Season One of True Detective was brilliant television and, despite some controversy regarding Nic Pizzolatto’s appropriation of the works of Alan Moore and Thomas Ligotti, was near universally acknowledged as being fresh, original, and disturbing.
It was like Twin Peaks and the Wire had a lovechild.
Season Two? Not so much. Oh, it had its moments, but it was, ultimately, a disjointed mess, with the best bits, I suspect, stripped from the script in an effort to remove the more ‘occult’ elements, elements that, in large part, made Season One so intoxicating.
Now, after a long hiatus, True Detective returns and it begs the question — can Season Three capture some of that same black magic that made its debut outing such a critical success?
Let’s find out.
The Great War and Modern Memory
What we have, initially, is Pizzolatto’s reimagining of the West Memphis 3 case, aka the Robin Hood Murders, and the subject of a true crime book (and movie) titled Devil’s Knot.
The root of the story seems to revolve around the disappearance of a brother and sister, ages 12 and 10, in an area known as the Devil’s Den. Detective Hays is interviewed in 1990 and 2015 regarding his involvement in the case back in 1980, the first by prosecutors and the second by ‘True Criminal’, which is, I presume, a tv docu-series.
Hays is a former long range reconnaissance and refers to himself as a tracker. He’s good at what he does. He sets out on his own and discovers the boy, Will, inside a cave, posed in prayer. The girl was nowhere to be found, though we learn that her fingerprints turn up in 1990.
Also of note, two cornhusk dolls, dressed as brides, were found, almost like breadcrumbs, leading Hays to Will’s body.
Set in Arkansas, I have to admit, they got the look right. The accents? Not even close. I know. My family is all from that nape of the woods and I spent a lot of time down that way, especially from the early-70s until the mid-80s.
The acting is solid. I expected as much from Mahershala Ali, but I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen Dorff’s Dennis Quaid impersonation.
I thought the mystery unfolded slow and easy, and enjoyed the three decade plot device.
Now, let’s talk briefly about the first thing I took note of, at least in regard to Easter Eggs. In Will’s room, Hays pauses over an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book titled ‘The Forests of Leng’. Trust me, no such book or module exists.
Leng made me think of two things right away. 1.) Lovecraft’s Plateau of Leng and 2.) George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire, where Leng is a jungle island littered with ancient ruins. Martin almost certainly titled the isle as a nod to Lovecraft.
Leng was described by the sorcerer Abdul Alhazred as a place where different realities converge.
One final [piece that bears mentioning. The children’s parents were estranged. For a time, the wife’s cousin was living with them, sleeping in Will’s room. When Hays was searching the boy’s room he found a peephole drilled into his closet, allowing someone, presumably the adult cousin, to spy on the little girl’s room.
On to episode two…
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
“I like Batman and Silver Surfer.”
The second episode doubled down on the slow burn. Oh, there were plenty of red herrings and false leads, seeds of pedophile rings and conspiracies, but all in all, this felt like a character piece.
Where the first outing had a Twin Peaks meets Stranger Things (kids on bikes and D&D) vibe, this one hewed a little closer to noir procedural.
We get a richer glimpse into the lives of all involved, and we see new faces that are sure to play a bigger role as things unfold.
The three biggest things for me was Hays and Amelia’s relationship, the ransom note, and Hays’ Alzheimer’s (or dementia).
We’re watching everyone on edge as the community and the police involved begin to unravel.
I’m still excited by the show, but I wonder if it would have been better served to have shown episode one by its lonesome, then the second week dropped two and three together? That first episode had all the water-cooler talking points laid out, while the second sort of defused that somewhat.
Regardless, I’ll be there, hungrily, next week to see where this dark road will lead us.