True Detective Season 3, Episode 5 Recap: "If You Have Ghosts"

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
If the end of episode three, "The Big Never," felt like the end of Act I of the season, the end of episode five definitely feels like the end of Act II. There's a nice parallel going on of the 1990 Lt. West (Stephen Dorff) approaching Det. Hays (Mahershala Ali) to re-investigate the Purcell case and the 2015 Hays approaching West the same way. That 2015 scene between them is also incredible — maybe the best scene of the season so far. But we'll get to that in a bit.
Let's take the timelines one by one, shall we?
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1980
We quickly pick back up with the incident at Brett Woodard's (Michael Greyeyes) house, which goes from zero to 1000 in about half a second. When the mortar explodes as the redneck leader kicks Woodard's door in, all hell breaks loose. Woodard takes out the angry mob that has been harassing him, but he also has no qualms about shooting the officers on the scene too. West gets shot, though that's by one of the angry rednecks, and then Hays ends up killing Woodard in a definite lose-lose situation once Woodard give him an ultimatum: shoot me or I’ll shoot you.
The veteran’s life has been deteriorating before his eyes — haunted by war, his family left him, mocked by his community — and once his one last area of solace (collecting trash and minding his business) was shattered, he finally broke, ending his life, and others, in one, foul violent swoop.
However, that doesn't make him guilty of hurting the Purcell kids, something Hays eventually figures out in 2015. It turns out that back then, Woodard made the perfect patsy for the crimes, once you combine the fact Julie (Lena McCarthy) and Will's (Phoenix Elkin) sweater and backpack were found on his property after killed several law enforcement officers. With that information, he was posthumously convicted of the Purcell crimes — and that was that.
But in 2015, Hays is informed by Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) that one of the officers who processed the scene went missing in shortly after he “found” the evidence. At the same time, 1990 Hays realizes the kids' things were planted at Woodard's house; the obvious implication being that this since-missing officer planted them.
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This lends some weight to the idea that the prosecuting attorney is mixed up in all this (more on that later) because who better to insert a fake crime scene officer to plant damning evidence than him? It also ties in nicely to the theory that the deaths (or murders) of Lucy (Mamie Gummer) and "Uncle" Dan (Michael Graziadei), and now the officer, were done by the real perpetrators.
We were positing that Dan was the one originally convicted in the Purcell case, but it turns out his prison sentence was for writing bad checks. He dropped off the map after being released in 1987, last seen in Las Vegas — which is (coincidentally?) where Lucy (Mamie Gummer) overdosed in 1988. It still seems fairly likely that wasn't an OD at all — more likely a murder staged to look like one. It looks more and more like Lucy and Dan were up to their ears in whatever this was, and were later taken out by whoever was really pulling the strings.
1990
The attorneys looking to overturn Woodard's conviction ask Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) to make a televised plea for his daughter to contact him or the police. It leads to a plethora of police hotline tips, but only one jumps out. It's a young woman who indirectly claims to be Julie Purcell — though she says that that is not actually her real name — and warns that the "man from TV" needs to stay away from her.
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Now, the obvious angle here is that she's talking about her father and that he was actually not a good guy at all. But you know who else made an appearance during the televised plea? Gerald Kindt (Brett Cullen), the former prosecuting attorney and current Arkansas Attorney General. The caller also says that the officer who takes her call "works for" the man in question. Just keep that little nugget in mind — she could be talking about Kindt, not her father.
The detectives are still tugging at other threads, one of which is revisiting Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield) to see if he remembers anything else from that night. But Burns is less than helpful because he is still bitter about being intimidated by Hays back in the day. (Get over yourself, kid. You don't have a crappy life now because a cop was mean to you one time 10 years ago.)
The only thing Burns gives them is that Will was looking for his sister that fateful night, but he said "they," as in Will wanted to know where "they went." So Julie obviously wasn't alone — who were those kids meeting that night? And whose unknown prints were on the toys they found in the woods? The detectives may never know because that evidence has been conveniently misplaced, so they can't run the unknown prints through the database that they didn't have back in 1980.
The pair also go to question street kids who may have crossed paths with Julie in the past decade. One boy tells them she was calling herself by a different name, "Mary July" who was looking for her brother. She would often be confused about the year, and claim she is a "secret princess" from "the pink rooms." It sounds a lot like Julie was brainwashed by whoever kidnapped her, perhaps conditioned to think her family wasn’t her actual family.
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2015
In one of the most interesting present-day moments so far, Hays finally reads Amelia's book, and lingers on a passage recounting the earlier confrontation between Lucy and Amelia from episode 4, where Lucy was obviously feeling super guilty about something. Amelia specifically mentions that Lucy said "children should laugh" and Hays realizes that that is exactly what was mentioned on the note said Tom received right after the kids disappeared in 1980. He thinks it might just mean that Lucy sent the note to make Tom feel better, but we're not so sure. Again, it feels like Lucy was way more involved in her kids' ordeal than we know about yet.
And finally, we get to catch up with present-day West, who lives all alone in a cabin and takes care of about a dozen dogs. Hays comes to see him and it's easily the best sequence of the show so far.
West is obviously glad to see his old partner, giving him a congenial greeting that feels really sincere. But we quickly learn that the two haven't spoken since 1991. Hays doesn't remember why, which is frustrating for West because he wants an apology, but it's hard to confront someone about something they are literally cannot remember happening.
We also learn that there's something Hays and West did back in 1990 that they don't talk about directly — and this is something Hays remembers, so it's not the same thing that caused their falling out. We don't yet know exactly what they did together, but it sounds like they killed someone and Hoyt of Hoyt Foods knew about it. Hoyt came to see Hays after it happened, something Hays had never told West.
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The bottom line is that Hays is figuring out some things, like the missing officer who planted the Purcell kids' stuff and that the note was written by Lucy. He wants to reexamine the case before he's too far gone and he desperately needs West's help because he's already in such a bad place, healthwise. West really does not want to help Hays out because A) he thinks it makes them look like doddering old fools and B) he's still so hurt over Hays walking away from their partnership.
West wants some resolution with their relationship, but Hays can't even give him that because he can't remember most of their relationship. It's heartbreaking to watch — West wants to be angry at his friend but he can't because of the dementia, and Hays feels so bad that he can't give West a place to funnel his hurt and anger.
They argue some more, but eventually, Hays convinces West to help him so they can put this case to bed before it’s too late. Just like that, we're off to Act III.
Odds & Ends
There are a few scenes with Hays and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) that bear mentioning, but don't exactly fit in with the flow of the episode. The first is that she hears about the shootout at Woodard's place and the two have some fiery, needy sex at her apartment. It looks like they have a history of resolving intense feelings with sex.
The second is in the 1990 timeline, when the two of them have dinner at West's house that he shares with Lori (Jodi Balfour), the woman he met at the creepy church in the last episode. They aren't married and that is obviously a point of contention. Meanwhile, Hays and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) continue to struggle with their current roles. Hays calls his wife a "tourist" in regards to her book, saying she's profiting off the misery of others. But it feels more like what he really means is that she's a "tourist" coming to his turf — she's investigating the Purcell case on her own and he doesn't like it, especially because she isn't failing at it.
Enough cannot be said about that final scene of the episode. Ali and Dorff absolutely kill it; the affection and the pain and the loneliness just roll off of them both. They're so good together in this. Also, kudos to the show for letting this sequence play out for so long. It runs over 15 minutes in total and it's so nice not to have it rushed.
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