To revive True Detective after a disappointing second season, series creator Nic Pizzolatto needed to perform a miracle.
Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff taking on the characters of Wayne Hays and Roland West respectively have been the miracle that HBO was seeking in attempting to recreate the magic of the first season.
Both Ali and Dorff are intense in their roles, taking the audience on a heart-pounding ride in the otherwise sleepy region of the Ozarks in Missouri.
This season focuses on the disappearance of two siblings, Will, and Julie Purcell. Although there are elements that carry from the first season, such as the macabre nature of the crime presented in episode one, there are notable distinctions.
The best of these distinctions is how the story is told over a period of decades. Normally, writers will switch between the present day and a period of time generally fixed in a decade and move from there.
Season three oscillates nearly seamlessly between the present day (2015), 1980 during the original crime, and 1990 when the investigation is reopened.
In the present day, viewers have shown a visibly aged Hays retelling the events for a documentary with white hair that looks so real, you could swear the events of the past thirty years had worsened his condition.
In addition to the aesthetics of his age, the way Ali portrays Hays with his worsening memory and the subtle struggles of old age make just this facet of his character award-winning.
West (Dorff) and Hays compliment each other perfectly as if they had truly been partners on the job for the better part of a decade.
You have Hays, a former tracker from the Vietnam War, a very quiet, reserved character and West who is as direct as they come and this dynamic leads to iconic moments from scene to scene.
The cinematography, which has been outstanding in both previous seasons is exceptional in the third season as well. You have shots of Hays for instance that show him as an older man looking at a window into the reflection of his younger self. The editing skill and design this takes are breathtaking to watch.
Paired with yet another great soundtrack by T-Bone Burnett, the details of this series match the acting skill of all who are cast in the show.
One of the characters that really captures the audience is Tom Purcell, played by Scoot McNairy. From the first episode, when he realizes his children are missing, to the questioning in episode six, his dynamic range of faces, emotions, and nuances make him an incredibly memorable character. The rage and frustration culminate in the interrogation room, the veins sticking out of his face as he screams from the depths of his soul. Even as I am writing this, the acting is so memorable I can picture it when closing my eyes.
What also makes this show so dynamic and memorable is how there are so many storylines that seamlessly interact and yet don’t confuse the viewer.
For example, Hays’ wife, Amelia, played by Carmen Ejogo, writes a book about the crime during the investigation and by the time 1990 rolls around in the show, she is creating a sequel which creates tension between the couple.
Her portrayal of the stay-at-home wife turned author, turned detective in her own right is stunning. She has this way in the show of playing verbal chess in her interactions that leaves the viewer spellbound. That isn’t to say she isn’t without fault, like in her interactions with Lucy, the mother of the Purcell kids, but she is magnetic on-screen.
There is also the thread of what happens to Lucy in 1990 after the events of 1980, and that story by itself could possibly be a show in its own right.
My favorite thread is the relationship between Hays and his children. It is powerful to watch the emotional depths of that storyline.
Although the season is already at episode six, the twists and turns so far are already enough for the lifetime of crime series.
Viewers still don’t know the full roles that the characters play in the disappearance of the Purcell kids, and the most recent episode leaves on a cliffhanger that even made me gasp audibly in the comfort of my own dorm room.
This show has truly overcome its sophomore slump and put itself into the pantheon of HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire previously.
If you are looking for a show that breaks the mold of crime-thrillers on cable television, this show is for you.
Also, if you need a show to prevent the boredom of repeating The Office on Netflix for the 100th time, this is a show for you.
This is a show that has spawned many fan-generated theories on Reddit and although I and other viewers have no idea who committed the crime or all the players involved, it has captured our collective imaginations and taken us on quite the ride.
In a world of reboots, remakes, and generally stale content, this show shines through as an example of what uniquely gifted screenwriting with resources can provide for an audience.
My personal recommendation if you have not viewed the series before: watch season one then wait a week. After you process that season, watch season three and while viewing, mind the details, because that is where the true genius of this show lies.
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