“Now Am Found” delivers everything I expected from a True Detective finale: two hardbitten men having a talking like this contest, a perversely cheerful dungeon for a kidnapped child, and a last-minute revelation in the form of that conspicuous landscaper and his scampering daughter.
“Now Am Found” also delivers the last thing I expected from True Detective: a happy ending.
In its opening scene, “Now Am Found” looks like a stew of toxic masculinity. Edmund Hoyt (Michael Rooker, grizzled and growling) and his bodyguards drive Wayne Hays into the countryside where the two men can have their confrontation on the edge of a bluff, with all the threat that implies. Hoyt strides around in his tactical vest, chugging whiskey from the bottle, talking about “getting your balls back” and making not very veiled threats. “We’re both soldiers,” he reminds Hays. “You understand triage.”
Wayne Hays does understand triage. As we saw in the Woodard Altercation, he’s unhesitatingly brave and smart in the field. But when he’s really under fire—when his family’s peace is threatened—he understands how to prioritize. Ultimately, Hoyt’s appearance adds little to the story but a compelling reason for Wayne to turn his back on police work at long last, and a compelling reason to re-examine the life he has and make it the life he wants.
Sitting in the VFW with Amelia, talking over their marriage, Wayne Hays shows the kind of self-awareness and insight that most people come to after years of therapy. “I just realized now that I want your approval,” he tells his wife, “and sometimes I do the wrong thing because that’s what you want.” He’s not blaming her, he’s not trying to deny he promised to tell her everything. He’s admitting error and pledging to change.
He’s pledging more than that. Wayne is ready to walk away from his career with the state police, for Amelia to walk away from her job as an elementary school teacher, for them both to walk away from the Purcell case. Throughout this season, we’ve seen this couple sneer at each other with quiet, painful precision. It’s heartening to see them encourage each other with the same certainty, and to see them connect with the simple, sustained holding of hands.
“There’s always been this big secret between us,” he continues. “And it’s that you and me—who we are together, our marriage, our children—it’s all tied up in a dead boy and a missing girl.” For the second time in minutes, Wayne Hays cuts through years of marital habit and talks about the things they’ve been talking around for so long. “Let’s put this thing down,” he says. “It’s not ours.”
Even before their profound, productive conversation at the VFW in 1990, Wayne and Amelia are striving to be vulnerable to each other. When his superiors give him a simple choice, disavow Amelia’s newspaper article or get shunted to desk duty, Wayne chooses demotion over betrayal. When he drunkenly dumps her in resentment, she chooses to give him “a do-over”—also at the VFW, in 1980. She thinks he’s rattled from the Woodard shoot-out, but instead it’s something bigger, better, scarier. “I think I want to marry you,” he tells her, fumbling for words. “I didn’t think that’d happen for me. I didn’t let myself… I didn’t expect this. You.”
The first seven episodes of True Detective’s third season were about withholding: withholding details, withholding affection, withholding time and care and attention. Wayne, Amelia, Roland, Henry, even the absent Becca hold themselves back from vulnerability. In the finale, they all break out of their defensive reserve. “Now Am Found” is a parade of hugs and hand-holding, of gently inviting each other into a shared life.
While Wayne and Amelia turn the 1990 crisis into an opportunity to heal their marriage (really, to discover the marriage they have somewhere under the suffocating fog of the Purcell case), Roland West is sublimating and spoiling for a fight. Strutting into a biker bar, he picks out a likely adversary and starts spouting insults… but it’s the nature of the insult that’s significant. “I always wondered, all these butt-faced human pieces of garbage out there walkin’ the earth? Who’s makin’ ‘em?” Though Roland taunts both the biker and his date, it’s his mockery of the very idea that they might make a family that earns him the first punch. But even Roland gets a hug, from the ragged stray dog who wanders by, and this is how Roland starts a makeshift family of his own.
Amelia tells Wayne that when you write a story, “it’s important to know how you want it to end.” When Wayne tells her he thinks he’d like to marry her, she asks, “How would you make that happen?” Amelia knows the story of a life isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you make happen, because the story of a life isn’t summed up by its events. The story of your life is the story of the choices you make.
“What if the ending isn’t really the ending at all?” asks Wayne’s vision of Amelia, standing behind him in their dim study. “What if there’s another story? What if something went unbroken? All this life, all this loss. What if it was really one long story that kept going and going until it healed itself? Wouldn’t that be a story worth telling? Wouldn’t that be a story worth hearing?”
Julie Purcell’s police file was the story of a little girl lost, never to be found. Her untold story was the dark fairy tale of a princess spirited into a pink subterranean prison. Her cover story was tabloid fodder, a runaway despoiled on the streets, dying young in a cloister. But her real story is one of found family, of leaving the past behind and building a life for herself and her family.
Look at Wayne Hays’ eyes as he drinks his glass of water, standing in the flourishing yard on Allegra Lane. I believe he sees the truth standing in front of him, just for a moment before it slips away again. And I believe he lets it slip away, just as he chose to write down her address but not his reason for wanting it. Life is made of choices, and Wayne Hays is choosing to let the answer he’s chased all these years slip back into the undergrowth of his memory.
Like Junius Watts, if you came to this episode looking for punishment, for more gazing into the abyss, you’re in for disappointment. Unlike previous seasons, and unlike earlier episodes in the third season, “Now Am Found” isn’t about building a case. It’s about building a life. It’s about building a family, even if (like Roland West) you start late.
A happy ending! As happy as gritty prestige cop show endings get, anyway—and as much of an ending as any story gets, which is to say no ending at all. Not with Henry Hays—True Detective, Jr.—tucking Lucy Purcell’s address into his pocket for later, not with that last lingering image of young Wayne walking into the lush, confounding jungle of his own memories. Life, especially the life of a family, isn’t a book that closes. It’s a story that keeps going until it heals itself, and hurts itself, and heals itself again.
- It’s men who get to choose their families in True Detective: Roland choosing to bunk with Wayne, Wayne choosing to let him, Mike Ardoin (Nathan Wetherington) rescuing Julie from the convent, Roland making a near-brother of Tom and Tom reciprocating. Isabel’s attempt to buy Julie and Lucy’s attempt to sell her destroy the lives of everyone involved; Becca’s distance from her father is a ploy used to give his character an extra dose of angst, easily sidestepped when the time comes.
- It’s no surprise that Mahershala Ali—who on the night this first aired won his second Academy Award—created a complex, layered performance for the character of Wayne Hays through the ages. What’s surprising is how completely the rest of the cast rose to meet him, and that’s truer of no one than of Stephen Dorff. I’ve enjoyed his work over the years, but for me, his decade-spanning character here has an early claim on most unexpected performance of the year.
- As Henry’s wife Heather, that’s Sola Bamis, responsible for one half of Mad Men’s most understated sardonic exchange.
- For you, Steven Williams might be Rufus Turner or Virgil or Quentin Dickinson, but for me he’ll always be Mr. X, and his gravity does the same invaluable work here, giving the illusion of depth to an underwritten character.
- Thank you for joining me for True Detective’s third season!