With the onslaught of anthology, crime, and procedural series that flood television, real-life cases often make up the many stories we watch play out season after season. With True Detective returning tonight on HBO, many are wondering if the upcoming third season is based on a true story. The answer: No, it is not.
Season 3’s official description reads: “In 1980: Will and Julie Purcell, the children of feuding parents Tom and Lucy Purcell, go missing a week after Halloween in West Finger, Ark. In 2015: Retired detective Wayne Hays, who originally investigated the crime, is asked to look back on the twists of the unsolved case with a true-crime documentary producer.”
Taking place over three distinct time periods, Season 3 will tell the bizarre story of two missing children in the heart of the Ozarks. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book) stars as state police detective Wayne Hays, with Stephen Dorff (Somewhere) starring as Roland West, Hays’s partner. Carmen Ejogo stars as a schoolteacher with a connection to the case. In 2015, retired detective Hays, his memory failing, looks back at the disappearance of the kids, recalling the days and weeks immediately following the crime, as well as developments that occurred in 1990, when he and his former partner were subpoenaed after a big break.
The eight-episode season begins tonight with two back-to-back episodes starting at 9 p.m. Primarily written by series creator Nic Pizzolatto, Green Room‘s Jeremy Saulnier helmed directing duties for the series’s first two hours. In “The Great War and Modern Memory“:
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. What started as a routine case becomes a long journey to dissect and make sense of the crime.
Episode two is entitled “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.”
Hays looks back at the aftermath of the 1980 Purcell case in West Finger, Ark., including possible evidence left behind at the Devil’s Den, an outdoor hangout for local kids. As attention focuses on two conspicuous suspects – Brett Woodard, a solitary vet and trash collector, and Ted LaGrange, an ex-con with a penchant for children – the parents of the missing kids, Tom and Lucy Purcell, receive a cryptic note from an anonymous source.
While creator and showrunner Pizzolatto wrote all eight entries to the season, episode four was co-written by David Milch, creator of another HBO series, Deadwood. Milch has been “somewhat of an idol” to Pizzolatto, as was revealed in a 2015 Hollywood Reporter cover story. In addition, HBO had already enlisted Milch’s former producer Scott Stephens on the first season of True Detective to help guide Pizzolatto, who was a first-time showrunner at the time.
The new season is currently certified 74% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Its critical consensus on the site reads, “Driven by Mahershala Ali’s mesmerizing performance, True Detective‘s third season finds fresh perspective by exploring real-world events—though it loses some of the series’ intriguing strangeness along the way.”
True Detective Season 3 premieres Sunday, January 13, 2018, starting at 9 p.m. ET. The show will air on Sundays at 9 p.m. until it finishes its run on February 24, 2019.
READ NEXT: ‘True Detective’ Season 3 Episode Guide