True Detective Season Three: A Simple, Yet Comforting Finale

Image Courtesy of HBO

Image Courtesy of HBO

By Ryan Coleman

Note: spoilers follow.

Season three of True Detective brings an elevated sense of mystery, an increased focus on familial relations, and effective storytelling to the classic HBO series. At the close of perhaps the series’s best season yet, the finale ties up its loose ends in a simple, anti-climatic, yet reassuring way.

The finale packs no real surprises that viewers won’t already predict for themselves. In fact, I would imagine, most viewers had already pieced together the season’s central mystery by the time the season finale aired. Many fans were upset by this predictability, as evidenced by the episode’s 8.2 IMDb rating, which is tied for the lowest rating received by any episode of the season. But, when considered in context of the season’s larger themes, the simplistic finale makes sense. What True Detective does so well is explore the process of solving a case. Season three reflects the reality that sometimes everything just falls into place. I mean, doesn’t it make sense that the evidence and witness accounts line up with what actually happened? I will concede that there may not have been enough closure for Mahershala Ali’s character Wayne Hays, given that he might end up going through the entire case again, without ever remembering that he’s already solved it. But as a viewer, it’s reassuring to know that the little girl at the center of the season’s mystery, Julie Purcell, grew up to become a loving mother and live a normal life.

What made this season different from the show’s preceding ones is that the case takes a back seat to its emotional impact on those involved. When Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) sit down at the bar in the season finale, Wayne makes an imperative point about how their entire relationship is wrapped around the death of a boy and a missing girl. The case was mostly solved for anyone paying attention by episode five or six, but we see in the 2015 version of Hayes just how much this case still haunts him, and subsequently affects his relationship with his son and desire to see his daughter. His dementia brings out his own personal demons, including his Vietnam War experience and his wife’s haunting. We never specifically learn how his wife died or if they ever managed to repair their fragile relationship, but this is most likely intentional, adding more mystery to the family and relationships of the show than to the actual detective case.

True Detective’s third season shifts between three different storylines, and while the various timelines may leave viewers confused at times, they emphasize just how lost Hayes feels in his attempt to remember his past. The editing, acting, and nice bow tied around the case itself, not to mention the upsettingly unnecessary deaths that occur throughout the season, may leave viewers with a desire for more closure, but they do not detract from an overall sense of satisfaction from the season. This season brings back hope and momentum for True Detective after its disappointing second season. It sheds light on the fact that sometimes, detective work isn’t all surprises; sometimes the pieces just fall into place. Season three also highlights how TV characters’ work life can affect their home life. Unlike CSI Miami or [insert any detective show here] the choices of the individuals in True Detective have a ripple effect on their work and familial relations. And while the season doesn’t have the craziest ending, it is comforting at the very least.


Steven Norwalk