Follow Us on Twitter

True Detective Season 3: Episode 1 - Review

True Detective Season 3

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IF THE first season of True Detective deservedly became a cultural phenomenon, then its sophomore run became unfairly maligned. At times muddled, it nevertheless boasted some great moments and a towering central performance from Colin Farrell.

Mindful of such a ferocious backlash, however, series creator Nic Pizzolatto has clearly opted to revert back to the season one formula for the third in his anthology crime series. And while that’s clearly playing it safe, True Detective remains as addictive as ever, even just one hour in.

The comparisons with the original series come thick and fast. It’s once again split between different time frames – in this case, three. It once again boasts a compelling central partnership, with Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff stepping in for Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. And there’s a seemingly ritualistic killer to be found, courtesy of demonic dolls found near the crime scene.

The trick Pizzolatto has up his sleeve this time around, though, is the triple time-frame and the introduction of a central character battling not only past demons but also dementia. It adds extra edge.

Moonlight‘s Ali is that central character: Wayne Hays, an Arkansas based detective who is called, with his partner Roland West (Dorff), to investigate the disappearance of two children on bikes in 1980. By the end of the episode, the manhunt has quickly turned into a murder hunt once one of the two children, a boy, has been found dead.

Yet while Hays continues to search for the girl, a skip forward in time to 1990 reveals that the fingerprints of the girl in question, long presumed dead, had been found at a new crime scene. She is alive, after all. This revelation was made during a deposition, which also raises the possibility that the wrong culprit had been collared for the initial crime.

Jumping forward to the present day, meanwhile, and Hays is being interviewed once again: for a television show called True Criminal. It has yet to be established what the reason is behind this interview. But Hays is clearly troubled by it, largely because of the painful memories it brings back (including the loss of his wife), but also because he must battle his dementia to recall the facts.

Once again, the format is painfully similar to that of the first season, right down to the suggestion that the central case has never properly been solved. But while that could be accused of, in Deadpool parlance, ‘lazy writing’, it’s nevertheless an enhanced form of it because of Pizzolatto’s ability to write such richly defined characters.

In Ali, he has a mesmerising central presence, no matter which timeline we’re following. In 1980, he’s suitably enigmatic, complete with a near mystical ability to track suspects and victims. But he also cares enough to go the extra mile in order to do so.

In 1990, he cuts a more frustrated, sceptical figure, mindful of the fact an old case is being dug up. While in the present day, he’s a shadow of his former self – a man torn apart by dementia, tragedy and still clearly haunted by the case in question. As he declares at one point, back in 1980 his life could be divided into pre and post-Vietnam categories. Now, it’s before the missing Purcell children and after them.

One suspects that one of the biggest pleasures of watching this third season unfold is seeing Ali (who was initially only approached to be a supporting player, before convincing Pizzolatto to rewrite the screenplay with him as lead) explore the character further. Who knows, an Emmy may even beckon to follow his Oscar.

But the director, Jeremy Saulnier (who shares season duties with Daniel Sackheim), has also invested the show with a hypnotic quality, drawing on both the beauty and atmospherics that Cary Joji Fukunaga brought to the original.

One scene, involving a search party combing a misty field, was stunning. Yet there’s an air of creepiness pervading, too… the same air that sometimes made season one so suffocating by virtue of its occult inclinations. We’re back in dark, disturbing territory, with plenty of suspects to mull over.

Hence, while the third season has yet to offer the surprise factor that its illustrious predecessor did in terms of originality, it is already a ferociously compelling return to peak form that has us enthralled. In Ali, it also boasts another acting masterclass.