After one of the best seasons in television history, the following season of True Detective paled in comparison and became an afterthought. After a four year absence, the series is back hoping to capture its former glory with Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali leading the way. This season is definitely set up to succeed. Whether or not it does remains to be seen but trust me, I will be there every step of the way.
Synopsis: The disappearance of a young Arkansas boy and his sister in 1980 triggers vivid memories and enduring questions for retired detective Wayne Hays, who worked the case 35 years before with partner Roland West. What started as a routine case becomes a long journey to dissect and make sense of the crime. (HBO)
Writer: Nic Pizzolatto
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Running Time: 59mins
Airs: Sundays at 9pm on HBO Canada (Canada)/HBO (United States) starting Sunday, January 13th
At this point, it is pretty safe to say that True Detective is back. From the opening credits, it was clear that this was going to be something more reminiscent of the first season. This time around, the story offers a certain case told from multiple time periods. However, things weren’t as straightforward as they may seem because why would it be?
Not playing its hand right away, this episode did its fair share of foreshadowing as it alludes to what may have happened to a pair of missing children living in a poor Arkansas town in 1980. The idea of memory was put into question here as we are told the same story during a few key moments over a 35 year period. Putting the theme of the unreliable narrator to the test, we see how the case has affected detective Wayne Hayes (Ali) as we see his perspective of the events perhaps changing with age. Of course we don’t get the whole picture here but this wasn’t just any case as something clearly got to him and thus may have been holding back certain details either intentionally or unintentionally as a result.
A lot has happened to Hayes over 35 years and you can see it on his weathered face (the makeup work done to age him was incredible). Hayes was compelling to watch across all the time periods, seeing him change as a character. He and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) were fun to watch together. While not quite Hart and Cohle, they still had an interesting dynamic. They had some fun exchanges but ultimately, their relationship was based on a mutual respect for one another based on their time in the Vietnam War. They weren’t necessarily heroes, however, they had each other’s back.
Technically speaking, the set design and the cinematography were incredible in setting up a very dark and gloomy atmosphere in a way that was very similar to the Gothic atmosphere of the first season. The episode may jump between time periods but it’s still relatively easy to follow with plenty of subtle and not so subtle differences between each period. It was interesting to see how these characters evolved over time as their perspectives would change with no bigger change than at the end of this episode.
The best part of the episode without a doubt was Ali’s performance as Hayes. Hayes was a man of few words but whenever he spoke, you would be drawn to him. He was compelling to watch and the way in which he played the character over the multiple time periods was masterful, adding different dimensions to the character over time. There was a real pain to him later on and it was heartbreaking to behold. Dorff was great as well as West. His chemistry with Ali was excellent as he supported Ali. They were so fun to watch that you just want to know more about them. The performances were excellent, however, the great script also played a large part.
Overall, The Great War and Modern Memory was an excellent episode of True Detective, setting up a compelling mystery told in an inventive and layered way. With an unreliable narrator, we don’t always know if what we’re seeing actually happened in the way it is being told as well as get to follow how the story changes overtime. By also following the characters during multiple time periods, the perspective we learn later on helps us see the past in a different way. Both these make for an engaging episode to watch. However at the end of the day, this is just one episode. Despite this, all the ingredients are there for a season that could not only rival but maybe even surpass the first. While it doesn’t play its hand right away, it still pulls you in and you’ll want to know more. I sure do.