After a much loved first season and a near-universally panned second, HBO’s “two cops, sitting in a cop car, two feet apart because the space between them is occupied by the unfathomable cruelties of man” show True Detective is back. And thank god, it’s good again. Very good.
True Detective Season 3 — which made the first five episodes of the season available for review — is more than a return to Season 1’s spooky, winding excellence. It tackles different issues to previous seasons and focuses more sharply on issues and realities that were left unexamined in its previous iterations.
Casting Mahershala Ali as Detective Wayne Hays, undoubtedly the star of the third season, is the most affecting choice anyone involved could have made for True Detective. His character, who was , gives the show an opportunity to explore the machinations of racism in three different time periods — the 1980s, the ’90s, and finally in the 2010s.
True Detective has always been about the ways social class and human difference affect justice, but Detective Hays being partnered with the coarse and well-intentioned Detective West allows those trademark cop car conversations to go places that the show hasn’t previously examined.
True Detective has always been about the ways social class and human difference affect justice, but Detective Hays being partnered with the coarse and well-intentioned Detective West (played by Stephen Dorff) allows those trademark cop car conversations to go places that the show hasn’t previously examined. Race is always present in Season 3, and it comes by its focus on the subject honestly — nothing about Wayne’s status as a black cop on the force is taken for granted, and the effect of racial stereotypes on the carriage of justice is also examined.
In this way the show succeeds in categories that early seasons couldn’t even compete in, and categorically improves its canon.
Further elevating True Detective Season 3 is Carmen Ejogo as Amelia Reardon, a schoolteacher who is so much more than Hays’ romantic interest. Her independent investigations and needed dose of empathy is crucial to understanding the show’s central mysteries.
There are other things that make True Detective Season 3 remarkable. It expands on the previous format of having two time periods — the case itself and later interviews about the case — by adding another timeline to follow, which is that of an elderly Hays reflecting on his story for a true crime documentary. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the elder Hays (still played by Ali in surprisingly convincing age makeup) suffers from a disease that makes his memory unreliable, which adds another layer of unreliable narration to some, if not all, of the flashbacks.
In common True Detective fashion there is beautiful cinematography and affecting musical stings in Season 3. Long scenes of detectives tracking clues go on without any dialogue and are carried only by the emotive quality of its actors’ faces. The case in question, that of two missing children, is compelling enough to carry an element of mystery that is sure to inspire many a message board discussion. These are all elements that are to be expected of the show, despite how many balls were dropped in the season previous.
Have no fear that Season 3 is the TD follow-up its fans deserve.
True Detective Season 3 premieres on HBO on January 13th.