HBO’s True Detective
Season 3, Episode 5: “If You Have Ghosts”
Directed & Written
by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Hour and the Day” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Hunters in the Dark” – click here
In 1990, the task force were trying to follow the lead on Julie Purcell. Roland West (Stephen Dorff) and Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) were confident the daughter of Tom (Scoot McNairy) and Lucy (Mamie Gummer) is the one on that security footage. Tom showed up in the middle of things, causing a bit of a scene after seeing the picture of Lucy’s overdose. Wayne showed the father a picture of the Walgreen’s footage, though Roland was protective of Tom and wanted to keep him out of it. There are also memories of what happened at Brett Woodard’s (Michael Greyeyes) house ten years prior, when the man was “persecuted by the violence of others” in West Finger.
Back in ’80, angry men kicked in Woodard’s door, only to be greeted by a claymore exploding. This set off a gunfight. More explosions come once men run onto IEDs planted in the yard. West takes a bullet in the shin. The front of the house was a mess of bodies, wood, and blood. Wayne headed in to confront Brett, however, the psychologically wounded Native American vet didn’t want to face justice. He wanted to go suicide by cop.
“I don’t want it to work in my favour”
In ’90, the police had Tom do a press conference. The official word from police was Woodard killed Will and kidnapped Julie, despite no hard evidence. His family were trying to fight the post-death conviction of their father, to prove he wasn’t a murderer. Roland and Wayne then went back to Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield), hoping he might remember something. He saw Will looking for his sister, along with people he only referred to as “they.” He wasn’t thrilled to see the cops again after they’d so vigorously tried to break him down ten years before, particularly Wayne, whom he calls a killer and a “black motherfucker.” Racism aside, there’s a genuine thread of concern here about the actions of police – black or white – and what that state power can do to the innocent people who wind up caught in a brutal murder investigation.
Later, Roland and Wayne talked to a guy called Logan (T.C. Matherne) who came into contact with Julie while hopping from state to state. She was living with a “little family” on the street. Julie told stories about being a “secret princess” from the “pink rooms” and had trouble keeping years straight.
In 2015, Wayne talks to Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) more. She almost appears impatient with him. Or maybe it’s scepticism. She comments how many people linked to the investigation “are gone.” Is she implying something nasty about Wayne’s involvement in the case?
In ’90, Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) went to supper at the West residence, where Roland lived with his long-time partner Lori (Jodi Balfour). During the meal, the case came up— of course due to Amelia’s interest. Wayne didn’t want to discuss murder over food and wine. They only fought more and more by the day. Wayne was stuck between jealousy and believing his wife was “a tourist” making her name off tragedy.
Skip forward to 2015. Wayne’s re-reading Amelia’s novel to jog his memory. And who’s in the car watching his house? Not his biggest problem. He’s slipping between past and present, seeing himself with his family one minute, then scrambling to find them the next. A terrifying visual of deteriorating memory.
Back to ’80, in the aftermath of Woodard’s death. Wayne had to recount the incident for other police— racist white guys who didn’t much care about black or Indigenous men, only about the paperwork they had to finish. This is when he and Amelia became intimate for the first time, as well. Another indication of how their entire relationship was based around the case, whether it was her interest or his needing a release from the tragic world in which he lived/worked. They built their relationship on murder and tragedy, one way or another.
Wayne spent every waking moment in ’90 trying to generate new leads. He started to see there was missing evidence in the Purcell file. He knew there was more truth to be found than the circumstantial evidence retrieved at Woodard’s house. Something about the backpack bothered him. “It‘s planted,” he told Roland. There were no marks on the bag, no indication it was there during the explosion. He believed the shirt found was another plant, too. But, things with Lieutenant West and his man Dt. Hays weren’t perfect, and they didn’t exactly see eye to eye on the case.
“… we’re all stories to you.”
In 2015, Roland’s living out in the woods, taking care of his pack of dogs and drinking, when he’s visited by his old buddy Wayne. Not entirely a happy reunion. Something tore the partners apart years ago, and continues to linger. Things for Roland never went quite as expected. His life hasn’t turned out much better than Wayne’s in the past 24 years.
Around ’90, Wayne and Roland brought Tom in and played a tape of Julie calling in after his appearance on TV. She pleaded: “Make him leave me alone.” She claimed her real name wasn’t Julie and Tom wasn’t her father. She implied he did something to Will. This broke Tom’s heart, yet the cops were convinced he was lying.
Roland and Wayne talk about how things are for them in 2015. Wayne suggests he’s remembering a few things, like how he believes the note sent back in ’80 was actually written by Lucy, not the kidnapper. They both have regrets about the investigation. Roland’s not really excited about his old friend turning up to play “old man fantasy camp.” He harbours resentment about how their relationship ended, and he’s totally isolated from the rest of the world, socially and romantically.
But what is it they did? What does West keep referring to?
Poor Wayne can’t recall what they did, or what he’s done, and that’s sadder than a man who refuses to say sorry. He’s falling apart. The only thing he can remember with any sense is the case, and even those memories are fading. Maybe if he and his old partner can come back together there’s hope— for his memory, but, maybe more importantly, for the case. Problem is West doesn’t want to remember the investigation. Although it only takes a bit of convincing before the two former cops are ready to ride.
Soundtrack note: “Desperados Under the Eaves” by Warren Zevon closes the episode out.
One of the great True Detective episodes! Ever. Pizzolatto adds such emotional depth to these characters in a single chapter that it’s fascinating. Love to see two old men sitting down, crying, talking about their feelings, too. A much needed dose of tender masculinity in a series that, at times, gets a bit bogged down in toxicity without exploring it.
“Hunters in the Dark” is next time.