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The True Detective season 3 finale puts a final twist in the mystery

Time is the fire in which we burn

HBO via Polygon

The True Detective season 3 finale unraveled the mystery of Julie Purcell and everyone she left in her wake.

We’ll publish our usual novella-length watchthrough soon. There, we’ll explore all of season 3’s mysteries in (excruciating) detail. Here, we’ll cover the finale with broad strokes.

[Ed. note: that also means this post contains massive spoilers for the finale]

At the beginning of the episode, we meet Edward Hoyt. He doesn’t seem to know much, which is a bit different than we imagined. Turns out he really was in Africa when Julie and Will disappeared.

We’ve long suspected that Wayne couldn’t play the political game, and that’s what led to his demotion in 1980. But it was more complicated (and way better, emotionally) than that. The always awful Gerald Kindt wanted Wayne to prepare (or sign) a statement disavowing an article that Amelia published. It’s the same article we saw that she was writing in a previous episode.

To do what Kindt wanted, Wayne would have to turn on Amelia. They make it clear what’ll happen if he doesn’t do that: a life in Public Investigation. He refused. He squandered a decade of his life as a secretary.

With this new information, Wayne’s constant frustration at Amelia in 1990 (around the time that her book came out) makes more sense now. He torpedoed his career to protect her integrity. And, later, she made her career on the case that ruined his. That’s a lot to deal with. He doesn’t deal with it well.

When Amelia and Wayne talk at the VFW, he makes the same argument that he makes to his son, Henry, in 2015: Maybe it’s best not to tell the truth, if all it’ll do is hurt the other person.

In 1990, Amelia and Wayne teach each other that the careers that they both have aren’t the careers either of them should have. And that’s why Amelia winds up teaching in college, presumably scuttles her sequel book — and why Wayne winds up as security at the same college.

We also learned what happened to Julie Purcell.

In 2015, Roland and Wayne break into the deserted Hoyt mansion. They enter the pink room. There’s the pink kitchen that Julie drew. There’s her drawing of a castle, big as life on the wall. There are people she drew: Princess Mary, Queen Isabel, and Prince Junius.

That would be Junius Watts, the one-eyed man they’d been looking for on and off since 1980. He bought the cornhusk dolls. He showed up at Amelia’s book reading in 1990 screaming for information about Julie. He was the guy others reported looking for Julie after she disappeared. It was Mr. June’s car outside of Wayne’s house in 2015.

Mr. June helped raise Mr. Hoyt’s daughter, Isabel. When her husband and daughter died in a car accident, Harris James helped keep it quiet (at Mr. June’s request). Isabel couldn’t handle it. She took a lot of lithium. She continued to lose her grip on reality.

At a Hoyt Foods employee picnic in 1979, Isabel tried to grab Julie Purcell, who looked an awful lot like the daughter she lost.

Isabel then befriended Julie and Will Purcell (though Julie was her favorite). She and Mr. June would meet and play with the kids in the woods. One day, they were playing hide and seek. Isabel pushes Will. He falls, hits his head on a rock, and dies. Mr. June puts Will in the cave where Wayne found him. Junius Watts convinces Julie that her brother is just injured, not dead.

Mr. June asks Harris James to help the family again. Harris James plants the evidence at Trash Man’s house and tells Lucy, Julie and Will’s mother, the truth. He gave her a big pile of money and convinced her to get lost. And that’s how she winds up dead in Vegas years later.

According to Mr. June, Julie lived in the pink room at the Hoyt mansion for a few years (though it seems like more than that, given the age of the actress who plays her breaking out). Isabel was dosing her with lithium and telling her lies about her life before the kidnapping. That was the missing piece, the thing that explains why Julie was out of her mind and confused even in 1990. A nun describes Julie’s condition as “disassociation issues.”

Mr. June helps Julie escape from the Hoyt mansion. He found her in 1997, at the same convent where Amelia tracked Julie to a few episodes back. He believed she was dead.

Old Roland and Wayne put most of this together, and they confront Mr. June. He confesses. He wants to die. No suicide by cop for him, unlike Trash Man.

And then there’s Mike. Good old Mike Ardoin. Mike the kid who waved at Julie as she rode her bike before she disappeared, only a couple of minutes into the first episode. Mike the kid who told Amelia and the cops about the cornhusk dolls in 1980.

Mike the man who did landscaping at the convent, just like his dad did before him. Mike the man who worked with the nuns to fake Julie’s death. Mike the man who recognized Julie, married her, and had a daughter with her. They named her Lucy, after Julie’s mother.

Lots of people lost lots of things in True Detective season 3. But, if nothing else, things worked out for Julie Purcell. And that, in a world where so much went so wrong for so many, is a comfort.