‘True Detective’ Episode 3: Time Is Catching Up With Wayne Hays (RECAP)

True Detective Episode 3 Wayne Hays
Spoiler Alert

In season one of True Detective, Rust Cohle philosophized that “time is a flat circle,” that human beings are doomed to repeat their mistakes. “Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over again – forever.” It’s clear by now that the third season of Nic Pizzolatto’s moody crime series is leaning heavily on season one both aesthetically and thematically. Time and fruitless repetition are again at the forefront of the narrative.

“We can’t be separated from time,” Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo) muses to Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) as they share their thoughts on Robert Penn Warren’s poem “Tell Me A Story.” Amelia might as well have been analyzing the gloomy detective himself. Wayne is a man stuck in time. The same compulsion defines his past, present, and future. It makes you wonder if he could even recall what his life was like before the Purcell case. His work, family and personal life are all deeply connected to that case and to that specific time.

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Wayne struggles to let go of the past in a slow-burn second episode of the third season.

If you’re looking for an in-depth character study then True Detective season three is sure to be hitting that soft spot. Those in it for the narrative twists and turns may feel a little underwhelmed so far. The mystery elements are certainly there but they’re unraveling slowly over time. The story is more focused on the unraveling of Wayne’s mind. True Detective has always been more concerned with its titular detectives than it has solving riddles and clues and that’s never been truer than this season. Ali’s mesmerizing Wayne Hays is in almost every frame of this series.

The majority of the first two episodes spent their time in 1980, where we followed Wayne and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) as they began their investigation into the murder-kidnapping of the Purcell children. “The Big Never,” however, lingers a little longer in 1990, where new evidence drags Wayne back into his murky past, providing him a second chance at vindication.

It’s interesting because it does seem, in 1990 at least, that part of Wayne wants to put the case behind him and move on with his life. He even tells Amelia at one point that he’s “tired of it being in our lives.” She suggests a night of drink and motel sex will help them forget. But the deposition and the news of Julie being alive has sucked him back in. Not to mention Amelia has been writing a book about the case for the past however many years – a book that Wayne refuses to read. No matter which way he turns, the Purcell case is inescapable.

True Detective Episode 3 Wayne and Amelia

Photo: HBO

Whatever happened in that case has left Wayne emotionally and psychologically frazzled. We see this in his Wal-Mart meltdown when he momentarily loses sight of his daughter Rebecca. He goes into full-on panic mode, demanding the entire store be put on lockdown and then yelling in his daughter’s face when she turns back up (she just went to get free snacks). His parental protectiveness is to be expected given his involvement in a child kidnapping case, but his volatile reaction shows just how deeply rooted his fears are.

This fear and anger is causing cracks in his marriage too. It’s a weird situation because the foundation of Wayne and Amelia’s relationship was built off the back of this case. I mean, he asks her out to dinner while on a search party for a missing child! When someone asks them how they first met, the answer is always going to be, “during an investigation into the murder and kidnapping of two young children.” That is simply an unavoidable truth that frames their relationship in darkness.

In a way, Amelia is tied to the Purcell case just as much as Wayne, and she enjoys playing detective too. She talked previously about how she secretly travels to out of town motels and pretends to be someone else, and here she gets to relive that fantasy, tricking a couple of detectives into giving her info about Julie’s prints. Unlike Wayne though, she is able to compartmentalize; the case is just one part of her life, it doesn’t define it. Wayne throws this back in her face, taking out his anger and guilt-tripping her over not seeing the kids all day, and she rightly points the finger back him. Wayne should be aiming his insults into the mirror.

True Detective Episode 3 Roland and Tom

Photo: HBO

Wayne is seemingly damaged by this case more than anyone else. His former partner, Roland, has been able to move on and move up. He’s now a Lieutenant in the Major Crimes Unit while Wayne was demoted from Homicide to a mundane desk job. Roland tells the lawyers that he tried to get Wayne transferred to his department, but the Major’s office blocked it. “Ya’ll f**ked a good detective,” he says, implying that Wayne was the victim of behind-the-scenes machinations that got him kicked off the job.

Even Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) appears to be in better shape than Wayne. Roland pays the formerly drunk and devastated father a visit in 1990 to tell him that Julie is alive and that they’re reopening the case. Tom has been able to do something Wayne hasn’t, and that is to let go of “anger and resentment.” He’s done this by becoming sober and finding God, and it seems to be working for him. We also learn from Tom that his wife Lucy (Mamie Gummer) passed away two years ago in Las Vegas – perhaps the one person more affected than Wayne by what happened in 1980.

Back in 1980, Wayne and Roland retrace their steps, going back through the Purcell kids’ belongings. They find hidden notes, hand-drawn maps, and Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia, both in the children’s bedrooms and scattered in an area in the woods. There was a lot of controversy and moral panic surrounding D&D and similar role-playing games in the ’80s, with certain religious groups accusing the game of encouraging Satanism, witchcraft, suicide, and murder.

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All the possible suspects we were introduced to in the first two episodes.

There are also a couple of new suspects thrown into the mix. Firstly, Wayne and Roland are drawn to the Hoyt Foods factory, where Lucy used to work. The company’s boss, Mr. Hoyt, who started the Ozark Children’s Outreach program a couple of years ago, has offered a monetary reward for anyone with information about the missing girl. The detectives find this behavior suspicious and demand the names of every Hoyt employee.

Then there are several mentions of a brown Sedan driven by a white woman and a black man with a scar on his face. A local farmer tells the detectives he saw the couple parked in the woods nearby where the kids used to play. This is brought back up in 2015 by documentary maker Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) who says the details were overlooked by investigators. She mentions that other witnesses saw the brown Sedan and a scarred black man near Devil’s Den but that the reports were never followed up.

The reference to a brown Sedan seems to trigger a lost memory for Wayne in 2015. He remembers seeing tire tracks in the woods. But his mind is falling apart and playing tricks on him. Last week he was displaced in time, this episode he is haunted by Amelia who tells him the past, present, and future is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” She wonders if he is starting to wake up and see things clearly. It’s almost as if by losing his memories he is gaining a sense of freedom. He’s finally separating himself from time.

True Detective Episode 3 Wayne

Photo: HBO

But is there more to it than that? When the ghostly vision of Amelia asks “Are you awakening to what you withheld? Did you harden your heart to what loves you the most?” I took that to mean that Wayne was so obsessed with the Purcell case that he closed himself off from his family. He withheld his love from them because he was unable to detach himself from the investigation. And it could mean that. But then Amelia asks, “Are you worried what they’ll find? What you left in the woods?” which is a lot more ominous.

Did Wayne leave behind evidence? Did he somehow tamper with the case and that’s what led to the wrong man being convicted? Or is this all just a giant metaphor of a man who left a part of himself behind the day he came out of those woods. It could be neither. It could be both.

So as the Purcell case reopens in 1990, with Roland bringing Wayne aboard his taskforce, it also reopens old wounds. Despite being tired of the case being in his life, Wayne cannot let it go. He cannot separate himself from the case just as he cannot separate himself from time. And in the end, there will be a price to pay for his compulsion. “How much do I have to lose?” Wayne asks the Amelia specter. “Everything,” she answers. “Same as everybody else.”

Extra Case Notes

-Not a good week for Woodard aka Trash Man (Michael Greyeyes). He’s beaten up by a bunch of bloodthirsty locals who tell him to leave and never come back. I suspect that Woodard will be going on a revenge spree soon – and that zipped up bag we see him carrying out of his shed is probably full of weapons.

-Speaking of Woodard, I’m now wondering if he is the man currently locked up for the crime. Tom mentions to Roland that it was the accused’s kids that have been fighting to get the conviction overturned. That likely rules out the purple Beetle teens. Whereas we know that Trash Man has kids who are possibly in adulthood in 1990.

-Lucy was acting very suspicious this episode. Creeping around the house and eyeing the detectives while they were searching the children’s belongings. There was also that creepy communion photo of William where his hands were positioned exactly like his dead body. There are definitely some dark secrets in the Purcell family.

True Detective, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO