HBO’s True Detective
Season 3, Episode 1: “The Great War and Modern Memory”
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For recaps & reviews of the previous seasons, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” – click here
Cassandra Wilson’s cover of “Death Letter Blues” (originally written by Son House) fittingly opens this new season’s credits. We begin with an old Detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) in 2015 remembering 1990, being deposed when he was a member of the Arkansas State Police. Things started out at the deposition with a slightly antagonistic tone. Hays was there because of the Purcell case, which had happened ten years before that, too. They wanted his personal “timeline of events,” so he started taking them back through his POV on the case.
Jump back to the Ozarks in the fictional town of West Finger on the same day “Steve McQueen died” in 1980— this would make it just a week following Halloween, on November 7th. Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) was working on his car. He said goodbye to his son and daughter, Will and Julie, around 4 pm. On the road, they passed Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes), also passing a purple VW with three young metal-type dudes inside who eye the kids eerily.
At that time, Dt. Hays was working alongside his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff). They spent a lot of nights out there in Arkansas drinking together, puffing cigarettes, and shooting at trash. They were close, sharing everything. That night, Hays stopped West from shooting a cute little fox, the latter calling it “predatory vermin.” Even a hardened soldier – Vietnam never far off in his mind – like Hays didn’t want to see an innocent animal murdered for no reason. He later made a distinction between killing for sport and killing to eat.
Elsewhere, Tom was wondering why his children hadn’t yet come home, so he started calling their friends. He went out in the car to have a look for himself around town. Soon enough, our two detectives were called to the Purcell house. They interviewed Tom, who was terrified for his kids.
Dts. Hays and West looked through the Purcell home, seeking clues as to where the brother and sister went. Lucy (Mamie Gummer) finally turned up, fighting angrily with her husband. She raged at Tom, who raged right back. While West started the search outside, Hays found a stack of Playboys under the boy’s bed. Wayne had a further look in the closet, where he detected a hole drilled into the wall leading directly into the sister’s room. Around town, the detectives hear of a place called “the Devil‘s Den” where teenagers hang out drinking. They also hear Lucy’s cousin Dan O’Brien stayed with them awhile, and curiously he stayed in Will’s room during that time. Could he have been spying on his niece? Or is this one of what will be many red herrings?
In 2015, Hays does an interview about the case for Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon). We find out more about his life, such as how his wife wrote a book about the case called Life and Death and the Harvest Moon that went on to be considered a “classic of literary non–fiction.” He recounts being “a tracker” in the army, which he hoped was going to help him in ’80 to track down the kids. Great moment when one of the documentary crew’s lights goes out, almost seeming to be a sound in Wayne’s memory from November in 1980, illustrating the thin veil of memory/time, as Wayne slips between periods in his life just like the show does narratively.
Note: Can you tell the West Memphis Three case and the Robin Hood Hills murders were a big inspiration for Pizzolatto’s Season 3? If you’ve never seen the Paradise Lost documentaries, do yourself a favour— some of the best true crime documentaries out there, as well as some of the most frustrating because of the injustice.
At the local school in West Finger, Wayne and Roland talked to student Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield) about if he’d seen the kids. Freddy told the detectives he saw the kids riding their bikes around 4 pm. They talked to another kid, whose Black Sabbath shirt makes Dt. Best curious about what is/is not “Satanic.” One of the teachers who taught the kids, Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), offered what little she could re: Will. She and Wayne connected during their brief chat, later going on to become husband and wife.
Later, the detectives looked to speak with the “trash man,” Brett, but couldn’t locate him. They went back out searching. Wayne went on his own, walking past an old tower into the woods, soon coming upon an abandoned bike. Further on, he saw a strange figure, like a doll made from hay and wood shavings, placed in the hollowed out trunk of a tree. He found more of these in a trail leading him to a cave, where Wayne discovers Will’s body posed in a prayer position on his back.
In 1990, Wayne wanted to know more about what was happening with the conviction in the case. Turns out, Julie was never found back in ’80. She turned up after a recent robbery where her prints were located at the scene. She’s alive. What truly happened ten years before that when her brother was killed? The plot thickens.
“What is love? One name for it is knowledge.”
A fantastic premiere for Season 3! Father Gore’s in the minority who also loved Season 2, as opposed to only digging Season 1. But this is definitely a return to true form, regardless. Ali and Dorff have good chemistry, and the story’s inspirations from the West Memphis Three case promise compelling results. “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” is next.