Review: True Detective season 3, episodes 1-4


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Grant Wheeler

True Detective on HBO is back and things are looking up for Nic Pizzolatto’s dark anthology crime series.

The first season was met with critical acclaim and helped elevate Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s careers to the level of esteemed actors we know them as now. Cari Joji Fukunaga directed the first season in its entirety and a great deal of the initial season’s success is to be owed to him. Despite stepping down as director after season one, Fukunaga as well as Harrelson and McConaughey have all stayed on as producers. A turbulent second season followed the first and fell to a little less than favorable reviews. But now in 2019, 5 years after the first season first aired, it seems a return to form is in order.

Season three takes place in the Ozarks, and, much like the first season, takes place in three separate time frames as a case regarding two missing children unfolds. The central protagonist of the season is detective Wayne Hayes who is hauntingly and chillingly portrayed by Mahershala Ali. Stephen Dorff plays Hayes’ partner Roland West; his character provides much of the comedic elements of the show to balance out the chemistry of the partnership. Carmen Ejogo plays Hayes’ wife, who is a schoolteacher with a connection to the missing children. The performances here are strong and they balance each other out, much in the same way that made season one so great. Ali and Dorff play off each other in a way that allows us to reflect through Dorff’s character while we explore many of the intriguing and mysterious elements found in our protagonist.

Narratively speaking, I don’t know if the show has found its rhythm this season quite yet. This season started out with a very strong pilot and second episode; however, the next two episodes have introduced several new arcs that may pay off or may not– tough to say at this point, but I definitely want to see how they unfold. The cinematography of this season is breathtaking– the Ozarks is shot beautifully; it almost feels as if the setting is a character itself. It seems apparent to me that the creators of the show have decided to take Fukunaga’s approach to storytelling: allowing the setting to play an integral role in the overall feel of the experience.

One negative criticism can be made in regards to the constant jumping from timeframes, as it is not executed as seamlessly in this season as it was in the first. Normally I would resent the fact that I have to compare different works of art, but since the series has decided to embrace the formula and theme of the first season, I feel it’s a good point of reference.

True Detective has undeniably been cursed since its initial season’s success due to astronomical standards set by that season and subsequent fans of it. Season three is a work in progress, an unsolved case if you will. It can go either way at this point– the tension is all there. We are at the point in the season where things are up in the air, the momentum is headed in the right direction, and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. I’m hoping the season can zero in on what it’s doing right and find maybe a little clearer focus. I can tell you earnestly and honestly that whatever made the first season so special has been rekindled here– to what degree is yet to be seen. Check it out Sundays on HBO at 9 p.m.

Mid-season rating: 6.8/10