After a tension-filled season 3 premiere, True Detective settles into more of the slow burn of season 1. Obviously, the show has to trickle out answers over eight episodes, so this one focuses more on Detective Hays' (Mahershala Ali) personal life than the mystery, which is fine. The premiere episode did at least take a bit of tension out of the 1980 search for Julie Purcell (Lena McCarthy), since we know she's alive in 1990.
Ahead, what happens in each of the three timelines during episode 2, clearly laid out for you.
They also bring Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes), the trashman, in for an interview. He's a simple man who lost his family when he came back from Vietnam pretty messed up, but it seems unlikely he is involved in what happened.
Local law enforcement holds a town hall meeting, and we meet the 1980 prosecuting attorney, Jeff Kent (Brett Cullen), who had an election coming up back then and in 1990 has become state attorney general. You immediately know what his primary motivation is, which leaves the detectives and Jones (who is presumably an assistant district attorney) to work for what's in the case's best interest.
Hays starts by asking Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) to ask her students about the straw dolls, which she does — and actually gets them their first big clue. A boy from the neighborhood who had a little crush on Julie remembers that somebody gave her one of those dolls on Halloween while they were all trick-or-treating. He remembers seeing Julie talking to two adults wearing ghost sheets. So the perp(s) contacted her a week before she and Will disappeared.
The detectives want to keep this information quiet so as to try to conduct some voluntary searches and possibly obtain more information. But Kent wants it to look like they're making progress — because he wants the constituents to think he's tough and proactive — so he goes public with the information, which Hays fears will drive the perp(s) underground.
Hays is mad at West for not backing him up about keeping the dolls quiet, saying that the federal agents and bigshot attorneys would have listened better if it had come from a white detective. West finds all of this ridiculous because of course, he doesn’t notice subtle racism the way Hays does. But it’s definitely there.
Meanwhile, the Purcell family buries Will, and the detectives use the wake as a chance to question "Uncle Dan" (Thomas W. Moore), who gets pretty defensive with them. Hmmm. They also question the grandparents, and Grandma Louise (Natalie Canerday) drops the nugget that Julie might not be Tom's (Scoot McNairy) biological daughter. Now that's interesting. The dad seems like he's your basic concerned and grieving father, but maybe there's something more nefarious going on with him. The fact that Will was killed quickly and basically unharmed in any other way might imply someone who cared about him was responsible. Maybe it was his father?
In another thread to tug, West goes to the owner of a local pornography shop and theater and finds out there's been a man lurking around lately who has child molestation charges in his file. West and Hays give him a nasty beating and threaten to get him thrown back in jail, where he'll be sexually assaulted to death if he doesn't keep to himself because they found out he's been working at a daycare, which — yikes. But it doesn't seem like he's involved here. Of course, he might turn out to be later, so don’t forget about this one.
Finally, in the episode’s waning moments, the detectives are called back to the Purcell house because the family received a note from Julie’s kidnappers. It reads, “Do not worry Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go” in letters cut out from a magazine with no punctuation.
Obviously, Hays cannot stop thinking about Julie being alive, but the lawyers are stonewalling him. The one he doesn't know (Josh Hopkins) is being a real jerk about it. Jones (Jon Tenney) promises he'll talk to Hays about the case after they finish up this deposition, so he continues on with his story.
Later, Jones takes Hays out for a drink and tells him they don’t know if Julie’s prints mean she was part of the robbery or just a customer in the drug store, and the local law enforcement isn’t exactly at the top of its game. They briefly mention that Jones is going to see West, but he needs “an appointment,” and that West “has done well for himself.” That’s an intriguing exchange. Did Hays flame out in law enforcement because he wouldn’t let the Purcell case rest, while West kept his mouth shut and got promoted? It’ll be interesting to check in with Hays’ old partner.
At home, Amelia is just about ready to publish her book about the case, so it comes as a huge shock to her when Hays tells her that Julie Purcell is alive. Guess Amelia might have to be making some edits before the book hits shelves.
Hays spends time with his son, Henry (Ray Fisher), and his family, revealing that his daughter Rebecca (Deborah Ayorinde) lives in Los Angeles and never comes back home to visit. It sounds like she and Hays don't have a great relationship, but we don't yet know why.
As far as the TV interview goes, Hays agreed to do it because the interviewer told him she has information about the Purcell case. We don’t learn just what that information is yet, but the interviewer does drop a possibly juicy nugget about “the events” of 1990 and “what happened with Julie and her father.” Again, this lends some weight to the idea that Tom is involved somehow. Or that perhaps he wasn’t initially involved but became involved later? It definitely sounds like Hays had some theories about them and his superiors wouldn’t listen.
The interviewer is also curious if Hays ran into racism in his years as a cop, which he denies, though we've seen in one of the flashbacks that that's not true.
Odds & Ends
Michael Greyeyes is an early frontrunner for TV line of 2019 when the detectives ask him if he has an interest in children in general, and he blurts out, "What the f*ck's the right answer to that?!" The line is good on its own, but his delivery is impeccable. I laughed so hard I had to rewind the episode because I was missing the subsequent dialogue.
Scoot McNairy is doing some great work as the Purcell father. You want to hope he's not involved because he just seems so broken by what has happened to his kids. "I can't sleep and I can't wake up" just wrecked me.
The racial undercurrent is being handled so deftly by the show. They aren’t hitting viewers over the head with it, just peppering it in with things like Hays pointedly asking Amelia how things are for her around town, or Hays telling West, "Son, I know where I am in a way you will never understand."