The aphorism is “time heals all wounds” and with a sizable gap between seasons 2 and 3, I presume that the scars and misgivings from the underwhelming impact of Season 2 have subsided into the category of a sophomore slump. Season 3 hearkens back to the formula of Season 1- the cross-examination flashback narrative, an Oscar winner on the ascent (Mahershala Ali) and an indefatigable buddy dynamic between the leads.
Jeremy Saulnier is no stranger to brooding, atmospheric fare as he evinced in ‘Blue Ruin’, ‘Green Room’ and ‘Hold the Dark’. For instance, a bike ride between siblings is teeming with gut-wrenching suspense as leering delinquents in a Volkswagen Bug are voyeuristic towards them. The 1980 segments are percolated through the jaundiced-yellow filter of a tainted, aged photograph. A shot from beneath a watchtower is eerily labyrinthian like an M.C. Escher painting.
As opposed to season 1, Nic Pizzolatto playfully tinkers with our expectations early by brazenly conflating the temporal slipstream as “memory problems” for our potentially unreliable narrator, Detective Wayne Hayes (Ali). Hayes is mendacious to his questioners when he states that his partner, Roland West (Stephen Dorff), and he were scrutinizing a series of thefts, when, in reality, they were skeet-shooting at a junkyard. He also buttresses the timeline between the present day, a 1990 inquiry and the initial 1980 investigation.
Dorff has been largely unsung in the industry and it’s a pleasure for him to be so unbridled and recrudesced by his peers. West might be a callous, ne’er-do-well predator of foxes when not on duty but he is ferociously assiduous when dispatch blares. His conversations with Ali tingle with the literary richness and world-weary ethos (“General rule is that everyone’s lying.”) of a Raymond Chandler novel.
However, I do wish the showrunners had tunneled further into the relationship among the duo before being thrust headlong into the vanishing. Then Pizzolatto peels another riveting layer with a meta interview between Hayes and the True Criminal program. The overlapping perspective of Hayes is the series’ arrow in the quiver.
Due to the seemingly linear nature of the case (the disappearance of two children), this season isn’t the orgiastic cornucopia of occult symbolism and red herrings that Season 1 and the Yellow King were. In fact, the show lampoons that theory when West verbally flogs a West Finger School student about a Black Sabbath shirt. Arkansas could be a laughingstock for the show but other than the flourishes of white-trash family turmoil and parental separation, Pizzolatto doesn’t rebuke them.
The factor that looms over Season 3 is whether the alcoves of Hayes’ mind are impedimentary impasses or aboveboard observations. It’s a tantalizing role for Ali who is remarkable at the three permutations of the characters (the somewhat callow pathfinder, the defensive subject and the addled geriatric).
Rating: 3.75 out of 5