Now that we're three seasons in, has True Detective finally fixed its woman problem? The past two seasons of HBO's dark detective drama have left a trail of criticisms about its portrayals of its female characters in its wake. Their character development is always "paper-thin" in comparison to that of the male characters, the New Yorker wrote. Even the tough ones, like Rachel McAdams' character Ani Bezzerides in Season 2, always still fit one of the same tired tropes, Jezebel wrote: "They’re Marilyns or Jackies, virgins or whores, mothers or entirely discardable sideline hoes." Slate didn't mince words when pointing out how "like almost all the supporting characters on this show, the women were just sketches — occasionally naked ones — compared to our full-bodied detectives."
But even though Carmen Ejogo's True Detective character Amelia might feel like just "another housewife" in the first few episodes of the upcoming Season 3, the actor promises that, unlike in the last two seasons, there will be a payoff worth waiting for when it comes to Amelia.
Sitting in a hotel room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Ejogo is the first to admit she wasn't a fan of True Detective before she signed on for Season 3, which premieres Jan. 13 on HBO.
"I wasn't really in real time when the first season came out," she tells Bustle with a laugh. "But by the time I was made aware that [Season 3 star] Mahershala [Ali] was interested in me playing Amelia, I made it my mission to discover both seasons fully and revisit and think about what I loved about the first seasons and what I maybe didn't love about them and then see how Season 3 compared."
Ejogo admits that at first, she didn't know if the character of Amelia would transcend the trope of the supportive wife.
"I wasn't entirely sure on the page if I should get involved because I wasn't privy to all of the episodes — none of us were, actually, because [creator] Nic [Pizzolatto] held onto several — so I was basing my judgment on the first few," Ejogo says. "And Amelia doesn’t entirely reveal herself as being so integral and important in the storyline until further down the road, in later episodes. I wasn't sure if this was just going to be another housewife or wife role, a lot of arguing in the '90s, just supporting the husband, and eh, I don't know if I'm really interested in doing that… "
Ejogo trails off, before revealing that she ultimately had faith that Pizzolatto had crafted a three-dimensional female character this time around. "I'm so glad I did because, particularly the last few episodes, they make so much sense of the whole season and I'm so pivotal and I'm so fundamental to that, so she's a diamond of a character to play," Ejogo says. "It all paid off."
True Detective Season 3 is different from the first two seasons in that it's the first time the series centers on just one character — albeit in three different timelines — as Detective Wayne Hayes (Ali) works a case of missing children in Arkansas in 1980, then 10 years later, and ultimately 35 years later. Because of that focus on one male character, Amelia has less opportunity to make an impact on viewers (at least in the first few episodes HBO released to journalists ahead of the season premiere). But Ejogo says she didn't let that color the way she played Amelia.
"To be that self-conscious and aware as an actress of how am I going to keep an audience invested given that I don't have as much to do in the beginning, at the end of the day you can only be authentic to what's written on the page," Ejogo says. "So I just had to trust that like Season 1, once I got past that fourth or fifth episode, I was so entirely invested and hooked that I saw it to the end, meaning that the full journey would reveal itself for my character."
But in an increasingly flooded market of almost 500 original TV shows airing all year long, Ejogo knows that most fans need to be immediately hooked on a new show, lest they move on. But Season 3 of True Detective is more of a slow burn — one that Ejogo promises is worth your time.
"The payoff really comes at the end with this entire season, and for my character in particular. I just had to have faith that if I did what was required of me and nothing less in those first episodes, people will get invested," Ejogo says. "If you stick it out to the end, it all makes sense and it all makes it worthwhile."