How True Detective’s Third Season Connects to Its First

Photo: HBO

It’s not just the critics calling the third season of True Detective a return to form: Now there’s a literal connection between the HBO drama’s breakout first season and its third. Halfway into the third season’s seventh episode, “The Final Country,” interviewer Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) shows retired detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) a newspaper headline with the photos of season one protagonists Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson). She also draws a line between one of the symbols of that season (a blue circle) and one of the main ones from this year (the creepy dolls), asserting that both are indicators of a pedophile ring — and possibly even the same one.

The first season of True Detective opened in 1995 with the discovery of the body of a woman named Dora Lange, posed in what looked like a ritual sacrifice with deer antlers on her head and twig symbols placed around her. Louisiana detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle caught the case, and the investigation led them to the disappearance of a girl named Marie Fontenot and an underground populated by pedophiles and meth dealers. Lange’s diary referenced a “Yellow King,” and symbols like the twig sculptures were found along the trail of the investigation. However, the case was basically closed after getting derailed by the meth underground, culminating in a shoot-out and the discovery of two children in a drug compound.

But much like season three’s Purcell case, the Lange case was far from over the first time it was closed. Mirroring the current season’s jumps from 1980 to 1990 to 2015, season one took place in 1995, 2002, and 2012. Stories of the “Yellow King” surface again in the 2002 timeline, and Cohle finds symbols connecting a series of missing-person cases to schools run by a power player named Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, a cousin of the governor. Then, in 2012, the case is really reopened when investigators start to wonder if Cohle himself is involved in recent murders similar to that of Dora Lange.

After a series of interrogations, Cohle presents his theory to Hart that all these disappearances and murders are part of a cultlike pedophile ring, even producing a videotape he found of the murder of Maria Fontenot, taken from Reverend Tuttle’s property. The tape leads them to a scarred man named Errol Childress (Glenn Fleshler), whom they fight and kill in the season finale. Evidence then connects Childress to dozens of missing people, the implication being that he was a pedophile protected by his powerful family connections.

Here’s the question: Could one of Errol Childress’s victims have been Julie Purcell? Probably not directly, although Elisa Montgomery suggests that the symbols found throughout season one and the dolls that feature so prominently in season three are basically part of the same interconnected series of child predators, people who sell and abuse children. As she notes and Cohle made clear in season one, Childress seemed like only part of an underground cabal of true evildoers. The implication is that Julie and Will Purcell fell into part of the same web that ensnared and murdered Marie Fontenot.

How True Detective’s Third Season Connects to Its First