REVIEW: True Detective (S3 E8/8)


How many crime dramas can boast a two-time Oscar winner as their lead actor? It was probably an accidental convergence of schedules that saw True Detective air throughout the same period as awards season, but it can’t have harmed this season’s chances having somebody so high profile as Mahershala Ali in the driving seat. A safe pair of hands, as it were, to guide a show seen as rudderless back to its former glories.

But that return to form comes with its own set of expectations. Perhaps it was too much to ask that the show could deliver one final twist in its telling, something reflected in reports of how showrunner Nic Pizzolatto had fought the network on this final episode’s running time until the very last minute. In the end though, after all the theories, the debates, the connections and misdirection, we didn’t get something spectacular like that first season’s explosive denouement. Instead, we got an ending much more in keeping with the pace and posture of this third outing, and in that balance of events it was not lacking in itself either.


One of the main elements to the series has been time is a cycle. The love affair between Amelia and Hays feels like it’s on a loop in any era, as the dynamic between them shifts its shape and their power structures fluctuate. They argue about her first book. They argue about his job. They argue about her manipulation of him. In one moment Hays can’t stand to look at her, in another he proposes marriage. It goes on and on, and into the next decade and beyond – a mutual toxicity born out of something like desire.


Back to the business in hand though – just what went down with Edward Hoyt? This was probably the biggest failure of the show, in building up a character to this level then introduce him at the last breath. Michael Rooker is a formidable presence in any show, but it felt like his talents were wasted here. Either way, a foreboding trip deep into the forest sees Hays and the food magnate cautiously dance around Harris James’s disappearance before exploding into accusations and threats. Hoyt seems like a broken man, haunted by his own demons. He isn’t aware of what happened to Julie Purcell and Hays can’t press him too far with a murder fresh in his own hands. His complicity in that crime is what Hoyt drives home as leverage to keep him quiet, and it’s enough to persuade the recalcitrant detective to reconsider his priorities.

Repeating 1980, the case is closed without any real resolution and Hays is demoted once again after refusing to denounce Amelia for tipping off a journalist about inconsistencies in the investigation. Despite promising her a full account of the truth earlier that day, Hoyt’s threats mean he won’t share his secrets in a bid to protect his wife. Amelia wants to make up her own mind however. Hays feels their marriage is forever tied up in the Purcell case, and can’t be continued without harming them both. They mutually agree to separate and tend to their own ambitions – but it seems like Hays is really giving Amelia the option to live a better life without hauling his baggage.


As we’ve progressed throughout this season the timelines involved have felt increasingly blurred and in this final episode it feels like these separate realities converged into one focal point. They mystery of what happened to Julie Purcell develops as most viewers would have expected by now, and the fact that the concept of justice wasn’t really delivered is a brave decision. Instead, all the people caught up in the aftermath of this case suffered their own forms of punishment – with the only option being to try and extract themselves from it before the damage became too definitive.

Hays and West speak to James’s widow about the one-eyed man. She says a man fitting that description visited her in the weeks after Harris went missing, and asked her if James ever found Julie. With nobody now residing at the Hoyt estate, the pair break in to explore the basement area. Despite a foreboding exterior shot of the dilapidated house as they arrive, the sense of dread in entering this house is missing. They venture through dimly lit corridors to find the “pink room” where Julie was kept and her father met his fate at the hands of Harris James. Now faded with dust and decay, the room still contains a child’s drawing that covers one wall – featuring characters depicted as Princess Mary, Sir Junius and Queen Isabel.

West uses his contacts to locate the man they now know as Junius Watts. He’s not surprised when they visit -“I been waiting on y’all”. It transpires that it was Watts who was the one watching Hays’ house, trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth. The truth is of course, a tragic tale for all involved. It’s a story about a rich heir called Isabel Hoyt that lost her own husband and daughter in a car accident. Increasingly unstable in the aftermath of that tragedy, she conflated Julie Purcell with her dead child and demanded Watts convince Lucy Purcell to give her access to her daughter. But these fleeting hours spent deep in the woods became unsatisfactory to Isabel, who sinking deeper into her own madness abducts Julie whilst Will tried – and failed – to protect his sister, before falling to his death in the tussle. Isabel has Harris James pay off Lucy to keep quiet about the fate of her children, but in the process this action leaves Tom lost in a miserable state of ignorance for the rest of his short life.

The fact Watts helped enable Julie’s incarceration over the following years is a weight that he bears badly. When he discovers Isabel is drugging Julie to keep her compliant within the depths of the estate, he helps the teen escape to an agreed rendezvous. But Julie never shows – and the rest of the man’s life is spent in a hopeless search for her, as well as his own redemption. In the wake of her disappearance, a distraught Isabel commits suicide. Eventually Watts tracks Julie down to a convent in 1997, where she had been helping the sisters there with supporting the other lost children they care for. But Julie’s intervening years on the streets exercised a heavy toll – she had died of complications from HIV in 1995. The detectives visit her grave and hear tell of her love and support for the institution that saved her.

The pair close down their case – but the lack of closure bothers them both. With their friendship rekindled, West asks if he can stay with Hays. But as always, Amelia is the lodestar in this story. Hays reads a segment from her first book that alludes to Julie’s childhood friend Mike being dismayed at her disappearance, and the detective remembers a conversation with a man bearing the same name at the convent. In a strange coda to the story, Amelia appears in a hallucination to tell Hays the real truth – that Julie was alive and reunited with her childhood sweetheart after a chance encounter. The pair had a child together and now live in peaceful anonymity – with her falsified death the protective barrier to prevent anybody looking for her. Hays seeks her out to conclude his own investigation, but can’t remember why he’s there when he visits her house. It’s a bittersweet ending to the case but the flash of recognition in Hays’s eyes as he departs indicates he’s competent enough to know he should keep her secret.

It’s an interesting close to the show. A murder that never was, an abduction that started as a grief-stricken affection – and the grim flotsam of destroyed lives that one person’s imbalance created in its wake. Anybody expecting a similar action-packed finale to the first season – or some grand conspiracy revealed in the final reel – were instead witness to something far more nuanced, a nod perhaps to the tone and palette of European shows in the same genre that spends more time examining the detail of their characters lives. In the end, this was more about the human minutiae that surrounds a crime than the crime itself.

Did it all work though? Well, if we took this season on its own terms – then yes, it did. But the shadow of that initial run still looms over everything this series aspires to be, to the detriment of the narrative. Time will tell if it can break free of these restrictions in future iterations.

Andy D








REVIEW: 35 Awr (S1 E8/8)

Where to start with this series finale of 35 Awr?

As ever, it’s always wise to go right back to the very beginning, and, in this case, that very first scene where we saw someone barricade themselves into their hotel room, a couple having sex in the shower, and a person on fire being filmed on her camera phone by who we now know was Ree.

It all came around in this series finale, with each of those character’s identities revealed. And that wasn’t the only thing that was revealed. Oh no. We found out who murdered Heulwen, and why; we found out the real story behind Haydn and Lynwen’s child; and we also found out a bit more about Nadine’s character.

Oh yes. It was all happening.

So where to start? We didn’t ever go back to the jury room, and all the action took place in that hotel – as I’ve mentioned before, it feels like an alternative world, a world of purgatory for all our flawed jurors, by this stage all going insane: their flaws and personality traits magnified, amplified and at their most acute. There was a sense that they had all gone insane, trapped inside this hotel until something gave.

We saw Peredur The Predator embark on a bit of, presumably, revenge on Taz. In episode seven, he had spiked his drink and now found him spark out on the bed in their shared hotel room. He pulled down his trousers, set up his phone and pressed record. Peredur then began to take off his own trousers… he was going to have sex with him on camera, neigh rape him. All in the name of revenge, and all in the name of being spurned by Taz in a previous episode. Nasty piece of work is Peredur. Taz was saved by a knock on the door, and the fact that Peredur subsequently found himself locked out. He found refuge in Nadine’s room.

Now then. Nadine. She’s been setting her stall out as a timid, shy and grief-stricken optician throughout the series until she came onto Carwyn so hard it was almost difficult to watch. There was always the suggestion that something had happened to her late husband, the ashes of whom she now wore in a signet ring on her wedding finger – ie. something that she was culpable for – and now, with Peredur in her hotel room, her real personality unfurled like a spider luring her prey into her web. She stripped off in front of Peredur and invited him into the shower. She was a creature of the night, she had said, and she really wasn’t kidding. Peredur, of course, followed, licking his lips. With Peredur it’s all about control – whether it be seducing and using Merired, or trying to seduce Taz – so he was out of his comfort zone as Nadine took the lead. She took the lead to the extent that she began to choke him during their shower boff, and choke him to the extent that he was near to passing out. She chided him for his insatiable need for control and the way he viewed his fellow human beings as nothing more than pieces of meat. She knew another person like that, she said, which once again inferred that she had killed her husband.

(Nadine, I think, was my favourite character out of the whole lot – an arch femme fetale, in the end, expertly played by Lisa Marged.)

Elsewhere in this ferment, we finally found out what the real story behind Lynwen an Haydn’s child. We had been led to believe that the teenage boy Lynwen had been chatting to on Skype was her son, and indeed Haydn’s son. Haydn had believed it, too. But during an argument, she told him that she had had an abortion – yes, she had been pregnant with his child when they broke up, but she had decided on a termination. So who was the teenage boy on Skype? He turned out to be Lynwen’s underage lover, a pupil at the school she teaches at. Oh my, that was a twist. And of course, she was pregnant… and this lad was the father. Another dark twist! As Haydn went understandably nuts at hearing this news, he attacked her… and Lynwyn sprayed some sort of deodorant in his face. What either of them had failed to realise was that Haydn was holding a lit lighter at that moment, and he went up in flames.

Haydn turned out to be the burning person.

It was breathless stuff, with one jaw-dropping twist after another. And that’s what I really enjoyed about this series – while there were plenty of familiar elements, it felt fresh and felt joyous in the way that it attacked and went for the jugular. In an age of sombre, formulaic mainstream crime drama, 35 Awr said to hell with it all and presented us with something that, out of context, would have been too much and too far-fetched, but instead felt fresh, addictive and great fun (or as much fun as a crime drama can possibly be).

But, of course, there was more. We found out that Rachel’s husband, Dorien, had been at Heulwen’s house on that fateful night. We also found out that, overcome by jealousy, it was he who had smashed what looked like a soup terrine over her head. He was the killer. It felt right, and it felt like a good enough reason, and, as a twist, was very well disguised. But I couldn’t help thinking there had been an over-reliance on flashbacks as an explainer. As Dorien explained what had happened, we saw another flashback, this time showing him appearing in the hedges at Heulwen’s house. Thanks to these flashbacks it seemed like pretty much everyone in the cast had been at Heulwen’s that night – there was  poor old Kelvin upstairs, wrestling with his demons, including the mysterious John; there was Leighton; there was Susie; there was Rachel; there was Stewart (seriously, how and why was Stewart at the scene of the crime? And so quickly); and there was Dorien. I felt it was a bit too much, and a few too many twists at the crime scene.

With Rachel off to tell the police what had happened, it was back to the hotel for the denouement. Getting endings right, especially when there’s a big ensemble cast, is a tricky business, but it was all going swimmingly here – all the characters had been manoeuvred into position nicely (as they had been all throughout the series). Matt had regained consciousness and had found his way back to the hotel, Carwyn was drowning his sorrows in the bar and was still in his pants, Taz had found Moira and they were now down in the bar as well, and so were Steve and Ree. Val was there, obviously. Steve had been busying himself with setting fire to the whole place but Ree managed to talk him out of it, while Mererid had barricaded herself into her room, terrified that Leighton would come back. Leighton did come back and now he had joined the crew in the bar for a tense stand-off. He had killed Stewart, but there were no other police around. (Why no police?)

So it was all bubbling up into a final showdown. And then it all ended suddenly. Haydn came running down the stairs in flames and collapsed outside with the whole ensemble gathered around him. He pointed to Lynwen, collapsed and then the credits rolled.

We didn’t get to see what happened to Rachel, whether Dorien would get his comeuppance, whether Leighton got his comeuppance for murdering Stewart, whether Nadine would continue her unstable ways, whether Kelvin would get off or, indeed, whether Lynwen would be getting her comeuppance.

It just ended.

Whether it was being set-up for another series, we don’t know. I’m all for challenging endings where a series makes you think and allows you to make your own decisions (hello Sopranos), but I did feel 35 Awr ended a bit too abruptly. Me? I’d like to think all the characters made their way back into the real world, facing the consequences of what they had done. Perhaps some would escape justice and carry their crimes with them for life. For those who had nothing (much) to hide – Val, Taz, Matt, Mererid and Moira – their experiences on the jury would, no doubt, stay with them for a very long time and they would ruminate on what they truly had in the outside world.

In the end, 35 Awr was tremendous fun and the closest thing to if Hitchcock had dropped a tab of acid and decided to write a soap opera. Thanks to the large ensemble (all very well played), the series really did have that soap opera feel to it – there were twists, there were turns and there were secrets revealed. Add in elements of Agatha Christie and 12 Angry Men and 35 Awr felt familiar, even though it wasn’t in the end. It took these influences and ran with them. Boy, did it run with them. Yes, it was far-fetched, and yes, it was a little bit messy in places, but when you create a thriller in a purgatorial, other-worldly location, and go for it full throttle, the audience generally forgives any discrepancies and straps in for the ride.

And 35 Awr most assuredly was a hell of a ride.

Paul Hirons