‘True Detective’ goes full gothic in revealing, uneven season finale

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Stephen Dorff, Brett Cullen, Mahershala Ali in HBO's True Detective Season 3 Finale

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The following contains spoilers about season 3 of “True Detective.”

The eighth and final episode of the third season of “True Detective” is upon us, delivering a semi-satisfying conclusion to the show’s pivotal mystery while revealing much more about its central characters. The episode, somewhat aptly titled “Now Am Found” is a clunky, disjointed tying of loose ends: While it does offer explanations for the Purcell case, it doesn’t answer why the rest of the season had to be so boring up until this point.

This final outing of the season begins with a glimpse into a yet unseen future, with an older Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) visiting his wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) who is teaching a class and reciting a poem by Delmore Schwartz. This is a stand-alone scene, existing in none of the three timelines we have become familiar with, and like much of this season, ends up going nowhere.

Cut to a continuation of last week’s episode, which ended suspensefully with Hays receiving a call from the mystery Hoyt, a wealthy man whose mansion contains the mysterious pink room that Julie Purcell had referred to. Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) killed Hoyt’s security man Harris James in the last episode, having brought him into an unofficial questioning on suspicion of having something to do with the Purcells.

Hoyt wants to find out what happened to Harris James, but doesn’t let up any information beyond general suspicious one-liners. It’s truly wild that one of the main leads in the case is being introduced in the final episode and that it’s yet another overblown performance to add to the pantheon of miscalculated characterizations.

Meanwhile, the reunited elderly Hays and West continue to search out the final details of the case they had officially abandoned so long ago. The pair somehow get into the Hoyt mansion, which has apparently been abandoned, and discover the pink room Julie had mentioned and that Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) had come upon in previous weeks. In a visually stunning and creepy scene, Hays and West explore the candy-colored room and determine that Julie had been brought and kept in this place.

They finally get connected with the mysterious one-eyed man, finding him for the first time after the showdown in the initial case. They find that his name is Junius Watts, that he worked for the Hoyt family and then he goes on to literally spell out all the missing aspects of the case. This is where the show goes full gothic, with a batshit solution that’s right out of a Brontë novel.

So, Watts had worked for the Hoyts: first, in one of their factories then he was brought in to help in their home. He helped raised the Hoyt’s daughter, Isabel, who after the loss of her husband and daughter suffered a breakdown. Isabel had taken a liking to Julie Purcell at a community function, since she resembled her dead daughter. Julie’s mother Lucy would let her go play with Isabel, on the condition that Will go along with her. They would meet in the woods, providing the answer to where the Purcell kids would go and the significance of the toys that were found in the forest around their home.

During one of their meetings, however, things went sour. Isabel pushed Will into a rock, killing him, and leading Watts to place his body in the cave in the eerie prayer position. This is also where the straw dolls came into play, as Julie dropped them in the woods as they left Will’s body. Watts also reveals that Harris James helped them frame Woodard for Will’s death and Julie’s disappearance, planting Will’s backpack at his home after the shootout.

Lucy Purcell is shown to have known about the situation the entire time, having taken a payout for allowing Isabel to keep Julie with her. They then kept Julie at the Hoyt mansion in the pink room for years, Isabel drugging her with lithium pills and calling her Mary — reshaping Julie’s entire perception of her world and making her vulnerable after being held all those years. When Watts realized this, he tried to help Julie escape, organizing a meetup point to assist in her escape. But this was where Julie disappeared permanently, leaving no trace of her whereabouts.

But, of course, there are more loose ends to be tied. Hays and West leave Watts and go to a convent where Amelia had discovered Julie (or Mary July as she later went by) had been at one point. The nuns reveal Mary July had passed away years ago, but had had a happy life there. But is this the end of this story? Of course not.

Hays, in another dream/vision of Amelia, has a final revelation pointing to where Julie Purcell is. Amelia appears again in his study and encourages Hays to continue looking for a final lead, to find out if she had actually died or if it was one final cover-up.

In one final nonsensical reveal, we find out that apparently Mike Ardoin, one of the kids who was first interviewed during the case, recognized Julie at the convent as a landscaper. He then helped her fake her death so she could lead a normal life and they got married and had a daughter who they named Lucy. Hays then goes to see Julie, but gets confused as he arrives, and it’s unclear if he knows what’s going on as they talk, if he had forgotten where he was or if he was feigning forgetfulness to be able to speak to her.

The season then ends with two scenes. In the first, Hays and Amelia talk about their relationship. Hays anticlimactically says he wants to marry her, and the pair walk out of the bar hand in hand. These parallels play into the season’s attempts at negotiating memory and the cyclical nature of time, just as the issues in their relationship played out over the decades. Then it cuts immediately to Hays during his time in Vietnam, adding another layer from another timeline we have had yet to see.

Though all the leads this season brought forth did come to a somewhat comprehensible conclusion, this episode is not a very satisfying end. Rather than a tight, tense mystery this season became an endlessly looping series of red herrings. The Purcell case came to be tertiary to the season’s other explorations about time, memory and the cyclical nature of life — which would be fine if these themes hadn’t gotten lost in the muddled storytelling that ended up dominating this season.

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