True Detective Season 3 Episode 3 Recap

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True Detective Season 3 Episode 3 Recap

HBO sent critics the first five episodes of True Detective. But in the spirit of authenticity and spoiler prevention, I’m watching the episodes week-by-week along with the audience. In other words, I don’t know what’s going to happen next, so any and all predictions or theories I have are genuine. Certainly I would like to binge watch this show, but I’m really taking one for the team here. Consider me the True Critic.

Why does he have the gun? Why is Hays so haunted by the abduction of the Purcell children? Why did he refuse to read his wife’s book? Why did he never report the brown sedan Elisa Montgomery brought up during the interview in 2015? Why did the vision of Hays’s late wife tell him, “You’re worried what they’ll find. What you left in the woods”?

In the third episode of True Detective Season Three, the clues seem to be turning on Hays. As the episode opens from the perspective of Roland West—getting interviewed in 1990—we begin to get a new perspective on Hays’s work on the Purcell case. So far, Hays has been framed as the infallible detective—the True Detective, one might call him. Although, if this show is here to teach us anything it’s that nothing and no one is perfect. Our memories, our actions—they all have flaws. As they establish early in the episode, investigators are conducting interviews to see what the prosecution or detectives left out of their initial case. In 1990, federal investigators are trying to get the “full account.”

It’s implied from the very beginning that Hays and West left something out of their initial report back in 1980, and this episode provides a slow build toward revealing what was missing. A key moment comes when Hays and West interview the man who owns the house near where they found blood and a backpack full of children’s toys. These appear to belong to the Purcell boy, but there’s no record of this man getting investigated. The man in this house says that he already spoke to police. “They showed me a badge,” he says. He’s seen the Purcell kids running around his house. And he’s also seen a car. It’s a nice brown car driven by a black man and a white woman.

Immediately after this scene, the episode jumps back to 2015, when Hays is getting interviewed by Montgomery for the documentary. Here’s her line of questioning:

“Do you feel there was sufficient coverage of the neighborhood during canvassing? … Did officers conduct multiple interviews with all potential witnesses? … We have people who said they were never questioned by police … Some residents did get talked to three or four times, but nobody spoke to these people … and we found two who both separately claimed to have witnessed a very nice brown sedan driving around the neighborhoods and driving away from Devil’s Den on the day of the murder … A witness said police talked to him once and he told them about the car but they never came back, and there’s no mention of the car in the field reports. Another said police never took a statement but they both noticed the car because it was new and upscale which was unusual for that area. Another former resident, Charles Snider, said that his boy and a friend had told of a black man with a scar and a suit near the cul de sac where the kids played near devil’s den. No one came back to question him. None of this is mentioned in the official reports. This alone don’t you think points to serious flaws in this investigation from the very beginning?”

By placing these scenes back to back, True Detective seems to be implying that Hays—and Arkansas police—somehow botched the case by omitting this detail.

If that’s the case, this would explain the antagonist nature of the 1990 interviews, along with the friction between hays and Montgomery. It would also explain a number of other things in this show. Hays is crippled with guilt over how he handled the Purcell case. That’s why he never read his wife’s book or moved up in the police force. That’s also why the vision of his late wife told him, “You’re worried what they’ll find. What you left in the woods.” That might be what the gun is for, if he’s ever exposed for his mishandling of the investigation.

Now, it’s possible that this is another red herring, or that Hays is working to clear his own reputation. But one thing is certain: This episode implies that this case is about to get a whole lot more complex.

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