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True Detective makes up for season 2's flop in third season (we saw the first episodes).

The first season of True Detective from 2014 was a huge success. A Southern murder mystery with an occult twist. Apart from the 'who did it' storyline, the season was mostly about the complicated characters of Martin Hart and Rust Cole (played convincingly by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey). There was a raw and palpable chemistry between the two. The series was a mix of symbolism, psychology and serial murder that viewers could indulge in. This resulted in complete theories about who was ultimately the 'Yellow King'. The second season was therefore eagerly awaited. This turned out to be a flop. A drama, and not in the good sense of the word. Now, five years after the first season, HBO is trying to match the success of 2014 with a third series and make viewers forget about the second season.

Ziggo transmits True Detective season 3 out from 14 January, but I got a chance to watch the first five episodes.

Mutual chemistry: check

Although it does not reach the level of the first season, series three is definitely worth watching. This is partly thanks to Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, who plays Wayne Hays. A quiet, dark-skinned detective with a Vietnam past who is aware of his skin colour in the white American South. In addition, Stephen Dorff's portrayal of the tough but social detective Roland West makes me wonder where the actor has been all these years. The 'calm' chemistry between Ali and Dorff's Hays and West is one of respect and understanding. Deeper than an ordinary friendship.

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali

The third season follows Hays during three different time periods: in 1980 when he and his partner Roland West investigate the missing of two children, in 1990 when the case comes back into the spotlight as people seek to overturn the existing conviction, and in 2015, when Hays is interviewed for/by a crime show a la The Real Story with.... and How to Make a Murderer.

Time is fluid and malleable, like Hays's mind. The boundaries between memories and periods overlap. "You ever been to some place you couldn't leave, you couldn't stay? At the same time?" One moment Hays is studying the reflection of the 'Harvest Moon' in a pool of water in 1980, then that same moonlight turns into a studio lamp used by the show's staff in 2015. The switching between the times does not bother, it adds to the show's symbolism. Besides, Ali plays the Alzheimer's-addled Hays perfectly. Angry. Confused. Searching.

Mysterious disappearance and grumpy detectives: check

As far as the setting is concerned, third season is all right; missing children in the American South of the 1980s. In the heart of the Ozarks, Arkansas. A poor area with all sorts of underlying tensions. The detectives seem to be a reflection of the landscape: bleak, grumpy and jaded. In a typical 1980s reflection of American way of life with the police, Hays and West intimidate suspects; using physical force if necessary. To combat boredom, they shoot rats.

Mahershala Ali

This boredom comes to an end when Hays and West have to investigate the disappearance of the Purcell children. Will and Julie Purcell get on their bikes in the afternoon, never to return home. The can of standard suspects is opened: annoying teenage boys from the neighbourhood wearing T-shirts with satanic prints, the tormented native Vietnam veteran 'Trash Bin' and cheating and/or alcoholic 'white trash' parents. The viewer is constantly challenged and caught off guard with each new revelation or hint: old Playboys and a peephole in the bedroom, creepy ritualistic dolls and mysterious appointments in a secret place in the woods.

Sexism: check.

"I'm a feminist. If they want to sell me a piece of ass, they got the right," said Detective West. Where True Detective in the past presented sexism mostly overtly visual, it is now somewhat more subtle. The two women at the centre of True Detective: Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo) and Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer), are very different from each other. Except in the fact that they feel constrained in the roles they are 'forced' to live. Lucy, the mother of Will and Julie, abandons her children by spending her time drinking and cheating: "I've got the soul of a whore." Naturally, this behaviour is punished.

Carmen Ejogo and Mahershala Ali

Amelia, a teacher and the later wife of Wayne Hays, has ambitions to become a writer. She wants to be more than just a wife and mother. In Hays, Amelia has the ideal source of information on the Purcell case and she takes advantage of it. Throughout the show, she is portrayed as a woman who ruthlessly uses people and situations to gain information about the case. Even her husband. Hays lets her know that he is not happy with her ambitions and refuses to read her book. He publicly calls her to order and tries to thwart her in her research. Lucy and Amelia are somewhat two-dimensional.

Racism: check

Racism in the US South during the 1980s: it could not be out of place in the series. It manifests itself from 'subtle' glances at Hays and ignoring his theories, to outright swear words and threats. The issue is therefore often acknowledged by the various characters, with West in particular often bringing it up. Hays says he is in possession of a 'redneck radar' and West names or mocks another hot topic: affirmative action. Had Hays played his cards better, he would have finished higher in rank than West.

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali

Black Lives Matter. The fact that white police officers are more likely to shoot darker 'suspects' is also strongly portrayed. This happens in a scene where Hays and West visit a trailer park with only African-American residents. One calls Hays an 'Uncle Tom' and the 'suspect' hams it up by claiming the white police want to frame and shoot him. Escalation looms.

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Although the mystery is somewhat slow to get off the ground, each episode makes you want to see more. Not only how it ends with the children, but the development of the relationship between Hays and West and the love story between Hays and Amelia are interesting storylines. This is partly thanks to the chemistry between the actors and actress. In addition, the cinematography of True Detective impressive again.

Good to know Good to know

Ziggo Movies & Series airs True Detective season 3 from 14 January 2019.

Photos: copyright Warrick Page/HBO

Annika Hoogeveen

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