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A confrontation in 1980, a security-camera video in 1990 and a TV production’s research in 2015: All three are central to the fourth episode of HBO’s True Detective, and all three have the potential to upend the narrative thus far.
They also raise a lot of questions about how and why things fell apart for both the case of Will and Juile Purcell and for Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), the man at the center of the story. There’s a lot to unpack in each timeline of “The Hour and the Day” (co-written by David Milch and creator Nic Pizzolatto). Here are some of the key moments.
There were a couple of confrontations in the course of the first Purcell investigation. First, Wayne and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) follow a lead about the creepy dolls to an African-American neighborhood. It’s a dead end, but the tension at the scene nearly boils over (no thanks to Roland in particular). They manage to leave with nothing more than a busted windshield.
The more consequential one — most likely, anyway — happens at the end of the episode, as the West Finger rednecks chase Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes) to his extremely well-armed and booby-trapped house. Wayne and Roland arrive just in time to see one of them kick the door in, presumably setting off the mine just inside the door. The episode (Pizzolatto’s first outing as director) cuts to black with the explosion.
Is Woodard the suspect whose family reopens the case in 1990? What True Detective has shown of the 1980 investigation has been rather light on concrete leads, with fear and suspicion fueling most of its beats thus far.
Amid further tension between his and Amelia’s (Carmen Ejogo) relationship, Wayne gets a lifeline from Roland and formally joins the task force that’s re-examining the Purcell case. Its nominal purpose is to confirm the outcome of the 1980 case — as the case’s prosecutor, now state attorney general (Brett Cullen) unsubtly tries to impress on the detectives. Neither Wayne nor Roland is much interested in that, and they head to Oklahoma to review security footage of the Walgreens where Julie’s fingerprints were found.
After hours staring at a screen, Wayne sees the now-adult Julie hurrying up an aisle in the store. It’s potentially a huge break — but it also raises some questions. For starters, will the higher-ups intent on keeping the case as is want to quash the new information? Finding Julie, who was presumed dead in 1980, wouldn’t exactly strengthen the original case.
In the tape itself, Julie looks over her shoulder as she quickly walks down the drugstore aisle, like she’s checking whether someone is following her. The local cops had a week’s worth of footage, so it’s unclear whether the tape Wayne sees is from the night of the robbery. If it is, her behavior is pretty easily explained. If it’s not, though, what’s causing her to hurry through the store and look back the way she does?
As the aging Wayne tries to recall the case and recover the portion of his life he’s losing to dementia, he asks his son (Ray Fisher), who has grown up to become a state police officer like his dad, to track down Roland. He needs his former partner’s memory, he pleads with his son.
More important, though, he goes to see Elisa (Sarah Gadon), the TV producer who’s been interviewing him.
He knows she has facts about the case he doesn’t and presses her for them — she reveals that they discovered the body of Will and Julie’s uncle, Dan O’Brien, in a quarry in Missouri. As of the task force being formed in 1990, Dan was off the radar and one of the loose threads the task force was going to track down. Elisa says he went missing in 1990 “after resurfacing,” which suggests Wayne and Roland might eventually track him down.
After hearing that, Wayne has a disquieting vision of his time in Vietnam. Is Wayne’s mind trying to make a connection there? Is Dan O’Brien one of the reasons everything went sideways for Wayne?
At the halfway point of the season, the answers to all those questions are still up in the air.
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