True Detective returns to HBO tonight at 9pm. The crime anthology’s third season, starring Mahershala Ali as “Detective Wayne Hays,” took a four-year hiatus after its second season received mixed reviews. According to HBO, the season centers around a macabre crime, spanning three decades in the Ozarks.
Episode 1 is called “The Great War and Modern Memory;” its description reads “The disappearance of a young Arkansas boy and his sister in 1980 triggers vivid memories and enduring questions for retired detective Wayne Hays, who worked the case 35 years before with partner Roland West.”
In Episode 2, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Hays looks back at the aftermath of the 1980 Purcell case, including possible evidence left behind at an outdoor hangout for local kids; as attention focuses on two conspicuous suspects, the parents of the missing children receive a cryptic note.”
We will be updating this post live as the show airs from 9-11pm ET. It will contain spoilers for True Detective season 3 episodes 1 and 2; if you are not caught up with the show, stop reading now.
Episode 1: “The Great War and Modern Memory”
The season opens with aerial shots establishing the setting, followed by a young boy riding his bicycle through the street.
It cuts to an aged Ali (as Detective Wayne Hayes) looking into a mirror, before introducing to the “present day” Hayes. He sits in an agency office, talking to two men who want to overturn a 10-year old case.
As the show cuts back to the aged Hayes, he sits listening to a voice recording of an interview in his bedroom, dated “May 20, 2015.”
As the interview timeline continues, we learn of the third decade (and date) featured in the show’s timeline: November 7, 1980.
Now in the 1980 timeline, we see two children say goodbye to their father and leave their home on bikes. The boy, Will, is the same boy who was riding his bike in the opening sequence of the episode. As the kids ride side-by-side, they pass several neighbors who wave at them. They also pass by an older man in a buggy and two teenage men driving a purple Volkswagon Beetle.
When the men asked 1990 Hayes what he was doing on that day, it cuts to a scene of him and his partner, Roland West, smoking. They discuss a man who just passed away, and whether or not they’ll marry and have children. When a fox appears, West raises his gun to shoot it, but Hayes stops him.
The next scene shows the two children’s father, at night, looking down the street – he calls the home of one of his son’s friend, whose father says he hasn’t seen him. The kids did not come home from their bike ride.
A group of teenage boys, including the men in the purple Beetle from before, smoke cigarettes and light fireworks in an open field. As the kids’ father drives through the neighborhood, the man in the buggy from earlier drives past him.
Hayes and his partner drive in their car as they receive a report over walkie talkie that a missing persons report needs back-up.
The men arrive at the missing kids’ home. Their names are Will and Julie, 12 and 10 years old. They were supposed to be home at 5:30pm.
The next scene cuts briefly to the oldest version of Hayes (the latest timeline of the three), who is being questioned about the 1980 case.
In interviews with the older Hayes and 1990 Hayes continue, it is revealed that Hayes’ late wife published a nonfiction book in 1990, at the same time the case was overturned. The interview in the latest timeline seems to be an interview about his wife.
In 1980, at the home of the missing children, the detectives take a look through the home for any clues regarding the children’s whereabouts. While looking through the house, the men determine that the children’s parents are not together and that the wife might have taken off with the kids.
In 1990, Hays reveals he thought that was a solid theory “for 2 minutes,” until the mother arrived at the home.
Back in 1980, the children’s mother yells at the father for his negligence, and he yells back calling her a “slut.” After telling the parents to keep it together for the kids, the detectives arrange a search party with local police to start looking in the areas they passed on their way to the playground (the location the kids were headed to before their disappearance). Back at the house, Hayes continues looking for clues and finds a peephole in the back of a closet. He also finds playboy magazines, which the father says are not his.
As Hayes and his partner ask the neighbors if they’ve seen the kids, they retell bits and pieces of the montage scene from earlier in the episode, including the kids’ ride to the park, the teens in the purple bug, and the garbage man in the golf cart.
When everyone else goes to sleep after the first night of searching, Hays stays out, looking for any kind of trail. The show cuts to the oldest version of Hays in his interview; he is narrating the story that is playing out in the show.
The next day, the search continues and the children’s disappearance is broadcast on the television as their mother watches in agony.
Hays and his partner step at the school that the children attend, and knock on the door of a classroom where one of the teens from the purple Bug, Freddy Burns, is a student. They question Burns, and then another one of his friends, focusing on the friend’s Black Sabbath T-shirt. The second boy reveals that he saw the kids at the park and that there were other kids there playing with firecrackers and running around.
They return to the classroom to question the teacher, Amelia Reardon, who said she teaches Will. She describes Will as nice and sensitive, saying “I don’t think he got noticed much.” She also remarks that she doesn’t know much about his home life. She also says he is a twelfth-grade level English student and a very good writer.
Older Hays sets up the next scene in the present day interview, saying that they went and spoke to the “trash man” after their visit to the school. The two enter the trash man’s home and investigate, but he is not there. They discover that the man is a veteran, and they decide to put an APB on him.
1990 Hayes looks at the camera and says he’s ready to go; when the camera cuts, he’s saying the same thing to his interviewer in the present day. Despite her protests, he gets up from his chair and tells his son to tell them to go.
In the woods, Hays discovers a bike, mangled and abandoned. As he continues searching, he spots a bride doll made of moss and branches. He finds another doll at the entrance of a cave and enters it. In the cave is Will’s dead body, positioned to look like he’s praying.
Cutting back to the classroom, Reardon reads to her students a line that says knowledge is love; the show cuts to present-day Hays, looking at a book written by Amelia Hays, his wife.
In 1990, the investigator tells Hays that they found Julie’s fingerprints at a burglary – she’s alive. Back in 1980, Hays goes back out into the woods looking for Julie.
Episode 2: “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
The episode opens on Hays overlooking the river being drug in search of Julie. The bike is dusted for fingerprints. The autopsy report for Will is blunt force trauma and reveals that his neck was snapped.
Hays and West question the trash man, who says he saw the kids riding West “into the sun.” In the interview, it is revealed that Hays is also a veteran – he was a Sargeant.
In the present day, older Hays is visiting the “West Finger Community Center,” before the show cuts to 1980 at the Community Center. The two men who Hays is talking to in 1990 are leading the meeting. They pass flyers out with photos of Julie and of Will’s backpack (which has not been recovered).
In the present day, Hays rides in the car with his son and talks about how he has trouble remembering parts of his life with Amelia, but that going back over the case helps him remember things in his life. He hasn’t seen his daughter since his wife’s funeral.
Will’s funeral takes place at his family’s home, and Hays and West are in attendance. Outside the house, they talk to the kids’ uncle, who stayed in Will’s room when he visited last year. He was the one who left the magazines. When he reveals he isn’t sticking around, West asks him if his neighbors can confirm he was home the night the kids went missing.
When talking to another couple, the woman, Louise, starts that Julie might have a different biological father, but her husband cuts her off.
In the present day, Hay’s interviewer tells him that there were a number of pedophile rings found near the area where the children went missing. The woman then asks him about his decision to leave the force following the case and asks if he thinks his theories were discounted because of his race. They then turn their attention to the photos of the dolls, and remark that they were a significant lead that Amelia helped them uncover.
On the playground, Amelia shows students the photos of the dolls and asks if anyone has seen them before. One boy says someone was giving them out during trick-or-treating, and that Julie received one.
Tom Purcell returns to work at the shop, and his coworkers tell him they put him on leave and that his presence at work is distracting and could cause an accident. He quits work and leaves.
Hays and West question the little boy, Mike, about the doll on Halloween. He says he didn’t see her receive it, but that she showed it to him at the end of the night. The kids walked while trick-or-treating, implying that Julie didn’t travel too far on Halloween. When they asked him if he was with them the whole night, he says she didn’t have the doll when they met up. At another point in the night, he says he saw Julie talking to two adults dressed in white sheets as ghosts.
After they have Mike draw a map of the houses they went to in the neighborhood on Halloween, Hays and West drive to the neighborhood to investigate and pass Tom who is walking home on the side of the street. They pick Tom up to drive him home, and he says he and Lucy were only together for three months before they got married (because she got pregnant). Drunk, he remarks that he and Lucy don’t really know each other.
Back at the agency with their investigation task force, Hays and West share the information about the doll and Halloween, suggesting they search all of the houses in the neighborhood.
At an adult shop, West goes to the back room to talk to the manager about a man named “Robert” who came in looking for material about enticing a minor.
Hays and Reardon meet up by chance at a local bar and talk about the information she helped them get out of Mike. They talk about his time in the war and his life as a cop, and she reveals that she wants to be a writer. Hays also tells her he’s dyslexic, and that he looked up the poem she was reading in class the day he went to the school to talk to her. Hays has never been married and doesn’t want to be. She was engaged once but broke it off.
A Washington Country courthouse statement about the investigation plays in the bar, and Hays watches in frustration as he watches the investigators tell the public what they know about Halloween and the kidnapper’s likely location. In the car with West, Hays asks why he didn’t try to stop them, saying that maybe they would have listened to him.
In the present day, Hays talks about how the prosecuting attorney took their only tip and spread it around town, inciting panic.
Hays and West find the lead West got from the adult shop at a diner, and tell them he needs to come with them. They take the man, whose real name is Ted, out to an abandoned barn and cuff him to a beam. They rough him up while asking him what he does to kids and question him about Will and Julie, accusing him of killing Will.
In 1990, Hays and the attorney talk about the robbery, which is their reason for reopening the case so they can find her. Hays asks if he’s talked to Roland, to which the attorney responds that he’s done well for himself and that they have an appointment.
Back in 1980, Hays and West open their trunk to reveal a tied up Ted. Hays threatens him with what men will do to him in prison if he talks about their encounter. In the car, the men get a call that the family received a note.
In 1990, Hays enters his home where his two young children greet him. Amelia kisses him hello, and shows him the first printings of her book.
In the present day, the interviewer asks Hays about his theories about “Julie Purcell and her father” after “what happened in 1990.”
Back in 1990, Hays and his family sit at the dinner table. His son tells him about his day, and his little girl just smiles at him. In his office, Amelia tells him that her publisher said they could release paperback after the trial. He tells her Julie is alive.
At the Purcell house in 1980, Hays and West are shown the letter the parents received: “Do not worry. Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go.”
In the present day, Hays sits at dinner with his son and his son’s family, and they talk about him working his brain by going back over the case. He asks if they could work on having Rebecca (his daughter) over so he could see her. They tell him that she lives in LA and is playing music, and that she wouldn’t come back home for a visit because she doesn’t like it. He asks again about having Rebecca come out to see him, and Hays’ son leaves the dinner table.
After Hays locks onto a photo of Amelia, the show cuts to older Hays standing in the middle of a street in his night robe, looking at a street sign that says “Shoepick.”