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‘True Detective’ Review: Episode 7 Comes Full Circle with a Stunning, Franchise-Shaking Twist

Well, all right, all right, all right.

True Detective Season 3 Episode 7 Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali in “True Detective”

Warrick Page / HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “True Detective” Season 3, Episode 7, “The Final Country.”]

Let’s get one thing straight: The revelation that the Purcell case in Season 3 is likely connected to the Fontenot case in Season 1 is the least important piece of the evidence presented in Episode 7. It doesn’t really matter to Wayne (Mahershala Ali) if the pedophile ring that bribed Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer) into giving her kids to the Hoyt foundation is part of the larger criminal ring that includes the Tuttle church — once investigated by the original true detectives, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson). Wayne still needs to chase down his own leads and recapture his lost memories to solve his own case; tying it to another case isn’t all that important to his ultimate goal: hold the guilty men accountable.

But it’s a huge factor for “True Detective” overall. For one, it justifies why so many elements of Season 3 have reflected specific parts of Season 1; the Southern rural setting, the multiple timelines, the details of the case itself — the dolls’ relevance is particularly satisfying, but the shared themes of child abuse perpetrated by powerful, protected men are now more than just a trope Nic Pizzolatto fell back into: He purposefully returned to the first season’s case in order to reexamine loose ends — loose ends that have been nagging detectives at home since 2012. So while the connection to another pedophile ring may not be that big a deal to Wayne, it’s hugely important to fans of “True Detective” — and its legacy.

But do all the freshly invited questions overwhelm a narrative that was chugging along just fine on its own? Will fans get too worked up putting two seasons worth of puzzle pieces together to focus on Wayne, Roland (Stephen Dorff), and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo)? Were they already so overwhelmed by the appearance of Rust and Marty’s pictures in a newspaper clipping to keep up with the rest of this episode’s plot points and personal developments? Will next week’s finale turn into a waiting game, as viewers hope against hope for a McConaughey and Harrelson cameo instead of appreciating the end of this story? In other words, did Season 3 need to tie itself to Season 1?

True Detective Season 3 Episode 7 Carmen Ejogo

Carmen Ejogo in “True Detective”

Warrick Page / HBO

In short, no. While stealing focus isn’t a creative cause for alarm so much as reason for reassessing of Pizzolatto’s headspace — he really took criticism to heart — the Season 1 tie-in helped mask a latter half of Episode 7 filled with expected confirmations: Yup, Roland and Wayne killed Harris James (Scott Shepherd), who helped the Hoyt family cover-up the murder and kidnapping of the Purcell children. He was there on the scene, took the money to frame an innocent (trash) man, and later flew to Las Vegas to kill Lucy when she kept hassling the Hoyt corp. for more money. Last week’s episode showed him taking out Tom (Scoot McNairy), and finding his body to start Episode 7 seemed like an inevitable discovery.

But these aren’t faults. Watching heavily foreshadowed events unfold is rewarding for a viewer who’s been waiting this long to get the full story. Plus, there are still key clues to decipher — like this “Mr. June” / Watts figure, who lived in the Hoyt’s basement, specialized in “procuring” things, and was once ID’d as a black man with one eye. What’s he up to in the middle timeline, showing up to Amelia’s readings and looking for Julie? Why is he still obsessed with the girl? Plus, now that we’ve heard Mr. Hoyt’s voice and seen Wayne disappear with him in a mysterious black car, how did Wayne get so close to our prime suspect and end up so far away from the truth in 2015? Did he forget something that happened in that car (or soon after)? Did he take a deal to protect his family? And what happened to Amelia?

All of these questions are much more pertinent than whether or not Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson show up in the Season 3 finale. They’re more important than any ties, really, to the Fontenot/Tuttle investigation from a few years back. But “True Detective” now feels more pointed than ever toward filing in gaps. In past reviews, I’ve discussed how Season 3 has functioned as a corrective measure for Pizzolatto’s past work; a way of responding to and growing from criticisms. And despite arguments to the contrary, the main citation against the first season was a lack of payoff; that the writer’s wild web of clues didn’t pay off in a grand enough revelation.

By connecting Season 3’s intricate investigation with the original, Pizzolatto might be able to satisfy some of those slighted fans, three years later. Answers are probably coming for both cases, whether Rust and Marty pull up to hear them or not. Will they matter to the overall impact of Wayne’s story? No. Will they matter to “True Detective”? Absolutely.

Grade: A-

“True Detective” airs its Season 3 finale on Sunday, February 24 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

True Detective Season 3 Episode 7 Stephen Dorff Mahershala Ali

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in “True Detective”

Warrick Page / HBO

Case Notes, Episode 7:

  • “I think I read about that.” You’re damn right you did, Wayne! I like imagining the case got as much attention in “True Detective’s” diegetic world as the show did in the real world.
  • So, I’m guessing Wayne impersonating Roland to get those flight records — and pin Harris James to the wall, so to speak — will get the latter detective in trouble, leading to their decades-long split. I mean, the whole Harris incident didn’t help, but there’s more to their lost friendship than that.
  • “You can stop saying that now. I’m not simple.” — such a good line from a Southern white detective to say when he’s being pressed to operate from a point of pride, more than reason. The drawl may make you think they’re a little slow, but that’s just the way they like to live — it’s not who they are.
  • Wayne lying to Elisa (Sarah Gadon), the “True Criminals” reporter, is done to get information out of her — like when she gives up the name “Watts” and his job details after Wayne says he didn’t know about a one-eyed black man pursuing the case — but it’s also pretty funny. He may be old, he may be losing it a little bit, but he knows how to a mark for information. Why do you think he said yes to these interviews in the first place? He wants to know what she knows, and this is how he gets it. After all, he’s a true detective.

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