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Arts & Life

Season 3 Of 'True Detective' Might Slightly Redeem The Series' Reputation


The third season of HBO's anthology crime drama "True Detective" debuts on Sunday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the latest installment might not completely redeem the series' reputation, but it's a very good start.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The strongest reason to watch HBO's latest installment of "True Detective" is Oscar-winning star Mahershala Ali. He's playing Arkansas State Police Detective Wayne Hays, a black man in the Ozarks struggling for fulfillment. It's a trippy tale from creator Nic Pizzolatto, who tells the story in three different time periods. In 1980, Hays is trying to find two kids - brother and sister - who disappeared from a poor neighborhood in the Ozarks, but he fears superiors aren't listening to him because of his race. He complains to his partner, a white man named Roland West, played by Stephen Dorff.


MAHERSHALA ALI: (As Detective Wayne Hays) I knew they wouldn't listen to me, but you should have stopped that.

STEPHEN DORFF: (As Roland West) What am I supposed to do?

ALI: (As Detective Wayne Hays) I talk, it don't mean anything - don't matter if I'm right. You at least, you talk, it means something to them.

DEGGANS: Ten years later, the case is reopened. Hays' career is sidelined, and he's filled with bitterness, trying to decide if he'll join a task force run by his former partner who's been promoted to try closing the case.


ALI: (As Detective Wayne Hays) That promotion for merit or did it come with the pigmentation?

DORFF: (As Roland West) Well, I think, unlike some others, I lack the big mouth. Hell, with affirmative action, you could have been my boss by now.

DEGGANS: A quarter-century after that, a true crime TV producer interviewed Hays while reinvestigating the case, but he now suffers from dementia, having conversations with his dead wife.


ALI: (As Detective Wayne Hays) Please, God. I don't deserve this. Whatever happened, I don't deserve this.

CARMEN EJOGO: (As Amelia Reardon) No, you don't, but it's happening anyway.

ALI: (As Detective Wayne Hays) How much do I have to lose?

EJOGO: (As Amelia Reardon) Everything, same as everybody else.

DEGGANS: Ali's Wayne Hays is a taciturn man, so his more talkative partner, Dorff's Roland West, tells other cops - and the audience - why Hays is sometimes so emotionally shut down and why he's so good at tracking people.


DORFF: (As Roland West) The man was a LRRP in 'Nam. You know what that is? Long-range reconnaissance. Drop him in the jungle alone, come out two or three weeks later with scalps. He's like a pathfinder, tracks wild boar for fun.

DEGGANS: Mahershala Ali has said that producers initially wanted to cast him Dorff's role, but he insisted on the lead part. That change saved this season, giving audiences a type of anti-hero we've rarely seen on TV. There's lots of themes here, like the struggle of proud men to return home from war with a quiet prejudice of small towns. It's a bleak, sometimes too deliberate story that recalls the promise of the show's blockbuster first season in 2014 with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Frankly, I thought "True Detective" was dead in 2015 after a disastrous second season starring Colin Farrell. But there's life in this show yet, so long as the story's tied to a mesmerizing performance by a master actor playing a singular character. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.