This True Detective review contains spoilers.
True Detective Season 3 Episode 6
The investigation gets serious on True Detective season 3, Episode 6, “Hunters in the Dark,” but it also gets more infuriating. Not only do we not find out who Wayne (Mahershala Ali) and Roland (Stephen Dorff) buried in the woods, we get further lost in possibilities. Every clue on True Detective is planted evidence. “If You Have Ghosts” ended in the 2015 timeline, with the two true detectives agreeing to disagree on how to spend their time. It was only a conversation, and a muted one at that, sitting on a porch, over a couple beers. But it was exciting. It dangled hope in front of us and tonight the pairing gets down to business.
“Hell of a day when a gunfight’s the second most exciting thing that happens to you,” Wayne shares, along with his cigarette, with Amelia (Carmen Ejogo). That is an apt description of the series in general. The gunfight sequence was a high point, but it outdone with quiet discussion. Admittedly, through gritted teeth at times, but done so effectively low key. Every relationship on the show has a range that flares from a soft ember to a violent outburst. Any two characters can interact intimately underplayed or over the top with punches, kicks or bullets. And on top of that, tonight we get a not so gentle reminder that anyone may be packing.
The fact that the first time Wayne and Amelia sleep together is also the day he survives a gun battle which may cost his partner his leg is sweet. It’s delicious, especially topped with us learning this is the first time Purple Hays ever fired his weapon on the job. The two new lovers bond in ways they don’t even see yet. For instance, Amelia gets to be a much better investigator in this episode. Her publisher begged her for a follow-up to the book on the case, and she turns a bookstore reading visit from the one-eyed man into real evidence, the kind cops can use. Detectives and investigative novelists and journalists aren’t much different in many ways. They’re also very different, in ways that can test a marriage or a partnership.
The other thing Wayne admits in the very first sequence, from the 1980s timeline, is he doesn’t spend much time remembering stuff. This consumes his whole character during the run of the season, so learning it’s a long held superpower fuels the indomitable search for memory which drives him. It’s a kind of karma. Wayne is paying off a lot of karma.
As far as the department’s concerned, part of this karmic debt is he and his partner didn’t kick Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) around hard enough during the initial investigation. The recorded call Sally made is a strong indictment against her father and Wayne and Roland spend a telling 20 seconds getting their heads around it. Then Dorff puts on his angry-Roland face and Tom proceeds to kick himself. Dorff mines that glare from a deep, dark place of true betrayal. It is personal. It is professional. It is scary. But most of all, it is fun to watch. For the viewer, anyone who gets hit with it under interrogation is laser-broiled toast.
It certainly does that to Tom, and McNairy gives that scene everything he’s got with an implosion turned explosion of beauty. Tom breaks. He’s broken so many times before, Wayne and Roland know he’s barely holding things together, but when the actual fracture occurs, it is a devastating moment. The full scene, and its aftermath, gives way to a subtle camera trick where Wayne’s reflection is caught in some plate glass, showing him looking inward in his 2015 timeline self, remembering the same scene. Ghosts come in many shapes.
A second look into Tom’s old workplace reveals he may have been living a closeted gay lifestyle. It’s not something he is comfortable with, keeping a pamphlet for a religious cure to homosexuality in a dresser drawer. Lucy Purcell’s cousin, Dan O’Brien (Michael Graziadei), whose remains were found in a drained quarry by the time of the 2015 documentary, has insight to clear Tom in the 90s. But it’s going to cost the detectives more than a scrambled egg and sausage ash tray to get it. He tells the detectives the clues are being blocked by important people who do not renegotiate.
Hays and West backtrack the Purcell back to the Harris James, the officer who ID’d a backpack found at the Woodard altercation scene as the dead boy Will’s. The ex-cop is in charge of security at Hoyt industries now, trading in a highway patrolman’s hemorrhoids for a comfortable recliner in a corner office. Amelia finds herself investigating runaways at a religious halfway house, one of whom remember seeing Julie. She called herself Mary sometimes, or Mary July, like summertime. Julie told the girl she was brought up in a pink castle. The girl hints that what happens to girls at the place is the real story Amelia should be following.
Hays son is having an affair with the documentary questioner. The signs were there all along, it doesn’t take a detective to spot it, just a daddy. It may also be the father in Hays who realizes the peephole he and his partner thought the cousin used to spy on the little girl as she slept was just a hole in the wall the kids used to pass notes through.
The penultimate scene is a marvel in the form of a mouse trap and Tom is the rodent in the maze. He has been perfectly set up. Every door is open. From the moment he overhears the federal cops talking about West and Hays paying a visit to O’Brien, through the same motel his wife’s cousin used to score meth, right up and into the Hoyt residence. The security cameras see him. They ignore him. We know an ax is going to fall, but we have no idea where or what is going to be split.
True Detective episodes don’t end on mere cliffhangers and reveals. They end on moments of excruciating anticipation, like the tripping of a claymore, or a door opening on a pink room in a mansion that’s defended like a castle. Without giving too much away, the head of security is a knight in something less than shining armor. “Hunters in the Dark” almost gives us a chance to catch our breath after an upward climb which feels like deep descent.
“Hunters in the Dark” was written by Graham Gordy and Nic Pizzolatto, and directed by Daniel Sackheim.
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.