Spoilers ahead for True Detective Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2 There's something rotten in the state of Arkansas, and it's not just the trash dump. True Detective Season 3 is all about Julie Purcell's kidnapping and her brother's murder back in the eighties. Audiences only see a quick glimpse of the young girl and her older brother, Will, as they begin riding their bikes towards a neighbor's house, who'd just gotten a new puppy. However, the kids never arrive, and although Detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) finds Will's body, it's clear that someone is holding the girl captive when her parents receive a threatening ransom note.
There are several time jumps in this season. The children originally go missing on Nov. 7, 1980, and this timeline later shows Hays and partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) investigating the case. Ten years later in 1990, audiences see Hays — who is now married to the pretty schoolteacher, Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) — as he discovers new information about Julie. While he's giving a deposition, Hays learns that the girl's fingerprints were found when she shoplifted from a Walgreens. In other words, she's still alive. Finally, there is an elderly version of the detective in 2015, who revisits the case for a true crime TV show while struggling with memory loss.
All of these timelines can make it a bit confusing to understand what happened when, but here's everything viewers know so far to help out.
The dolls are a significant clue, as TV journalist Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon) tells Hays in 2015. But despite the fact that Hays's wife later writes a successful nonfiction book about the case, it seems as though they never really cracked it. In 1980, however, Amelia ask kids at her school whether they've seen the dolls anywhere before. A boy named Mike says that someone was handing them out at Halloween, and that Julie got one. He also saw her talking to some large figures dressed like ghosts, though he doesn't know who was underneath the costumes. This seems highly likely that whoever gave out the dolls were involved in the girl's disappearance.
What's more, Montgomery tells an elderly Hays that these dolls may be associated with local pedophile groups, which would seemingly implicate local pervert Ted Lagrange, who goes by Robert. Then again, this whole satanic doll thing could be a red herring — not unrelated to the kids' murder and disappearance, but maybe they're just to distract us.
The Ransom Note
Back in 1980, Hays discovers Will in a cave outside town. His body's been carefully arranged, with his hands clasped together as if in prayer. Near the scene, the detective also finds two corn husk dolls and his abandoned bike. His younger sister, however, is nowhere to be found, and their parents, Tom (Scoot McNairy) and Lucy (Mamie Gummer), naturally assume the worst before a ransom note arrives at their house. "Do not worry," it reads. "Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go."
It's likely — but not certain — that whoever sent this note is the same person who murdered Will. Another possibility is that Julie simply ran away and sent that ransom note herself. While that doesn't explain Will's death (unless she killed him herself, but that's a bummer to think about), the note's spelling is abysmal, which would make sense for a young girl. Was something sinister going on at home that she wanted to get away from? And since viewers know that Julie survived, it's unclear whether her kidnapper let her go, she escaped, or she orchestrated the whole thing on her own.
It Might Be Julie's * Real* Dad
Mr. Purcell's parents tell the detectives that Julie's not Tom's kid in the first place. Lucy has a bit of a "reputation," according to the elder Purcells, and she may have conceived Julie while Tom was off on a welding job. If that's the case, perhaps the girl's birth father is the one who took her.
But Really, There Are So Many Suspects Already
The most obvious choice at the moment (which probably means it wasn't him) is the aforementioned local pedophile, Robert. Hays and West interrogate him about what he was doing Friday night, but he claims he had nothing to do with the children's disappearance. But his landlady says he wasn't home that night, either.
Another suspect is Lucy's cousin, Dan (Michael Graziadei), who stayed with the Purcells last year and slept in Will's room. The detectives find some old Playboys under Will's mattress and a hole drilled into the back of his closet. The peephole looks into Julie's room, which seems...creepy. Could something inappropriate have been happening between Dan and his cousin's kids?
There are also the different people in vehicles: those three teenagers in that purple Volkswagen look highly suspicious, especially the fact that they stop their car right when Will and Julie ride past. Then there's the Vietnam vet who was driving his go-Kart and saw the Purcell children on their bikes. But although the detectives have their eye on these people, nothing concrete has been revealed so far about either party.
It's definitely going to be a long and bumpy ride, but if fans know anything about True Detective, they'll be keeping a close eye on all the initial information — because it's definitely going to come back and matter eventually.