Well, that escalated quickly.
An index card on a police bulletin board in 1990 calls the cliffhanger at the end of “True Detective’s” fourth episode the “Woodard Altercation,” in the understatement of the decade. In reality the action set piece that highlights this week’s Episode 5 would’ve gone down as one of the great homeland shoot-ups of the era, in which the picked-on, pissed off Vietnam vet Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes) rigged mines and tripwire explosives around his house, and then pelted police with bullets from around his house. The body count had to be a dozen, with cops and rednecks exchanging fire with each other, then getting picked off from the house in the fog of it all. (Roland gets shot in the leg. We found the source of his 1990 limp.) Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) has to be the one to put a bullet through the back of Woodard’s head, after urging him to come quietly.
It’s chaos, and we now see how the case could wind up so botched in ‘80. Investigators find Will’s red backpack beneath the porch and a half-burned pink shirt in an outdoor stove (though, as Wayne points out in ‘90, that story doesn’t jive). They got poor Woodard on murdering Will and kidnapping (presumably killing) Julie Woodard, already placed near the crime, could in death now justify a lot of “case closed”
But of course, that doesn’t square. That carnage only obscured the lack of closure with Julie’s disappearance, and give us the mess of loose ends that is the 1990 storyline. And it’s getting harder to track if only because the detectives themselves are so fallible. More and more, we find Wayne struggling to overcome the fallout from his past actions.
A visit to former longhaired burnout Freddy Burns (Rhys Wakefield) in ’90 turns up just a scant clue — that just before Will disappeared, the boy was looking for his sister and a yet-unknown someone else — but mostly just grown-up Freddy ripping into Wayne for turning the screws on him in the interrogation room when he was a teen. We find Freddy in coveralls in his kitchen, with his wife and kid in the house; he hasn’t become a roaring success in life, but nor has he wound up behind bars, as Wayne predicted. As Roland (Stephen Dorff) keeps the interview on the rails, Freddy digs into Wayne as a bully who makes prison rape threats. It’s the first time Wayne really has to answer for overreaching on the Purcell case, and he doesn’t have anything to say in reply.
That tension — of Wayne facing and handling the fallout from his own actions — only escalates when he and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) pay their first visit to Roland’s comfortable brick home on a hill. (“Foxwood,” Amelia says. “They’ve done all right, huh?”) Over dinner, Wayne can’t make small talk, doesn’t really participate, and harps on Amelia (whose book on the Purcell case is just about to drop) for talking about the case. He continues picking on her even at home, and doesn’t really relent until their kids appear and everyone climbs into bed to read “The Jungle Book.”
The choice of bedtime story isn’t the most subtle; we know Wayne is happiest when he can work a case solo as a hunter/tracker. But what’s new here is seeing how Wayne, whether haunted by war and this case or simply misdirecting his anger, poisons his own life. “Lifting yourself up on other people’s bad luck” is how he dismisses Amelia’s work as a writer. This resentment feels a bit unearned, and if there’s a weakness in the script, it’s this antipathy Wayne has for his very rad, very talented wife. What it does allow the story to do, though, is probably wind down the marriage (we know not yet how) and to let 2015 Wayne find Amelia’s book and read it fresh, finding revelations that any reasonable person would’ve known 25 years earlier. For a moment, as he and Amelia
The person left to answer for this brooding, moody, toxic 1990 Wayne is … half-lucid, regretful 2015 Wayne. We finally get the last reunion moment when his son takes him out to see Roland,
Local notes: This is the first episode of the season that local screenwriter and filmmaker Graham Gordy has a producer and writing credit. He took over assisting creator Nic Pizzolatto from David Milch after Milch left the show to work on the “Deadwood” movie. Charter school advocate Gary Newton, who formed the local production company Mortuus Pater Pictures with Gordy and Daniel Campbell to produce the feature version of “Antiquities,” shows up early in the episode as a not-so-tactful investigator trying to talk to Hays in the hospital after the Woodard shooting.