I’ve got a good feeling about this.
True Detective is back, folks. While the HBO original series may have struggled in their sophomore season in 2015 (which I never bothered to watch based on all the negative things I heard about it), the first season, which debuted in 2014, was so good that audiences are willing to give the show a second chance.
And if this first episode is any indication, that’s a good move on the audience’s part. We might be in for something special here.
This time, True Detective welcomes well-respected actor Mahershala Ali into the role of Detective Wayne Hays.
Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) are a pair of Arkansas State Police detectives in the 1980s. Granted, they might not be the most morally responsible detectives in the whole world — hinted at by a few “let’s go find someone to beat up” lines — but they genuinely care about their cases, it seems.
Or, it seems that they genuinely care about their newest case, at the very least.
At this point, it’s also important to note that, like the first season of True Detective, there are multiple timelines at play here. We have the storyline of Hays and West solving the case, but there’s also a bit in the future where Wayne is being interviewed about the case some years later by FBI agents after there have been calls to overturn the conviction.
We also repeatedly jump forward in time to a much older Wayne — who admits that he has a tough time remembering how, exactly, everything happened — being interviewed by a television crew.
On to the actual case.
Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) is working on his car around 4 p.m. when his children, Will (Phoenix Elkin) and Julie Purcell (Lena McCarthy) come pouring out of the house, grab their bicycles and head off down to the street.
Tom yells after them that they need to be home by 5:30 p.m. but, in the end, they never do make it home.
We see the kids ride past a number of different parties who are all bound to be suspects in the case to come — one being a Native American man driving a go-kart hauling a load of trash, another being a housewife taking down some Halloween decorations and a third being a group of suspicious looking teenagers in a purple Volkswagon.
It’s a couple of hours after 5:30 p.m. when Tom realizes his kids aren’t yet home, panics and calls the police.
Despite the late hour, Wayne and Roland get to work immediately. They start by asking the usual questions to eliminate the easy possibilities — he’s not hiding somewhere in the house, he’s not at a friend’s house and he’s not with any known relatives.
It doesn’t take long for the kid’s mother and Tom’s ex-wife, Lucy (Mamie Gummer), to arrive on scene and begin blaming Tom for everything, confirming that the kids lived in at least somewhat of a broken home.
While Wayne begins scanning the woods that night, the search really begins the next day when Wayne and Roland head to the children’s school.
They start with Will’s teacher Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), who seems as nice and innocent as they come. Based on some of the interactions we seem from older Wayne, it seems like a pretty sure bet that he’ll eventually end up marrying Amelia and that she’ll then pass away at a relatively young age, even despite young Wayne’s insistence that he didn’t want to force a potential wife and kids to put up with his reckless behavior.
They then move on to the teenagers in the Volkswagen, as they were spotted near the kids by a number of witnesses. All of them have slightly conflicting stories, but Roland notes that could just because teenagers are always trying to hide something.
Next comes the search of the Trashman’s house, who nobody in the neighborhood seems to trust or understand (which is beginning to hint at some of the racial tension this season of True Detective is sure to uncover in future episodes). He’s not home at the time, but both Wayne and Roland agree he’s a person of interest and puts out an APB for him.
A search party is formed later that day, but Wayne thinks it’s best he heads off by himself. As Roland describes to one curious officer, Wayne is a Vietnam veteran who would run off into the jungle by himself for days at a time only to come back with dozens of enemy scalps.
First, Wayne finds an empty lookout tower with plenty of empty liquor bottles. Next comes one of the children’s bikes and a doll made of straw, followed by the eventual finding of Will’s dead body.
He calls it into Roland, but Wayne isn’t prepared to stay put for much longer. Julie is still out there, and this discovery confirms that they need to find her as quickly as humanly possible.
Jump to Wayne being interviewed FBI agents and we come upon yet another shocking discovery.
The agents tell Wayne that Julie’s fingerprints were recently found at the scene of a burglary in Oklahoma. Wayne is shocked to hear this as, apparently, he thought she died back in 1980 even though the body was never found.
That’s all we have for this week’s episode of True Detective but, luckily, HBO released the first two episodes back-to-back, meaning that you can read the recap of our second episode by clicking here.