True Detective: Season 3 created by Nic Pizzolatto (Anonymous Content, HBO)

Starring Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, and Ray Fisher.

Dealing with Trauma

Trauma is a wrench in best laid plans, the curveball life throws when we’re down two strikes. Nobody plans for it; nobody wants it. Even in scenarios where it seems likely—war or declining health—the human condition leads us to believe we’ll be different, that pain and suffering will elude us.

But it doesn’t.

And how we respond to trauma matters for our own well-being. We hold on to the spinning top that is trauma for as long as we can but when we let go we get flung in any direction. For some, that direction is destruction. Drinking, gambling, solitude. For others, trauma brings us together. A cognitive decision toward that which benefits the group. When a child dies, some families fall apart; but just as many families stick together, grow closer, and work harder toward the flourishing of the family unit.

The Central Element of Season 3

While Season 3 of True Detective holds a central murder mystery, the fascinating element of this season is how much that murder doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of the story. In fact, most of the central elements of the case get solved relatively early, mid-season or so, helping Nic Pizzolatto and his writing team focus on the characters and how they deal with a multitude of trauma over the course of the three timelines in which the story is told.

True Detective begins in 1980. Detectives Roland West (Stephen Dorff) and Wayne Hayes (Mahershala Ali) are dispatched on a missing persons case. Arriving at the door of a bereaved father (Scoot McNairy), the pair discover a mysterious case behind these two missing children.

An odd family life between the husband and wife establishes a bleak home existence and the detectives assume run always until Hayes discovers the body of the boy, laid to rest in a ritualistic tableau.

Timeline #2 and #3

Then, in 1990, we see Hayes deposed in an ongoing probe about the case. When Hayes teases out compelling new evidence from the interviewing officers, he reaches out to West and the pair begin re-investigating the loose ends of the case.

And finally, in 2015, an old and mentally deteriorating Hayes sits down for a series of interviews with a documentary team that is filming a Making a Murderer-style documentary for a streaming service.

Still unsolved as far as the viewer can discern from an unreliable narrator, Hayes attempts to parse new evidence from these documentarians so he can put to rest the case that has been bothering him his entire post-Vietnam professional life.

And true to True Detective’s form, this season has its fair share of mysteries to keep the Reddit discussions alive, especially with some Easter eggs around shared universes and a larger conspiracy around those in power wielding dangerous control over the people without power.

The Beating Heart

But the beating heart of the season rests with Hayes and the relationships he chooses to build, both with his partner over the years and with his wife, Amelia, (Carmen Ejogo). Once a source of information in the early timelines as the teacher of the children, Amelia becomes romantically involved with Hayes and she casts a long shadow over the later timelines.

Here, Pizzolatto argues, is what matters. The way we choose to live our life and the people we choose to live it with in the face of unspeakable trauma. No matter the body count, emotional pulls in a narrative such as this take an interesting season and make it potentially the best installment in the series yet.

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