Title: True Detective: “The Great War and Modern Memory”
Air Date: January 13th, 2019
Here we are. True Detective Season 3. What was previously considered impossible due to the polarizing reception of season 2 and Nic Pizzolatto’s rising to bigger projects is now a reality. The third season of the HBO anthology series stars Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as two detectives investigating two missing children in the Ozarks, Arkansas.
There may not be another opportunity to make a quick point about ‘the next season’ because every review after the first episode will be focused on the story, but seasons 2 and on for these prestige shows, especially anthologies, are hard. First seasons build a template that fans are expecting going forward. If you stray too far, the fans are annoyed. If you repeat it, fans are bored. It is an amazing balancing act of storytelling and shows (Mr. Robot, Fargo) have collapsed under the weight of ‘the structure.’ True Detective season 2 felt like a different story and they shoehorned the True Detective brand into. That is in the past though and now there is NEW True Detective to talk about and overanalyze.
Episode 1 of season 3 lets you know it is going to be a True Detective-ass True Detective season by showing three different timelines in the first 15 minutes. The majority of the episode takes place in the first timeline (the 80s), and they do a good job of grounding the other timelines in one setting to avoid confusion while they focus on the 80’s timeline world building. The episode had a solid pace. I never felt rushed out of scenes and each jump to another timeline never lingered.
True Detective needed time to breathe because it introduces a ton of characters. Not just introduces but establishes. Naturally, Ali and Dorff carried the most screen time. They had chemistry and did well with the dialogue given. Not all of it great, but they made it work. Mahershala Ali is top-billed and for good reason. He doesn’t get many opportunities to steal a scene (yet), but he had moments. Each timeline he tweaked just enough of his mannerisms and speech patterns to show a man in different points of his life. This episode he spends most of the time doing his detective duties and probing the community with questions which gave the opportunity for who he was speaking with to shine. It’s a consequence of the story for him to be more subdued, but if this episode is Ali’s low point then he is going to have some high-quality moments in the future. The parents of the two missing children, played by Scooter McNairy and Mamie Gummer, were my personal MVPs. They hated each other, and themselves, and you felt it. Like the detectives, they weren’t given the most amazing dialogue but they managed to still elevate the scenes.
The direction was fine. It’s tough to go from the amazing visuals of Cary Fukunaga from season 1 to really anything else. Much like the story holding back Ali, so did the direction. The episode was confined and almost claustrophobic because it was about interactions and conversation. Same point as before. If this is the low bar, then we are in for a treat as the season gets to stretch its legs in future episodes.
What is interesting to me is the focus on community and the build of the disappearance. Season 1 starts at the crime scene and everything slowly unfolds around the detectives. Season 3 is about community and how interconnected all these small-town lives are and THEN we are given closure on the disappearance. It’s an interesting approach to the True Detective formula. One of the biggest main characters of season 1 and 2 were the environments. They managed to capture the landscapes and backdrops in such a way that you couldn’t imagine those seasons being in any other setting. This season is less about the setting and more about the community itself. Every layer, from the kids to the adults and rich and poor, were put on display and seemingly will be essential to the overall narrative. There hasn’t been enough time to see where the direction goes, but I am cautiously optimistic.
End of the day. The million dollar question. Is the mystery good? Yes, the mystery is good. There are just enough breadcrumbs from each timeline to make you go ‘huh’. The reveal at the end of the episode keeps brings some of the mystery into the light. I have no idea where they can go from here, and it’s a great feeling.
Verdict: True Detective season 3 hits all the marks so far. Great acting and an interesting mystery make it a must watch every week to be apart of the conversation. The episode may have had one too many world-building moments, but the world they are building is interesting.
- Interesting mystery
- Great acting across the board
- The story holds back the direction and some performances
- The setting did not feel unique
Max spends most of his days writing and trying to figure out if the Spawn game on Dreamcast was real or just a weird fever dream