True Detective 3 Was The Best One Yet

By Spencer Kellogg | @Spencer_Kellogg

It’s almost as if True Detective 2 never happened.

Back From The Dead

What a season and what a comeback for True Detective. The belabored moans and groans of a drunken Colin Farrell that had dotted and plagued the second season are gone. In their place has returned the quiet and subtle terror that painted the familiar canvas of the original True Detective 1. What’s more, the newest True Detective builds on an unmistakable emotional element not so easily spotted in previous seasons.

The second season’s messy, overacted and rushed plotline had left many of us rightfully wondering if we would ever see the compelling genius of HBO’s best contemporary crime series again. But in its third installment, Nic Pizzolatto has crafted a sensational piece of modern television that stands in true competition with his original masterstroke.

That first season told the story of Dora Lange, a woman who had been found dead in a ritualized murder that featured deer antlers, twig symbols and a slew of strange churches along the Louisiana coast. It was creepy, it was compelling and it coincided with Matthey McConaughey’s peak as a singular acting talent. It was, in one word, stunning.

So spare me some slack if I wasn’t too excited about another sequel not living up to its predecessor’s magnificence. How wrong I was…

The Story

In True Detective 3, we follow the story of Detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) who try to piece together, over three beautifully interspaced decades, the kidnapping and murder of two children in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Carmen Ejogo plays Ali’s wife Amelia Reardon, an aspiring writer who delves into the emotional aspects of the case and later inspires Ali to turn over new clues.

Elegantly told over three separate timelines, Ali and Dorff are perfect partners who grow apart as bureaucracy intersects the hunt for the truth. Golden Globe and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali is an absolute joy to watch. His physical cadence and timing are mesmerizing and the strained anxiety of his searching voice invites us in closer with each passing sentence.

True Detective 3 shares intimate territory with Season 1 in that they both share mysterious and eerie geographical backdrops at the heart of each case. One of the defining characteristics of True Detective 1 was the beautiful but haunting landscape of Louisiana and here, again, we find the importance of place to a story.

The bayous and open swampland provided Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey with what felt like an endless adventure and the lush, smokey Ozarks are eagerly reminiscent of this important detail. It’s easy to get lost in the gray and that feeling is present throughout the entirety of the series. By placing location at the forefront, each season takes on a regional feel and tone that is all its own.

Memory, Loss & Family

In many ways, the case is merely a backdrop for a deeper narrative that discusses memory, loss, and family at great lengths. We watch Ali and Reardon bond during the initial investigation and then as their marriage falters and is tested over the case’s decades-long investigation.

As an old man, Ali struggles with unreliable memories that hide his past while his son and Dorff try to help him piece it all back together again. In the third and most recent timeline, Reardon’s apparition appears before Ali to cooly and sternly guide him towards evidence he had overlooked in the past.

Each of these minor storylines speaks of forgetting and remembering, of love and loss. In the end, it’s not so quite the big reveal you thought you were watching for but it satisfies in ways you might not have expected.

Expectations of a jaw-dropping finale sort of sputters in the most magical of ways. In the end, the crime doesn’t seem nearly as heinous or creepy as the evidence (or certain internet forums) might have suggested and it’s a simple, small twist that finds the show’s conclusive and heartwarming ending.

I’m not much in the spoilers business so do yourself a favor and watch the impeccable and complete third installment of True Detective now. You won’t be sorry you did.


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