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'True Detective' Fans Have No Need to Fear Season 3
January 13, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Hey, Marvel’s Iron Man did it – rebounded from one terrible movie to recapture much of its original magic the next time out.

Now HBO’s True Detective does it, or at least for the most part, with the third season that kicks off Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

True Detective was widely hailed for its first season, totally roasted for its second. A lot of viewers were surprised when HBO ordered a third. But here it is, and it turns out HBO made the right call.

It starts simply enough when Detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali, top) and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff, top) catch a missing persons case. It’s 1980 in Arkansas and they’d really been hoping just to burn off the night smoking, drinking and shooting rats in a junkyard.

Once they get into the case, it grabs their attention. It particularly grabs the attention of Hays, a guarded and tightly wound ex-soldier who was a tracker in Vietnam and applies that same investigative skill to his police work back home.

The missing persons were a brother and sister, and several mysteries soon emerge. Local law enforcement thinks it has solved them and closed the case, and local law enforcement turns out to be wrong.

Ten years later Hays is summoned back to help a new batch of cops reopen the case.

Then, 25 years further down the line after Hays has finally retired, he’s called upon to relive it again. It’s clear that’s the last thing he wants to do, which tells us all we need to know about whether it was ever really closed.

Over those 35 years, we meet Tom (Scoot McNairy), the father of the missing children; Lucy (Mamie Gummer), their mother; Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), a teacher who knew the children from school; and a fistful of other local folks.

Some had connections to the case, usually shrouded in dark secrets. Other secrets develop as the case moves along and those involved with every aspect, from investigating it to writing about it, have to make practical and moral choices.

As in the first two True Detective series, our main law enforcement people are tormented. That’s not a big surprise, because on TV these days, what cop isn’t tormented?

True Detective creator and main writer Nic Pizzolatto addresses that, deliberately or coincidentally, by trying to take it up a notch and make his characters haunted. At times, almost literally.

Ali plays Hays beautifully as a man who has more than once seen more than he wanted to see. He’s guarded and suspicious, which are probably good traits in a detective, and he’s restless. He’s looking for something and when we see him as an older man, retired, we know he hasn’t found it. Or, if he did find it, it was always slipping away.

West starts out as more of a traditional cynic before this case changes things.

New seasons of True Detective will probably never live up to the image of the first season, which was striking though not quite as magical as its reputation. Season 3 eclipses the ill-conceived Season 2, and standing all on its own it’s both an intriguingly complex crime story and a good psychological study of how we’re affected by what we see and what we apparently can’t know.  

It’s not quite as funny as Iron Man, but it’s got a lot of the same resilience.

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