REVIEW: True Detective – “The Big Never”

This is a recap and review of the third episode of the third season of True Detective — Expect spoilers for the episode.

In the third episode of the third season of True Detective — The Big Never — we get to see where Roland West (played by Stephen Dorff) is in his life in 1990, while Hays (played by Mahershala Ali) has a panic attack in a supermarket. The Big Never was written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Daniel Sackheim.

When I first saw this episode a couple of weeks ago, I remember thinking that the week-long wait for this episode felt really long, to me. I guess that is the mark of a truly captivating new season of television. The first two episodes were everything I wanted this show to be, but, to be honest with you, this episode didn’t grab me as much, even though it still managed to hold my attention completely when it counted. Let’s start with the recap.

In 1980, we see the initial reactions to the kidnapper’s note. There isn’t much to go on, apparently, but Hays has another angle to take. They need to look closer at the kids’ friend as well as their home, and they’ll do that with some assistance from Amelia — who essentially becomes the third detective, at least for this episode. Ronnie, the kids’ friend, denies that they were best friends. Hays seemed to think that the kids were lying to their parents.

During another look at the Purcell home, Hays and West find these little messages hidden in the girl’s room, which may have been sent through the hole in the wall. It isn’t immediately clear who wrote them. During the 1980-investigation, Hays and West also investigate Hoyt Foods, where Lucy Purcell once worked, but, at this point, I’m not sure how significant this connection is.

West is, at this point in the case, focused particularly on the idea of a ‘secret friend,’ someone who gifted Julie the doll and played games with her brother. Later, a local man tells Hays and West about a brown sedan with a white woman and a black man inside of the car. What is interesting about all of this, though, is that the brown sedan is brought up again in 2015.

Locals are increasingly aggressive, in a terrifying scene Woodard — the Native American veteran who was questioned by the police previously — is beaten up by locals who clearly assume that he had something to do with what happened. Later in the episode, he gets ready for retaliation, but what exactly he’s doing is unclear.

In the most frightening scene of the episode, Hays discovers a first communion picture of Will Purcell, in which he is positioned in the exact same way that he was found dead. Now that’s terrifying. And that brings us to the 1990s.

The episode opened, in 1990, with our first sighting of detective West since he originally worked the case. This was something I had really looked forward to, because one of the great things about this show is the partner-element, and I want to know more about the two of them — then and now. West dodges a question or two about what they were doing on the day of the kidnapper’s note, likely due to the fact that he and Hays were busy beating up someone like we saw in the previous episode.

During the interview, West suggests that Hays’ career was blocked. This was Hays’ last big case, and it seems like someone really messed up. But it is about more than that for Hays as his entire life is defined by the case. His wife is obsessed, he feels lost, and it may cost him everything if their marital argument in this episode is anything to go by.

What he experienced is bleeding into his life, so much so that he freaks out completely when he loses sight of his daughter in a crowded supermarket. Seeing him panic is not fun to watch, to say the least. This is a man who is still haunted by a case that his wife, at this point of the 1990-timeline, is working on more than he is. He’s sidelined or, as he might say, emasculated — which is the real, underlying problem at the center of their big discussion during this episode. It isn’t about her drinking or about going on a ‘date’ to secure information about the case. It is all about him and his hurt feelings.

Then, at the end of the episode, in what is probably the single-most exciting scene here, the partners reteam. West recruits Hays in 1990 to lead the task force with him to reopen the Purcell case. As someone who desperately wants to see this partnership as a central element of this season, this scene meant so much to me, but, it doesn’t really push the story forward all that much if I am being honest. At least now the 1990-timeline will start to become more important. I’m not sure there is much left for us to discover in the 1980s.

In 2015, doctors reveal that a CT-scan does not suggest that Hays had a blackout in the previous episode when he ended up on Shoepick Lane. He has no idea why he ended up there. His memory isn’t just playing tricks on him, it’s taking away the breadcrumbs that guided him. New evidence from the true crime interviewer clearly frustrates Hays, it is evident that they know more than they are letting on. Do they have new undiscovered evidence to blow the case wide open?

Fascinatingly, Hays hallucinates and sees his late wife behind him in 2015. Her comments to Hays suggests that he did something in ‘the woods,’ something he may not be able to take back, no matter how hard he looks back at it. This scene was positively creepy and chilling.

Okay, so, overall, where are we right now with the show? What pieces are there left to be uncovered? Well, we still need to find out exactly who was charged with the Purcell-boy’s murder, we still have to see what happens to Woodard, the communion picture is a great piece of evidence for Hays and West to work from going forward, and I think that’s about it for the 1980s. The 1990s are just getting started, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of the 2015-timeline.

Although this episode didn’t exactly set my world on fire, so to speak, it did remind me of how this show is designed and, perhaps, how the show should be watched. In the time of Westworld, it’s sometimes easy to approach a show like you are supposed to solve every little mystery. But True Detective is more than the case. This show is also about masculinity and partnership, and The Big Never definitely reminded me of those themes, which is why I really appreciated this episode on second viewing, even though Amelia and Hays’ argument bored me initially.

B+

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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