By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – January 27, 2019)
Just like the last time, we got to figure there’s a ticking clock. – Wayne Hays (1990)
This week, The Pop 6 podcast launched here as the Big 6 brand expanded and I brought back my weekly audio pop culture show, and as part of it, I discussed True Detective in much a similar way as I did here when Season 3 began. What I told you then and will tell you again now is this show is about the people who are ALIVE much more than those that aren’t, in particular the detectives themselves.
While the Purcell case saw a few new wrinkles this week, largely “The Hour and the Day” focused on Wayne Hays, Roland West, and those within their sphere of communication and reach, including Amelia and a few other suspects. We’re not much closer to learning why Will Purcell died, though we may now see Julie is in fact still breathing after a look at the Walgreen’s footage.
When the writing credits were split between showrunner Nic Pizzolatto and David Milch, I had a feeling we were in for a strong episode, and although it didn’t move at a breakneck pace, it was well-crafted and thought out. Milch, known most for co-creating Deadwood after working on The Sopranos, is both a drama and HBO veteran, even if Luck didn’t work out due to one calamitous, unforeseen event after another.
Because the series takes place in the non-affluent Deep South, religion and Christian ideals find their way into the story, not as a means of morality but simply of how things worked in that time and in that part of the country. Also, Pizzolatto loves the highfalutin, thought-provoking dialogue, which means quoting from the Bible fits the bill for him.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)
One other reason biblical storytelling and scripture find their way into something like True Detective is that by its very nature, religion is based on faith. An alternate way to view it is it requires taking a journey into mystery, at least in this life. So, as we take Nic’s pathway, we’re giving him our trust and we’re agreeing to have our mental faculties tested and twisted. For those who aren’t religious, it creates a place and a set piece that makes those viewers uncomfortable or perturbed, leaving the possibility open to jump to conclusions. Pizzolatto wants his audience to try and figure it out, get lost in the weeds, and then pull the rug out from underneath them.
Thus, St. Michael’s becomes a new setting we have to pay attention to, not just because the priest seems to be less than forthright in some respects, but due to Will Purcell’s communion photo, which featured the prayerful repose. The priest, who helped teach the kids, says his eyes were closed most likely because he blinked when the shot was taken, and then adds that Will and Julie looked out for one another. That leads Wayne to conclude Will’s death came as he tried to protect his younger sister from something ugly, believing the entire case is about Julie.
The above verse from Matthew opens the fourth episode, as the priest reads it to the class in the sanctuary. What does it mean? Succinctly, it refers to going beyond belief in Christ and the Gospel, but in living and sacrificing everything necessary to believe it and act on that belief. It means that in order to truly follow God, one must deny himself and what the world thinks of him or expects from him. The concept is that he is in the world, but not OF the world. “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”
As applied to True Detective, I’m not sure there’s an application. It just sounds ominous when stated as it was in the episode, which could easily have been the point, just for atmosphere. Hays certainly did lose his life in attempting to solve the case, which became his singular obsession. Through it, he lost his marriage, lost contact with one of his children, lost his professional standing, and has almost entirely lost his mind.
Wayne and Amelia’s marriage, its deterioration, and how virtually all of the problems arose from the Purcell case plays a massive role in the episode, but we also figure out that even with the arguments the kids could hear as they tried to watch television, these two people have chemistry, they’re drawn to one another, and they do love each other. From the flirtations in the restaurant, cut a few times with talk of Will and Julie Purcell, to the sex that results from an upstairs shouting match, there’s a certain degree of tenderness and animal attraction that accompanies the irritation and strife.
Due to the time period and it being deep in the heart of southern Arkansas, the race angle continues to permeate through the story, and this week, it approached being a little bit overdone. What happened at Mr. Whitehead’s trailer was believable, in fact almost all of it was, but I’m not sure we can continue to beat the viewer over the head with Wayne Hays being ignored due to his race, becoming more and more jaded because of it, and that we almost have a race war going on underneath this grisly crime.
That white vs. other battle even goes to the confrontation between the locals and Woodard, which led to the claymore incident that ended the episode. Of everything we’ve seen thus far this season, provided you paid attention when he grabbed the bag last week from his shed, none of that should have been surprising in the least. It was patently obvious he was luring the vigilantes to a place of pain, rigging the trip wire and setting the trap for them, and intentionally asking the boys for their soda cans in a spot he knew he’d be seen. I didn’t feel sorry for the victims, though we don’t know how bad the situation was. That will be revealed next Sunday night.
To flesh out the characters involved, we’re seeing the three time periods in Wayne and Roland’s life and the racial divide, both of which work, but as we’re already halfway through the season, I’m hopeful we’ve developed much of it already and can get down to the business at hand of solving the crime, but more so of just seeing how 2015’s Hays works through what he thinks will finally be the conclusion to the last true case he ever had.
Henry reluctantly agrees to follow-up on a few names and leads Wayne gives him, but he’s clearly wary of allowing his dad to go too far down this road again. He’s right to feel that way, and we know as we see Wayne show up at Eliza’s place to try and learn some of the information she has that he never did, he’s not just trying to recover memories. He desperately wants to solve this, and he also sees it as a way to stay alive. In the Vietcong-laden vision, Hays mentions to himself he might not want to be on earth anymore without Amelia. Again, he loved her, even with all the turmoil that entered their lives.
When Amelia shows up at the Purcell homestead to return some things she found in the classroom, we see the difference between the Hays marriage and that of Tom and Lucy, where that wife and mother is completely broken, a circumstance made unthinkably worse with the absence of her two children. She cries and weeps and then curses and lashes out, going through every stage of emotional volatility, but this is a woman who cheated on her husband repeatedly and consistently, is a raging alcoholic and drug addict, and thinks the worst of herself. Just as Wayne talks of wishing he were dead, Lucy mentions the .38 in her purse and asks Amelia where she could find that list bit of courage she needs.
Meanwhile, Tom has to be restrained and punched a few times after getting belligerent in a bar, and we see for the first time chronologically the burgeoning friendship of Roland West to the father of the victims. West looks out for him, allows him to sleep on his sofa, and as we know from last week, Tom Purcell in 1990 still thinks very highly of Roland, recognizing him as a generally decent man that wanted to get justice for the children, but not merely for the sake of his career. We also meet Lori this week, played by Jodi Balfour (Incidentally, watch Quarry if you haven’t), and we’ll see how far that relationship goes with Roland moving forward.
In 1990, Dan O’Brien is revealed to be dead, and since the case is reopened at that point, and still isn’t solved in 2015, we can extrapolate that Dan, despite being a dirtbag, must not be our big villain…just a medium-sized scum bucket. Freddy Burns and the teenagers appear to be in the clear also, with Hays realizing after terrifying the 18-year old bully burnout that he would have spilled his guts, had he anything to spill. “I think that kid’ll be in jail when he’s 25, but not for this.” He’s shady, but he’s not a murderer, but real manly to steal a nine year-old’s bike.
What we now know is that in 1990, Julie Purcell (though we can’t recognize her in the footage, Hays does) is alive. We know Woodard may have murdered, but certainly injured the vigilante ringleader. We know St. Michael’s has a role to play, and it’s deeper than Wayne Hays confession-to-come, if it’s to come. We know the Hays marriage is troubled, but we already assumed that. We know there’s political pressure in 90 from Kindt to uphold the original conviction, and we know Hays and West have no interest in doing so unless the evidence points there. We know Lucy overdosed in Las Vegas and died in 1988, and that Dan O’Brien is dead. We know the creepy dolls are part of a fall fair, done by a vaguely racist elderly woman who remembers a black man with a dead eye buying ten of them from her. We know that man isn’t Whitehead. We know the racial tensions are getting worse, but there’s distrust all around. We know 2015 Wayne Hays is very much “working” this case, whether he wants to admit it or not.
And we know Wayne Hays didn’t originally know what Donahue was.
There’s a LONG way left to go this season. We’re halfway home, four episodes in, and I am not even close to positing a theory on the crime itself just yet. If you have thoughts, hit me up @JMartZone though…I’m interested to hear what you’re thinking about the show and if you have any ideas on the perpetrator(s).