True Detective Season 3 Reviews Are In, Here's What Critics Are Saying

true detective wayne hays at the suspect board

2019 has a lot of exciting TV on the way, but perhaps nothing will be released to the same kind of polarized expectations as the third season of HBO's True Detective. Coming over three years after the largely disappointing Season 2, the drama is making a return to small Southern towns with occultist murderers, and critics' reviews have now gone public.

While a full Season 3 rundown from yours truly is still on the way, let's take a look at what others are saying about True Detective's latest mysteries and stars, which include Green Book and Luke Cage's Mahershala Ali, Leatherface and Star's Stephen Dorff, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald's Carmen Ejogo and Justice League's Ray Fisher.

Praising the performance of Halt and Catch Fire's Scoot McNairy as the season's big catch for his portrayal of a father whose children go missing, Den of Geek had this to say.

True Detective Season 3 is as stylish and intriguing as its first season was. It's also kind of punishingly boring at times. This appears to be another classic case of 'too much time, not enough story.' True Detective Season 3 is eight episodes long because Seasons 1 and 2 were. So far, it feels like it could be half that length, conservatively.

In its review, TVLine basically says that Season 3 is fine enough as a mirror of Season 1, but says that the level of quality doesn't hold up after years of TV murder-mysteries created in True Detective's inspirational wake. This about sums it up.

The good news about Season 3 of HBO's True Detective: It has nowhere to go but up. . . . Despite a tremendous lead performance from Mahershala Ali, it doesn't quite reach the heights of Season 1, either. More than anything, it feels unnecessary, hitting the same self-consciously grim notes we've seen plenty of times before.

This season of True Detective takes place during three different timelines. In 1980, the central crime occurred, bringing Mahershala Ali's Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff's Roland West to the Ozarks to investigate. A later timeline reveals a new development in the case, and the most current events take place in 2015, where Hays is being interviewed as part of a series on true crime.

Per EW's review, there are more misses than hits when it comes to telling a fresh story, calling the season and characters out for being overly repetitive. Also, this:

So this season's attempt to bring back the old True Detective magic also feels a bit stale. This season's Big Action Thing is a snooze. This year's hallucinations are less haunting than inadvertently funny. Also not helping: In the 2015 timeline, Wayne runs afoul of someone who might turn out to be the single most ludicrous character on television in 2019.

There's no denying that not all critics had a soft spot for True Detective Season 3, or at least the episodes available for review. However, not everyone was so unkind.

For instance, Uproxx gives Mahershala Ali all the praise in the world for his performances, calling him a great actor even in projects that cannot be considered great. However, this review makes a much larger point of drawing out the Season 1 comparisons, arriving at this thesis:

The main takeaway here is that the third season of True Detective is not quite up to the level of the first, so far, in large part because substantial hunks of its plot come off like a store brand version of the original. It is so much better than the second season, though. So, so much better.

However, IndieWire had very few complaints about Season 3, praising the cast and particularly star Mahershala Ali, whose character is dealing with issues of undiagnosed memory loss, adding a new depth to the timeline concept. (At least to some, if not all, who watched early episodes.) From the review:

Let's get this out of the way: True Detective Season 3 is good. . . . With strong performances all-around -- and a flat-out remarkable turn from Mahershala Ali -- HBO's third season benefits from reliable genre elements, a compelling central story, and aesthetics as lush as they are eerie.

Director Jeremy Saulnier, of Blue Ruin and Green Room fame, helmed the first two episodes of True Detective's third season, adding to the lush aesthetic. For the most part, Saulnier is right up there with Ali as the most universally applauded element of the new season, with many reviews saying he gets all the vibes right in starting things off. Critics had less good things to say about follow-up directors Daniel Sackheim (The Americans) and True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto.

Jeremy Saulnier's work does get brought up in Variety's review, which also shines a light (as other reviews do) on how True Detective handles Wayne Hays as a black cop dealing with stereotypical small town prejudices on a day-to-day basis. (In that it addresses them, but doesn't let those issues take over the story.) Here are more of the outlet's kind words:

What's striking about the latest iteration of a show that's worn its taste for excess proudly, even as the audience recoiled, is its leanness. Tightly directed (in its first episodes by Jeremy Saulnier) and plotted, and with a performance at its center that steers away from calling attention to itself, the new True Detective transcends hype and amounts to 2019's first pleasant small-screen surprise.

We'll end this review round-up on more positive notes, this time from Collider's four-star review. It's also full of encouraging opinions about Mahershala Ali, which is the norm, and it points out Stephen Dorff's sub-role as the lone beacon of low-key humor in Season 3. From the review:

For fans of crime series, True Detective's third season is a really engrossing mystery, bolstered by outstanding performances from its leads. . . . It may not be as arresting or iconic as the first season, but time is a flat circle. True Detective has come back around with a true return to form.

While it's easy to think that critics are always divided on TV shows and movies, True Detective does tend to split a crowd like few other shows can. Judge for yourself when the noir mystery hits HBO on Sunday, January 13, at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.