Having established the Purcell case and the three timelines in the first three episodes, True Detective is firmly in Act II of its season arc with episode 4, titled "The Hour and the Day." It sees the 1990 Det. Hays (Mahershala Ali) join Roland West's (Stephen Dorff) new Purcell taskforce and also provides a few more answers about the events of 1980 and the recent developments in 2015. The puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place.
Here’s how every timeline unfolds.
Hays and West visit the Purcell’s church, and it's as bare bones and creepy as you might expect. Not only is this where Will's (Phoenix Elkin) first communion photo was taken, but the church bazaar is also where the couple — the white woman and black man that the farmer said he had seen lurking around the woods — bought the bride-like dolls. The couple was referring to the Purcell kids as their "nieces and nephews" (though the use of plural nouns may imply more than just the Purcell kids) and Julie (Lena McCarthy) called the woman her "aunt," even though she didn't have any aunts.
The priest cannot remember what Julie said her aunt's name is, but he has a hard time believing anyone from his congregation is involved. However, like Hays tells him, it's not like psycho killers go around wearing signs that say "psycho killers" on them. Also, the priest is pretty creepy in his own right, so don't discount his involvement. He's probably fine, but, you know, CONSTANT VIGILANCE.
The detectives start to wonder if Will was really meant to be part of this at all. They start to think this whole thing revolves around Julie, and that her brother was just collateral damage. Later, Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) posits that Will's death was actually an accident, which is the same thought we had last week when Hays discovered the crime scene. Maybe Will fell and hit his head while trying to help his sister, and out of respect for him, the couple posed him like in his communion photo? Will was unharmed except for the blow to the head, and we know they didn't kill Julie, so we know this isn’t some kind of child murderer spree.
Anyway, the detectives get a lead on one of the individuals who bought all the dolls from the elderly woman who made them. They’re looking for a black man with a "dead eye," i.e. an eye with a film over it, like a cataract. They track one such man down in a trailer park in the poor part of town. The situation quickly escalates, and his community rallies around him as he claims to have no involvement in the crimes. His neighbors do not appreciate the cops showing up to intimidate him. It’s a good lead for Hays and West, but they obviously have the wrong man.
Luckily, the situation is diffused before anyone gets hurt, and interestingly, West comments later that he would have been more inclined to discharge his firearm if it had been an angry mob of white people, which actually rings true in this situation. West and Hays also share a nice moment where they agree to say their smashed windshield was the work of random vandals instead of "irate negros." It doesn't sound particularly funny in print (nor should it be), but it was a small, nice moment of levity and camaraderie between the two partners.
The big development in the case this week is that Freddy Burns' (Rhys Wakefield) fingerprints are found on Will's bike. It seems really unlikely that he is involved in all of this beyond harassing Will a little and taking his bike, but it does come out that Freddy disappeared into the woods that night for 30 minutes when he was chasing Will. No one really knows what might've happened, so maybe Freddy saw something — or did something.
But in what may be a development yet to come, Amelia goes to see Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer), who is not handling any of this well. However, unlike her husband, who is simply lost in his grief, Lucy also seems to be carrying quite a bit of guilt. She tearfully confesses to Amelia that she hated the only things in the world who ever showed her love (her children). In response to this sus statement, Amelia encourages Lucy to talk to Det. Hays. Instead of heeding this advice, Lucy freaks out and kicks Amelia out of the house, even spewing out racist epithets to the only person trying to help her. It feels like there's more going on here with Lucy than a few extramarital affairs. She’s guilty about something — more on that later.
In a kind of unrelated thread, the rednecks who last week beat the tar out of Brett Goodard (Michael Greyeyes) once again see him talking to some of their daughters on the side of the road. He's only asking the girls if he can have their cans (for the deposit), but the rednecks assume he's being a creep and come for him, lynch mob style. But good ol' Brett is not one to be trifled with. The roll we saw him carrying last week that looked suspiciously like a small body turns out to be a blanket full of guns, plus his house is rigged with all manner of booby traps. The episode's cliffhanger is that the lead redneck kicks Brett's door open and sets off a mortar. It's hard to feel bad for the guy because he kind of had it coming. But unfortunately, this is not going to end well for Brett either.
Hays is pumped to be brought onto West's new taskforce and he expects Amelia to be just as elated for him. She rightly points out that he could have been happier for her when she found out the information about Julie's reappearance, but instead he chose to be a giant jerk. But now that it's his life and his work, he wants her to be all excited for him. The jealousy and resentment of Amelia are so ugly, plus Hays never apologized to his wife for the way he spoke to her. It turns into a big fight, with Hays lashing out because deep down he knows he doesn't really have a leg to stand on... and it ends with some angry sex up against the bedroom wall. Yeah, that'll fix things.
Hays joins the taskforce and clearly, there is some tension between Hays and West in regards to how the original case was handled. West is mostly on Hays' side about the investigation and will not be bullied into covering anything up that may be embarrassing for Attorney General Larson (Brett Cullen). So for the most part, things get off to a solid start.
They review the surveillance footage of the drug store where Julie's prints were found and Hays eventually spots her. We don't have much else to go on here except that she was in the drug store with a group of other "street kids," which lends weight to the idea that she escaped from somewhere has been on the run.
Hays wants to keep doing the TV interview, mostly because he needs to get his hands on what the news program has figured out — specifically if there are new developments there are in the case that he doesn’t know about. Finding closure on this case, all these years later, is basically all that Hays is living for at this point.
He goes to see the TV interviewer, Eliza (Sarah Gadon), and she throws him a crumb — a quarry was recently drained in Missouri and Dan O'Brien's (Michael Graziadei) remains were found at the bottom. Now that is the most interesting thing that has happened on the show so far.
Here's a theory — you know how Hays suggests in 1990 that they are on a ticking clock because Julie might have escaped from somewhere and there may be people who want to kill her if word gets out that she's alive and in Oklahoma? Well, what if those people couldn't get their hands on Julie, but they went after "Uncle" Dan instead? Amelia's 1980 conversation with Lucy coupled with the peep hole looking into Julie's room lends some weight to the idea that Lucy and her cousin Dan were somehow involved in all this. It's why Lucy feels so guilty back in 1980.
Eliza also mentions that Dan's prints are on file from prison records. Could he have been the person first convicted in 1980, and later released when Julie was found alive, only to be tracked down by his accomplices and murdered? Food for thought.
The only other interesting tidbit from 2015 is that Hays is desperate to find West because Hays needs help recovering his memories from working on the cases. Hopefully West isn’t dead — we haven’t heard from him yet in this present-day timeline. It doesn't sound like he is, but why does no one seem to know where he is? What made him drop out of sight? Did the 1990 investigation go so poorly that it both Hays and West suffered career downfalls?
Either way, it certainly feels like the events of 2015 are going to end tragically for Hays. His dementia is worsening and he's struggling to live without Amelia. It feels like he might wrap up the Purcell case and then take his own life, which would be quite the downer ending for the season, but also appropriate.
Odds & Ends
Who was the white guy in the business suit that 2015 Hays imagined standing there among the group of Viet Cong? And is he hallucinating the dark sedan outside his house or is that real?
We find out that Lucy Purcell died of an overdose outside Las Vegas in 1988. Was it accidental? Intentional? Or was she killed and it was made it look like an overdose? The latter is my theory, based on her 1980 behavior, and the fact that Dan was found dead in a quarry. I bet that the real perpetrators killed off all the people who could identify them.
There's a small bit that shows viewers how West came to be Tom Purcell's savior. When he's being drunk and disorderly at the Sawhorse bar, the bar owner calls West to come get him and West takes pity on him, letting Tom sleep it off on his couch instead of throwing him in jail. Tom says he just wants to die all the time; it's pretty sad. I can't even imagine what it must be like for parents of missing kids; it's about the worst thing we can imagine for a parent.
Tom: "I'm so sorry I used that word. Don't tell him."
West: "He's been called worse by people who meant it more than you did."
Tom: "I'm sorry for that, too."
The racism has been an undercurrent all along, but it really came to the forefront this week. The scene with Tom Purcell, excerpted above, was particularly interesting. He's a great example of someone who isn't overtly racist, but hasn’t corrected his white superiority complex, a product of his upbringing. He knows it's wrong, and he wants to be better. It's hard not to fall into old habits, though.
It's quite jarring to see Amelia and Hays on a date together in 1980 and then see them in such a dysfunctional marriage 10 years later. Obviously, relationships evolve, but it just seems like Hays has really changed after whatever happened with the Purcell case the first time around. The most obvious thing is how he goes from being apologetic and consideration to dangerously defensive and stubborn. It's kind of amazing they stayed together after all his bullshit behavior — did the events of 1990 bring them back to the way they were originally?