True Detective Season 3: Mahershala Ali Shines as Series Returns to First-Season Form (REVIEW)

The two-hour, two-episode season premiere of HBO‘s True Detective (“The Great War And Modern Memory” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”) was a return to first-season form for the crime anthology series and is exceptional television.

That alone should be all that fans of True Detective‘s first season need to know to keep tuning in (especially with the “crooked-spiral” reference in the second episode that appears to be a bit of “connective tissue” to season 1), but for those who still need convincing? Everything–from the acting, cinematography, and editing, to the writing and soundtrack–is superb. There is an ambient chill that flows through the screen and seeps into your marrow: disquieting, menacing, and enthralling all at once, you can’t look away.

True Detective season 3
HBO

Mahershala Ali is simply stunning as Wayne Hays, an Arkansas state police detective who is pulled into the investigation behind the disappearance of two kids. He’s a Vietnam war veteran, with a preternatural skill for tracking. His partner Roland West (Stephen Dorf) ribs Hays about his sense of fair-play when he hunts, and this early exchange pays off later in the episode as the search for the children stretches on.

True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto‘s script takes its sweet, dread-inducing time, drawing the viewer inch by inch into the mystery. The real trick here is that the story is told in three different time periods, with Ali playing Hays in 1980, when the children disappeared; in 1990, when the case was re-opened; and in 2015, when a true-crime show is interviewing him about the case 35 years later. Each era’s story overlaps and interweaves seamlessly with the others–it’s a mystery told in three acts, each a decade or more apart from the other.

Even the tiniest details help reinforce the richness of the story: the settings are dressed flawlessly and effectively set the tone of the time periods at play–from the drab, autumnal colors and wood paneling of 1980 to the modern sterility of 2015. T-Bone Burnett‘s score is haunting, chilling, and just a little disturbing; and the old-age make-up look for 2015 Hays is so good that it never once distracts from the words.

We’re not going into more details to avoid spoilers, because the third season of True Detective needs to be seen first hand, absorbed, processed, and slowly digested. A lot get rolled out during these first two episodes, so we’re not sure where exactly all of this is going–but we’re certainly more than happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Here’s a look at what’s in store during season 3 of True Detective:

True Detective s03e03 ‘The Big Never’: Hays (Mahershala Ali) recalls his early romance with Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), as well as cracks in their relationship that surfaced after they married and had children. Ten years after the Purcell crimes, new evidence emerges, giving him a second chance to vindicate himself and the investigation. Written by Nic Pizzolatto; directed by Daniel Sackheim.

HBO‘s True Detective season 3 was written by show creator Pizzolatto, with a cast that includes Ali and Dorf are Carmen Ejogo as Amelia Reardon, a schoolteacher with a connection to the missing children (and Hay’s future wife); Scoot McNairy as Tom Purcell, father of the two missing children; and Ray Fisher as older Henry Hays, Wayne’s son.

About Leigh Kade

Leigh George Kade is a writer, illustrator, and sculptor who lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and two small Skrulls. Leigh has also been a panelist on the wildly popular Geek Show Podcast since 2008. He has been an Entertainment Writer for Bleeding Cool since 2018.