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Major spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched the entirety of True Detective Season 3, all the way through the finale.
In no universe could True Detective's third season finale have matched up with the stockpiled theories that fans have been cultivating since the first trailer was released. Though creator Nic Pizzolatto said from the start that viewers were quickly made privy to where the story was going in all respects, viewers bucked logic and imparted hyperbolic meaning into every line, look and camera move.
In the end, True Detective Season 3 wasn't about solving a 35-year-old mystery, but rather dissecting the unfortunately haunted nooks and crannies of a former detective's deteriorating mind. Audiences and critics have embraced it on the whole, though many questions were left bouncing around our heads when the finale's credits rolled. Thankfully, Nic Pizzolatto volunteered to soothe everyone's obsessive curiosities by offering up a smorgasbord of thought-provoking answers. Let's get started.
Was That Really Julie Purcell In 2015, And Did Wayne Know?
Like some others, I walked away from True Detective's finale wondering if Wayne's big road trip actually led him to Julie Purcell, or if that miracle inspiration from Amelia's ghost was just a figment of his dementia. No such games were being played by Nic Pizzolatto, though, who told Esquire this about Wayne and possible-Julie's meeting, and whether or not he was aware of it.
Ultimately, that is really her at the end. And I think it's enough to know that she made it. It's the same actress that we witnessed before and also in the surveillance video from 1990. . . . I wonder how much of these things I should just leave to interpenetration, but I don't believe he remembered who she was. I believe there was some kind of look and a hint of remembering what he was doing there and then it passed. I do think given the subtleties of Mahershala's performance and the nuances he brings to it, people can read that as they wish.
No more second-guessing when it comes to wild theories on that front. As Nic Pizzolatto makes it clear there and on Instagram, Julie Purcell did indeed survive, and was plausibly the most well-adjusted character by the end there. While the creator does allow for viewers to make some inferences from Mahershala Ali's specific performance in the scene, Pizzolatto himself doesn't believe that Wayne regains his memory during that exchange.
In fact, Pizzolatto says that Wayne "never remembers," though I guess he may not have meant in perpetuity, and may only have meant within the context of the show's scenes. He confirms that Julie's face wouldn't have inspired any recognition within Wayne, since he had only seen pictures of her adult self in a small capacity. As well, Julie wouldn't have had a reason to recognize Wayne. Additional fact: Amelia never learned of Julie's current fate beyond 1990.
Why Did Henry Keep The Note With Julie's Address?
Despite Wayne's memory hiccup upon arriving at Julie's house, hope was kept alive thanks to that handwritten note with her address on it. It could have been thrown away or lost in the wash, but Henry pocketed the torn paper, aware that his father wouldn't have made that drive without specific motivations. Here's how Nic Pizzolatto explained Henry's decision to keep the address.
Because his son is a good detective, and finally unwilling to simply dismiss something that had such actionable meaning to his father, unable perhaps to not look into why his father went there.
Henry's lack of interest in his father's renewed obsession was a peculiarity for most of the season, especially after it was made clear he followed in Wayne's occupational footsteps. But perhaps for Henry, the case was just an oddity from his childhood that made his parents fight sometimes, which would be reason enough not to embrace its return via documentarian.
Speaking of Sarah Gadon's Eliza Montgomery, some True Detective fans wondered if Henry would keep the note only for self-interest, or if he might re-approach the woman with whom he shared a had a brief affair. Pizzolatto explained it on Instagram like this:
She didn’t have a role once Wayne quits the documentary in ep7 (having learned all he could about her conclusions). Although we had a deleted scene between Henry and Wayne in the finale where her absence is confirmed.
No one needs to worry about Henry going behind both Wayne and Julie's backs to give Eliza any leads on the Purcell case, though he may share the update with Roland to give Wayne's old partner peace of mind. With any luck and more memory loss, Julie's existence might very well be an open secret for as long as she lives.
Why Wasn't Amelia's Death Explained?
It was sometimes easy to lose sight of True Detective mostly showing viewers the memories that populated Wayne's mind in 2015, as opposed to the actual most important memories from Wayne's life. The complications behind his relationship with Amelia, coupled with the absence of her on-screen death, had fans making all manner of conspiracy-laden guesses about what might have happened. Nic Pizzolatto set the record straight on social media, though.
She died peacefully, though suddenly, in her sleep in 2013.
The plan was in place to give viewers a look at how her death played out. Pizzolatto answered a fan's question about if the death scene was edited out of the finale, saying it was.
I hated to have to do it. Not my call.
Furthermore, Pizzolatto confirms that everything was mostly loving gravy for the couple during the time between Hoyt and Wayne's conversation and Amelia's death. In his words, they had "23 happy years after 1990." During that time, Wayne followed up on some private security gigs by becoming the Chief of Security at the same university where Amelia was serving as a writing professor, as hinted at in that somewhat random scene.
What Happened Between Wayne And His Daughter?
Speaking of presumed family strifes, True Detective also made it seem like a deep chasm had formed between Wayne and his daughter Becca, since she was living off in L.A. and had little interest in returning to Arkansas. However, this was also something of a construct within Wayne's mind that didn't wholly reflect reality. According to Nic Pizzolatto, their finale scene together in the car was originally longer, and their conversation mostly cleared the air.
We learn that there wasn't any giant rift between them other than what happens when a child grows up and individuates and doesn't want what their parents have or to stay in the place they came from. She hasn't broken from him, they just aren't very good at reaching out.
This one wasn't so overtly shocking to learn, since Becca's role was rather slight throughout the season. That said, it was also extremely easy to read too much into the fact that Wayne's modern-day memories about Becca were of him losing her, either literally in a department store or metaphorically when she left for college. In any case, I was quite happy to have learned that nothing more depressing had happened there.
Is That Really How Will Died?
When Will Purcell's death was revealed in the season premiere, fans crafted myriad theories supposing all the ways in which the young boy could have died. Strangely, True Detective brought that mystery to a grinding halt thank to the milky-eyed Junius' Bond-villain confession about Isabelle Hoyt taking Julie captive. Some were confused about whether or not Junius' story fully checked out, but Nic Pizzolatto explained on Instagram that it was all genuine.
Will was looking for his sister and couldn’t find her. He ran into the teenagers, who harassed him. When he eventually circled back to 'a' spot (not 'the' spot; there’s no 'the' spot), he found Isabelle trying to take Julie away. There was a longer edit that showed all this in more detail.
So, there's no rewarding explanation for why Julie had the extremely uncomfortable impulse to set Will's hands in their clasped communion pose, but the rest of it makes enough sense. Will's death may have technically been an accident, but there was still much menace and criminal intent that led to it. Hopefully, Junius remained as miserable as he told Wayne and Roland he was.
What Was The Point Of The Documentarian?
One of the biggest points of contention with True Detective Season 3 was the role of Eliza Montgomery, the documentarian interviewing Wayne about the Purcell children's cases. Many viewers voiced negative opinions about her, but Nic Pizzolatto pointed out that she is the one that actually kick-started Wayne's renewed interest surrounding that dark time in his life.
The point of the journalist was to draw Wayne back into the case and provide impetus for its reemergence while at the same time addressing and discounting conspiracy theories.
Elsewhere in his Instagram comments, Pizzolatto reiterated that Eliza wouldn't factor into whatever Henry ended up doing with Julie/Mary's address, saying neither he nor others are still working with her. (I do wonder what would be done with all of the footage that Wayne did shoot for that docu-series' episode.)
Another Season 3 short shrift involved the affair that was revealed to be happening between Henry and Eliza. Once it finally got addressed, nothing even happened with it. However, Nic Pizzolatto explained that element was originally addressed in a bigger way.
There was a bit more to that Wayne/Henry convo in 6 which fleshed that out a bit. Cut down for time.
I can't imagine that there would have been any bombshell revelations during that conversation, but it's very likely that Wayne guilt-convinced Henry into never going down the road to unfaithfulness ever again...or at least not with Eliza.
What Happened With Roland Between 1990 and 2015?
True Detective's story may have been largely focused on Wayne Hays, but viewers soon found there was just as much enjoyment to be had in tracking the life of Stephen Dorff's Roland West, arguably one of the season's most tragic characters. It took a while for him to show up in the 2015 plotline, but that's where Dorff truly earned whatever awards cred he gets out of this.
After seeing him living out in the woods with his beloved dogs, viewers had many questions about what exactly happened to Roland in the gap between Harris James' death in 1990 and Wayne and Roland's reunion in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Nic Pizzolatto's explanation is a subdued one.
Roland stepped away from the world after blaming himself for Tom’s 'suicide' and killing a man who never should’ve been in that situation. He went from liking himself to hating himself. His downward spiral was a bit more fleshed out, but I think the essential parts are still there.
It sounds like fans would have gotten to see more ways in which Roland's life was forever altered by what happened to the Purcell family, though it's probably okay that we didn't have to see him suffering further. In the end, I'm glad that it was Roland's punches that doomed Harris, since it was Tom's murder that drove the detective to his hermitic lifestyle.
What Was Up With Hoyt's Big Scene?
The big corporation in True Detective Season 3, Hoyt Foods, was quickly pulled into fan theories about where the storyline was heading, and many thought that Michael Rooker's introduction in the finale would lead to an explosive confrontation that made it impossible for Wayne to continue following up on Julie's case. On the contrary, Wayne's forced conversation with Hoyt was shocking for all the things it didn't do.
Here, Nic Pizzolatto explained to Esquire what the motivations were behind revealing Edward Hoyt to be a normal man instead of the season's true villain.
We contained it to that one scene because I think the expectation is that this is the big, bad guy. And he's behind some nefarious web of conspiracy and evil when really, it's a dissolute man mostly broken by tragedy who had actually distanced himself from the events of his daughter's life and exactly what happened. So for me, I thought it was interesting that in your big confrontation with what you're expecting to be evil incarnate is a more or less broken man who doesn't know the whole story himself.
It was almost confusing to watch the scene as it was playing out, with so much suspicion weighing down my appreciation for Michael Rooker's presence, and it took a quick rewatch to grasp that Hoyt genuinely wanted to understand certain aspects of this situation as much as Wayne did. He just went about it in a much harsher way.
Alas, even though he apparently wasn't directly involved with Julie's kidnapping, Hoyt also didn't want his family's name to be dragged through the mud by Isabelle's scandalous actions going public. Which made his Harris-centric threats against Wayne logistically sound, even if I don't actually believe he had access to a working GPS system in 1990, just one year after the first GPS satellite went into space.
What Does That Vietnam Ending Mean?
The final minutes of True Detective Season 3 were probably antithetical to how the majority of viewers expected the season to close out: Wayne and Amelia have a heartfelt conversation, which drifts back to Wayne in the jungles of Vietnam. It was a somewhat surreal capper, rife with metaphorical meaning that wasn't so easy to infer.
And don't expect Nic Pizzolatto to offer up any overly specific and loquacious explanations about what it truly means. At least not yet.
I could explain it pretty literally, but I’m gonna leave it to interpretation— at least for awhile. (Wayne didn’t die— I can say that)
Understandably, a large number of viewers automatically assumed that Wayne had died, thanks to that final image. Although to be fair, there were also theories floating around that purported Wayne had died during any number of big moments during the season, and that things were playing out in a Jacob's Ladder-type scenario. (Every movie and show involves a Jacob's Ladder-type scenario to some people.) Don't believe them, though. Wayne lived.
As far as hints go, Pizzolatto did point out the reflective connection between that final moment and another scene shown earlier in the season.
The loop is that it echoes the last scene of episode 1. Wayne disappearing into a dark forest.
That kind of line is tailor-made to start up a round of theory-driven conversations about the thematic significance of Wayne entering heavily wooded areas. Is it meant to draw comparisons between the PTSD he got from Vietnam and the similar-in-nature effect that the Purcell investigations had on him? Or is it something else? Hopefully the creator will share his own interpretation in the near future.