Did 'True Detective' Just Connect Season 3 to Season 1?

Best not think too deeply on a passing mention, executive producer Scott Stephens says.
Warrick Page/HBO

[This story contains minor spoilers for the season three permiere of True Detective.]

It's not for nothing that reviewers have been comparing the newly launched season of True Detective to the show's breakout first run. The HBO anthology has returned to the multiple-timeline structure and Southern Gothic atmospherics that helped make season one distinctive.

The central case, involving a missing brother and sister named Will and Julie Purcell in Arkansas in 1980, also carries undertones of the "Satanic Panic" stories of ritual abuse from the 1980s and early '90s. Those stories also influenced the details of the case in season one.

In the second of two episodes that aired Sunday, though, there's a direct link between the two seasons. In 2015, documentary producer Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) is interviewing the 70-year-old Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) about the Purcell case he worked 35 years earlier. She explains the burgeoning online community devoted to true crime and rattles off several other cases with markers similar to the Purcell case.

One of them, she notes, featured "crooked spiral" iconography and wonders whether the dolls that are part of the Purcell case are something similar. It's a bit of a throwaway line, but one that might have perked up the ears of True Detective sleuths and Redditors.

That symbol was all over season one, carved into the back of victim Dora Lange, in a vision Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) sees and in and around Carcosa.

So, does that mean seasons one and three take place in the same fictional world?

"Not really," executive producer Scott Stephens told The Hollywood Reporter. "I guess it's set in the same fictional world everything is set in, right? The reference is kind of a nod to the [first season]. The stuff in season one was based on the same sort of pedophilia stories that are mentioned by the documentary crew. That's kind of the connective tissue."

Anyone thinking the passing mention of a small piece of season one may lead back to the Yellow King, however, is likely to wind up at a dead end. "It's just a fun way to tie things in," Stephens said.