True Detective Season 3 Episode 3 – “The Big Never”

*Spoilers for Episode 3*

Previous write-up here.

True Detective has always been more of a procedural and a character study than a whodunnit, watching a case unfold rather than stringing the viewer along with clues and giving them the satisfaction of solving the case themselves. Rather, the viewer is more encouraged to root for the detectives and stay eager for new breaks in the case, waiting for the investigation to turn and twist, certain that it will give fresh perspective to a genre that’s become stale with daytime cable. Tonight’s episode “The Big Never” certainly seemed to set the table for something interesting, adding dynamics new to the series and injecting some heart into the storyline.

Opening up on Dorrf’s Detective Roland West during his own deposition, who by 1990 has made Lieutenant (echoing earlier sentiment in Hays’s 1990 deposition scene that he goes on to “do well for himself”), he chastises his interviewers for the raw deal Wayne seems to have gotten: a desk job and lack of upward mobility within the department, even with the spreading of “affirmative action” in the department that he alludes to at the end of the episode sitting at the bar with Hays. He goes on to tell the interviewers that him and Wayne didn’t stay friends after their partnership ended, the circumstances of which remain murky.

Meanwhile, Hays and Amelia, assuming they’re fresh from their distant dinner and reeling with the news that Julie’s fingerprints have been found at the scene of a pharmacy robbery, drive down to the Walgreens in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Hays feels that his reputation would precede him if he went to ask the local police department for more information, and Amelia, sensing a rift, asks Hays if they just want to get a motel, get hammered, and bang it out for a couple of hours before returning to their regular lives. She also offers to act as a kind of honeypot, feeling that her book about the case, which has a publishing deal, and her good looks and charm might be able to coax some information out of some of the detectives in the area.

We find 2015 Hays at the doctor, after a CAT scan ordered after his fugue state/lost time led him to the Purcell’s old place at the end of episode 2. Once again paired with his son, Henry, who is increasingly equal parts frustrated and protective, “snitches him out” about working on the case again and mentions the television interviews. Hays mournfully scoffs at the idea of putting him in a home as his health worsens and reminds him, with the doctor present, that he’ll kill himself in such an event.

Back to 1980, Wayne floats the idea that perhaps the kids were lying about their evening plans after interviewing their friend from school and finding out they very rarely see each other outside of the playground. Tom and Lucy Purcell are increasingly irritated at the investigation turning inward considering there’s a substantial chance Julie is still alive, and reluctantly allow West and Hays to search the home again. They find drawings, maps, and short notes in a Hoyt Foods bag and leave the home.

In a late-night-at-the-office montage, it’s determined that the drawings and maps are likely related to the D&D book they found in Will and Julie’s room. The notes, laid out, appear to have similar handwriting on all but one. Wayne floats the idea that the children could have had a friend Tom and Lucy didn’t know about, possibly an adult, and investigate the Hoyt Foods plant, where Lucy worked “a year or two” ago on the “chicken line.” The uniforms on the workers at the plant looked awfully similar to what the convicted sex offender that was beaten and shoved in the detective’s trunk was wearing.

Amelia, likely also angling for major revisions to her book in 1990, goes on her recon mission at the Sallisaw police department, where she gleans information and predictably attracts some of the brass, one of which takes her to dinner. Wayne goes to Walmart to get some shopping done, loses his daughter Becca, panics, reverts to detective/dragnet facilitator mode immediately, before she turns up in less than fifteen minutes, having gotten separated while sampling some free chips. Amelia, upon coming home after a few drinks, finds an enraged Wayne drinking alone, possibly feeling cast aside, intruded upon, replaced, and/or jealous after seeing how jubilant his wife is after possibly breaking some new ground. This is kind of a weird scene, it’s unclear if there’s been some prior infidelity and Wayne seemed to have been on-edge the entire time she was gone, knowing full-well how she planned to be seductive with the policemen. I felt like it was definitely more akin to him feeling helpless in the situation, both not working as a detective after a demotion and his prior “misbehavior” or outbursts becoming a hindrance to working on the case.

Shown at the scene where Wayne first asked out Amelia in 1980, a search party around the location Will was found for new clues to Julie’s whereabouts, they talk about time and then brush upon their opposite ends of the Vietnam War. Shortly thereafter, Hays finds D&D dice in the woods along with a bag of toys. The backdrop gave me the impression that it was close to where Will’s body was found, so I was curious as to whether these were missed during the initial recovery of his corpse, which is against character for Wayne. Were the toys discarded? Placed there later? Hays also finds hair and blood on a rock. Could Will’s death had been a clumsy accident as the kids were attempting to rendezvous with some “benefactor”?

The detectives visit with a farmer living nearby, who claims to have seen the kids a few times on his land, as well as an interracial pair driving around in a nicer, brown sedan, but not on the same day, dressed upscale and the black gentleman having a scar on his face. When inquiring whether or not they could search the property, the farmer, to Wayne, tells them to get a warrant and West fails to interject or reason with a man living in rural Arkansas in 1980, might not be all that keen to having either an African American or the local police overturning every stone on his farm. He’s polite, for the most part, but firm.

Back to the television interview in 2015, the Ms. Montgomery, the producer, pushes further on the investigation, recalling neighbors that didn’t receive follow up interviews and mentioning the brown sedan. While it’s early, and we haven’t seen the extent this lead was pursued, Montgomery indicates that lines of investigation were faulty, mishandled, or possibly covered up. As Wayne inquires as to whether or not there is new evidence, Henry cuts off the interview, as protective as ever, and Wayne acquiesces, obviously wound up by the questioning and looking to prepare for more confrontation in their next encounter.

In what made me the most nervous, the Trashman, interviewed at the start of episode 2, is chased, beaten, and threatened by a group of white locals “worried about their children”. Trashman, also a Vietnam veteran, is your standard junkman, driving around in a golfcart and looking for salvage since returning from the war to find his marriage in shambles. Although the detectives were initially suspicious of him, he protests his innocence by claiming he has children he doesn’t see anymore and would never hurt kids. While he does fight back, he’s hurt severely enough to be spitting up blood. Later in the episode, he’s seen retrieving a large duffel bag he handles pretty gingerly. I assumed it was guns, perhaps trophies from the war he’d stowed away, but some viewers suggested the way he was holding it indicated it might be a (small) body. I’m not so sure, while the bag didn’t seem quite rigid enough to be full of Vietcong AKs, perhaps he has some explosives he plans to retaliate with, which would explain while he was handling the bag so awkwardly.

After West’s deposition, he meets with Tom Purcell, who has a nicer brown sedan parked outside of a medium-sized trailer home. Stunned by the revelation that Julie is still alive, he’s sad Lucy, who has since died in Las Vegas two years ago in 1988, will never know. Now five years sober, evidently thanks to Roland, he asks to pray and appears to now be devoutly religious.

Hays, after his confrontational interview, is speaking about the case into a recorder and writing notes when he hallucinates a now-deceased Amelia, who appears behind him in her prime. She delivers esoteric philosophy about time, life, and love, True Detective‘s patented, hard-boiled stylings, before Wayne engages the specter and sees ghostly images of his own young children running through the house. She also gives Hays a warning, about people finding out about “what he found in the woods.”

It isn’t clear what that means. It isn’t in regards to the bag of toys, who upon inspection by Tom and Lucy shortly after their recovery, decline that they had purchased them for Will and Julie and come up with hypotheses not unlike Wayne’s deductions from the scrawled notes, which neither of the parents appear to know even exist. Hays spies baby albums that had evidently been brought out of storage by Tom and flips through them, having a brief vision of Will’s corpse as he sees his first communion pictures, hands folded around a rosary in a manner similar to how he was found dead. This all seems to point towards the Uncle, who stayed with them briefly and gave young Will some old Playboys, but I’m convinced it is probably a red herring. Although many children that are abducted are taken by somebody they know, something seems off, and the Uncle evidently lived far enough away that I can’t see him regularly meeting with the children and then it never going mentioned to Tom or Lucy.

At the end of the episode, in 1990, we find West and Hays reuniting in a veteran’s bar. West, having risen in the ranks of the police department, has been assigned a new task force upon the reopening of the Purcell case, and wants to draft in Wayne as a detective, putting him back to do “real work.” There’s some great banter between the two in this scene, and it’s also revealed that Hays, despite what I read as an either ignoring or internalization, is keenly aware of the racial components that have led West to success in law enforcement. Rather than it just being a matter of Hays making waves or being too assertive and gaining a reputation for insubordination, he believes pretty firmly that his ethnicity had plenty more to do with being relegated to a desk job.

It will be interesting as to whether or not the interracial pair mentioned by the farmer will be explored and whether or not Hays had overlooked going over their treads. Perhaps his memory issues started earlier than initially thought, and it’s been a blind spot in the case the whole time. Could Hays’s memory issues botched the entire case? Did the lack of follow up with witnesses and neighbors contribute to these accusations of department procedural negligence, or did Hays start to fade in 1980 instead of the early 90s? It’s obviously the central theme of season 3, and I’m wondering if they’ll run with a strong man like Wayne failing to reflect on what’s already happened rather than a nefarious twist we don’t see coming and the lack of institutional follow up due to a systemic, racist disregard for Hays as an investigator.

Regardless, the case is compelling and its making for great television. The cast is fantastic and even three hours in, I feel incredibly invested in each character’s plot threads. The impatient feeling I had during season 2 isn’t there, and these hours have flown by. I’m very excited for next week’s offering.

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