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.
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.
RELATED VIDEO: Cary Fukunaga Is James Bond 25‘s New Director
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.