Lost in the Movies: True Detective season 3 episode 6 - "Hunters in the Dark"

True Detective season 3 episode 6 - "Hunters in the Dark"

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.

"You walked away," the aged Roland reminds (or informs?) his long-estranged buddy near the end of the previous episode. Was he being literal? In "Hunters in the Dark," we see Wayne and Roland bicker on a 1990 ride home and the angry Wayne grabs the wheel, storms out of the car, and marches down the road in a cloud of dust as his partner drives away. The incident seems like an explosive but nonetheless temporary rupture in their professional relationship (triggered by Roland's insistence that they stop working for the day, although obviously facilitated by other factors), but what if the two would not speak again for twenty-five years? Considering what happens at the end of episode 6, it's not hard to imagine that the investigation comes to an abrupt end and while we don't see the detectives kill anyone (as some cryptic dialogue suggested they might have) maybe what they were really referring to was their treatment of Tom, driving him over the edge. Then again, there's the question of state cop-turned-Hoyt security man Harris James (Scott Shepherd). Why did he disappear in 1990 if not because a suspicious Wayne and Roland cracked down in private? We'll probably find out soon.

To my surprise, episode 6 not only skirted the personal focus of previous sixth entries in True Detective (the destruction of friendship and marriage in season one, father-son tensions and the unearthing of sexual trauma in season two), it actually dug deeper into the mystery and mythology than any other episode this season. I've heard podcasts speculate that perhaps the central case is going to very much be a mild MacGuffin, with the real point being Wayne's struggles with memory and aging. It doesn't feel that way right now. While I've avoided reading the fallout in the interim since I watched this episode (unusually long, given recent travel and other factors), even just glimpses of headlines suggests there's been a frenzy of excited speculation and theorizing since Tom wandered into the Pink Rooms on Sunday night. With this episode, True Detective closes off a lot of false leads, re-opens some avenues, and confirms many viewers' instincts that, as in the first and second season, an ominous elite institution may be at the center of the central mystery.

In some ways, the star this week is Tom - quite likely the last time it will be possible for him to seize such an opportunity. We discover that he was closeted all these years, his sexuality as well as his loss of family and alcoholic demons haunting him in the late twentieth-century South (while digging around his home, the detectives find a pamphlet arguing that homosexuality can be cured). Unsurprisingly, the long sober Tom quickly falls off the wagon and the series makes it almost impossible to consider an alternative to this downward spiral. His interrogation scenes are upsetting to watch, as Wayne and Roland press him with what feels like mercilessness - is his daughter really his? did he molest her? did he murder his son? - but which they view as compassionate self-sacrifice, making themselves into the bad guys so that the other cops don't "eat him alive" (in Roland's words). After he's released, Tom conveniently stumbles across crucial information in the police station for a second time (I could see a Saturday Night Live sketch really running with this conceit in a parody, with the wide-eyed innocent credulously wandering in the room lilting, "Lieutenant Weeeest" only to literally crash into one horrible display after another, that he wasn't supposed to discover).

This time, the clue leads Tom to Uncle Dan O'Brien: the now very strung-out but still wily Dan has contacted the cops to request $7,000 in exchange for background on not just Julie but, intriguingly, Lucy as well. However, Tom gets to Dan first and beats the information out of him, threatening with a gun and unleashing decades of fury on this marital interloper and masculinity-mocker, whom he also believes may have been peeping on his daughter (given one of the detective's questions). Graziadei has a blast with this role, fully exploiting the sleazy, sneaky vibes that were still somewhat restrained in his one 1980 scene; that said, the character is not quite as much of a creep as he initially seemed. It turns out the "peephole" wasn't a peephole at all, and it had nothing to do with Dan; Wayne's return visit to the long-abandoned Purcell house, now covered in graffiti and overgrowth, reveals that Will used to slip his sister those encouraging notes through the opening in the wall. As for Dan, what he can offer is the name of someone ensnared in the whole kidnapping/murder plot, and this is what leads Tom to the Hoyt mansion near the end of the episode, staring at something offscreen as he murmurs his daughter's name and Harris sneaks in behind him.

It's a hell of an ending, and with two full episodes to go there's plenty of room for True Detective to unveil a much more sprawling conspiracy than the first season ultimately settled on (given an Easter egg nestled in a previous episode - Rust's and Marty's faces on Eliza's computer screen as she interviews Wayne - maybe this conspiracy will even stretch back to that one, although I wouldn't hold my breath for an MCU approach to True Detective...just yet). In retrospect, episode 5 looks like it will probably be the last largely character-driven entry. Meanwhile, "Hunters in the Dark" doesn't exclude the other timelines even if 1990 does most of the narrative heavy lifting. The earliest scenario is not yet closed-off: we watch a post-coital Wayne and Alicia dance around his history of violence and establish when and how the authorities closed down the Purcell investigation. Looks like Wayne's rupture with the establishment is still to come, but he's clearly unhappy with the story they're attempting to spin. In 2015 we've yet to pick up the renewed Wayne/Roland teamwork promised last week, focusing instead on Eliza's interview as well as confirmation that yes, Henry is sleeping with her (a touching scene between father and son ensues rather than a fierce confronation).

There are still some '80 threads to pick up on next time, and some significant 2015 drama in store for the climax - clearly all three storylines will continue to weave together right up to the end, or close to it. That said, my guess is that 1990 will continue to be the focus in "The Final Country" based not just on the last minutes of episode 6 but also two scenes I haven't even mentioned yet. In one, Alicia offers a public reading of her book only to be confronted by a stranger (I can't find the actor's name in the credits) who matches the description given by the dollmaker ten years earlier. In the other, Wayne and Roland interview Harris in his office, establishing a tense repartee especially between him and Wayne. It could simply be there to establish Harris' appearance later in the episode but I still think they're going to run into each other again. It's blatantly obvious that the corrupt cop planted evidence to incriminate Brett at the behest of his new bosses and was given his current cushy job as a reward mere months after his good service. Along with, among others, the Alicia theories (which I still don't remotely buy), the-Hoyt-adoption-service-did-it has been a fan favorite since the company was first introduced as a multifaceted plot element, and it definitely seems like the series is going in this direction. If and how the old characters, now disconnected from institutional support and resources, can have any effect on the powerful perps (Rust and Marty did, but they weren't exactly geriatric yet) remains to be seen.

Next week: "The Final Country" • Last week: "If You Have Ghosts"

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