‘True Detective’ continues to zero in on its protagonists in episode 4

Characters of HBO's "True Detective" series engage in intense eye contact.
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The following contains spoilers about season 3 of “True Detective”

Episode 4 of “True Detective” season 3, “The Hour and the Day” represents the midpoint of the eight-episode series. But even halfway through, the details of both the Purcell case and the motivations of its protagonists are still left unclear. Continuing the more character-driven arc of the last episode, this week’s dive into the murky waters of the case again proved to be more about the relationship between Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) and the relationship between Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) than about finding more clues.

The newest lead at the start of this episode is the church where Will and Julie Purcell attended a youth group. Hays and West then discover that the straw dolls found in the woods were sold by one of the parishioners, finally giving some sort of concrete lead with one of the many clues planted early in this season. Here we also find out about Hays’ past as a practicing Catholic, though he evades the persistent pressure from the priest to visit the confessional.

Hays and Amelia’s relationship is also explored, with a pair of terse scenes performed expertly by Ali and Ejogo. The first of these is a fight well into their marriage, and the second is a scene of one of their early dates. The tension in both is distinct and reveals the layers that have gone into their relationship both personally and professionally with their dual investment in the Purcell case.

West is also given more screen time this episode, and Dorff gives a good performance distinguishing the earlier, less competent West from the suddenly in-control West of the 1990 investigation. Later in the episode, as Hays and West question Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield), a local teen whose fingerprints were found on Will’s bike, their good-cop, bad-cop dynamic shows their capabilities as a team.

The Purcell parents are also shown to be unraveling further and further. West picks up Tom (Scoot McNairy) after a bar fight, and Lucy (Mamie Gummer) throws Amelia out of her home after briefly opening up about something she may have withheld from Hays and West. Their anguish is especially jarring when later, in the middle timeline, we get our first glimpse of the still-alive Julie Purcell on a security camera, bridging the long gap of these 10 years.

This episode also delves further into the racial divides permeating the Ozarks, including the offhand racism from a suspect, the dismissiveness of Hays by the higher-ups in the police department and a near-showdown that West escalates while interviewing a Black suspect. Also present is the specter of what happened between him and West, who in the middle timeline is show to have garnered awards and high recognition in the police department, while Hays (who has been called back in to the reopened Purcell case) is told he’s lucky just to be there.

Meanwhile, the elderly Hays continues to piece things together in the void of his fading memory. He goes to see the documentarian, who finally shows her hand in what her team might know about the case. This leads to the biggest revelation of the week: The body of the Purcells’ creepy uncle was found in a quarry after Julie resurfaced in 1990. Hays, however, is still battling with his memories. An extended scene in which Hays visualizes and argues with some of the figures that haunt his memories is telling of the ways in which his past is conflicting with his present.

The episode ends with another loose end left by a different plotline started earlier this season. Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes), a local trash collector who had been beaten by a vigilante group that suspected him of being involved in the Purcell case, takes matters into his own hands when the men return. After Woodard rigs his house with what appears to be a grenade, West and Hays are then called to the scene. As one of the vigilantes breaks into Woodard’s home, the episode ends with a bang.

Episode 4 has continued in the style of a character study rather than revealing any conclusive details about the case. There are still a number of loose ends left untied, particularly with the ominous explosion concluding the episode, and hopefully next week the show will finally provide some answers.

Camryn Bell covers film and television. Contact her at [email protected].