The first two episodes of True Detective season 3 focused on Wayne (Mahershala Ali). The third, “The Big Never,” tells the story more through his partner, Roland (Stephen Dorff), through his own deposition.
Like last time, we’ll break this down into a couple parts. First, we’ll walk through the characters’ actions. Then we’ll examine the themes, clues, and evidence.
And without spoiling anything, there’s a lot of compelling evidence in “The Big Never” that hints at motivations and serves some serious surprises.
Table of contents
Walking back through the episode, scene by scene, to solve the mystery. (And also uncover other mysteries.)
Every week, we’ll be gathering be the most relevant and interesting details here.
Walking back through the episode, scene by scene, to solve the mystery. (And also uncover other mysteries.)
Roland in the deposition, 1990
A decade after the Purcell incident, Roland is a Lieutenant in the Arkansas State Police, Company D. He sits in deposition with the same two people that Wayne did back in the first episode — Jim Dobkins (the less than friendly one) and Alan Jones (the friendly one).
The first part of this conversation is about what happened in 1980, the year of the Purcell disappearance. Roland dodges a question about why it took them so long to get to the Purcell house after they received the note — “Wayne probably has a better memory,” Roland says — but we know happened. He and Wayne were shaking down the convicted child molester, Robert Hebert (formerly known as Ted Lagrange).
Later, they speak about Wayne, too.
“Y’all fucked a good detective there,” Roland says. Alan Jones won’t take credit for it and won’t argue with it, either.
The implication here is that the prosecution that masterminded the conviction for the Purcell case somehow ruined Wayne’s career — and however they did it continues to follow Wayne a decade later, impeding him. Not that Wayne would complain about it, as Roland points out.
Roland credits Wayne with figuring out that the Purcell kids’ story didn’t add up.
He says he doesn’t see Wayne anymore, though he doesn’t know why. There’s no bad blood. Their friendship just ended when they stopped working together.
Wayne, Henry and the doctor, 2015
At the end of episode 2, Wayne stood in a bathrobe, confused, in front of the burned Purcell house. We pick up in this episode in a doctor’s office with Wayne, his son Henry, and a doctor.
“The picture doesn’t show anything new,” the doctor (played by Marcus Lyle Brown) tells them. “Nothing that suggest a blackout, and that’s good.”
The doctor suggests that, despite the clean CT scan, Wayne must adjust his lifestyle. Wayne is defensive; he wasn’t in a trance or sleepwalking or anything like that. He just can’t remember why he drove to the Purcell house in the middle of the night.
“I went up there for a reason,” Wayne says. “I just can’t remember. It’s not like I’m losing it.”
Henry gets Wayne to say that he remembers him driving Wayne home. But it was Heather, Henry’s wife.
The doctor characterizes Wayne’s memory problem as “a disease,” but Wayne pushes back.
“A disease you can’t even say what it is,” Wayne says.
“We can say what it almost certainly is,” the doctor says.
Wayne stands up and tells Henry that he’ll kill himself (remember that gun in the Wayne’s desk drawer?) if Henry puts him in a nursing home.
Roland and Wayne, 1980
After the Purcells receive the note, the police dust for fingerprints. Here’s what we know:
- It was mailed in a handwritten envelope.
- Based on the handwriting, police don’t think the person who wrote it is overburdened with intelligence.
- The envelope was processed at a post office in Farmington. (Presumably that’s Farmington, Arkansas, which would put it just west of Fayetteville — the area where much of the action takes place.)
- Knowing where it was processed isn’t terribly helpful.
One of the cops passes Wayne a leaflet from the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, offering a $10,000 reward for “information leading to apprehension or resolution in the Purcell case.” They treat this with the same skepticism that Wayne did last episode when District Attorney Gerald Kindt went to the public with information. It’s generating a lot of unhelpful calls.
Wayne says that he believes that Julie Purcell is still alive.
They’re driving when Wayne wants to start from scratch.
“It’s like a thing’s staring right at us,” he says. Roland agrees.
Wayne returns to something we already know: Will and Julie said they were going to the playground to see their friend, Ronnie Boyle, and his new dog. But Ronnie says they didn’t have plans.
Now they want to talk to every kid who might have any knowledge and look through the Purcell house.
Roland and Wayne at the school, 1980
Wayne and Roland interview Ronnie Boyle at school. The kid tells them that he and the Purcell kids weren’t particularly good friends.
Roland and Wayne at the Purcell house, 1980
At the Purcell house Will and Julie’s father, Tom, says his kids and Ronnie Boyle played together “three, four times a week” and characterizes them as “best friends.” With a little prodding from Wayne, Tom realizes that they never played at the Purcell house. Wayne just says it: It looks like they weren’t good friends.
With permission, Wayne and Roland search the kids’ room again, and we see the drawing of a wedding again.
As Wayne looks through drawings, there’s a shot clearly designed to make the mom, Lucy, look suspicious as she eyes Wayne from the kitchen.
Roland finds a map (possibly related to D&D, possibly of the forest) in Will’s room.
Wayne finds a Hoyt Foods (1979) bag in Julie’s room. (Lucy says she used to work there before she got a job making more money with tips from the Sawhorse.) Inside, there’s a notebook among Barbie dolls. Wayne finds several notes written on scrap pieces of paper.
Wayne and Roland leave with two boxes of evidence.
Wayne and Amelia, 1990
Wayne and his wife Amelia sit in the Walgreens parking lot where police recently found Julie Purcell’s fingerprints.
Wayne’s conviction is that Julie needs help. He tells Amelia that it was “just a case” back in 1980, but he “had no idea it’d be my last.” Now that Amelia’s writing a book on the crime, Wayne’s annoyed that he can’t let the case go. He doesn’t know what to do.
Amelia flirts. Wayne can’t muster his libido.
They discuss Julie’s fingerprints:
- The Sallisaw police department has prints on the counter and some shelves “in the main area”
- Nobody knows if there were any prints behind the pharmacy, though Wayne says that the Sallisaw PD as all of the information.
Wayne can’t talk to the Sallisaw PD, presumably because his career derailed. But (as we discussed last time) Amelia is every bit the detective that Wayne is. She offers to help.
“An author with a book about the case,” she says. “I have galleys. I’m legitimate. I bet I could get them to share with me.”
Wayne is skeptical. Amelia has a plan.
“I’ll get done up,” she says. “Bookish but sexy. Intimidated by those big, tough cops.”
In other words, she’s going to flirt — like she did with her husband.
They head to the hotel.
Roland, Henry, and Becca in Walmart, 1990
Wayne and his kids are shopping. Becca wanders off in Walmart (which back then was written as Wal-Mart). Wayne loses her. But she turns up — she was just getting free samples of chips. Wayne scares her in his admonishment, and she begins to cry.
Amelia and the Sallisaw PD, 1990
Amelia visits the Sallisaw PD, where she extracts some interesting information:
- There are several fingerprints, including partial and full
- The state crime lab verified that they’re a match for Julie
- The police didn’t check for prints “behind the pharmacy,” and Julie’s fingerprints were on the shelves
Pleased that her plan works, she gets something to eat and has a few drinks with the police.
Wayne and Roland at Hoyt Foods and the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, 1990
Hoyt Foods is a meat packing plant where Lucy Purcell (Will and Julie’s mother) used to work on the chicken line.
Wayne and Roland visit the Outreach Center offices at Hoyt Foods. Wayne says he’d appreciate the heads up if they’re going to offer a reward. The man says they cleared it with the county prosecutor’s office. Shades of politicization again.
At the beginning of the episode, someone shows Wayne a flyer offering a $10,000 reward for information about the children. It’s from the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, which is an outgrowth of Hoyt Foods.
“Mr. Hoyt endowed the foundation after they lost their granddaughter a couple of years ago,” the man tells Wayne and Roland.
Also, Mr. Hoyt has been on an African safari since mid-October — weeks before the children disappeared. Assuming that’s true.
Also, I think we should probably pay very careful attention to the weird photograph hanging on the wall here. That’s probably the young, blonde granddaughter that Mr. Hoyt lost. (Julie Purcell was also young and blonde is what I’m saying.)
Wayne and Roland ask “names and dates of hire for every employee that works at this plant.” That’s nearly 700 people, as the man says. He’s surprised, but he agrees.
Wayne and Roland in the police station, 1980
Wayne and Roland return to the police station after gathering evidence at the Purcell house and talking to the man at Hoyt Foods. They discuss the case, pinning pertinent questions to corkboard.
- Why lie? (Referring to what the Purcell kids told their father.)
- Secret friend? (Referring to what the Purcell kids told their father and Dungeons & Dragons.)
Roland takes a call from the tip line, and the tipster says that the girl is being held “in a snake farm in Huntsville.” Their source: a dream. Once again, we see the leitmotif where telling the public too much is counterproductive.
All of Roland’s evidence is “about that game,” Dungeons & Dragons. He notes that they haven’t found the dice. The best he can figure is that they played a lot and that they didn’t play with the other kids.
Roland in the deposition, 1990
Roland discusses the dolls that Wayne found.
“Who gave Julie the doll, met them in the woods?” he asks. (Julie got a doll on Halloween, remember.) “Who played the game with Will? Where’d they go after school?” (Because they weren’t playing with the Boyle kid.)
Their next move back in 1980: “shut down the park except for search parties.”
Wayne and Amelia in the park, 1980
In 1980, Wayne and Amelia walk through a field. They’re in a search party looking for Julie. They speak again about their differences: Wayne was a tracker in Vietnam while Amelia was an anti-war protestor.
He asks about the poem she was reading when he first met her in the school. It’s called Tell Me a Story by Robert Penn Warren.
Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.
“He says you call the story time,” Wayne says. “But you can’t say its name.”
Amelia’s interpretation is about how we can’t be separated from time.
“I think it’s because we’re in time and of time,” she says. “But to name — you separate yourself from something when you name it, and I think he means we can’t be separated from time.”
Wayne’s interpretation is that it was like the name of God. “You know, how the Hebrews weren’t supposed to say God’s name,” he says.
They might as well be talking about Wayne becoming unstuck in time — and the memory problems that his doctor won’t name.
Wayne asks her to dinner. We don’t hear her response.
Amelia and Roland at home, 1990
Amelia returns home after getting information from the police. Wayne’s half-reading the manuscript of her book, Life and Death and the Harvest Moon. Like he says in 2015, he’s uncomfortable reading about himself.
Amelia tells Wayne about the fingerprints and that believes she’ll be able to watch the security footage. Her read is that she was probably a customer, not a burglar.
He accuses her of being drunk. He’s drinking. He gets pissed. It’s nagging at him — the case that ended his career is hard to step back into, let alone watch someone else be successful with.
She’s a diplomat at first, and then she fights back. He’s jealous of her talent. Or he feels impotent because she can do what he can’t anymore.
Wayne in the woods, 1980
Wayne finds dice in the woods. He finds a duffel bag filled with toys hidden close to what we presume to be D&D dice.
Not far away, he spots rocks with bloodstains and hair. That’s where Will died, Wayne says, and they carried him to the cave where the found him.
Nearby, there’s a farmhouse.
Wayne, Roland and the farmer, 1980
Just outside of the woods where Wayne found the dice and toys, there’s a farm road not on any maps. And as far as Wayne and Roland are aware, nobody talked to the farmer who lives there.
But the farmer — a man with a white beard — says he already talked to a man in a suit who showed him a badge and asked about the Purcell kids. The implication is that the person he talked to wasn’t law enforcement.
The farmer says he’s seen the kids a couple times. He also saw a nice brown car, with a man and woman — not the same day as he saw the kids. Black man. White woman. He declines to allow them to search the house without a warrant.
It’s tenuous, but a nice car could indicate a connection the Mr. Hoyt, who I’m presuming is rich.
Wayne in the TV interview, 2015
The reporter interviewing Wayne presses him on whether he thinks that law enforcement did a through job on interviewing all potential witnesses in 1980. Wayne says yes, but she produces documents that indicate (to her, at least) that maybe the cops weren’t as thorough as they should’ve been.
She also brings up two independent witnesses who claim to have seen “a very nice brown sedan driving around the neighborhoods, and later away from Devil’s Den on the day of the murder.”
“Brown sedan?” Wayne says under his breath. It’s like he knows that he knows something, but he can’t figure out what.
“A witness said police talked to him once, and he told them about the car, but they never came back,” Elisa the reporter says. “And there’s no mention of the sedan in field reports.”
Sounds like the person who interviewed the farmer (and probably wasn’t a cop) also interviewed a second witness.
Not mentioning the sedan in the field reports is definitely strange, given that we know Wayne and Roland heard about it from the farmer. The other witness says they noticed the car because it “was new and upscale, and that was unusual for the area.”
Everybody’s poor in the area. Except, surely, the Hoyts.
Wayne remembers taking a picture of the tire tracks in a previous episode. In our first watchthrough, we noted that you could see both car and bike tire tracks.
The reporter tells Roland of a witness who reported “a black man with a scar in a suit at the cul-de-sac where the kids played near Devil’s Den.” None of this is in the official reports.
Her point: These things indicate serious flaws in the investigation.
Wayne asks what’s going on. Are they looking for Julie? Wayne’s son steps in to stop the interview. Wayne agrees.
Wayne, Roland and cops at the farm, 1980
The cops are at the farm, presumably having secured a warrant. They’re looking at the toys. Among them are three homemade dolls like the ones that led Wayne to Will’s body.
Trash Man and the locals, 1980
“Trash Man” Brett Woodard drives his go-cart down a country road. Locals — including a bearded man with an American flag hat who shows up at the town hall meeting in an earlier episode — force him to pull over, accuse him of hanging around the town’s kids. He denies it. They beat him up, kicking and clubbing him.
He fights back. He can’t win.
At the point of a gun, the man with the beard and the American flag hat tells him not to come back.
Seems like the town is turning on Trash Man.
Roland and Tom Purcell, 1990
Roland rolls up to Tom Purcell’s trailer in a black IROC-Z Camaro.
Roland asks Tom if he’s talked to Alan Jones’ firm — the law firm that’s contesting the conviction (which at this point I’m going to assume is of Trash Man). Tom says they approached him, that the kids of the convicted are bankrolling it.
We learn that Lucy, Tom’s wife, died two years before in Las Vegas.
Tom has been sober for five years, and he credits Roland with helping him stop drinking.
Tom asks about Wayne, and Roland says he’s “still on the job. Hasn’t been on major crimes in a long time.” Yet another indication that the Purcell case somehow ruined Wayne’s career.
The obvious purpose of Roland’s visit is to check in on Tom, after learning about the fingerprints. That’s assuming that Roland’s not covering his ass for something. God knows what, but it doesn’t seem entirely improbable.
Tom asks Roland to pray with him. Roland accepts, but he’s clearly uncomfortable.
“God, save me from anger,” Tom prays while holding Roland’s hand. “God, save from resentment. God, save me from my judgments and prophecies, my need to control. I have known you by the hawk and the dove, and I live at your infinite compassion. Lord, guard what I hold dear, and let me never hold too dearly anything of this world.”
Judgments and prophecies. Who did he judge? What prophecy did he make? Is that an allusion to the conviction?
Wayne at home, 1990
Wayne sits at his desk, speaking into the personal recorder that he listens to every morning and taking notes.
“Brown sedan,” he says as he writes. “Farmer talked about a brown sedan. ‘80. We knew.”
In other words, they knew about the brown sedan that the reporter mentioned earlier.
“Is that who they played with?” he asks himself. We see a shot of Wayne/Chekhov’s gun again.
“She wrote a bit about how the games we found got people worried that kids were getting killed playing this stuff,” Wayne says, referring to Amelia’s book and Satanic Panic. “Or something.”
It’s worth noting here that Wayne never read all of Amelia’s book. He’s mentioned it more than once. But what if he reads it now? Could it hold the secrets to solving the case?
Henry was five or six when she started writing. Becca, three or four. This puts the timeline in the early to mid-’80s.
And then the hallucination begins, where Wayne goes from being figuratively to literally haunted by his own past.
“Scientists now theorize an infinite number of dimensions outside our own,” Amelia says. “Einstein said past, present, and future are all a stubbornly persistent illusion. And are you waking up to that illusion? Now, while things fall apart, are you starting to see them clearly? And at the end of all things, are you awakening to what you withheld?
“Did you confuse reacting with feeling? Did you mistake compulsion for freedom? And even so, did you harden your heart against what loved you most?
“Oh, sweetheart. Did you think you could just go on and never once have to look back?”
Wayne begs, says he doesn’t deserve this. She agrees, but that doesn’t factor into it. Apparitions of his kids run down the stairs.
“Where is it?” he asks. “How much do I have to lose?”
“Everything,” she says. “Same as everybody else.”
“I lost Becca,” he says.
“No you didn’t,” she says. “Not the way you think.”
Amelia stands up, approaches Wayne. “You’re worried what they’ll find what you left in the woods. Finish it.”
Wayne at work, 1990
Wayne gets to work, sits down at his desk. Someone brings him a message that the lieutenant wants to see him.
Trash Man, 1990
Trash Man runs into what looks like a shed, frantically digging through a pile of junk to retrieve a duffel bag. God help him, it looks like it contains a body.
It doesn’t make sense, though. Not in relation to the Purcell case, right? Julie’s alive. Wayne already found Will’s body. Maybe it’s just guns and ammo. Maybe he knows they’re coming for him. But it sure looks like a body in a bag.
Wayne, Roland and the Purcells, 1980
The cops show the parents pictures of what the found in the woods, including the contents of the doctor kit. Tom doesn’t recognize him. Neither does Lucy. Tom says he bought the toys. And he doesn’t recognize any of them.
Roland tells Tom and Lucy about the hidden play area in the forest. They had the kids’ fingerprints on them — and another set of prints that they can’t identify. Tom speculates that they may have been meeting an adult.
Wayne looks at a photo album on a shelf. Inside, he finds Will’s first communion picture from when he was 10. His hands are folded very much like they were when Wayne found his body.
Wayne and Roland at the VFW, 1990
The old partners meet at the VFW.
Roland gets into it with the bartender. For reasons I don’t understand, Wayne jumps to his defense saying that he’s a lieutenant with the state police. Why didn’t Roland say so? And we learned that Roland was a vet in previous episodes. It’s a weird posture. But I suppose that’s Roland.
Roland says that he’s in charge of a new task force, surely to investigate the Purcell case again. Wayne insinuates that Roland’s promotion had to do with him being white.
“Well, I think, unlike some others, I lacked a big fucking mouth,” Roland says.
Could be that Wayne wouldn’t shut up about something (and that ruined his career), while Roland flew under the radar.
He also implies that Roland got shot at some point.
Roland recruits Wayne for the reopened Purcell case. Wayne remains pissy.
Wayne apologizes. Kind of.
Themes and evidence
True Detective season 3’s third episode introduced a lot of evidence. Some of it is obvious. Some of it, not so much.
Dungeons & Dragons
When searching the Purcell house, Wayne and Roland find a D&D character sheet for Thundarr the barbarian. That’s almost certainly a reference to the short-lived cartoon of the same name that began airing in October 1980, about a month before the murder.
Roland says he knows they played D&D a lot, but not with the other children.
Wayne finds D&D dice and a bunch of toys in the woods. They have the Purcell kids’ fingerprints on them — and the fingerprints of a third, unidentified person.
Did they play D&D with, as Roland writes on an index card pinned to a corkboard, a “secret friend?” Did they play with their abductor? Did they play with the person who sent the scrap paper notes? Are those people one in the same?
What if Satanic Panic is a red herring? What if D&D wasn’t about the occult, but about creating a world outside of their tumultuous home?
The scrap paper notes
Wayne finds several notes in Julie’s room. They read:
- I’m always here
- Don’t listen
- I’ll always keep you safe
- It’s okay
- It’s alright
- Have a good night
Who are they from? We don’t know. They’re all reassuring, though. Someone is acting as a protector.
Consider the tumult of the Purcell household. The parents who don’t get along. The aloof father. The resentful mother. It is a house in chaos.
Consider the note that reads, in part, “Julie is in a good / place and safe / the children shud [sic] laugh.” I can’t imagine there was much laughter in the Purcell household.
Maybe Will drilled the hole in the closet and passed notes through there to reassure his sister while his parents fought.
Or could the note writer (and probable abductor) be justifying their involvement here? They could give them a happy, safe life.
Wayne and Roland collect more drawings. One looks like a kitchen. The other, a castle. I wouldn’t be surprised if they depict things that we’ll see later.
And as long as we’re here, we might as well include the gallery of drawings from the first two episodes.
Hoyt Foods, the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, and Lucy Purcell
There’s a moment, when Wayne is in Julie’s room and picks up some of her drawings to look at, where Lucy looks suspicious — as if she’s worried about what he’ll find.
If we can connect any dots, here they are:
- Lucy used to work at Hoyt Foods
- The big boss, Mr. Hoyt, lost a granddaughter
- In honor of the granddaughter, Hoyt Foods created the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, which typically helps struggling families
- There appears to be a portrait of the granddaughter on the wall in the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center
- Mr. Hoyt has been on safari in Africa since mid-October (weeks before the Purcell incident)
- The Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, after learning that Lucy Purcell used to work there, and with the permission of the district attorney’s office (but not the police), distributes fliers offering a $10,000 reward for information on the Purcell kids
- The Hoyt Foods/Ozark Children’s Outreach Center board (presumably in Mr. Hoyt’s absence) approved the reward
Amelia says in an earlier episode what we can plainly see: The locals here are all poor. But we learn from the farmer in 1980 and the reporter in 2015 that there were multiple reports of “a very nice brown sedan driving around the neighborhoods, and later away from Devil’s Den on the day of the murder.”
Nobody around should have a nice car. That’s why anyone noticed it. As far as we know, the Hoyts are the only rich people around. This doesn’t make them murderers. But it does make them persons of interest.
Who was in the car? A black man with a scar on his face and a white woman.
We (and the police) have been proceeding as if Will’s death was a murder. What if it wasn’t?
What if Will wasn’t killed? What if he fell? What if it only became the plan when Will died? What if the plan was never to abduct the children?
What ruined Wayne’s career
What if Wayne thought that the person convicted didn’t do it? What if that’s what he couldn’t shut up about? What if the district attorney wanted a conviction for political expediency? What if that ruined Wayne’s career?