In the ‘True Detective’ season 3 debut recap, we get to know the new detectives, a case that starts in 1980 involving two missing children and a mystery that spans more than 35 years…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
‘True Detective’ is back and if anything was abundantly clear during the special two-episode debut, it’s that creator Nic Pizzolatto learned his lessons from seasons one and two.
The first season of ‘True Detective’ was a tour de force starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that was nominated for just about every award possible on television, winning several of them.
Those eight episodes are still hailed as some of the best television that’s ever been produced.
Unfortunately, Pizzolatto tried to follow that up with another ambitious season that starred Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams and while ‘True Detective’ season 2 definitely had it’s moments, the show was largely panned by critics.
Then the show disappeared for the past three years with many wondering if ‘True Detective’ would ever return.
That’s when Pizzolatto took his time to craft a new mystery while recruiting Oscar winner Mahershala Ali to star as the lead detective in the third season of the anthology series.
The result — at least based on the first two episodes of the series — was much closer in relation to season 1 of ‘True Detective’ versus what happened in season 2.
The mystery this time around involves a state police detective from Arkansas named Wayne Hays and his partner Roland West (played by Stephen Dorff) as they investigate a missing persons case involving two children — a 12 year old boy named will and his 10 year old sister named Julie — who disappear after telling their father they were going to play at a local park and then never returned home again.
The missing children case may seem solved based on the clues that are revealed throughout the first two episodes, but everything is brought up again when new clues surface 10 years after the initial investigation was finished.
In ‘True Detective’ fashion, Wayne Hays is now caught in a mystery that started in 1980, continues 10 years later in 1990 and then comes back to haunt him one last time in 2015 when he’s slowly losing his memory to dementia.
The new series jumps back and forth between those three time periods as pieces of the case start to come together while Wayne desperately searches for answers even as his mind is working against him.
In our recaps this season, we will go chronologically with the major clues from the case as well as any personal details that help flesh out the characters with a vested interest in seeing this case being solved or remaining unsolved.
With that said, let’s recap the first two episodes of ‘True Detective’ season 3 titled ‘The Great War and Modern Memory’ as well as ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’…
State police detectives Wayne Hays and Roland West are called into a missing persons case in Arkansas after a father reported his children missing after they failed to return home hours after leaving to go play at a local park.
Will and Julie Purcell left their home at approximately 4 p.m. while riding their bikes with plans to stop at a friends’ house to meet a new puppy he had just received and then onto a local park where they would play. The children were supposed to return by 5:30 p.m. but never came home again.
Detectives Hays and West are called to the scene to investigate where they find a frantic Tom Purcell trying to find his children. That’s when we learn that Tom and his wife Lucy are estranged — still living in the same house together but no longer acting as a married couple outside of the massive fights they engage in, seemingly on a daily basis.
The detectives begin their investigation by having police officers canvas the area while they go inside to look around the house to find any clues as to where the children might have gone if not the park.
It turns out the children were spotted by several neighbors riding their bikes as well as three teenagers including Freddie Burns and Brian Peters, who were driving around in a purple Volkswagon Bug. Sadly, the children were never spotted at the park or at their friends’ house where they were supposed to go to meet the new puppy.
What we do see, however, is those same three teenagers riding, jumping and doing tricks later that day on a bike that belonged to either Will or Julie Purcell. The park called ‘Devil’s Den’ is a local hangout where the kids in the area go to play while many other do drugs, drink or just cause general debauchery.
Inside the house, Detective Hays finds some drawings from Julie Purcell that include one of a married couple — bride and groom — along with two children. This may not have any relevance but something to keep in mind based on a piece of evidence found later.
Wayne then goes into Will’s room where he finds a pair of Playboy magazines under the bed but much more troubling is the closet where he discovers a pinhole that’s been drilled out that peeks into the next room over belonging to 10-year old Julie Purcell.
The detectives start to put the pieces together after Lucy returns home — fights with her husband — and then reveals that her cousin Dan O’Brien lived with the family for several months over the summer before moving back to Springfield, Missouri. It turns out, Dan was the person living in Will’s room, which explains the Playboys and probably the disturbing peep hole found looking into Julie’s bedroom.
The search continues the next day with neighbors being questioned with Wayne and Roland heading to the school in West Finger to talk to teachers and the students who may have seen Will and Julie the day before.
There, Wayne Hays meets an English teacher named Amelia Reardon — she teaches students from 8th grade to 12th grade and Will was one of her students. She also teaches Freddie Burns, who was the senior driving that souped up VW Bug that was seen driving down the same road where the kids were last spotted.
Freddie reveals that they spotted the kids around 4:15pm but that was the last time he saw them. Unfortunately for Freddie, his pal Ryan contradicts that story by telling the detectives that he saw Will and Julie at the park playing with other children after they arrived there around 4:45pm. At this point, Roland wonders if the boys are just lying to stay out of trouble because they were drinking or doing drugs or perhaps if something more nefarious might be happening. You get a sense with the interviews of these teenagers — especially when Roland questions one of the kids wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt — that this sounds a lot like the West Memphis 3 case where several teenagers were convicted of a horrific crime in large part simply because they were outcasts, who listened to heavy metal music. This was all during a time when a Satanic panic was washing over the United States.
As for Amelia — she will eventually become Mrs. Wayne Hays one day in the future — and she describes Will as a smart, attentive student who kept to himself. She also says the three boys in that VW Bug were kind of the outcasts of school.
The next stop for the investigation went to the home of Brett Woodard aka ‘The Trashman’ — a local who collects junk to sell as scrap, who was also seen driving around on a go-kart picking up trash when the kids went missing the day before. A search of his home reveals that Woodard is a fellow Vietnam veteran just like the two detectives.
When they bring him in for questioning, Woodard reveals that he’s a loner these days after running off his wife and children thanks to the struggles he had readjusting to life after returning from the war. This was before post traumatic stress was even a concept so the problems experienced by Woodard as well as Wayne Hays were just undiagnosed issues. Wayne was a member of the long range reconnaissance patrol, which meant he would disappear into the jungle for weeks at a time, all by himself, while acting as a soldier and tracker to hunt down the enemy.
In the midst of these conversations, Woodard is obviously still affected by his time in Vietnam but he seems like a real red herring when it comes to the crime itself of these kids going missing.
Meanwhile, the next day the hunt continues through the surrounding areas including the woods nearby the parents’ home. Wayne treks off on his own as he begins searching for clues where the kids might have gone.
Along the way, Wayne discovers one of the bicycles belonging to the kids — it’s been mangled and twisted as if it was hit by something and then just left in the middle of the woods. Wayne continues his hunt and that’s when he happens upon two strange stick figures that look like bride dolls — dressed in white, holding flowers with their arms crossed just like that photo that Julie Purcell had in her room.
Wayne searches further into the woods and that’s when he finds a cave and inside he discovers the body of little Will Purcell. The boy is dead but his hands are folded as if he’s praying. Autopsy reports would prove that the boy had his neck snapped before he was moved into the cave and left in that position.
There was still no sign of Julie Purcell.
The search continued with the FBI joining the task force looking for Julie while Detectives Hays and West were put on the murder investigation, hopefully with both sides teaming up to find the same result. The detectives began questioning anybody and everybody around the family from co-workers to neighbors searching for answers.
The detectives then go to Will’s funeral where they meet Dan O’Brien for the first time. They question him about his relationship with the children as well as those Playboys found in Will’s room but they never mention the peep hole discovered in the closet.
Later, at a town meeting where the state attorney general reveals as much information as possible to help aid in the search for Julie Purcell, the people in the community are scared and lashing out at any potential culprit. It’s there at that meeting when Wayne runs into Amelia for a second time and shares with her the photograph of the straw bride dolls that were found near the scene of Will’s murdered body.
He asks her to show it around at school in case any of the other children have seen those same dolls. Sure enough, Amelia finds one student named Mike who remembers that straw doll from going trick or treating with the Purcell kids just over a week earlier.
In fact, Mike remembers that Julie Purcell received one of those straw bride dolls in her bag, but he wasn’t sure where she got it much less who gave it to her. Still, Mike’s information helps the detectives plot out a path where the children were walking that night for Halloween.
The detectives decide to offer a plan to the state attorney general where they will use cops to act as surveillance units for that entire area, seeing if anybody is acting strange or out of typical behavior while they go house to house asking to search for the children. The state attorney general is concern that local people won’t take to their homes being searched and he believes releasing this information to the public via television and local newspapers would be a better way to get help finding the missing girl.
Later that night, Wayne has a beer where he runs into Amelia yet again and while they share some information with each other — she aspires to be a writer, he struggled with reading as a kid and prefers comic books like Batman and Silver Surfer — he then spots a news report where the state attorney general announces all the information they found in Will Purcell’s death in hopes of stirring up leads to find Julie Purcell.
Needless to say, Wayne is not happy with the way this plan was carried out.
Much like he predicted, the revelation of these findings ends up with hundreds of false tips pouring into the police stations all over the state.
The last solid lead that they follow happens after Roland visits a buddy of his who works vice in the area and he knows a local pedophile who is living in the same town under a new name. Wayne and Roland pay him a visit, take him to an abandoned farm and proceed to beat the crap out of him for information.
It turns out this pedophile was working at a daycare facility, which is unbelievably creepy, but he had an alibi for the times when the children went missing so he’s not the culprit. Thankfully the detectives discovered what he was doing so this guy will no longer be working anywhere near children in the area.
The final major break in the case happens later the next day when the detectives are called back to the Purcell home where a note has arrived. The note is pieced together from magazine or book letters with a message written to the parents.
“Do not worry. Julie is in a good place and safe. The children shud laugh, do not look. Let go”
Tom Purcell is beside himself with fear and anger over this latest clue in the disappearance of his daughter and the detectives are obviously baffled by what they’ve just found. The good news is Julie Purcell appears to be alive but sadly it seems she’s been kidnapped and they are no closer to finding where she’s been taken.
10 years after the original cased involving Will and Julie Purcell was closed, Wayne Hays is a happily married man to his wife Amelia and their two children — Henry and Rebecca.
Wayne has been called into give a deposition involving the 1980 investigation including one of the attorneys, Alan Jones, who was working in the state attorney general’s office during the initial investigation. Alan is now working as a defense attorney in the case to overturn the conviction of whoever went to prison for those crimes.
It seems the family of whoever was convicted of the crime has filed an appeal and so now the attorneys are going back through the case, especially after some compelling new evidence has been discovered.
Wayne is backtracking through his initial investigation when he finally demands answers about this new evidence that was found.
That’s when he’s told that a pharmacy in Oklahoma was held up and fingerprints that were taken belonged to none other than Julie Purcell. That means the 10 year old girl survived and now she’s 20 years old, somewhere in Oklahoma and she may have been part of this pharmacy robbery. No one knows for certain if she was part of the robbery or just a customer and the investigators are still waiting on a subpoena to come through for the video surveillance footage at the pharmacy.
Obviously, Wayne is rocked with this revelation, especially after the investigation that unfolded back in 1980.
Details remain sketchy as to what unfolded — obviously we’ll learn more in subsequent episodes — but we learn during this latest 1990 deposition that Roland West has gone onto do very well for himself (in what exactly we don’t know) and Wayne’s wife Amelia has just written her first book.
It’s a non-fiction account of the Purcell murder-kidnapping investigation called ‘Life and Death and the Harvest Moon: Murder, child abduction and the community it destroyed’.
Wayne Hays is once again pulled into the Purcell case by a true crime television show called ‘True Criminal’ that is investigating the death and abduction of the children back in 1980. By this point, Wayne is suffering from dementia and struggling with his memories, especially in the aftermath of the death of his wife.
Apparently, Amelia went onto write six more books after her first investigating the Purcell case but we still don’t know why exactly she died.
Wayne has to record reminders for himself to help with his memory including one such note where he tells himself to look in the nightstand drawer to find what he might need. When he opens the drawer we see a lot of junk but most prominently is a gun in a holster.
During the initial interview, Wayne mostly talks about his wife and her book but during the question and answer session, Elisa Montgomery ask if he had any theories back in 1990 about Julie Purcell and her father. Is it possible that Tom Purcell was the one who kidnapped his own daughter before being found with her 10 years later?
We still don’t know those answers yet.
Elisa also shows Wayne a series of websites that have been dedicated to the investigation and the continued search for answers. Some of the theories online including links to pedophile groups that existed during the 1980’s in these areas around Arkansas with some using symbology similar to those straw bride dolls that were found when Will Purcell’s body was discovered.
Finally after the cameras stop rolling, Wayne talks with his son Henry before everybody sits down to dinner together. That’s when we see the true depths of his dementia as he asks over and over again about his daughter Rebecca, who now lives on the west coast and is apparently estranged from her father.
The final moments of the second episode show a confused Wayne Hays standing in his bathrobe on the same street corner where the Purcell case first began as he looks at the burned down ruins of the house that the family once occupied.
Wayne says during the interview that he never stopped theorizing about what actually happened in the Purcell case and it appears 35 years after his initial investigation, that murder-abduction is still haunting him.
‘True Detective’ returns with a brand new episode next Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO. Take a look at the sneak peek what lies ahead below: