Despite some stumbles in the writing, “The Big Never”, delivers as it delves further into Hays’ past and present.
This recap of True Detective Season 3, Episode 3, “The Big Never”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The title of Episode 3 speaks to two compelling aspects of this series: its self-awareness of the Noir genre, where dozens of things are named “The Big . . .”, and its play on memory. Last week ended with 70-year-old Hays lost at a broken down corner, his memory unable to match his need to return to this location.
“The Big Never” opens on 1990s West being interviewed by the new task force in his office. Though he tries to give some details on the note received after Julie went missing, he warns the interrogators that Hays would have a better memory of the events. It’s a slightly obvious segway into 70-year-old Hays being examined by a doctor about his recent nocturnal wanderings. While the writing on this season has been tight, hopefully Pizzolatto will break free of these fussy lines as the episodes progress. His work is best when he trusts its subtlety.
In the 1990 timeline, Hays and Amelia spend date night parked in front of the Walgreens, the past heavy on both their minds. She volunteers to help him get more information on the break-in. The scene is a reminder that the Purcell case is not just a shared part of both their careers–it is was what actually introduced them. How does an origin story like that, steeped in tragedy, impact a marriage?
We certainly see this later in “The Big Never”, juxtaposed in the scenes of Amelia flirting with cops for information and Hays exploding with resentment after their daughter wanders off while he is forced to do the shopping. It’s as if the Purcell case bonded them only to serve as a wedge as closure alluded them. Even in 2015, the ghost of what was hovers over Hays, as his lapsing mind conjures visions of his deceased wife to taunt him.
Elsewhere, West’s interview continues, including him scolding the investigators for how the police force treated Hays and his theories. As flashbacks reveal, Hays’ hunches in the original investigation revealed that Will and Julie might have been lying about going to play with neighbor kids. To figure out what else they missed, Hays and West return to the Purcell house, where Hays uncovers a map, along with a stash of dismembered Barbies and tiny notes written in an adult’s hand, all tucked in a Hoyt Food Bag.
It turns out that mom Lucy once worked the line at the Hoyt Processing Plant, which also happens to fund Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, the same organization offering a reward for anyone with information about the children’s disappearance. All of this could certainly be another misdirect, but a sinister corporation does certainly make for interesting speculation. (As does Will’s death pose mimicking his first communion picture–sinister church is even better than sinister corporation.)
Julie, however, wasn’t the only one keeping secrets. Will had a Dungeons and Dragons manual but no evident playmates. Tracking who gave Julie the doll and who played D&D with Will leads another search party into the park, this time uncovering the real crime scene, including action figures (which we learn his parents didn’t buy), multi-sided die, and the rock used to murder Will. Interrogation of a nearby neighbor discloses that Julie and Will spent many afternoons in the woods and that at some point, there was also a fancy brown sedan with a black man and a white woman inside. Eliza, the filmmaker in 2015, questions the failure of the police to follow up on similar leads, two reporting the brown sedan, and several others mentioning a black man with a scar. It’s an ambush on her part, one that rattles Hays, and also reveals to us that Julie has still not been found (that Hays remembers).
It’s a neat trick in “The Big Never”, using West’s debriefing as the anchor for the 1980s flashbacks. His memory seems as convenient as Hays’, as we see in the flashbacks that follow each section of dialogue. (Shout out to Stephen Dorff–he is almost unrecognizable in a great way. Though I will always have a thing for his Deacon Frost.) We also get to see the different path West has taken, at least until 1990, where he has risen through ranks and apparently helped Tom Purcell sober up.
Using West as the driving frame for the episodes sets us up for a reunion, one that happens in the final moments of “The Big Never”, which closes as it opened in 1990. West approaches Hays, hoping to bring him back into the fold for the case, admitting outright that his success is due mainly to the color of his skin. Hays agrees because he has to. Some compulsions never die; they just get set aside for a time.
Some passing thoughts. The beating of Woodard (the Trashman) is leading somewhere. That plot line might be more than just scapegoating in a time of crisis. And clearly, the center of the original events is Julie Purcell. Was she merely a victim, like her brother, or did she have a more active hand in his death? She certainly would have known about his communion pose. Perhaps that was her guilty conscious? With True Detective, you can never underestimate anyone.
You can check out our thoughts on the next episode by clicking these words.
Amber is a doctoral candidate in Language, Diversity, and Literacy at Texas Tech. She holds an MA in Literature and History and a BFA in Theatre. A Texas-based mother of two, she is an Associate Professor of English and History at Howard College.