True Detective Season 3–Whodunit…or Not?

For armchair sleuths, the latest season of True Detective will probably not fit neatly into the category of cops-and-killers genre, buddy-cop, film noir, or police procedural.  Surprisingly,True Detective’s latest season has elements of all four.

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

Set in the Ozarks in the ‘80s (with virulent Jim Crow traditions), the ‘90s, and the recent past (probably 2015 or 2016),  True Detectives focuses on one haunted Vietnam War veteran,  detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), as he investigates the disappearance of a little girl, and the death of her brother.  The narrative is, at times, a murder mystery, a love story,  and a friendship between an African American detective  and his preferentially treated white partner.  In the end, True Detectives  is a   meditation on death, memory, and the fragility of human relationships. 

The cultural and emotional legacy of the Vietnam War becomes increasingly important as we come to know Wayne Hays more completely.  His attempts at introspection and often unsympathetic reactive behavior towards the woman he loves, Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), changes the tone of the mystery.  A schoolteacher who knew the missing kids, Amelia writes a best-selling true-crime novel about the case. 

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

Although we never really discover what has scarred him so deeply,  Wayne Hays is so tightly bottled up and wounded that his feelings and thoughts are only expressed through watching his face and body as he moves through a world that is often racist.  We see US race relations flash forward through the three time periods of the case.

By 1990, the case is reopened when startling information surfaces. Now Wayne has  married Amelia, and his relationship with his own children–a son and daughter–becomes more remote as he becomes even more obsessed with solving the disappearance of the Purcell girl at the expense of his own family.

 While True Detectives is purportedly a story of obsession and crime, it is the tragic disintegration of Wayne’s mind that makes this season worth watching.  Dropping hints that his recollections might not be as accurate as they seem, that his past as a war veteran causes some of his serious family problems, are important revelations.

His performance drives the series, and is most compelling for the way the crime  intersects with his family life. Despite shadowy distractions, “True Detective” is worth watching for the multifaceted and virtuoso performance of Mahershala Ali.

Note: This is an HBO mini-series.

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