‘True Detective’ Episode 7 Goes Back to Where It All Began (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead if you have not watched “The Final Country,” the February 17 episode of True Detective.]
“Were you satisfied with that conclusion?” Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) asks Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) in this week’s penultimate episode of True Detective. The bullheaded documentarian is referring to a 1990 press conference where the Attorney General hung the Purcell case on the deceased Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) and overturned Bret Woodard’s (Michael Greyeyes) conviction. “No,” Wayne replies. “But then I’ve never been satisfied with any part of the case.”
That’s the big question on everybody’s mind as we head into the season finale, both within the show and outside of it. Will we get a satisfying conclusion to this long, brooding mystery? As far as Wayne is concerned, I don’t think it’s possible for to him to ever be content, regardless of the outcome. He’s always chasing or running away from something; sometimes both at the same time whether it’s in his marriage or his personal life or at work. There have been very few occasions, if any, during this season where Wayne has appeared satisfied.
The biggest tragedy is that even if the case is solved — and we’re getting extremely close to answers — Wayne’s faltering memory will not allow him the satisfaction of finality. He won’t be able to remember cracking the case. He can’t even remember the name of key witnesses, as he desperately begs Roland West (Stephen Dorff) to store the memories for him. When they interview an old Hoyt housekeeper, Wayne’s mind drifts off into another time, lost and confused. “My whole brain’s a bunch of missing pieces,” he tells Elisa, and that is the ultimate curse of Wayne Hays.
It’s a different story for us viewers. As I said last week, it looks like Nic Pizzolatto has learned his lesson and is going to stick the landing this time around. “The Final Country” continues to build off the previous episode’s momentum as it closes in on answers, and not just in the Purcell case, but the show’s wider conspiracy angle looks set to tie up the loose ends that were left dangling by Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) back in Season 1.
The comparisons between the current season and the first have always been more aesthetic and thematic than directly linked plot-wise, despite some background nods and winks. Back in January, when asked about whether Seasons 1 and 3 take place within the same fictional world, executive producer Scott Stephens told The Hollywood Reporter, “Not really.” Stephens played off the references to Rust and Marty as “just a fun way to tie things in.”
However, the revelation in this episode doesn’t get any more direct. While Wayne is being interviewed for the True Criminal docuseries, Elisa finally puts her theory out on the table. She connects the murder of William Purcell and the kidnapping of his sister Julie to a high-level pedophile ring — the same one detectives Cohle and Hart were investigating in 2012 on their pursuit of a serial killer. You don’t need to pause the frame to catch the reference this time — the news article about Cohle and Hart is front and center as Elisa associates the straw dolls with the spiral imagery and its relation to human trafficking and pedophilia.
It’s a big move for the season and True Detective as a whole. The similarities to Season 1 now have a narrative purpose — it’s not just Pizzolatto returning to the safety net of what he knows worked in the past, though I’m sure there was an element of that after the heavy criticism of Season 2. Much like Wayne, Pizzolatto is reexamining the past to help find clarity in the present, and that is hugely satisfying for fans of both the current season and those who felt let down by the conclusion to Season 1’s investigation.
The rest of the episode confirms many of our suspicions. Tom’s body is found at the old watchtower, next to a gun and a typewritten note, staged to look like a suicide. Later, Wayne discovers that Harris James (Scott Shepherd) flew to Las Vegas the same weekend Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer) died, and so he convinces Roland they should take Mr. James to their torture barn to get answers. In a moment I’m sure we all saw coming, Roland ends up killing Harris after he tries to attack Wayne.
While all these outcomes might have been expected, it doesn’t make them any less satisfying. Predictable isn’t always a bad thing, especially if it makes narrative sense and stays true to the characters. That’s preferable than a nonsensical twist thrown in just for the sake of tricking the audience. This season has been journeying towards a specific destination and we always knew there were going to be certain sights we’d see along the way.
Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), meanwhile, continues her own investigation, trying to track down the one-eyed black man that interrupted her book reading. She visits Lucy’s best friend and is given a Halloween photo developed after the kids went missing. The picture shows two figures dressed as “ghosts,” previously referenced by one of Amelia’s students who said one of the ghosts gave Julie the creepy doll. The faces are not visible, but a closer examination of the hands reveals one of them to be black and the other white, suggesting that this could be the black man and white woman who were spotted at Devil’s Den days before the crime.
We later learn that this one-eyed black man is known under two different names — Watts and “Mr. June.” The Hoyt housekeeper tells Wayne and Roland that Mr. June was a house servant who closely looked after “Miss Isabel,” Hoyt’s antisocial and mostly housebound daughter who lost her husband and daughter in a “bad wreck” three years before Julie went missing. Apparently, Mr. June was also an expert in “procuring” things for the Hoyt family, which certainly sounds ominous.
As the investigation draws closer and closer to the Hoyt family, it’s perhaps not surprising that we finally hear from Mr. Edward Hoyt himself at the end of the episode, when he calls Wayne and invites him into his blacked out car for a chat. It’s a menacing phone call, as Mr. Hoyt appears to know all about what Wayne and Roland did to Harris, and even scarier, he knows the name of Wayne’s children. It makes me wonder what happened in this conversation and if Wayne agreed to some sort of deal to protect his family. That could explain why Hoyt was never questioned and how Wayne drifted so far off base for all those years.
There is just one episode remaining, and all the pieces are in place for what promises to be a satisfying conclusion to not only this season but seasons past. I’m not expecting McConaughey or Harrelson to turn up this week, nor do I think they should, but I feel confident we’re going to get what we want, even if that doesn’t correlate with what Wayne wants. Or if it’s another cop-out ending, I’ll be back here to complain along with the rest of you!
Extra Case Notes
-The episode opens with a new timeline. Somewhere in the early ’00s, I suspect, as it features Wayne dropping his now teenage daughter off at college. It doesn’t reveal a whole lot, other than that Wayne and Becca used to be a lot closer than they are now and that Wayne is still overprotective.
-Elisa was throwing theories all over the place this episode, as she also asks Wayne if he ever considered that his wife was killed in a cover-up situation. Amelia obviously knew a lot about the case and was planning to write a second book before she and Wayne decided to stop pursuing the case.
-Cousin Dan is missing from his motel room. The last we saw of him he was being beaten up by Tom, but I don’t think Tom is responsible for his death. Much more likely that Harris got to Dan after he took care of Tom.
-The black car outside of Wayne’s window is indeed real, not just a figment of his imagination. Roland sees it too and manages to take down its license plate number. Is this someone related to the Hoyt family? Still keeping tabs on Wayne in 2015?
True Detective, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO