Closing out the excellent third season, “Now Am Found” provides unexpected, heartbreaking twists that feel both true and earned.
This recap of True Detective Season 3, Episode 8, “Now Am Found”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
In the world of binge-watching, I am the odd duck who prefers weekly series’, particularly for mysteries. I enjoy the time between episodes to reflect and anticipate. Yet, I also struggle with watching the final episode. On one hand, I am eager to see how everything plays out. On the other, I dread a poorly structured ending that negates everything that has come before. I blame The Killing for this condition, by the way. It knows what it did.
Therefore, it was with mixed feelings I tuned in, as Mahershala Ali was winning his second Oscar, to watch what I would argue is actually a stronger performance in an overall solid season of True Detective. Would we be given the answers we, and Hays, have been searching for?
Yes and no.
This extended episode essentially begins where it left off last week, with Hays riding along with Edward Hoyt to the middle of nowhere. Hoyt isn’t quite the gargoyle I imagined in his pocketed director’s vest and schlubby striped shirt. He wants to know what happened to Harris James, but he certainly has a solid idea as they have footage of Hays and West following James off the plant property and GPS coordinates for James’ last location. Hays uses the opportunity to bring up Julie Purcell, but like Hays, Hoyt claims not to know anything. Of course, he’s feeling Hays out, seeing what James gave up before he died. He also subtly and then overtly threatens Julie, Hays, and Amelia and the kids. It certainly makes sense why Hays would have walked away from the case.
Later in “Now Am Found”, we also see why he walked away from his career and the case the first time: Amelia’s article on the murders gets him into major trouble with the force. Rather than renounce his new girlfriend in print, he takes the demotion. Even with that, he still (temporarily) breaks up with Amelia. It also drives a wedge between the partners as West negotiated his light penalty and feels betrayed that Hays is walking away from his career and their partnership. It explains not only how their relationship became fractured, but the source of Hays’ resentment toward Amelia in the later timeline. West’s response later that night is to pick a fight in a bar, ending up battered and crying with a random dog in the bar parking lot. Perhaps this is why he ends up keeping company with dogs in his retirement.
In 2015, our reunited team question James’ widow, learning that a black man with a ghost eye came by the house shortly after James disappeared in 1990, wondering if James had found the girl. Under the now-derelict Hoyt manor, Hays and West finally come across the notorious pink room. The wall features child-drawn images of Julie with a one-eyed black man and a blonde woman. Resentment bubbles again, this time because West is disappointed that Hays seemed to have known about this possibility all along, but never pursued it due to his family.
Back in 1990, Hays and Amelia meet in a bar where she demands an explanation (understandably) for his suit barbeque the night before. He refuses to tell her more, alluding to times in his career where he told her too much, and demanding that not everything be her way. Moreover, he states what I said weeks ago–how can a relationship truly be functional when it began with a murdered child? While Ali and Ejogo are excellent in this scene, the writing feels so forced. It’s one of those scenes I have been lamenting all season as being too afraid of subtlety like a scrapped scene from This is Us.
“We’ve got an ending, I guess. Do you feel like any kind of closure? I don’t,” West says late in the episode. This perfectly sums up at least some of the mystery part of this season.
So what happened to Julie?
At least part of my predictions from last week were correct–Hoyt’s daughter, Isabel, wanted Julie to replace her own deceased daughter, Mary. With the help of Mr. June, Isabel made arrangements to spend time with the kids in the forest with the intention of eventually adopting Julie. However, one day she became confused and tried to take Julie away. Will pulled at his sister and in the struggle, fell and hit his head. June moved him to the cave where Julie steepled his fingers. Harris planted the evidence to condemn Woodard. Lucy, however, was paid for Julie after Will died, though they had previously discussed the “adoption”. Julie grew up in the pink room, regularly dosed on lithium by her new mommy, explaining why grown-up “Mary July” was confused about her past. With Isabel’s mental state declining and Julie beginning to question her reality, June helped her escape. Isabel killed herself shortly thereafter and June kept looking for Julie. It turns out no one, not even June, would find her. Though she eventually found peace at the covenant, she was already HIV positive and died from the illness.
This information is given, as it often is in things like this, in an extended monologue by June. Instead of being terrible, it’s just pathetic and sad, particularly when Hays and West walk away, leaving June begging them to punish him with death. It’s all very “A Rose for Emily,” though thankfully minus the petrified corpse. “Now Am Found”, however, still has over 20 minutes to go.
What we see then is a twisted mind trick of revelation. Hays talks again with his dead wife, hypothesizing that Julie actually faked her death to keep herself hidden from the Hoyts, staying near the convent and having a daughter (seen earlier in the episode) with the gardener who loved her when they were children. Hays drives to an address he finds, yet cannot remember why he is there once he arrives. After calling Henry for help, he approaches a woman and her daughter to ask where he is so his son can come to get him. The woman, we can presume, is Julie, at least in this potential ending. As he takes her offered glass of water, it seems as if Hays realizes it as well.
Since episode one, I have questioned if we would ever know the full story of Julie Purcell. It seems Pizzolatto decided to give the viewer a choose your own adventure solution. Maybe Julie died in 1995 from HIV, maybe she lived on to have a lovely garden home and a daughter named after her mother. This second solution might just be Hays’ mind soothing itself that somehow he did find her, allowing him to reconcile with his daughter (this was a total let down subplot) and play with his grandchildren. If you told me this ending on paper, I would have probably been annoyed. But it felt earned given the rest of the season. Not everything is a pedophile ring or a conspiracy. Sometimes it is just sad people dwelling on the fringes, trying desperately to make themselves whole again, be that in collecting junk from neighborhood kids, finding a new daughter, raising dogs, or reconnecting with a long-absent buddy. For its missed beats here and there, this season feels somehow more human than the previous seasons. Though Ali is certainly the driving force, much respect should also be given to Ejogo and Dorff in giving our memory impaired hero catalysts. Like solving Julie’s murder, after all this time, this season of True Detective was worth the wait.