcell’s murder and Julie Purcell’s disappearance leading us into a terrifying multistate maze of child abuse perpetrated by the wealthy and powerful, the truth was all far more sad than sinister.
The answer, in short: Isabel Hoyt, heir to the Hoyt family chicken empire, lost her husband and daughter in a car accident and fell into a deep depression. She spotted young Julie at a Hoyt employee picnic and became fixated on how much she looked like her deceased daughter, Mary. Junius “Mr. June” Watts, caretaker of the Hoyt home and of Isabel once her father gave up and started going on safari a lot, set things up with Lucy so Julie could play with Isabel in the woods. Isabel stopped taking her meds after a while, tried to run off with Julie, and accidentally caused Will to hit his head on the rock that killed him. Harris James and Junius Watts made it so that Isabel could keep Julie in secret (thanks to a hefty payout to Lucy), and everything seemed fine (er, fine-ish) until Junius discovered Isabel had been giving Julie massive doses of lithium and filling her head with lies. He helped her escape but never found her afterward.
So yeah, very sad. Heartbreaking, even, on about three or four different levels. But if you were looking for a shootout or a twisting demonic scheme leading all the way to the top, you didn’t get it. What you got instead was an ending that was … sweet? Yeah, I’ll go with sweet. There were more hugs than I think any of us expected. There was also a really powerful message about letting things go. Wayne and Roland made up. Wayne and Henry ended on a positive note. Wayne and his daughter had a touching moment in the car. It was all a little reminiscent of season one’s relatively happy ending, with the talk of the light winning and friendships overcoming years of drama. It was satisfying and nice and not entirely something I saw coming.
About the season one thing: This season opened with a bunch of similarities to the first go-round, starting with a dead young person surrounded by creepy dolls and progressing from there. It kind of okie-doked us at the end, though. Leads that seemed damning went somewhere else — Will’s notes to his sister, for one — until the truth revealed itself. I’ll have to sit on this a bit before I decide if I liked it all more than season one, but it was definitely an improvement over season two.