True Detective Season 3 Review: Crime Drama Succeeds Thanks To Mahershala Ali

HBO’s groundbreaking crime drama True Detective seemed doomed after 2015’s season 2, which week by week wandered further away from a satisfying payoff. (One remembers someone prowling around in a bird mask.)

Season 3 clearly aims to recapture some of the great first season’s creeping atmospheric menace — while stopping short of Matthew McConaughey’s metaphysical asides about eternity and evil chasing each other’s tails.

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The opening episodes are a success, thanks to Mahershala Ali (>Green Book), who always seems to have easy access to mysterious depths. He plays Wayne Hays, a detective obsessed by a case that starts in 1980 when two Arkansas children disappear.

But there are two additional time frames: In 1990, Hays is consulted when the case is reopened, and in 2015, he’s interviewed for a true-crime documentary while in the early stages of dementia.

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In short, Ali has to express three degrees of profound bafflement while rooting them all in one coherent personality. He does it all with a look of wounded dignity. Hays, whose career is hobbled by racism, knows in his bones that a decent man deserves more out of life than being good at such a soul-killing job.

True Detective premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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