‘True Detective’ Season 3 Failed as a Mystery But Confirmed Mahershala Ali’s Greatness

As Mahershala Ali was receiving his second Oscar, the ‘True Detective’ third-season finale was setting the actor up to win his first Emmy.

'True Detective' Season 3 Failed as a Mystery But Confirmed

It was a good Sunday night for Mahershala Ali.

While the actor was winning a well-deserved second Oscar in three years — and having to stand with the best-picture-winning team behind Green Book and hear his director emphasize that it was really co-star Viggo Mortensen who made the movie happen — the Ali-centric third season of True Detective was wrapping up on HBO.

If you glance at last year’s lead actor in a drama series Emmy field, it’s been completely decimated. Matthew Rhys won for the final season of The Americans and his competition included two co-stars from Westworld and two This Is Us co-stars, at least one of whom probably won’t be a strong contender this year. It’s impossible to believe Ali won’t at least be in the running for his first Emmy win in September ,and it’s easy to surmise that he should be a prohibitive favorite.

From the time I wrote my review of the third season of True Detective, after watching five of eight episodes, two things were clear: The first was that Ali was doing spectacular work in what was set up almost exclusively as his showcase, a three-tiered acting challenge even more impressive than sitting patiently in the back of a car pretending to find it edifying that a sentient calzone was lecturing him on the proper mechanics of eating fried chicken. The second was that, even from the very beginning, I didn’t care at all about this season’s True Detective mystery and I wasn’t convinced series creator Nic Pizzolatto did, either.

True Detective' Season 3 Failed as a Mystery But Confirmed

Sunday’s finale confirmed that as a mystery, this True Detective season was essentially garbage. Across three different time periods, Ali’s Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff’s Roland West essentially did zero detective work in the case of the missing Julie Purcell and the murder of Will Purcell. They’d been looking for an African-American man with one dead eye from the middle of the season, and once they found him, he provided exposition on the entire case, exposition that confirmed that if you bought into any of the season’s half-hearted red herrings — Satanic panic straight out of Paradise Lost, a pedophile ring literally straight out of the first season, etc. — the more fool you. No, the season boiled down to an industrialist’s grief-stricken daughter, an accidental act of violence and a sad, failed and criminal piece of one-off child imprisonment in the name of family restoration. It wasn’t any bigger or more conspiratorial than that, but it cost some relatively good men their lives, including Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) and Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes).

True Detective Season 3 review – Mahershala Ali shines

If you thought that was an ultra-convenient way to reveal the season’s mystery, the season’s big and poignant twist was even more convenient. After a trip to the convent where Julie Purcell lived after she escaped from The Pink Room and learning that Julie had died of HIV, Wayne and Roland briefly ignored that we met a groundskeeper named Mike and a young girl named Lucy — THAT’S JULIE’S MOTHER’S NAME, YOU IDIOTS! — and went about their jobs until Old Wayne got a spooky visit from wife Amelia’s ghost, who knocked over her book, which conveniently landed on a page with a passage interviewing a 10-year-old boy grieving at the loss of the girl he’d hoped to marry someday. For what followed to make sense, you have to believe that Amelia was allowed to publish a book in which she not only used the correct names of minors with no direct tie to this haunting crime, but that she used the full and legal name, rather than a pseudonym. Armed with the full name of Mike the Landscaper, Old Wayne was able to instantly track down Mike’s residence and find grown-up Julie, living happily with daughter Lucy and the boy who knew he was going to marry her when he was 10.

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