It hasn’t gone unnoticed that this season of True Detective bears a resemblance to the first, and with “Now Am Found,” the season’s final episode, creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto adds another echo of the first season with an oddly optimistic finale. After wading in the depths of human darkness for seven episodes, season three, like the first, goes out on a hopeful note. And then another. Then another. Then another — before ending with a dark grace note of Wayne alone in the jungles of Vietnam, the place from which he never fully emerged. It’s as if it waited to reveal that that was the story this season was really trying to tell: that of a man trying to rediscover his humanity after spending his youth deep in a green hell he never wanted to talk about, even to those closest to him. It’s an unexpected and disarming moment that reframes everything that’s come before — but it takes a while to get there.
After (mostly) wrapping up its central mystery by the halfway point, “Now Am Found” plays a bit like the True Detective equivalent of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King: a pile-up of epilogues and near-endings that just keeps going. How you react to it, and to the episode as a whole, might depend on what you expect from True Detective in the first place. If you’re tuning in for the mystery, it might feel extraneous, especially given that the episode mostly connects dots that the preceding installments had largely sketched in anyway. If you’re here for what the season has been doing with the characters — the relationship between Wayne and Amelia, the relationship between Wayne and Roland, Wayne’s struggles with dementia, and the way the season has used that condition to explore the relationship between the past and the present — well, you still might find it a bit extraneous. This wasn’t the tightest episode the series has delivered.
Which isn’t to say it wasn’t largely satisfying, on both levels. The opening moments established early on that it would be trying to find some peace for Wayne, depicting a moment of harmony between Wayne and Amelia at some point after the tumult of 1990. She’s teaching at a college. He’s heading up security. When she drops by her class, she seems genuinely happy to see him, and he her. They’ve found some kind of equilibrium after all those troubled years.
Then it’s back to 1990 for a scene, at long last, with the man largely responsible for those troubles: the long-unseen Mr. Hoyt played, in a canny bit of casting, by Michael Rooker. He’s haunted and hard-drinking, but he hasn’t lost a skill for strategic thinking apparently earned the hard way in the Korean War. “We’re both soldiers. You understand triage,” Hoyt tells Wayne as he tries to get to the bottom of what happened to Harris while simultaneously revealing he knows Wayne and Roland have unclean hands in some way and reminding Wayne that he has the potential to make life awful for him and his family. For all the tension created by the long drive through the backroads of Arkansas, the scene ends where they both must have suspected it would: in a stalemate.
And with this, Wayne essentially does to Roland in 1990 what Roland did to Wayne in 1980: He hangs him out to dry under pressure from forces much larger than himself. In 1980, Roland bargains to give Wayne a “second chance” after Amelia talks to the press about some troubling inconsistencies in the Purcell case. Now Wayne agrees to walk away for the good of his family. It’s enough to make a man get so frustrated he has to go pick a fight with the biggest biker he can find, knowing he can’t win — even if he almost does — then sit in a parking lot drinking, smoking, and crying, until he befriends a dog and starts down a path of being a strange, hard-drinking dog enthusiast. (The sequence doubles as a 2015 Roland origin story. The Dog-Man: who he is and how he came to be.)
Oh, right: there’s also the mystery. As it seemed likely to do in the lead-up episodes, the finale goes full Southern Gothic, revealing that Julie has been kidnapped by the crazed Hoyt heiress Isabel Hoyt, who lost her mind after the accidental death of her husband and daughter and took a liking to Julie after spotting her during a company picnic. The issue of Isabel “adopting” Julie was already on the table when Henry accidentally died after meeting Isabel and the one-eyed man, later revealed as one Junius Watts, in the woods — a death that added a sense of urgency to the scheme. And so, with the help of Junius and large doses of lithium, Julie lived in some pink basement rooms outfitted with everything a little girl could seemingly want, until she grew old enough, and Junius grew guilty enough, that she had to escape.
In 2015, Wayne and Roland confirm this first by breaking into the Hoyt estate and finding the fallen-into-disrepair pink rooms — a chilling visual — then by tracking down Junius, who tells all, then despairs when they refuse to “punish” him, letting him live with his crimes as the worst kind of punishment.
Because if anyone knows how much guilt can gnaw away as the years go by, it’s Wayne and Roland, two men damaged less by the crimes they’ve committed — though they’re not innocent of those, either — than by the crimes they’ve left unsolved. Here, they finally find their solution. Then Wayne pushes on, having found a clue on a random page of Amelia’s book that explains why he was so struck by his chance meeting with a little girl named Lucy and her father, the volunteer groundskeeper at the convent where Julie once worked and, he’s been told, died. Except maybe she didn’t. And maybe Wayne needs to see for himself if Julie might be alive, traveling all the way to the address he suspects might belong to her, only to find his memory failing him when he arrives.
It’s an odd but bittersweet and lovely moment. He’s worked so hard and suffered so much only to fail in the final moment. But what would he get out of knowing she was alive? What would she get out of being found? Besides, the episode seems determined to give Wayne other comforts, surrounding him with family — including his apparently-not-so-estranged-after-all daughter — and friends as he sits on his porch. Well, a friend, anyway: Roland seems to be all he has left, but he’s very much back in the picture, announcing that he’d be happy to stay over a few nights a week, dogs in tow (though they’d stay outside). It’s almost too happy an ending, like the end of Brazil. And it seemed for a moment that the camera moving into Wayne’s eye would reveal it to be a cruel trick of Wayne’s dementia. But instead we get a 1980 scene of reconciliation between Wayne and Amelia, a final confirmation that they were meant to be, in spite of all their troubles.
It’s all strangely … nice. Even if you could piece together the season’s mystery, who saw that coming? If it goes on too long and doesn’t offer much in the way of earthshaking revelations, it’s all still beautifully played by Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, and Stephen Dorff. (With Dorff — who’s been searching for a breakout role since the 1990s — being a particular revelation, since Ali and Ejogo have been doing a lot of terrific, high-profile work over the last few years.) And what’s true of the back half of this finale is true to the season as a whole, which started strong, dipped precipitously, then came back with a string of episodes that made it all worthwhile, and made it easy to wish it won’t be another four years before we get a fourth season.
Intriguing Leads and Red Herrings
• After Wayne returns from the home that may or may not belong to Julie, he doesn’t know what to do with the address. So he gives it to Henry, who tucks in his pocket and … does what? We’ll never know. It’s like Rorschach’s journal at the end of Watchmen, a bit of information that could have serious ramifications or could just get lost and forgotten.
• Congratulations to Ali for winning Best Supporting Actor for Green Book while the season finale aired, surely a first. He’s quite good in Green Book, too. As for the film — well, this is a TV recap …
• The biggest red herring: ambitious attorney Gerald Kindt, who seemed like he could play a shadowy role in a mystery that might extend to the highest corridors of power. Turns out he’s just kind of an incurious dope. (Shout-out to those who emailed and tweeted at me insisting he was behind it all. I heard and entertained your theory and I thought you might be onto something, honestly.)
• Though the episode didn’t see fit to end on it (see above), the images of Wayne’s grandchildren on bikes provides a nice bit of parallelism to the image of the Purcell kids that opened the season. Time: it’s like some kind of flat circle or something.