'True Detective' Season 3 Explained: One Important Detail You Missed

Did you catch this big clue in the premier?

After a very, very long hiatus, True Detective returned to HBO on Sunday night for Season 3, starring Mahershala Ali as a detective investigating a case of missing children in 1980 while future versions of his character reopen the case in the ‘90s and recount the experience for a true crime documentary in the late 2010s (aka, now).

In short, True Detective Season 3 seems to offer exactly what made Season 1 so great (star power, intriguing story-telling, and a compelling mystery). Just like in its original run, this new story is also dripping with hidden messages and symbolism, and there’s one subtle clue in the first episode that could be particularly important as the season continues.

The moment I’m talking about comes early in the Season 3 premiere when an older version of Ali’s character (Wayne Hays), now suffering from Alzheimer’s, sits down to recount the unsolved case on-camera. Hays begins by setting the scene, noting that on the night the children first went missing there was a full moon. At that moment, we cut back to 1980, under a bright full moon.

Mahershala Ali as Wayne Hays


That may seem like an unimportant visual motif, but what if it’s not? This isn’t the first time in the episode that we’re traveling to that night in 1980, but it’s the first time we see a full moon. The implication seems to be that the version of that night we’re seeing at this moment is the one Hays is remembering in the modern day. Considering that this version of the characters is already missing chunks of his memory, it’s possible what he says (and what we see) may not always be correct.

Why does this matter? Just like in True Detective Season 1, where the audience had to grapple with an unreliable narrator as future versions of Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) attempted to cover up their earlier actions, Season 3 introduces yet another unreliable narrator in Hays.

Matthew McConaughey in 'True Detective' Season 1


The only difference? this time there are three timelines rather than two, which means that one future version of Hays could be telling the truth while another lies (either intentionally or because his memory is failing).

As True Detective Season 3 progresses, we’ll hopefully learn which version of Mahershala Ali’s character can be trusted, but for now, it’s worth noting that visual clues like a full moon may be our best insight into what’s real and what’s just a story.

True Detective airs Sunday nights on HBO.

Related Tags