Season three of True Detective concluded last night with a series of surprisingly quiet notes. While Mahershala Ali was collecting awards on another channel, he gave a wonderful performance on this show which probably wouldn't meet with Spike Lee's approval, either.
Spoilers after the screenshot
The resolution of the season's central mystery of the missing girl was not nearly as splashy as season one or season two. It was interesting; a tale of lingering 19th century southern U.S. culture, a wealthy white family, their one eyed loyal black servant, and a bizarre manufactured family scenario fuelled by drugs. No paedophilia at all, just a curious Tennessee Williams homage.
Surprise guest star Michael Rooker appears as the family patriarch, a politician who successfully intimidates Wayne in a great scene. The tension as they talk around Wayne and Roland's murder of Harris is terrific thanks to some heavy bass, eerie music and a steely, boiling performance from Michael Rooker. That moment at the end where he asks Wayne, "Do you want me to feel threatened?" made absolutely clear Wayne should never in his wildest dreams desire such a thing.
It's kind of a shame the tension for the rest of the episode tapers off but what the show lacks in pulpiness it makes up for in sweetness. We get some more, heavier hints at Roland's repressed homosexuality which culminates in a scene from 1981 where a stray dog comforts him while he's crying after a bar fight. That's how Roland went from the man who was shooting animals for kicks in the first episode to the dog owner we see in his old age. I wasn't looking for an explanation for that but it was lovely to get one.
Even lovelier was the show's real climax, the 1981 scene where Wayne and Amelia decide to get married. What I love most about it is that they're both so vulnerable, both are on shaky ground because they're coming back together after investing venom and pride in rationale for staying apart. Amelia is coming back to him after he's talked to her in a way her dignity would not normally tolerate and he wants her to come back despite having deliberately insulted her to push her away, based on an irrational idea of her role in losing his job.
If either one was now rejected by the other, the one rejected would have ten times the reason to feel shame and self-loathing. It's a moment of bravery and it's lovely how it resolves, and it's a perfect way to end the story of their relationship; two people of such different philosophical outlooks who nonetheless share an undeniable connexion and chemistry. Mahershala Ali and Carmen Ejogo deserve a lot of credit for that, I think, but Nic Pizzolatto's teleplays really developed something in their ongoing dialogue. It's telling that it works so much better than the romantic subplots in the first two seasons--Pizzolatto seems to have found emotion for romance by going for the intellectual angle. In making it about contrasting philosophies, he found the pain in loving someone so different and also showed why it can be worthwhile to love people who think and believe differently from oneself.
I am kind of disappointed time travel didn't end up being involved. But I liked how the final shot was Wayne disappearing into the jungle back in Vietnam. It seemed a moment designed to put a stamp on this account of the life of Wayne Hays and the season's non-linear format certainly succeeded in creating that impression.
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