HBO’s True Detective is supposed to surprise you. That’s the whole point of a time jumping detective noir this dark. But few could predict that a house call between polite teacher Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo) and a drunken “banshee” of a woman like Lucy Purcell, as her portrayer Mamie Gummer describes the grieving mom, to result in a major break in season 3’s mystery. From what we’ve seen of Lucy, it’s usually doubtful she would be home in time to greet a visitor or sober enough to speak with them.
Then Sunday night’s “The Hour And The Day” comes to surprise us all. Through that unassuming chat, we learn it was Lucy who sent the frightening note to the Purcell home at the close of second episode, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” Does this mean Lucy is involved in the murder of her son Will (Phoenix Elkin) and the disappearance of her daughter Julie (Lena McCarthy)?
Well, Mamie Gummer won’t go that far just yet — but she is ready to demystify her character a bit.
“I think she drifts. I think she does enter some kind of altered state and for reason, Amelia has a quality that encourages honesty,” the actress and daughter of Hollywood icon Meryl Streep says of the “Hour And The Day” conversation. It is astonishing how quickly Amelia disarms Lucy, a woman who usually only growls at actual detectives like Wayne Hays (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff). On the day in question, Amelia arrives at the Purcell home to drop off some of the late Will’s school things. She offers to help Lucy, a relative stranger, however she can, and within seconds, Lucy announces, “Can I tell you something, Amelia? I’ve got the soul of a whore.” Now that is honesty.
This is how Lucy accidentally outs herself as the person who sent the “Tomorrow Goodbye” letter, which was allegedly from the Purcell siblings' kidnapper. “This wasn’t a very happy home,” she says. “Children should laugh.” Those very specific words were the ones in the note. This is not a coincidence. Eventually, Lucy even reveals she has a handgun in her purse, which she plans to use on herself whenever the so-called “courage” arises.
“She wants to relay the torment she’s experiencing,” Gummer explains, saying “remorse” and “grief” led her to send the letter in the first place. “She’s really lonely. Just for a moment [she] experiments with what it would be like to confide in someone and be honest.”
In one second, everything changes. Once Lucy starts breaking down over the unnamed “terrible things” she has allegedly done to her children, Amelia recommends she speak to Detective Hays. There’s a suggestion Lucy is hiding something and she lashes out, throwing Amelia out of her home and calling her an extremely antiquated racial slur (this part of the True Detective timeline does take place in the 1970s Midwest).
“She pulls it back in and kind of sobers up. She’s shocked a little bit by what she has said,” Gummer admits. But, there’s more to Lucy’s reaction than a quick return to sobriety; there is race. Gummer is “sure” Lucy is upset that a Black woman like Amelia might be judging her parenting. However, the actress adds, “Honestly, [race] is a part of why or how she was able to disclose as much as she did. Maybe part of her felt like this woman [wasn't] as consequential, that she wouldn’t be a threat. She thought people wouldn’t take her seriously.”
So it makes sense that once Amelia became a credible individual in the investigation — “Get a load of the white trash whore you’re trying to work to get good with your cop boyfriend,” Lucy seethes — Mrs. Purcell's opinion of the situation flips.
If sending the letter in the first place suggests Lucy's culpability in her kids' disappearances, her extreme reaction to Amelia's advice is even more suspect. When asked if fans should see Lucy through that criminal lens, Gummer thoughtfully responds, “One certainly could. It serves you to note those suspicions.” Yet, she doesn’t seem to believe Lucy Purcell is at fault here, adding, “You could also take [the scene] as a glimpse of this woman and her feeling regretful and remiss about her own life. How things have turned out and how she fucked up.”
While Gummer isn’t hopping on the Lucy The Murderous Mom train, she is happy to theorize about other True Detective mysteries. After all, Lucy’s creepy note isn’t the only thread brought up in second episode, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” There is also the suggestion that one of the Purcell kids isn’t the biological child of their alleged father, Tom (Scoot McNairy). As Lucy says herself in “Hour And The Day,” she “always” cheated on Tom.
Does Gummer have her own suspicions on that topic? “I do. I did. I thought the cousin love was strong,” she says, nodding towards the relationship between her character and Lucy's cousin Dan (Michael Graziadei). Dan, as we learn early in True Detective season 3, seemingly peeped on young Julie. “I always had some questions about their relationship and how they grew up in foster care, just them together,” Gummer continues.
Well, we have four more episodes to find out all the skeletons hiding in the Purcells’ closet.