Time's truly a flat circle as show returns to form.
In the third story arc of the True Detective anthology series created by Nic Pizzolatto, we follow state police detective Wayne Hays (played by Mahershala Ali) as he investigates a case of two missing siblings that spans 30 years.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
By now, everybody has probably mentioned how the first season of True Detective broke and remoulded the detective genre. With heavyweights like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, spouting deep philosophical lines like, "time is a flat circle", season one also exposed literatis to the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers and the Cthulhu Mythos. Season one was a promise of future anthologies.
A year later, season two arrived. While it boasted stars like Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn (playing against type, no less), the entire season had no teeth. The story was a mess. And with its many narratives, the threads didn't pull as taut as it did in the last season. The fingers of blame point to the absence of season one's sole director, Cary Fukunaga, and the brief timeline for Nic Pizzolatto to pen the story (HBO's President of Programming Michael Lombardo admitted thusly), which led to the disappointing sophomore season.
A little over three years later, came the latest season. This time, Pizzolatto had ample time to refine the story. And sure, there was a slight setback with the exodus of the director, Jeremy Saulnier, after filming two episodes but this season has Oscar-winner, Mahershala Ali. Plus, Pizzolatto has more creative input for the third season.
This won't suck, right?
And after two episodes… all signs point to 'no'.
Like any mystery story, viewers will have to pay close attention as the season unravels. This time, the narrative happens over three time periods of Mahershala Ali's character's life: at 35, when the case occurs; at 45, when he gives his deposition and at 70 when he's retelling the case for a TV show while battling memory loss. The prosthetics to age Ali is remarkable but it is Ali's portrayals of Hays during differing periods of his life that should be lauded; that's three different people that Ali is playing.
Ali is supported by a worthy cast: there's Stephen Dorff who plays Hays' partner, Roland West; Carmen Ejogo as Amelia Rearden, the teacher of the missing children; Scott McNairy as the father of the two missing children and Mamie Gummer as the estranged wife.
The case is set in 1990s Arkansas, where the Southern Gothic eerieness makes the landscape a character. The disquietude that accompanies it feels like the calm before the shitstorm. Scenes are teased out like the pulling taut of the string before its inevitable breaking.
Then, there's the usage of the 'reliable narrator'. Hays suffers from a memory-losing ailment (Dementia? Alzheimer's? We don't know), which casts a doubt as to what we're seeing. Maybe it will be a study of how the truth is shaped by the lies we tell ourselves? It's a familiar narrative vehicle that, if not, handled carefully, might steer off-course. Which brings us to the next point…
What we didn't like
The 'unreliable narrator' schtick could feel like a cheat. We only discover how serious Hays' memory loss is when near the end of the second episode, we see Hays at another location, with no knowledge on how he got there.
Are the timelines that we're witnessing through Hays' eyes or through Pizzolatto's? It's not that we hated this narrative device but that familiar taste of season two rises up our throat and we didn't like the dread of possibility: that the rest of the season could go belly up.
Guess we'll find out in later episodes to see how it'll pan out.
What to look out for
There is this one moment during episode one where Scoot McNairy's character, Tom, is in the truck looking for his kids, you can see the worry crawl over his face: a no-nonsense man, who is slowly but surely, reduced to a father that's wading too far out into a helpless sea. It's moments like these that might portent a show that's back on track.
The third season of True Detective is now out on HBO, every Monday at 10am.