As if recognizing that mid-season doldrums had set in with episodes four and five, True Detective’s sixth season-three episode course-corrects with an incident-filled hour that dials back on some of the season’s more troubling tendencies and pushes the central mystery forward. “Hunters in the Dark” minimizes the time spent watching Wayne and Amelia quarreling in 1990 while maximizing the time spent unraveling the mystery of what happened to the Purcell children in 1980 and the question posed by Elisa regarding the “sheer number of fatalities surrounding the case.” The murder of one child and the disappearance of a second has seemingly led to the deaths of ten policemen, one troubled Vietnam vet, a cop-turned-security specialist, and Cousin Dan … at the least. And it now looks like if anyone is going to get to the bottom of it, it’s going to be Wayne and Roland in 2015, the former now a dementia sufferer with Grand Canyon-sized memory lapses, the latter a hard-drinking loner who’s gotten used to talking to dogs more than people. Will we ever really know the truth?
It’s a tall order, even for sharp cops in their prime, as the fact that the 1980 and 1990 timelines keep sending Wayne and Roland down dead-ends attests. This week, we get to see the shape of one of those dead-ends when Wayne protests Gerald Kindt’s (Brett Cullen) shutdown of the investigation. A district attorney in 1980 who’s become the Attorney General of Arkansas by 1990, Kindt’s been a presence through much of the season. Here he’s insistent that whatever Wayne thinks he knows he doesn’t know, and that Woodard is definitely the perpetrator. Then, in 1990, he appears enraged by the possibility that Tom might really be behind the crimes thanks to a phone message (probably) from the long-disappeared Julie Purcell. At neither point does he concede that Wayne might be onto something. Is this ego and bravado talking? Possibly. The in-absentia Woodard conviction was good for his career. But has covering up for the powerful also been good for him?
That’s one of two big questions left unanswered by this episode’s final scenes. And since those contain a pair of big moments, it might make sense to discuss them now then work backwards from each. Both take place in 1990 and both find characters stumbling on unexpected revelations — and one seemingly putting his life in danger in the process.
Over the course of the episode, we learn a bit more about Julie — or the woman claiming to be Julie — and how’s she’s spent the years since her disappearance. Specifically, she’s changed her name to “Mary” (or “Mary Julie” or “Mary July”), and talked to her fellow runaways about living in the “pink rooms” or as a “queen in a pink castle.” At the end of the episode, we see what’s presumably one of those pink rooms as a drunken, gun-toting Tom, after threatening Cousin Dan’s life, breaks into the Hoyt estate. After making his way to its lower reaches, he enters a pink room and sees something that makes him say “Julie?” He’s so distracted that he doesn’t even sense Harris James creeping up on him from behind before the episode cuts to credits.
Who is Harris James (played by Scott Shepherd)? We heard or saw nothing of him (unless I missed it) until the previous episode where we learned he was (a) part of the investigation into the “Woodard Altercation” who discovered the backpack at the scene of the crime, and (b) missing. This week we learn more. Not long after the Woodard investigation, he went private, gave up a job that earned him, in his words, $15k and hemorrhoids, and took an apparently sweet, profitable job serving as the security chief for the Hoyt family. We also know this: He thinks Wayne has a pretty nice body.
What should we make of this? And what should we make of the fact that Tom was given a hard time by his old co-workers after word got out that the used to go to a “queer club”? Tough to say. On the Tom front, the main takeaway seems to be that 1980s Arkansas would be a tough place for a gay man to live, closeted or otherwise. (That he was evidently seeking a “cure” makes it all the sadder.) It also casts further doubt as to whether he fathered Will and especially Julie. When pushed in the interrogation room by Wayne and Roland, even he seems to have some doubts, but insists she’s his kid because he held, raised, and loved her.
Regardless of Purcell kid parentage, Wayne and Roland suspect he’s innocent, especially Roland, who’s grown close to Tom over the years. But clearing him means getting reacquainted with the loathsome Cousin Dan, who demands $7,000 for the information he eventually gives Tom for free: that Lucy was paid to keep silent by Mr. Hoyt (or someone in the Hoyt organization) and killed when she asked for more than she’d gotten already. And with that information, the central mystery comes a little more into focus, or seems to: We’re dealing with a pedophile ring run by the rich and powerful, one reminiscent of a debunked ’80s scandal centered in Omaha.
Unless we’re not. We’re still two episodes away from the finale and there’s still a lot that doesn’t add up. Is Julie right that Tom isn’t her father? Is her father Hoyt, a man still unseen outside of hunting photographs? If so, why the casual reference to him last week? Then, of course, there’s this week’s other shocking late-episode development: the appearance of a one-eyed man matching the description of the man seen roaming the area of the murder in a fancy sedan in 1980 at one of Amelia’s reading in 1990. He confronts her, accuses her of exploiting the tragedy, suggests she has no real theory about the murder (which is probably fair to say), and then stalks off. Shaken, Amelia says only one word: “Dolls.”
If she’s right, this is the man who purchased those straw dolls from the “dear, good” (but pretty racist) Patty Faber, surfacing at last from the mists of memory and rumor. But if so, what does that mean? Were the Purcell kids meeting some strangers in the woods and was he one of them? If so, he seems pretty pissed for a murderer. He could be the key to the whole case! Except for one problem: This confrontation takes place in 1990 and Wayne and Roland still haven’t cracked it in 2015.
As with Tom’s discovery of the pink room, it’s a compelling way to end the episode that makes it hard to wait for the next one. It also feels like the balance of the series is swinging away from atmosphere and character development and back toward the needs of the narrative. That’s not a bad development. This season has felt less surefooted when dealing with the inner lives of Wayne, Roland, and Amelia — however rich the performance behind them have been — than when telling the story. But for the third season to prove as memorable as the first, it will have to find a balance in the home stretch. From the start, Pizzolatto’s been interested in exploring questions deeper than “Whodunnit?,” but at the moment that’s the engine driving the show.
Intriguing Leads and Red Herrings
• Is Cousin Dan dead? We know he dies at some point after his confrontation with Tom, but is it Tom who does him in? We still don’t know, but my guess is Tom did not pull the trigger after getting an answer from him.
• “I really don’t spend time remembering stuff,” 1980 Wayne tells Amelia after they sleep together for the first time (on the day of the Woodard gunfight, no less). She’s pressing him — just a little — about his time in Vietnam. The line seems in character, if ironic: The whole season is a long act of Wayne remembering, and misremembering stuff. Some of its best moments have come when Wayne loses track of what’s present and what’s past, as when 1980-Wayne seems to see something that disturbs him that might be a vision from the future or the image of 2015 being reflected in the one-way mirror in 1990. They’re fleeting lyrical touches but they leave a deep impression.
• Wayne finally gets Henry to admit he’s sleeping with True Criminal producer Elisa Montgomery. Henry doesn’t feel great about it, but Wayne counsels him to keep the truth to himself for the sake of his marriage. Why Henry should take marital advice from his father is a bit unclear, however.
• Cousin Dan’s insinuations about his relationship with Lucy may be the single creepiest moment in a season not short on creepy moments.
• Who knew Stephen Dorff could scowl like that?
• It wasn’t a peephole, it was a hole for passing notes. Is it also a red herring, or is there a reason the Purcell siblings felt the need to pass notes to one another?