Episode 6 of ‘True Detective’ offers up a few morsels of excitement in largely boring third season

A woman in a long blue dress and long brown hair stands behind a podium with a serious expression as she addresses an audience. A bookshelf covers the wall behind her. Next to her is a sign with the words "Amelia Hays Book Talk & Signing".
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Episode 6 of “True Detective,” season 3, aptly titled “Hunters in the Dark,” begins with Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) in bed, during one of their first nights together. At some point, Hays says — in a manner certainly too on the nose — “I really don’t spend time remembering stuff.”

In these seven words, Hays sums up the entirety of this largely sleepy season, which has focused much too heavily on mediations about memory and time in lieu of actual plot development. It’s not a great sign when the start-of-the episode recaps are more exciting than the aggregate episodes themselves, bypassing all the boring parts for a brief summation of what’s been interesting this season.

In any case, however, this episode was a pick up in the pace from the ones preceding it. The main focus of this week’s developments was around Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy), Will and Julie’s father. In last week’s episode, it was revealed that the still-alive Julie did not want to see him. This in turn brings Tom to the forefront of the case in its second iteration, causing him to spiral as he sees the machinations of the police department closing in on him as a prime suspect. McNairy’s performance, however, is totally overblown and brings down what might’ve been a climactic point. More details about Tom are also revealed, calling into question his role in the entire disappearance, as well as if he’s really Will and Julie’s father.

The department itself also comes into question in this episode, with the motives of Hays’ higher-ups becoming a question of interest. It’s revealed that Hays didn’t report the discovery of Will Purcell’s backpack, on the hunch that it was planted. This hunch is confirmed when the backpack, along with the remains of Julie’s shirt, are discovered at Brett Woodard’s (Michael Greyeyes) house, showing that someone put that evidence there in order to pin the crime on Woodard. Hays and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) pursue a new lead in the man who found the backpack, who was also a security guard at the Purcells’ mother’s workplace.

One of the show’s previous suspects returns in this episode, as Lucy’s cousin Dan O’Brien (Michael Graziadei) reappears, apparently with new information, but that he’ll only reveal at a price. This is later forced out by Tom in an anger-fueled rampage, and O’Brien alludes that Lucy was being paid off at some point and her death may not have been an overdose.

Meanwhile, tensions between Hays and Amelia continue to escalate, especially as Amelia starts preparing her second book, a sequel to the account of the Hays case. Amelia has also continued her own exploration of the case, tracking down some peers of Julie who knew her as a runaway at a convent. There’s also a strange interlude in the second timeline when Amelia is at a book reading and a one-eyed man (who was among the case’s initial suspects) appears, accusing her of exploiting the story for her own profit.

The last scene of this episode is where the story finally picks up, accumulating a combination of tension and action that should have been present somewhere in the last five episodes of this season. Tom, still on a rage-fueled rampage searching for answers, ends up at the mansion of the Hoyt family, who own the poultry factory where Lucy worked and who O’Brien suggested were paying her off. Meanwhile, as he prowls around the darkened halls, someone is watching Tom on a security screen. He arrives at some sort of strange pink room — finally explaining what some of the witnesses who had met Julie after her disappearance were alluding to when they noted her claims that she was from “the pink rooms.” We don’t see what he sees, just Tom’s confused and pained face and the presence of a distorted figure entering the room behind him.

This last scene finally offered what’s been missing this season, and concluded the episode on a genuinely thrilling cliffhanger. Now that some of the loose ends of the season have been tied, the remaining leads seem more conclusive. Hopefully the rest of the season will continue in this more complete fashion.

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