“Finish It” – True Detective Season 3 Theory

Warning: Contains spoilers for True Detective Season 3 episodes 1, 2, & 3. Go get caught up before reading. I’m also going to be referencing clips from the trailers that have not been shown in the series proper yet. You’ve been warned.

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I’m gonna cut to the chase: With what was shown to us in the two trailers, and the three episodes released so far, I think we actually have everything we need to solve this mystery.

Let’s go through the where, who, why, what, and when of it all.

Where is Julie Purcell?

While totally reasonable, I think it will turn out to be a fatal error for the detectives to have ignored the tip from that woman who had a dream about Julie. The woman said she saw the girl on a farm, surrounded by snakes. Now take a look at the large photograph in the back of the cork board, behind all the other photos.

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It looks to be an overhead shot of a farm. Surrounded by snakelike rivers.

This is where the detectives will find out she was being held, but, of course, it will by then be too late, and she’ll be long gone.

Who took her? And why?

Her being held on a farm strongly implicates the Hoyt company, who would have good reason to own a farm. It could very well be that they are involved in human trafficking, as was suggested by the documentarian in episode 2. She mentions “The Crooked Spiral,” which seems to be a direct reference to the cult in season 1. I think that ultimately “the Crooked Spiral” and Hoyt are connected, probably as part of a web of interconnected secret societies and upper-class criminal organizations. Pizzolatto has said he’s toying with the idea of having the heroes of the various seasons meet each other at some point. Perhaps they will connect their respective dots, and take down the head of this shadowy group?

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What did Hays leave in the woods?

When Hays receives a visit from the ghost of his deceased wife, she speaks in poetry and riddles, and ominously mentions Hays having left something out in the woods back in the 80s. What could it be?

You don’t have to be a true detective to know this case is going sour fast. With mob violence imminent, there’s a lot of pressure for the case to be closed, even if that means pinning the blame on a scapegoat. I think that when Hays discovers who the culprit truly is, he won’t be able to charge them, because they’re part of the wealthy Hoyt family, and can afford to evade justice. Someone else will be charged, probably the three teens, in order to give closure to the town and curtail their acts of violence. But Hays won’t be able to accept it. I think that, when he realizes this person is above the law, he will pursue his own vigilante justice. I think he kills this person, and shoots them and hides their body in the woods.

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When exactly is Hays?

So, what’s going on with Hays and his memory?

It’s hard to miss the influences of pop culture on True Detective. The series itself is named after an old pulp magazine. The hero of season 3 is named after a Jimi Hendrix song. Season 2 very clearly drew on Twin Peaks at times. Season 1 is centered around the Yellow King and Carcosa, which are both from a Robert W. Chambers novel. And it looks like Lovecraft and D&D are going to be important points this season. Knowing this, my ears perked up during episode 3 when a certain phrase was uttered.

“Finish it.”

A widower, lost in time, hearing the specter of his deceased author wife telling him to “Finish it.” Isn’t that directly from 2006’s The Fountain? Now there could be a lot of reasons for this, including parallel thinking, but I’m just going to go ahead and call it what I think it is: An homage.

I think that this homage is indicative of supernatural elements at work. Both seasons 1 and 2 had supernatural elements, so if season 3 lacked any, it would be an outlier. So what’s the supernatural twist this season? I think Hays is moving through time.

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In The Fountain, the story is divided into three time periods: The past (during the Spanish Inquisition), the present (2006 at the time), and the future (traveling through space). It becomes clear during the film that our hero, Tommy, is able to move his consciousness between these three times, changing the past with knowledge he’s gained in the future. One of the major things he needs to alter in the past is the fact that he never helped his wife conclude her novel. She was writing it when she fell critically ill, and before she passed away, she asked him to finish writing it for her. “Finish it,” is a line repeated many, many times in the film, reminding Tommy of all the things he left undone in the past, until finally, he uses the power of his mind to go back and alter the events.

I think the parallels between True Detective and The Fountain are too strong to be coincidence. Furthermore, when searching Will Purcell’s room, the detectives find a book that mentions Leng. Leng was originally a location in H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and, if one possesses a strong enough mind, one can cross back and forth between the waking world and the Dreamlands. I think all of this points to Hays possessing the ability, somehow, to mentally jump between these periods in time. Think of the series finale to Star Trek: The Next Generation (spoilers — highlight to read) where Jean-Luc Picard does this exact thing: Mentally jumping from his past, present, and future selves in order to alter the events of all three timelines. There being multiple precedents for this makes it less of a stretch.

The fact that they’ve avoided specifically naming Hays’ mental condition leads me to think that naming it doesn’t matter, from a storytelling perspective, because they’re wrong. He doesn’t have dementia, or Alzheimer’s: It’s something medical science doesn’t understand.

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How exactly he’s able to do this is a mystery that I don’t think will be answered. True Detective thus far has been perfectly comfortable with not answering every question. There’s still so much we don’t know about the Yellow King and what happened during the finale. And that’s OK. In real life, we usually don’t get answers to our greatest questions. And when you’re delving into the supernatural in an otherwise grounded show, it’s sometimes better not to explain everything. It’s also in line with the cosmic horror from which True Detective takes some inspiration: There are things we as humans can never understand about the universe, and attempting to understand them leads to madness.

 

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Prepare to Try – How a Let’s Play Series Changed My Life

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I’ve been a gamer since I can remember. The language and visuals of video games are ingrained in my subconscious to the point where I frequently dream in video game format. I played The Legend of Zelda for hours when I was six, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and obsessively trying to find every temple and every secret, but having to start over again every day because for some reason, my save file never worked. My love of gaming never diminished, either. As an adult, my favorite game became Skyrim, and I explored its realms as intensely as I had explored Hyrule as a child.

When I heard about Let’s Plays, well… While I wouldn’t criticize someone for enjoying them, I thought it was stupid. Why would you want to watch someone play video games while jabbering obnoxiously? I understand watching them for the purposes of finding out good strategies for games you might get stuck on, but just watching a Let’s Play for fun? What are you gaining from that?

Hahaha.

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Well, one day I wanted to see if The Evil Within 2 looked like it was worth buying, so I searched YouTube for a game play video. I clicked on one from IGN, because I figured they would have a quality video with pertinent info. Oh, ugh. There are people talking over it. I bet they think they’re funny, but they’re really just obnoxious. I’ll give this video five minutes. If it sucks, I’ll find a different one.

Oh, wow, they’re actually really fucking funny.

I’ll share with you the joke that convinced me to keep watching the video, because it’s still one of my favorites:

“I didn’t even know there were zombies in it before he said.” “What did you think it was gonna be? Evil Within?” “Well, The Evil Within… so… racism, or something.”

After that video, I was hooked. For anyone reading this who is not familiar, I’ll give you a quick rundown: This series was titled “Prepare to Try,” and it was created for IGN in 2016. It started off as a challenge, pitting a gamer, completely inexperienced with the crushingly difficult Souls-type games, against the original Dark Souls, attempting to finish it before the release of Dark Souls 3, roughly a month later. Rory Powers held the controller, while Dan Krupa gave insight into the rich lore of the series, and Gav Murphy kept the banter going. Eventually, the series grew and produced play throughs of Dark Souls 3Resident EvilBloodborne, Cuphead, and more. All of which I’ve now watched at least twice and still enjoy.

Everything about the series was a pleasant surprise. It was informative, funny, and exciting. At the same time I was laughing my ass off, I was learning about the background of whatever game they were playing. I was also glad to find out how progressive their views were, as they often made remarks decrying sexism, racism, and homophobia. In the wake of fiascos like Gamergate, when so many people associate geek culture with toxic behavior and bigotry, this series stood out as a brilliant contrast to all that negativity. Their zany humor, positivity, and frequent Simpsons joke references charmed me.

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Cut forward to 2018. I’d pretty much never been lower in my life. Financial problems, the death of a friend, and familial turmoil, to name just a few things I was dealing with. It had come to a point where I was pretty sure there was no reason to keep living, and the best I could hope for was the dignity of being able to check myself out of a miserable, humiliating existence. Insomnia set in, giving these noxious thoughts plenty of time to ferment in my head. It was too easy to think of ways to put an end to it all, too many methods that were within arm’s reach. I had to drown out those thoughts. Distract myself. So I’d binge watch Prepare to Try.

I’m not sure why, but it was the only thing that made me smile. I would still be crying, but I found myself laughing through the tears.

Struggling with depression is like climbing up the side of a cliff above a whirlpool. You search for a foothold, a grip, anything to keep yourself from falling, be it friends, pets, hobbies, whatever… Just something that keeps you above the water another day. And eventually those days turn to weeks, months, years, a lifetime. It is about survival. And whether profound or simple, anything that keeps you going becomes close to your heart.

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I soon found that my experience wasn’t unusual. Within the following that sprung up around Prepare to Try, there were many who said the series had helped them cope with their depression. Joining their unofficial Facebook group, I found that their fans are some of the nicest damn people on the internet, being very supportive of each other and happy to talk with fellow fans who reach out in the midst of personal struggles.

There’s a recurring joke on Prepare to Try: When struggling with some simple task like going up an elevator, opening a door, etc, they’ll ask, “Is this a Boss?” and laugh at the absurdity of laboring with what’s literally the easiest part of the game. But in a way, silly as it sounds, that’s a great metaphor for living with depression. Sometimes, getting out of bed and making breakfast is a Boss. Cleaning your room is a Boss. Walking to the store is a Boss. Things that should be easy become arduous under the weight of depression, and sometimes you beat the Boss, and sometimes, you just have to try again.

I never expected to gain so much from watching people play video games. It sounds so ridiculous. It’s one of the last things I would have thought would help me fight against my suicidal inclinations, but there’s no denying that it gave me great comfort in one of the worst periods of my life. I think their Bloodborne play through, in particular, is a great analog for life: You’re not equipped for this, everything is trying to kill you, there are spiders everywhere, and nobody has any idea what’s going on, but you keep trying. And sometimes you have to respawn and start all over again with nothing, but you keep trying.

You. Keep. Trying.

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I’d like to mention that, while the Prepare to Try series has ended, Rory, Krupa, and Gav have moved on to found their own channel, RKG, and will be releasing their long-awaited play through of Dark Souls 2 very soon. I encourage you to check it out, as well as the content on their old Prepare to Try channel on YouTube.

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Can You “Win” Black Mirror: Bandersnatch?

 

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Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Author’s note: I’m going to be referring to Bandersnatch as a game in this article, because it makes more sense to use this word within this context.

Since its release, Black Mirror‘s interactive nightmare Bandersnatch has drawn people into its labyrinth in search of secrets. While it seems that all possible endings have, at this point, been discovered, it is still up for debate which ending is the “true” ending. While, cinematically, the “5-Star” ending might seem the most in-keeping with Black Mirror‘s usual vibe, there’s something about it that seems too obvious. It doesn’t subvert our expectations, it just plays into them. We expect Stefan to end up like Jerome F. Davies, descending into a rabbit hole of paranoia and violence. Nothing about this ending is surprising.

As a gamer, I went into Bandersnatch with the mindset that I needed to get the “true” ending, and I knew well that the “true” ending isn’t always the most obvious. Silent Hill 2 and Bloodborne are prime examples of the true endings being the more depressing and unsettling. In my mind, the true ending to this unconventional story wouldn’t be the easiest to get, it wouldn’t be found at the end of the most conspicuous path, and it wouldn’t be one of the copy-paste endings with a review at the end. Seeking the highest rating for Stefan’s game was only playing into expectations, and going for the easiest answers. Notice how the first REAL choice we are given in Bandersnatch is whether or not to work at Tuckersoft, and making the more obvious choice of accepting the offer leads us to an unsatisfying ending, for both Stefan and ourself, the player. It’s only when you make the risky choice that you can progress. This fact, to me, is very telling of what the true ending of Bandersnatch is meant to be.

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There are many ways to lose a game. There’s far fewer ways to win. You can finish the game, get a review, and be fooled into thinking that you’ve successfully gotten the high score, but you’ve only done what the game expected you to. Only what it wanted you to. You played into the programming, and were controlled just as much as Stefan was. Bandersnatch expects you to go mad, kill your father, and finish making the game. To really beat the game, you have to get Stefan away from the dark fate Bandersnatch has planned for him.

There is only one ending that has you diverge from the path of slavishly completing the game. Only one that fulfills the Stefan’s wants and needs, not those of the player. Only one that actually frees Stefan from the endlessly cycling maze.

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The “TOY” ending, where Stefan goes back in time, finds Rabbit, and embarks on the fateful train ride with his mother, resulting in his spontaneous death in the current time line.

Changing the events surrounding his mother’s death is the only way to truly break Stefan out of the endless cycle of madness, murder, and imprisonment. While the result of changing history is bleak, it is the only ending that does not result in Stefan’s imprisonment, and is (arguably) more merciful. In his death, he is actually freed from the maze. It is the only way he can escape the confines of Program and Control.

Think about it: Throughout the course of Bandersnatch, we’re told over and over again that we need to break free. We’re challenged to escape the limitations of the programming, as impossible as that seemingly is. While we are still controlling Stefan no matter what path we go down, it is possible for us to choose a path for him that gives him closure, and allows him to rest in peace rather than driving him down a path that destroys him and everyone around him. No matter how you slice it, the “TOY” ending is the one that causes Stefan to suffer the least. It also allows him to confront his personal demons, rather than him being driven mad by them.

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We are constantly being told, don’t give in. Don’t make the easy choices. Don’t go for the obvious paths. In a sense, we are playing against the game Bandersnatch itself. The premise of the game tricks us, suggesting that the only goal we have is to complete Stefan’s video game. But doing that only causes him suffering, and surrenders to the trappings of obvious and easy answers. It’s easy to give in. It’s easy to let Stefan become single-minded and only care about the game, letting his own life fall to shambles as a result. What’s harder to do is to look for the deeper, more obscure path, and release our Pac-Man from his programming.

 

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