‘True Detective’ Recap ‘The Big Never’: Deadly Game

In the ‘True Detective’ recap, Wayne and Roland find new clues in the Purcell case back in 1990 and the former partners reconnect as the case re-opens in 1990….

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

It’s rather evident through the first three seasons of ‘True Detective’ that creator Nic Pizzolatto sets up these episodes to turn the viewers into the detectives digging into each particular case.

As it was during season when Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were first called in to investigation the grisly death of Dora Lange yet we didn’t discover anything about Reggie Ledoux until several episodes later, the same thing appears to be happening during ‘True Detective’ season 3.

The latest episode once again takes place over three timelines with the majority of information being doled out back in the original investigation in 1980 after the Purcell children first went missing.

By the time we catch up in 1990, we know that whoever was convicted of the crime — a name that has yet to be revealed — is appealing the case and trying to have his or her conviction overturned.

And then in 2015, an elderly Wayne Hays is haunted my memories of his dead wife not to mention his scattered mind trying to grasp onto clues from the case that has more or less invaded his life for the past 35 years.

It all adds up to a lot of evidence and mystery without many answers as of yet, which leaves us as the true detectives in the case to see what we spot, what we deduce and what we believe will be the ultimate outcome in the case in 1980, 1990 and presumably the re-emergence of the case yet again in 2015.

The third episode pulled back the curtain on a secret life the Purcell children were leading that no one the police have talked to knew anything about much less the friends they were hanging out with during these mysterious rendezvous in the woods.

In 1990, Wayne and his wife Amelia are drawn back into the case after Julie Purcell’s fingerprints show up at a crime scene while Roland West is interviewed by the attorneys for the person convicted of the murder-kidnapping back in 1980 as they attempt to dig up cluse on the initial investigation.

And finally in 2015, Wayne is interviewed by the ‘True Criminal’ television series about a few inconsistencies that popped up about that initial 1980 investigation that leads the former lead detective to start questioning his own memory about the case.

With that said, let’s recap the latest episode of ‘True Detective’ titled ‘The Big Never’…


After the Purcell family received the ominous note regarding their children’s disappearance, Wayne and Roland are determined to walk back through the entire case to figure out what they may have missed. The note that was sent came in a handwritten envelope, leading the detectives to believe that whoever mailed this out wasn’t all that smart about hiding their identity but still there’s no real clue about who sent it yet.

As the daily searches continue in the state part, which was shut down as the investigation into the murder-kidnapping started, Wayne and Roland opts to return to the Purcell house to dig through the kid’s rooms once again to find what they’ve been missing.

It seems through the interviews with the school children — particularly a local kid from the same street as the Purcell’s named Ronnie — that Will and Julie have been lying to their parents about who they’ve been hanging out with and what they’ve been doing. It seems they were constantly telling their father about going to Ronnie’s house — Tom Purcell is under the impression that he’s best friends with Will — but Ronnie explains that he barely knew the kids. Ronnie admits he did invite them over to see his new puppy but outside of a few interactions as school, they never associated together that much.

That means Will and Julie have been lying to their parents about where they were going but for what reason?

Roland digs into Will’s room where he finds a hand drawn map and lot of pictures that have been drawn that pay reference to his Dungeons and Dragons game that he played quite often. Last week’s episode revealed a manual called ‘The Forest of Leng’, which we dove into during our investigation into the possibly links between ‘True Detective’ season 1 and season 3, which you can read HERE.

As for Wayne, he finds a Hoyt Foods bag hidden away in Julie’s room filled with Barbie dolls and a notebook as well. Inside the notebook, Wayne finds an interesting drawing of a tree and a figure with a crown on its head and a yellow face — is this Julie’s drawing of the Yellow King?

Wayne also finds a series of creepy notes — seemingly in adult handwriting — with messages such as ‘I’m always here’, ‘Don’t listen’ and ‘I’ll always keep you safe’.

Before leaving the Purcell house, Wayne and Roland discover that Lucy Purcell had actually worked at Hoyt Foods but quit her job there a year or two earlier because she made better money as a waitress. Hoyt Foods — in this story — appears to be a stand in for Tyler Chicken, which is a massive conglomerate that’s based out of the same area in Arkansas where this story takes place.

Lucy used to work on the chicken line, which only furthers the comparisons to the Tyson Chicken company.

Back at the station, Wayne and Roland are attempting to piece together the clues — Will’s obsession with Dungeons and Dragons yet they found no dice in his room. Where were these children going everyday and who were they hanging out with?

It seems during the investigation a group called the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center — a charity started by Hoyt Foods — has offered up a generous reward for any information that could lead to finding Julie Purcell. While that might seem like a good idea, the reward also spurs a lot of false leads, which many times slows down the actual investigation.

In fact, Roland answers a call from a woman who says she saw Julie Purcell at a snake farm in Huntsville, Alabama in a dream — and she knows this is a clue because all of her dreams come true. Now this might seem like a throwaway moment but something to remember as this investigation continues.

The detectives pay a visit to Hoyt Foods where they talk to one of the people in charge, who tells them that the founder of the company started the Ozark Outreach program after he lost his own granddaughter. Typically the outreach program helps families in need with medical bills but because Lucy Purcell worked there, the board members approved a reward handed out for any information that helped lead to Julie being found. Before leaving, Wayne asks to see the employee records for everybody working there — over 700 people — as they dig into this new possible connection.

Remember back in season 1, Reggie Ledoux discovered Dora Lange after sharing a cell in jail with her wayward husband. Is it possible that somebody who worked with Lucy and heard her talk about her children could have been a part of this heinous crime?

Either way, Wayne and Roland head back into the state park to continue the search for any more clues about where Will and Julie were going and who they were meeting in those woods.

The search also gives Wayne time to connect with Amelia — the school teacher who will one day become his wife — as they talk about his ability to track people and how he used to do that same thing during the Vietnam War. It’s clear judging by this interaction as well as the scenes we see with Wayne and Amelia in 1990 that their entire relationship started and stayed centered around this Purcell investigation — perhaps ultimately to their detriment as it also apparently drove a wedge between them years later.

As Wayne continues to track through the woods, he ends up finding a clearing in the park and a set of Dungeons and Dragons dice laying on the ground. These must be the dice that belonged to Will Purcell. There he also finds a mysterious bag of toys — filled with ‘Star Wars’ action figures, more of those creepy straw dolls like Julie Purcell received on Halloween, and a calculator.

Wayne also finds a rock covered in hair and blood, which leads him to believe that this was the spot where Will Purcell was murdered before his body was moved into that cave, posed in that prayer position and left for somebody to find.

While he’s in that field, Wayne also spots a farm house in the distance that is close enough to this area to draw suspicion, but also remote enough that it’s never appeared on any of the maps that the police have been using during the investigation.

Wayne calls in for the rest of the police force to gather the evidence he discovered where he and Roland go up to the farm house to talk to the owner.

When they arrive, the farm house owner tells them that he already talked to the police — yet the actual Arkansas State Police have no record of anybody speaking to this man. He says that ‘normal’ looking man showed up the day after the kids disappeared wearing a suit and flashing a badge asking questions about them. The man says he told the supposed police officer that he saw the Purcell children playing in that field at least two or three times in the past.

The farm house owner also tells the detectives that he saw a nice brown sedan driving up that same road — with a black man and a white woman inside — although he says they were there on different days than the children.

Wayne asks to search the property but the man tells him that he’ll need a warrant for that. Suspicious but simultaneously just proof of what the state police told Wayne when he initially asked to search all the homes in the area for clues and he his boss said that people in that area value their privacy and probably wouldn’t just allow a blanket investigation into their homes.

Eventually the warrant comes through as the search continues for more evidence surrounding the kids being around this farm house.

Elsewhere in town, a group of ‘concerned citizens’ chase down ‘The Trashman’ Brett Woodard — the Vietnam War veteran, who collects junk to sell for salvage who saw the kids on the road that day when they disappeared. The townspeople beat the crap out of Brett and warn him to stay away from their children.

Brett ends up back at his house, digging into a garage and that’s where he pulls out a massive bag that was hidden away. Brett carries the bag outside but we never see what’s inside. The bag looks big enough to carry a human body but is it possible that he has something else lurking in there? Maybe Brett exacts revenge on the town people?

Meanwhile back in town, Wayne and Roland stop by the Purcell house one more time to show them photos of the toys that were discovered at the site where Will was murdered. Neither of the parents recognize the toys — Tom says he’s the one who buys the toys for the kids while Lucy just appears suspicious and brushes it off saying she doesn’t remember ever seeing these toys.

While talking to the parents, Wayne looks around the house again and he finds an old photo album that Tom Purcell says he brought out of storage after the kids went missing. Wayne looks through the book and finds a disturbing photo — it’s Will Purcell on the day of his first communion and it’s eerily identical to the way they found the boy posed with his eyes closed and his hands in a prayer position after he was murdered.

Did someone from the family see this photo and that’s how they posed Will after killing him? Does this point back to the cousin Dan O’Brien, who was living with the Purcell family, possibly spying on Julie Purcell and who would have had access to these family photos?

It’s another clue in the myriad of questions that are still remaining from the initial 1980 investigation and we’re still no closer to finding out who was convicted of the crime.


In 1990, the attorneys for the person convicted of the Purcell case 10 years earlier have made it to their appointment to speak to Roland West, who is now a lieutenant in the Arkansas State Police. While it seems Wayne was busted down to desk duty for a reason that hasn’t been revealed yet, Roland has flourished in his new role as the boss over an entire section of the state police force.

Roland walks the attorneys back through the case from his recollection — much of what we see during the 1980 investigation — before catching up with him again after his meeting with the attorneys.

It seems in addition to his fancy new job, Roland has also stayed in contact with the Purcell family including a close relationship with Tom Purcell.

Tom ended up in a dark place after his children disappeared but Roland apparently helped him out of a bad spot five years ago and that’s what led to him getting sober and cleaning his life up while also finding God. Tom reveals that his ex-wife Lucy Purcell died two years earlier in Las Vegas, although we don’t learn the circumstances surrounding her death.

Tom also says he’s been contacted by the lawyers looking to overturn the conviction and he mentions that the ‘guy’s kids’ hired them to look into the investigation. Perhaps that reference leads back to the idea that it’s Brett Woodard who ends up being convicted of the crime. Remember, Brett talks about being estranged from his children due to his inability to function after returning from the war — but he’s a character with suspicions from the townspeople who has children that has seemed like a scapegoat since the very first episode.

Tom mentions the fingerprints that were found in that Oklahoma Walgreens were a robbery took place that belonged to his daughter Julie. He’s still trying to wrap his head around everything and he ends up praying with Roland while trying to muster the strength to get through another investigation into the disappearance of his children.

As for Wayne Hays in 1990 — he’s driven with his wife Amelia to that Walgreens in Oklahoma where Julie Purcell’s fingerprints were discovered.

The conversation reminds us once again how their entire relationship was built around this case and it continues to find new ways to inject into their lives 10 years after the crime was originally solved.

Both Wayne and Amelia are curious if the fingerprints belonging to Julie Purcell were just inside the store or perhaps behind the counter, which would mean she was part of the robbery that took place. Wayne mentions that he can’t question the local police or that will raise a flag with his bosses back home that he’s digging into this case again.

It seems that Wayne did something after that initial investigation in 1980 that pissed off the wrong people and he got busted down to desk duty and he’s been warned away from this case. Amelia offers to turn on her considerable charms to talk to the local cops to find out the information about the fingerprints.

While Amelia runs off to flirt with the police, Wayne is left babysitting his children during a trip to Walmart — another massive business founded in Arkansas — and that’s when he loses track of his daughter Rebecca while shopping. Wayne panics — perhaps because he’s still so haunted by that Purcell case — and when he finally finds his daughter, he lashes out and curses at her while simultaneously trying to console the scared little girl.

Later that night when Amelia returns home — a little tipsy after having dinner with one of the police detectives — Wayne again lashes out at her for being more concerned about the Purcell case than coming home to take care of their kids.

Finally, we learn that after Wayne and Roland were split up from being partners that they drifted apart and never really stayed in touch with each other. Roland explains to the attorneys digging into the case that he attempted on several occasions to get Wayne transferred into his unit but it was blocked each time — further proof that Wayne pissed off the wrong people at the Arkansas State Police.

As Wayne continues to wonder about this case, particularly Julie Purcell’s fingerprints being found, he goes to a veteran bar to have a couple of beers. That’s when Roland shows up to pay him a visit as the former partners reconnect.

Wayne questions if Roland’s fast rise up the police ranks had more to do with his skin color than his actual work while Roland fires back by telling his former partner that if he had played the game all along, he might just be his boss right now.

The harsh words eventually dicipate and that’s when Roland brings up the Purcell case again and wonders if Wayne is ready to get back to doing what he does best — being a detective. Wayne agrees to partner up with Roland again in a new investigation into the murder-kidnapping case involving Will and Julie Purcell.


Our scene in 2015 picks up the day after episode 2 ended where Wayne mysteriously wakes up on the same street where Purcell family once lived back in 1980. It seems Wayne has no memory of how he got there and the doctor suggests that this is just further proof of his diagnosis. We never heard that prognosis but it’s clear that Wayne is suffering from the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

During the discussion, Wayne threatens his son Henry by saying if he tries to put him into an assisted living facility that he will just kill himself. That might explain why Wayne always keeps that gun so close to him at home.

Back at his house, Wayne answers questions again from Elias Montgomeray for her ‘True Criminal’ show looking back at the Purcell case.

It’s here where Elisa reveals that through her own investigation, she’s found that there were numerous gaps in the initial canvassing of the neighborhood where the Purcell kids lived Several neighbors were never interviewed — many of whom remembered seeing the kids that day they disappeared not to mention something else rather suspicious.

Many of the locals remember seeing a high-end brown sedan driving around that neighborhood and nearby to the Devil’s Den where the kids reportedly played. This seems to match the same description of the brown sedan that the farm house owner told Wayne and Roland about back in 1980.

Elisa then mentions that the former residents told her about a black man driving the car with a big scar on his face — perhaps another marker and link to ‘True Detective’ season 1 as the killer Errol Childress also has numerous scars on his face, inflicted by his father Sam Tuttle when he was a child.

Wayne grows upset at this evidence being thrown at him out of nowhere, essentially questioning his investigation into the case back in 1980. The interview session ends but then Wayne goes back to his study where he begins recording his own voice talking about the case.

Wayne recites into the recorder that the interviewer finally brought up the brown sedan and also talked to him about the Dungeons and Dragons game that the kids were playing that had so many adults concerned back in 1980. He also mentions when his wife Amelia first started working on her book that was an investigation into the Purcell case after they had gotten together.

That’s when Wayne starts hearing a voice in his own head — and a vision of his wife appears behind him as she speaks to him in riddles about multiple dimensions and essentially saying how the past, present and future all exist on the same plain. Is time really a flat circle?

Wayne knows he’s hallucinating, which only concerns him further about his own mind working against him. The vision of Amelia taunts him about something he withheld — more evidence that he found something during that initial investigation in 1980 that he didn’t turn over? She continues to taunt him that he thought he’d never have to revisit the past and then she tells him that he stands to lose everything just like everybody else. She then says something rather interesting:

“You’re worried what they’ll find in the woods. Finish it”

Is it possible that Wayne Hays discovered who actually murdered Will Purcell during his second investigation in 1990 and killed that person rather than turning them into the police? Where is Roland West in 2015 and why haven’t we heard from him yet or even heard his name mentioned? Remember, Wayne and Roland took it upon themselves to shake down a pedophile back in 1980 believing that he could have been connected to the crime. Did the old partners team up again, find the real murderer and take them out rather than try to get them convicted?

These are all questions that still remain as we await ‘True Detective’ to return next Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO.

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