This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective: Season 3 Episode 4
True Detective season 3, episode 4, “The Hour and the Day,” puts most of the puzzle pieces on the table, but ends on a promise they will soon kick it over. Each episode delivers its own special flavor of suspense, and each one tightens incrementally on the last, like a lug nut. The only, and best, contradiction is we know it’s actually loosening to a point where the wheel is going to fall off and we will careen into harsh impact with something even more powerful than a lug wrench.
Maybe I read too much too soon into the first season of True Detective. The idea of an entire season of satanic detective genre entertainment made me jump for joy, several times literally. Maybe we all loved the Yellow King so much we didn’t want to let him go. Pizzollato probably felt the same, that’s why he swears up and down this is just a spooky police procedural, but continues to parade hidden knowledge out of the corners of our eyes. We are supposed to be following the cops and they are keeping it as real as possible. The first season found occult clues and chased them through a landmine of real peril into a spiritually desolate conclusion. In this season, anything remotely profane is rendered mundane immediately by the premise, but continues to infect our expectations.
Take the opening scene: Hays (Mahershala Ali) and West (Stephen Dorff) go to the church the kids at the center of their tragic case attended. The first thing eagle-eyed Purple Hays lays his eyes on are portraits of children at first communion. They all have their hands folded in prayer, just like the dead son of the Purcells. The prayerful repose signifies their innocence and rebirth in Christ. But Will has his eyes closed. He is the only one. It is a disconcerting coincidence and Hays and West are discontent. The priest admits to taking the photos himself and says the kid probably blinked.
St. Michael’s Church of the Ozarks is also where we get a name for the handmade figures that were found around Will’s body: a chaff doll. The first season’s twig figure folk magic fetishes, which surrounded the crimes, were called “devil traps,” and were made by the killer himself. The chaff dolls are made by a “dear good woman,” Patty Faber (Candyce Hinkle), and she does it every fall for the church’s fair. Patty sold a whole bunch to a “negro man with a dead eye.” She winds up being a little bigoted, not that she’d know it.
Mr. Whitehead, the man with the funky eye, goes to First Presbyterian, not St. Michaels, but he has the righteous anger of the first archangel to take a swipe at Satan. West shows himself a backwards racist, for a cop in that area. He admits he’d be less likely to blow out on a crowd of “irate negroes” than a white mob after his car window gets smashed in an arrest. The following scene shows some tension between the black and white cops, but it appears Hays is looking for something West doesn’t feel.
Hays is seeing ghosts. He is plagued by visits from the soldiers he killed in the war, as well as from Amelia in the contemporary timeline. The middle timeline concerns the police and attorney general’s office investigation, the mandate is to vindicate the original conviction for Will Purcell’s murder. They state and county offices remain convinced of his guilt. Hays and West agree to ignore the mandate and go after a killer, hopefully find the decade-long missing girl. She’s alive, but Hays fears she may not be that way for too long, putting the cops on a deadline.
Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy), the children’s father, is wracked with more than guilt. Not content with beating himself up, he sets out to get beat up by others, even referring to Hays with the racial standby while West is taking him away from a nightmare. He doesn’t say it like he believes it, he just wants a smack in the mouth. Tom apologizes moments later and West says his partner has been “called worse by people who meant it more than you.” This makes him feel even worse.
Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer) has hit the bottle and the bottom. When Amelia comes to bring a box of things her son Will left at school, Lucy says she has the soul of a whore who ran around on Tom and wasn’t able to bring any laughter into the home with her children. “Children should laugh” is a phrase from the kidnappers’ note. Lucy is a mess and Gummer plays her messy. We learn the character will come to a bad end, but we see it in every side glance, stiff joint and the downturn of her mouth. This is before she blows up at Amelia, once she’s crossed that line, her destiny is carved in concrete.
We also see the further dissolution of Hays’ marriage. The show goes to pains to show it’s mainly on Hays’ head, but the most painful parts are how they try and block their kids from it. Or how we can see how bad a job they’re doing. The first argument of the episode looks like it might even get violent until Hays admits he is actually only fighting back tears. Amelia, played by Carmen Ejogo, fights back with a cognitively dissonant barrage with sexy enough consequences. She warns Hays, in a flashback to where they first dated, that she used to be “something of a mess,” which does not surprise him in the least.
Hay’s son Henry (Ray Fisher) is over-concerned. He is a cop who is the son of a cop and he’s doubly protective, both of his father and of the attention their shared occupation gets. He doesn’t trust the documentary makers, and he’s not too happy about his father’s increased obsession with the case that drove him off the force. Fisher does a great job in both revealing and concealing his concerns and suspicions. He does what his old man asks, usually in an ambiguous protest where you don’t see the true cause of his objections. While it’s easy to write it off as a son who is concerned with his father, Fisher, along with the music, makes us wonder what else he is covering. In a show with multiple cross-purposes and conspiracies, it adds a delicious undertone of paranoia.
The detectives take a second look at Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield), the teen who was riding Will’s bicycle. Freddy’s fingerprints were found on the bike and the cops wait until after his eighteenth birthday to tell him. They say they all chipped in to get him life in prison. Hays once again plays the prison rape card, telling Freddy he should get ready to getting used to his ass being used as an entrance. The young adult finally and totally breaks down just as Hays observes he’ll wind up in jail soon enough, but not for the Will Purcell murder.
The episode ends just as a match sets off the dynamite to an explosive cliffhanger. Woodard gets chased by a vigilante mob after telling some kids he’d give them a penny for contributing to his recycling efforts. He kicks off his shoes to run barefoot and makes it to his house seconds ahead of the trucks carrying his army of would-be attackers.
True Detective‘s halfway point is completely compelling. While we know we’re going to see how this cliffhanger is going to play out, we don’t know how long, given the three timeliness, we’re going to have to wait. “The Hour and the Day” does a wonderful job of testing our impatience.
“The Hour and the Day” was written by David Milch and Nic Pizzolatto, and directed by Nic Pizzolatto.
Keep up with everything you need to know about True Detective season 3 right here.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.