FATHER AND SON: Wayne (right) and Henry share a chat. HBO

Things are not going well for Tom Purcell, and that’s really saying a lot. Episode 6 of this third season of “True Detective” finds him mad as hell and not taking it anymore, and marks a high mark for Scoot McNairy, who till now has played the grieving father as the embodiment of cuckolded defeat. But in comes a call to the state police from Julie, still out of their reach in 1990, that turns suspicion onto Tom. The detectives Roland and Wayne (Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali) are maybe the last two people Tom really trusts, and when they have to turn the screws on him, insinuating that he killed his kids, Tom just snaps. By the time he catches up with meth-addled Dan O’Brien (Michael Graziadei), who has reappeared fashioning himself as a possible informant, Tom is all rage. And apparently, Tom manages to extract from Dan the name he planned to give the cops: Hoyt, the chicken magnate, who might even have bankrolled Lucy’s lost few years after 1980. And so the distraught father gets liquored up to pay a visit.

This is not going to end well for Tom, as the final shot of the episode reveals. The “pink castle” that fellow runaways have said Julie talked about? Turns out there’s a room in some swanky basement at the Hoyt mansion painted in a brilliant shade of Child Sex Trafficking Carnation, and it may well be the last thing Tom sees. If browbeating Tom is the sin that Roland has referred to in 2015 as “what we done,” it’ll make the second powerless person (after ol’ Brett Woodard in ‘80) to reap the whirlwind of the Purcell kids’ disappearance. What we do get in the shift to Hoyt (who it also seems may have kept a cop on his payroll) is a glimpse of the endgame, and of the moral stakes that have been gnawing at Roland and Wayne. Not only have the guilty gone free, it’s been the vulnerable who have paid for the crimes.


Some version of this injustice is on Wayne’s mind in 2015 in a back porch heart-to-heart with his son, Henry (Ray Fisher). The show hasn’t asked just a whole lot out of Fisher’s range as an actor, and this goes a way to explaining why: Wayne’s worried that he brought up his kid to be too inscrutable. “Did I teach you to withhold?” the father asks the son, echoing in one sense a 1980 conversation with Amelia about how he doesn’t spend time reflecting or remembering. This we see almost immediately is a front — the show has taken to using Wayne’s stares into mirrors and windows (literally his reflections) to transition across time. But it also speaks to the persistent, generational reverberations of trauma, and to Wayne’s tendency to mash down the pain until it finds him in his senescence, emotionally defenseless.

In 1990, though, that hurt is still manifesting in Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) nipping at one another. I’m still torn on the merits of this plotline; the two characters actually seem like such a great fit for one another, it’s hard to make their fights feel believable. Their tension means a state detective and this self-made reporter are running parallel investigations that don’t interact with one another, and this feels like a bit of a cheat in the script: They otherwise love and respect one another and get along pretty well, so the notion of them not sharing information feels forced. On the other hand, this does let Nic Pizzolatto, the show’s creator, underscore a favorite theme, that crimes send out endless ripples on this flat circle we know as time. A life is lost, a family is destroyed, investigators’ lives suffer, fortunes rise and fall and the echoes keep reverberating out for miles, for decades. As Roland and Wayne roll through West Finger on their rounds, Roland asks, “Something, inn’t? How quick this town died?” Comes the reply from Wayne: “Didn’t die, it got murdered.”


The most tantalizing new lead we get in this episode is the appearance of the long-rumored black man with one milky eye. Turns out he’s that guy at a book reading who likes to ask the first question, make it all about him, and then leave in a huff. But Amelia had time to recognize him as the dude who bought the crafty/spooky corn dolls. We know from the nature of his apparent injury there’s a good chance he’s a former plant worker who’s connected to Hoyt. It’s Northwest Arkansas, after all, where you’re never too far from a chicken house.