Think back to a time without the internet and you could watch television with its surprises intact. That’s become less and less of an option these days unless you care to live under a rock; a standard tactic of any studio’s marketing department to regularly spoil their own storylines in the hope of a few clicks. So let’s give credit where it’s due to True Detective show-runner Nic Pizzolatto in his attempts to hide the arrival of this season’s big bad by removing the respective actor’s name from various cast listings until the very last moment of broadcast this week, when news filtered through that the inimitable Michael Rooker would be the man in question to bring the dread-filled figure of Edward Hoyt to life.
That the heavy presence of Hoyt has shrouded the entire season without him ever being present is a commendable sleight of hand, but it’s a trick that has increasingly painted the narrative into a corner as we reach the endgame with him only just beginning to emerge in reality – we know all roads, therefore, must lead to the Hoyt estate and it’s Pink Palace, but just what are the mechanics of this grim conspiracy that has taken so many lives in a bid to keep it’s secret?
There were only two notable scenes in the original timeline this episode, although a lot of future conversations focused on this period in other eras. West meets up with Tom in the aftermath of the Woodard massacre, as he prepares to leave town. The detective is adamant Tom should stay – but with his children dead and an estranged wife already out of state, the distraught father needs to flee as well to try and locate meaning in the aftermath of so much misery – a mission we know in hindsight will fail to see him find happiness.
Elsewhere, Hays and Amelia discuss her writing with the embryonic development of her novel confined to a scratched out notebook. Ironically the inception of the book is derived from Hays’ positivity about her pursuing it (a surprise to both her and the viewers alike no doubt), imploring her to find the truth now the case is officially closed – something which he will later regret.
Hays and West are called to the scene of a crime, only to find the dead body of Tom Purcell laid out in what looks like an apparent suicide. Just like the original case it’s enough evidence to impress the world’s worst Attorney General Kindt into shutting the investigation down, who overturns the Woodard conviction in lieu of charging Tom posthumously with the murder of his own children. West is understandably more broken up about Tom’s death than Hays, who is determined to continue the case regardless of this recent development – spurred on by Amelia having told him about her encounter with the one-eyed man.
Amelia continues to conduct her own investigation, returning to see Lucy’s best friend and question her about the one-eyed man. She can’t recall any such person, but the mention of the time around Halloween spurs her memory to show Amelia a photo developed after the Purcell children disappeared, that shows two people dressed up as ghosts looking on as Julie and Will pose in the foreground – people whom Amelia presumes are the couple that were never cleared in the original case. Later, she checks in at Lucy’s former place of employment, the owner of which advises her that he saw Dan O’Brien talking to somebody fitting the description of a one-eyed man back in 1980.
Dan’s whereabouts are an issue for everybody this episode, with Hays and West investigating his room at the motel after his car is found abandoned in the outside lot. Lucy’s cousin is long gone though, along with the crucial evidence he had on Julie’s abductor. Undeterred, Hays pours through old phone records from Lucy’s stay in Nevada during 1988, cheekily using West’s identification to request flight records into the state around the same time. One phone number called eight times into her hotel room the day before Lucy overdosed. That number traces back directly to the Ozark Foundation, specifically the personal line of one Harris James. The requested flight records reveal him entering Nevada the day before Lucy died. Hays delivers the news to West, who doesn’t initially seem convinced it will lead anywhere by bringing it into their superiors, but the memory of Tom’s demise fresh in his mind provokes both detectives into plotting something reckless.
Later that evening, Hays and West tail Harris James from work with the objective of confronting him to force a full confession. A fumbled fake police stop enables them to kidnap him, driving their charge to the barn they used to roust suspects back in 1980. James isn’t too fussed about the Purcells (“Y’all can’t give a shit about that trash”), but the brutal beatdown West administers definitely gets his attention. Hays relents to James’ whimpers to take his cuffs off, but the former officer tries to escape by desperately charging at Hays, forcing West to respond with deadly force.
I doubt many viewers had too much sympathy to see the untimely demise of James, but he went to his grave without detailing his collusion with Hoyt – and effectively killing the case as a result. The ensuing fallout and hasty burial of the security chief is a total mess – and the last straw for West, who rages against Hays for forcing him into the situation. The incident sows the seeds of two separations – with both West and later Amelia (after witnessing her husband burning his clothes like er, regular people do at night) realizing Hays only really cares about his own twisted sense of justice and precipitating them to cut their ties with him as a result.
If Hays is the unstoppable force of this story, then he finally meets his immovable object in the dying minutes of the episode. Edward Hoyt (still unseen but unmistakably deploying the gravel-flecked tones of Michael Rooker) calls Hays at home to discuss the whereabouts of Harris James – peppering the conversation with some mild threats against his family, all delivered with a side of Southern charm. Hays promises Amelia he will tell her everything soon, before reluctantly boarding Hoyt’s limousine to parts unknown. Undoubtedly their meeting will lead to some form of Faustian bargain, but at what cost to Hays’ soul?
Elisa goes on the offensive this episode as Hays grows more reluctant to humour her theories. She asks Hays if Tom’s suicide was staged by Harris James, saying each time “a sudden act of violence, a dead man – and the case is closed”. She explains her belief that the case is part of a larger conspiracy, intimating that one of the Purcells sold their children to somebody, with Dan acting as a broker. Elisa mentions the one-eyed man was called Watts, who acted as a “procurer” of children for rich people – although how she knows this isn’t clear. She directly references the case from Season One as an example of how high-ranking officials hide crimes like this. Expecting him to corroborate this thesis he instead refuses, saying he is incapable due to his encroaching dementia – “I’m tired of walking through this graveyard” he replies with finality.
The crux of the case is delivered in a segment where we gain some incendiary new information. Hays and West meet with Hoyt’s former housemaid, who details the family’s woes. Hoyt had a daughter called Isabel, who became a recluse after her husband and young daughter were killed in a car accident during 1977. As Isabel retreated from the public eye, she would only reside in the basement area of the Hoyt estate – a place where all staff were forbidden to frequent, except one – a one-eyed black man called Mr June. The maid left Hoyt’s employment when staff became even more restricted in where they could go in the house during 1981 – directly after Julie Purcell went missing. Hays and West later on discover Harris James was on Highway Patrol in 1977 – in the same area as the fatal accident of Isabel’s family.
West intimates this was the catalyst for James’ relationship with Hoyt, but the question remains how involved the business magnate was in the death of his own daughter’s loved ones – or even the larger conspiracy that followed this. However, the remainder of this rather eye-opening chunk of exposition connects a few dots that have until now remained slightly out of view. With Hoyt firmly dead in this timeline it isn’t too far of a stretch to assume Isabel and Julie are inextricably linked and committed to ensuring their conspiracy of child abduction continues to be hidden – but with the case effectively terminated alongside Harris James in 1990, what does Hays assume will bring a sense of closure to the story? And is anybody getting out of this alive?
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