By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – February 6, 2019)
TRUE DETECTIVE: SEASON 3: EPISODE 5: IF YOU HAVE GHOSTS
“Roland? I don’t remember. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but I just can’t remember. Can’t remember my life, man. I can’t remember my wife. I don’t know. If you tell me I did something wrong, well, OK. I’m sorry. – Wayne Hays (2015)
Although I’m unsure whether the conclusion will satisfy, I’ve said from the beginning to enjoy the ride itself, as the detectives are the key to the entire series. That remained true in this past Sunday’s episode, which HBO smartly dropped a few days in advance to get it to the public outside of the Super Bowl. It was also a great hour, which culminated in the finest scene of the season thus far.
Before we find 2015’s Roland West living in the woods, before we watch Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff put forth an acting clinic together in that sequence, we first get quite a few juicy tidbits to help us along the way of the Purcell case itself. First and foremost, Harris James enters the picture. After Elisa shows Hays the photo of the disappeared officer, Wayne doesn’t remember him, but immediately believes it’s important information.
We then see James as the policeman holding the clipboard after the Woodard altercation that was far more grisly and violent than expected. It wasn’t just the one mortar, it was a high powered rifle and a lot of dead guys on the front lawn and in the backyard.
Woodard allowed Wayne Hays to live, though he had him in the scope, so that he could commit suicide by becoming an active threat a few minutes later that would force Hays to shoot him dead. It was a sad end for a character that was terrorized and assumed to be, well exactly what Gerald Kindt would “prove” he was: our Purcell criminal. What we discover in the course of the hour is that it was Woodard’s children that hired Alan Jones to restore their dead father’s reputation. Later in the episode, crucial fingerprint evidence Hays used and stored in 1980 had disappeared a decade later, which almost assuredly points to Kindt. His entire reason for being in 1990 is to stay in power and maintain that conviction, based on evidence we begin to see holes in just as our lead does.
The backpack under the porch following the Woodard war zone incident is pristine. It’s Will’s, but no way was it there for the blast. A shirt is charred, but not beyond recognition, and Hays believes someone took the opportunity to plant it during the chaos and the subsequent investigation of the crime scene. Maybe that points to Harris James, who was on site. Even more interesting is the Lucy Purcell angle, that she used the “not a lot of laughter” line and then it pops up on the ransom-style note. This leads to a sobering realization for Wayne Hays about his departed ex-wife and her work.
“Ohhhhh, maybe I should’ve read this a long time ago.”
In 2015, he has already told Elisa how proud he is of his wife’s book. In 1990, we see him explode on her at Roland’s house in front of his never-wife, Lori. We now know they didn’t end up working out, and what was most noticeable about this scene and others is that this case became so personal and such an obsession for Wayne, he felt he owned it. Amelia had a book coming out and was asking a few questions and he snapped her off and later accused her of “using people” and called her a “tourist” and a “voyeur.” Her response was telling: “We’re all just things in your way.”
“Julie” calling the hotline with the tip is the biggest open-ended question from the episode, along with the man Wayne Hays and Roland West killed in 1990, which the latter basically states early in the 2015 conversation at his house. But the idea of Tom not being her father, that she wants him to leave her alone. Could she be telling the truth? One popular theory making the rounds this week has Harris James being one of the men Lucy slept with behind Tom’s back, and that perhaps HE is Julie’s biological father. The James portion of this story is fascinating, and it absolutely doesn’t appear to be over by any means. With three more episodes remaining, much still needs to be explained.
The most M. Night Shyamalan theory floating around, which doesn’t fit the way Nic Pizzolatto has concluded his two previous stories, is that Elisa is actually Julie, creating a TV story as a director (which is always what she’s called) that is, in reality, a covert, desperate attempt to piece together the details of her own life. The age and appearance would match up broadly, as it was a young blonde child that would now be in her 30s. That seems a little hokey, but who knows, it’s fun to think about at least.
When I mentioned at the start of this season what True Detective is about, I wrote that it’s about how these detectives lose their lives, their sanity, and their loved ones through the course of these twisting cases. We knew Hays was destroyed, but we now see 2015 Roland West, drinking all the time, without any friends, never married, no children, and hadn’t seen Wayne in 24 years before he showed up with Henry that day to try and talk him into “stirring some sh__ up with me.” Both these men are broken, bitter, old, damaged, and to some extent confused. This case left them both in some state of shambles, ending Hays’ career and probably derailing West’s rise, because he didn’t do as Kindt asked.
Amelia read Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book, in the seeing ghosts section of tonight’s episode. Wayne is clearly Mowgli in the portion she’s reading, but this is more window-dressing and referential to the season than anything else. Pizzolatto explained in a post-episode sit down that the title of the episode referred to the ghosts that have always followed Hays that he refused to acknowledge for so long, but now has to face and own up to…and I wonder whether that will include the person West referenced the two of them killing. At first, it sounded like he was talking about Woodard, but this was a separate act. Was it Harris James? Is that why he “disappeared?” Was it the OTHER person referenced as being in Vegas in 1987 and 1988, Dan O’Brien, who certainly came off as shady in the conversation following Will’s memorial service at the Purcell house in 1980.
As the episode ends, Wayne and Roland are back on the case. I kind of felt like this was the sequel to Gone Fishin’ for a second, or perhaps it was Grumpiest Old Men, but alas, it’s True Detective. Whether or not they actually close this thing, it should be entertaining to watch them try. Plenty of meat on the bone this week with the hotline call, the introduction of Harris James as a key figure, Tom Purcell’s identity being called into question, the Hoyt Family tie-in that doesn’t feel coincidental, the “princess from the pink rooms” reflecting back to a drawing in Julie’s bedroom from 1980, fingerprint evidence conveniently missing in 1990, the now adult Freddy still affected by Hays’ threats a decade earlier, and Woodard’s fate…and his offspring being behind the 1990 reopening of the case.
Also, there’s what wasn’t a part of the episode this week. After spending a great deal of time setting it up, we didn’t get a peep from or about the church this week. That angle vaporized into thin air just as Harris James did. That makes me think we’re supposed to forget about it, because it’s going to play a role in some fashion.
I really do hope the ending hits big, because this has been really enjoyable stuff so far, even though it’s at times hard to watch. Ali and Dorff have been superb, with Dorff stealing the show this week…although Ali was right with him. These two have been on point from moment one, and have only gotten better as the story has continued to dive deeper into the Purcell mystery and the tattered lives left in the wake of the murder and disappearance. I’m still not ready to posit a theory, except to say the Elisa as Julie thing is a little corny and feels like a reach. And there’s still the matter of the “secret” friends/adults Will and Julie were meeting in the woods.
Were they PROTECTORS? What don’t we know?
There are a lot of questions, more being created by the week, but I’m more confident right now than I thought I’d be that Nic is going to conclude this thing effectively.
We’ll see soon enough.
I’m @JMartZone. I don’t miss unless I mean to.