“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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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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