Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): True Detective season 3 episode 7 - "The Final Country"

Monday, February 18, 2019

True Detective season 3 episode 7 - "The Final Country"


This True Detective viewing diary is being written while the new series airs. As such, future readers need not worry: there are no spoilers for upcoming episodes.

The third season of True Detective started strong, with a bold conceptual frame, a hypnotic style, and a comfortably familiar milieu and mystery plot - reassuring us that the series was returning to the strengths of season one and not venturing into over-ambitious season three territory. From there we might have expected a solid eight episodes, putting us on firm ground again with a series and creator we'd grown worried about. And indeed, this story has avoided some of the more grandiose tendencies of the last one, and even ducked some of the first season's flamboyance even as it offers winks and nudges toward a grand unifying theory: an idea which becomes explicit - and appears to be abruptly dismissed - in episode 7 (I've not yet read this article, but am already nodding along with the headline). Eliza displays Rust's and Marty's pictures on her laptop and eagerly puts forward the idea that the Purcell children were kidnapped by a massive pedophile ring related directly to the Tuttle/Yellow King operation busted up by our original protagonists; Wayne of course is having none of it (he even seems a little disappointed/disgusted with how off-track the interviewer is) but less because it's too big and more because it doesn't seem rooted enough in the reality he knows. Surprisingly, the third season is both much more grounded than any previous iteration of the series, and potentially more accomplished as well. There's a strong argument to be made that this is developing into the best-written season of the show - it's certainly the most mature.

With one week to go, and a dramatic ending to leave us hanging, there's so much left to find out, right? So first, let's take stock of what we know... Harris James, as suspected, planted the evidence to incriminate Brett Woodard and, as feared, murdered Tom Purcell and framed the death as a suicide, complete with a dramatic display at the observation tower in Devil's Den. (With a typewritten note? Come on, Harris!) And in almost as little of a surprise, Wayne and Roland decided to rough Harris up, tying him to the same abandoned farm post where they tied up the child molester in 1980, but this time with fatal results. After pretending to be grievously injured just so they can loosen his bonds, he attacks Wayne and Roland shoots him dead. Although he never confesses to anything in particular, between bits and pieces the 2015 detectives and 1990 Amelia gather throughout the episode we learn that the one-eyed man was named Watts and/or Mr. June (like Mary July?), he worked for the Hoyt daughter and they stayed mostly on the bottom floor of the estate.

It seems quite clear that the mentally ill young woman was desperate to replace her family after they died in a car accident and probably used Mr. June to lure Julie, with Will killed by accident, in her Pink Rooms fantasia. The assumption has been that he and Lucy were working together, and certainly it seems like she was in on any possible financial transaction, but most likely the white woman with the black man was Isabelle Hoyt herself. Edward Hoyt (Michael Rooker) pulls up in front of the Hays house in the final scene and makes a threatening phone call that forces Wayne into the vehicle with him, but we know from the 2015 conversation that he wasn't angry enough to do something too serious. Wayne goes on to live another quarter-century, haunted by the trauma he shares with Roland and the guilt that he cajoled his partner into killing a man and covering up his death. And then finally, the two old cops will team up again to fill in some of those details just mentioned.

Wait a minute. What don't we know? What is there left to find out?

In fact, there isn't much. The mystery may very well, for all intents and purposes, have been solved at this point. Edward has been covering for his daughter's crime all these years, paying off the mother and letting the pathetic father stew in his liquor somewhere. We've really caught up with all of the twists and turns in both official cases, which settled on two convenient patsies in a row, either due to corruption or laziness. Is that it? Not quite, even if it amusing to reflect on how much we're hanging on the edge of our seat to "discover" what we already know. Will's death still isn't totally motivated (even if accident following struggle seems likely - or did Harris do it to strengthen his position?) and more importantly the way that the children came into contact with Mr. June and/or Isabelle remains unknown. Julie's trajectory in the eighties is unclear. The extent of active corruption in the department may need to be exposed, and I strongly suspect that we'll learn Harris was less a dutiful hired hand than a blackmailing sonofabitch, putting two and two together and then preying upon Edward's concern for his own financial advantage. (No wonder the big boss lets Wayne live but why wouldn't Wayne let Roland know this rather exculpatory information for twenty-five years?) And we still don't have any idea who's spying on the old men in 2015, although now at least they've got a license plate to track down.

Most of all, we've yet to get a tangible sense, with the requisite emotional gravity, of this whole strange plan from Julie's (or Isabelle's) perspective - the long grooming for a voluntary kidnapping, the ominous ride into the woods with Hansel eventually chasing Gretel after the witch grabs her up, those weeks, months, or years spent in a strange pink cell buried beneath a mansion with a dangerously devoted "mother," the decade on the streets after being separated from both traumatizing poverty and traumatizing wealth, and how all of this echoes and amplifies Wayne's, Roland's, and Amelia's own haunted lives...will we ever learn, can we? There's plenty within this mystery to explore, more in the vein of experiences than answers perhaps, but ultimately I don't think the story of Julie Purcell will be the most important part of the third season finale.

Instead, I suspect the center of gravity will settle around Wayne's and Amelia's marriage in 1990, Wayne's and Roland's renewed relationship in 2015, and Wayne's relationships to his children in 2015 and - in a new, unexpected but welcome, development - circa 2000 when we see him dropping Becca (Deborah Ayorinde) off at college in the opening scene. And, of course, we will continue to savor the magnificent interrelationship of Wayne's many ages; this episode has one of the best transitions as the old man wanders into a patch of darkness, following a flickering flame, to discover his barechested younger self burning bloodstained clothes in his backyard. We've probably picked up on this image from the opening credits or the episode teasers, so it already feels iconic, a memory we too share and are revisiting even though we're only properly encountering it for the first time. If Pizzolatto is teasing us for our obsession with broad conspiracies and ongoing mysteries, he's also reminding us what really matters most in his work: the characters' immersion in pain, with surprising regularity, eventual peace. Whose loss, and whose grace, spurs next week's title?

Next week: "Now Am Found"Last week: "Hunters in the Dark"

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