Mahershala Ali in the first trailer for HBO's third season of True Detective
Hays will realise it later on, though, fleetingly, and will try to act on it, only for it to slip from his grip and slide out of reach again, into the encroaching void of his dementia.
Or does he deliberately let it slip away, knowing that sometimes enough is enough? Certainly, the final shot of the young Hays in Vietnam, looking over his shoulder and then disappearing into the deep jungle just before the end credits roll, suggest it’s a possibility.
Slow burner: Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali is centre stage in the third series of True Detective
First, the (apparently) false ending, the bluff. We pick up where we left of last week, in 1990, as Hays takes a ride in the limo of chicken empire king Edward Hoyt (the great Michael Rooker).
They end up in the wood. Hoyt knows Hays and West killed and buried his security man, the ex-cop Harris (who did, by the way, plant the incriminating backpack). He blackmails/threatens Hays: lay off, or else. Think about your family.
Mahershala Ali, left, and Stephen Dorff play the main leads in True Detective season three (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
One of several surprising twists is that Hoyt isn’t really a villain. He wasn’t even in the country when Julie Purcell went missing in 1980 and her brother was found dead in a cave.
Back in 2015, Hays and West, clipping on their old badges and holstering their old guns, follow the trail to the old Hoyt home, now empty and held in trust, and discover the pink room, where Julie Purcell was held for years, having been abducted.
Mahershala Ali, from left, Carmen Ejogo and Stephen Dorff star in True Detective season three (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Not, however, by some shady paedophile ring, but by Hoyt’s schizophrenic daughter Isabel, whose own daughter had died and who literally bought Julie from her mother.
Julie’s brothers death in 1980 wasn’t a murder; it was accidental. Isabel pushed him and he fell against a rock. That simple.
The key to unlocking the mystery was Junius, the one-eyed man they’d been looking for, on and off, for years. He helped cover up for Isabel and raise Julie, who Isabel fed lithium for 10 years to keep her passive.
Julie escaped and, after a period running with the wrong crowd on the street, finally sought sanctuary in a convent where she eventually died of AIDS and, unlike the The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, was buried along with a new name: Mary July.
So, then, case closed? Not quite. The ailing Hays receives another visit/hallucination from his late wife Amelia (Carmen Ejogo), which appears to be a way of visualising Hays piecing together clues contained in her book. “What if the ending isn’t really the ending at all?” she teases him.
Hays realises “Mary July” is not dead. She married the groundskeeper at the convent, Mike Ardoin, who she knew as a kid, and they had a daughter of their own. Hays met them while he and West were finding out Julie’s supposed fate at the convent.
He finds the Ardoins’ address and comes face-to-face with Julie/Mary . . . but then his dementia makes him forget why he’s there and the moment passes, forever.
There’s so much more to say about True Detective: about how it somehow forged a happy ending for its battered heroes; about the brilliance of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing; about the stunning performances and chemistry of Ali and Dorff.
But all I have enough space left for is one observation: this was the best True Detective yet, and the first to merit a complete re-watch.