True Detective Season 3 Returns to Form

After a critically panned second season, many wondered how True Detective’s third season would fare. If you were wondering, HBO knocked it out of the park in its latest incarnation of this popular series. Was it as iconic as the series’s much-talked-about first season? If it wasn’t, it came very close. It achieved this by returning to audience expectations of the form of True Detective. If you want to know more about season three, keep reading this spoiler-free review.

To help put you in the right frame of mind, check out the True Detective season three trailer:

Forget True Detective Season 2

There was some controversy going into this show’s third season. Namely, people wondered if it was going to be any good. This is due to the poor reception that True Detective season two received from critics and audiences. That season just seemed to be an epic fail compared to the show’s first installment. Here’s why: it’s overly-ambitious approach tried to cram too many character stories into eight episodes. This and a rather dismal ending left the future of this franchise in jeopardy. Thankfully, someone at HBO saw the importance of giving this unique series a third chance.

Since I promised a no-spoilers review, I won’t go too deeply into the plot. It’s enough to say that this season features police detectives, Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff), and their task to find two missing kids. As you might expect, their investigation into the children’s disappearance threatens to unravel a conspiracy that might reach into places of power in their tiny Ozarks community. To say any more would be to give so much away, and I would rather you enjoy this series for yourself.

A Familiar and Beloved Formula

I was rather excited to hear that True Detective would be returning for a third season. I was even more excited to know that the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolato, would be on board. In other networks, Pizzolato likely would have been given the boot after the epic fail of season two. Well, Pizzolato and his creation came back and really hit a home run with this third season. Here are some of the True Detective tropes established in the first season that you can expect to see this time around:

  1. Mismatched Partners: Season one had boozy and risky Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) partnered with odd, metaphysical-minded Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). The latest season teams Hays and West, another mismatched pair of police detectives who struggle to maintain their working relationship amidst their attempts to solve a tragic and puzzling case. The theme of mismatched partners extends to Hays’ relationship with his wife, Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), who also gets involved in the case.
  2. Dark Impulses: True Detective is a trip into the id, that part of the brain the governs our most primal impulses. Some people control this aspect of their personalities better than others, as you might imagine. Criminals, for example, are practically governed by their ids. This drives them to commit the horrific acts that they do. In true True Detective fashion, we see those in charge of upholding the law often succumb to their darker impulses, much like the bad guys do. That’s all I can say about that.
  3. Treatment of Children: If you’ve watched True Detective since its first season, there’s no denying that the show is a commentary on the tragedies of child abuse and neglect. This theme carries through the second season, and plays a strong part in its latest season. Whether its crimes committed against children, or adults struggling with the traumas they suffered as kids, this is the subtext this series is built upon. It speaks to an almost endless cycle of abuse, where today’s victim might become tomorrow’s offender. Needless to say, it makes for rich, if not disturbing storytelling.
  4. Multiple Timelines: The mystical nature of time is a huge element in True Detective season three. Viewers get to see Hays and West work this one case in three timelines: the 1980s, the 1990s, and the present. This is a huge throwback to season one, which featured two timelines. You might also be reminded of a particular quote from the first season: “Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do we will do over and over and over again- forever.” Don’t bother trying to set your watch; just enjoy the ride.
  5. Unfinished Business: One think I like about True Detective is that each season ends in a realistic, true-to-life way. Take season one, for example. Hart and Cohle solve the crime of the murdered girl, but this victory is tempered by their realization that there are so many other human monsters out there. Season three’s ending has a similar theme of finished but unfinished business, but that’s all I can say about that.

These are just some of the things that made True Detective season one so iconic, and Pizzolato and crew return to them for season three. But don’t get it twisted, season three isn’t just a retread of season one. The latest installment of the series takes bold new directions and departures from what even hardcore fans such as myself expected. This third season even includes a clever plot device that shows some self-awareness on the part of the show itself. I won’t ruin it for you here; but, if you caught it, feel free to drop it in the comments section below.

Way to Go, HBO!

Speaking of True Detective, I feel compelled to say something complimentary about HBO and HBO Go. As far as I’m concerned, HBO is the grandfather of the original streaming series that we know and love today. It started in 1999 with its critically-acclaimed The Sopranos. Unencumbered by network TV’s rigid censorship standards and commercial breaks, this gritty, adult-oriented TV series about a New Jersey mob family captured the attention of millions. It also redefined what our expectations of a TV series could be.

Did you miss the latest season of True Detective? That’s okay. You can always catch it on HBO Go. In many ways, I think it’s actually better to do it that way. Why? Because you won’t have to wait each week for the latest episode like Mrs. Buckler and I did. You can binge-watch the whole thing on Go. And take it from me, this series is particularly binge-worthy. It’s about solving a mystery, after all!