B6B: True Detective: Season 3 Finale Review

By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – February 24, 2019)


We got an ending, I guess. But I don’t…do you feel like any kind of closure? I don’t. – Roland West

It will be interesting to see what the response is to how Nic Pizzolatto chose to wrap up the third installment of True Detective. The episode title, taken from Amazing Grace, sums up the season. What once was lost will finally be found. If there’s one thing I’ve attempted to drill into your heads over the past two months, it’s that the show was always much more about Wayne Hays’ life than it was finding out what happened to Julie Purcell and who was responsible for Will Purcell’s murder.

Not that we wouldn’t get answers, but the purpose of True Detective is to show the lasting effects of tentpole events in the lives of detectives who effectively lose themselves attempting to solve stressful crimes. If you read my reviews this season, you were fully prepared for what we got on Sunday, which placed a focus on what happened to Wayne Hays’ life personally and professionally. The one constant in his life was the case, which he even told Amelia was the cause of all his problems, but also led to his marriage.

Wayne Hays’ dementia was going to be crucial, that much we knew, but it was a clever maneuver to have him take the drive to Greenland on his own. It was also nonsensical. As soon as we saw him driving without Roland, who we had JUST seen one sequence before, it was obviously going to lead to something unique. The episode took several occasions to show West driving and Hays in the passenger seat in all three timelines, which made Purple behind the wheel much more jarring. I thought it might be going nefarious out there, but every moment where it could have gone super dark, it basically didn’t.

That’s the lasting impact of the finale. I was wrong. It wasn’t nearly as difficult to watch as I expected, but if we reflect back to the first season, the battle between the two detectives and Errol was much more the kind of nearly supernatural war of good and evil. If you were anticipating something like it, boy were you disappointed. Here, we had a sad story of a woman who lost a child and desperately wanted another one, who was confused, who drugged the girl with lithium to try and kill her memories of her actual parents, but who was never actually mistreated. A woman wanted to be a mom again and was just flat out broken from what happened to her husband and her daughter in a tragic accident.

Junius Watts turned out not only to be the actual “one-eyed man” but also the man parked outside of Wayne Hays’ home in 2015. The conversation between Hays, West, and Watts is where we got virtually every answer as to what happened to Julie Purcell, or so we thought. Following the excursion into the haunted house that was the Hoyt estate, we discover the pink room for the second time, but now we get to see inside it. It was creepy, but maybe not for a young girl. The crayon mural on the wall of Junius, Isabel, and Mary wasn’t particularly problematic. They looked happy. Again, no abuse here. It was kidnapping and drugging, but the motivations weren’t nearly as evil as they could have been.

By the time Watts told his story, it seemed clear he didn’t actually have the full picture. He thought he did, but 30+ minutes remained in the episode runtime, so something else was coming. That, of course, was Mike Ardoin, who I immediately knew was deeply involved as soon as Hays and West ran into him outside the convent. I mean, the daughter’s name was LUCY for crying out loud, which is an odd choice for Mike and Julie to have gone with considering what she did. I couldn’t believe that didn’t register with Roland West, even if Wayne’s mental issues might have concealed the truth from him.

It was the vision of Amelia that told Wayne the real truth once her book happened to fall open to the page describing the boy we saw early in the series that was inconsolable following Julie’s disappearance. Mike always thought he would marry her one day. While much of Watts’ story was accurate, he didn’t realize the nuns faked her death to protect her and basically put her in a variation of the witness protection program. And, we have to see Lucy Purcell in a negative light, considering she demanded money for Julie to be a Hoyt family playmate in the woods.

Why did she die? She asked for more money in Vegas to keep her mouth shut about her (former) daughter’s whereabouts, presumably due to a need for dope. Harris James flew to Vegas and permanently closed her mouth. And, although we don’t know for certain, it appears James killed both Julie’s mother and father as part of the cover-up.

For all the story that accompanied Tom Purcell, in the end, he was just a sad sack drunk who had some issues, but he had nothing to do with anything. He was entirely innocent, but ended up dead anyway. Here, we need to stop for a second, because even though I appreciated some of what Nic Pizzolatto did in the finale, how much did he just throw at us with no intention of explaining its lasting importance? How many questions remain that have virtually no answer?

How did Amelia die? What happened to Elisa? The pedophile angle was just there to be there? We could keep going. Some questions didn’t need answers, but everything was neat and tidy or totally ignored. There was no middle ground. I imagine that wasn’t particularly fulfilling to those with anything above moderate expectations. This wasn’t the strongest finale, but it wasn’t the weakest either. It was an ending…I guess…with some open threads to ponder.

Nic Pizzolatto enjoys screwing with the audience a little bit, throwing references to literature and various other cultural efforts that can lead those paying too close of attention down all the wrong paths. This is why I refused to speculate as to what happened and simply said I’d just sit back and watch it unfold. I like to play these games, but at no point did a prediction feel prudent at all during this story. I never bought into the Amelia as villain idea, nor did the Elisa is Julie theory make much sense. All that stuff is fun, but this season turned out to be much simpler and far less sinister than the first season. It was far less confusing and convoluted than season two.

The one remaining thought I have is I’m not sure whether the ending satisfied me or not. Actually, I am sure it didn’t. It was too easy. We’re supposed to conclude Henry putting the address in his pocket is going to lead to HIM solving the case and also in the process realizing his father had actually completed his goal. It could be a star-maker for the son, who would be indebted and proud of the father he clearly loves. It’s also possible Wayne remembered once he saw his grandchildren bike past the house in a neat little callback to Will and Julie Purcell in the season opener.

Nic said in post-episode comments Wayne saw Amelia as the source of his own broken equilibrium. His life made sense, he was in control, confident, and secure, and then he fell in love with her and everything began to change. In 1980, rather than sell her out, even after she told him to do so, his career stymied and he became a glorified secretary. The marriage was troubled and he was distracted and clearly struggled to trust her book motivations, dating back to the sacrifice he made when he refused to accede to Gerald Kindt’s wishes.

Her name and her career were made on the case that destroyed his. Eventually, she ends up teaching in college and he ends up working security at the school. This explains the conversation the two have in 1990 about not doing what they should be doing in terms of jobs. It’s why Amelia never wrote that second book. And after the Edward Hoyt incident, Wayne let everything go to conceal Harris James’ murder, which is why Roland was so ticked off inside the pink room. This thing could have been solved 25 years ago. That’s his mentality, anyway.

In the end, Wayne Hays was depicted as a man who – even with dementia and massive memory loss – had recovered his identity for a brief moment. The case was everything to him, just as it was to Roland West, or so they thought. What they discovered was their friendship, Wayne’s children and the wife he remembered and loved, his grandchildren, and a simple, peaceful life were far more important.

He solved the case, but will never know he solved the case.

What if something went unbroken? – Amelia

One can interpret the Vietnam flashback that ended the season to be an indicator of Wayne Hays’ brain fully betraying him for good, leaving him lost in a foreign jungle forever. This jungle wasn’t the one he entered for the United States Army, but the one inside his mind, a much more hopeless place to be. That’s a depressing way to view it, but it also seems more than mildly plausible. This was the end of Wayne Hays ability to perceive reality.

Becca returning and telling him in the car, “I miss you right now,” illustrates that she may well have left town originally because she cared for him so deeply that she ran away because she couldn’t watch him lose his mind. It broke her heart. That would also explain why Henry was frustrated with his father constantly mentioning his sister, rather than realizing his son stuck by him and was doing everything in the world for him.

Recall Roland asking him if he felt any closure after the encounter with Junius Watts, with him saying no. Watts wanted closure as well, in the form of jail or death. He was riddled with guilt and was outside Wayne’s house trying to get up the nerve to confess and free his conscience of his role in the situation.

Once they left his house and were back at Wayne’s, the two just sort of laughed some of the seriousness off and decided they’d be roommates a couple of days a week, because both of them needed that friendship at their age. Despite their differences and their problems, these were best buds that wanted the best for one another. It made no sense that Wayne didn’t tell Roland what he uncovered in Amelia’s book, though. That was a decision that didn’t jibe with the rest of the storytelling. Even with memory problems, West was always a part of the investigation in 2015 once he showed up again.

That said, Wayne’s memories were taken from him due to old age, and what he obsessed over was finding a girl whose memories were taken from her due to lithium that resulted in “disassociation issues.” However, we’re supposed to see Julie and Lucy at Mike’s house and recognize that these are happy people. The scene was eerily done though, even to the extent that as the two women glared at Wayne, I for a split second thought they might have poisoned that glass of water. It was odd. It was intentional. Just as the horror music circa 1985 that hit as Wayne and Roland drove through the Hoyt gate and descended into the cobweb infested estate was intentional. Both were also effective.

It was intended to portray a happy ending for Julie Purcell, her daughter, and even for Mike. She was safe and healthy and seemed to have a good life. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Amelia, minutes before Julie asked Wayne the preceding question, in a vision suggested, “What if it was a really long story that just kept going and going until it healed itself?”

I enjoyed this season, but the finale definitely left me wanting more. I still feel it was worth the time because many of the episodes leading up to the end were well-done, extremely well-acted, and kept my attention. I don’t know that Nic Pizzolatto landed the plane safely, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. It was just a relatively underwhelming 76 minutes. The story was setting up for something far bigger and more elaborate, but that turned out to be incorrect.

The performances were better than the story, but this wasn’t Season 2. This was good TV, although the ending leaves us all wanting, rather than applauding. If Nic ever decides he doesn’t need to find ways to prove to himself he’s more intelligent than his audience, he could really do some special things. He built the season up to deliver a final haymaker, but it was more a light glancing jab. It connected, but we’re still on our feet and we’re still able to fight.

I’m @JMartZone. I think I’m lost. Can you just tell me where I’m at?