True Detective Season 3 Ending Explained: What Happened to Elisa’s True-crime Film?

true detective season 3 ending
Finally, True Detective Season 3 had a drawn-out narrative that resolved itself. A hole in the heart of a small Arkansas community was created when Julie Purcell vanished and her brother Will was discovered dead in Devil’s Den.
This wound went on to consume the lives of Wayne and Amelia Hays, Roland West, Lucy,
Tom Purcell, and several other people. In particular, the case was so entwined with Wayne’s life—his job, his marriage, and his memories—that the mystery of Julie’s disappearance was all that kept his mind from disintegrating.
But all the lives that were lost, all the tears that were cried, all the hours spent going over the evidence, something eventually grew out of all that sorrow. Julie Purcell managed to get away from her captors, rebuild her life, fall in love with the lad next door, and start a family.

Spoilers for True Detective Season 3

When you think the True Detective Season 3 finale has come to a fairly peaceful conclusion, the score maintains a pulsing undertone of foreboding. There is no great plot in the end. The theories of documentarian Elisa Montgomery are incorrect.

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Instead, we’re left with a terrible tale of mental illness and mishaps, tinged with a hint of hope that suggests not everything is as bad as this TV show would have us believe.

Then there is the last shot, a deliberately enigmatic picture of a young Wayne Hays in the forest that seems to be intended to spark theories but may just as well be taken at face value. Maybe it’s a way to reconsider the entire season.

true detective season 3 ending

It might also be a somber reminder of how everyone carries their own version of hell around with them. Whatever your interpretation, the third season finale of True Detective provided a tonne of fresh information to consider as the Purcell case came to a close.

In True Detective Season 3, Who is the Murderer?

What happened to Will and Julie Purcell seems to be the central mystery of True Detective’s third season on HBO. The two children vanished in 1980 after leaving their little Arkansas village to go bike riding.

The following night, someone found Will’s body in a nearby cave, but who did it? And who abducted Julie, his sister? The Purcell case would follow Detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) for years, and Sunday’s season finale provided answers to important issues, even if it’s not entirely obvious which of those answers is the whole truth.

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35 years after they first started looking into the Purcell case, Hays and West discovered that everything depended on the preoccupation of a mentally ill woman from a prominent local family.

Isabel Hoyt saw the Purcell children at a business picnic brought there by Hoyt Foods employee Lucy Purcell after losing her husband and daughter in a vehicle accident (Mamie Gummer).

Isabel made friends with the Purcell children by working with her caregiver, Junius Watts, and started meeting them in the woods to play games like hiding and seek. But after being questioned by Hays and West in 2015, Watts finally admitted to them that “Isabel had other ideas” that fateful night at Devil’s Den.

What Happened to Elisa’s True-crime Film?

After bugging Hays all season with inquiries regarding the Purcell case, Elisa was completely absent from the season finale. Hays appears content to put the case behind her and will likely stop contributing to her doctoral project as a result.

However, Henry, his son, did save the piece of paper with Julie’s address on it. Will he give it to Elisa—with whom he acknowledged having an affair—and will she ultimately reveal Julie anyway? (It would give her documentary a fantastic conclusion, given the failure of all of her conspiracies.)

What Was With That Final Image of Hays in Vietnam?

The final image of the season was of Hays back in the Vietnam jungle as a tracker at the very end of the season finale, after we flashed back to them patching things up and leaving together.

It must be significant to come to a conclusion like that, but what did it mean? Our best interpretation is metaphorical: Hays has always been on the lookout, going all the way back to his days as a young soldier.

Perhaps by putting down the Purcell case and embracing Amelia, he got what he was seeking and was able to stop looking. But there is an alternative theory.

What Caused the Rift Between Hays and His Daughter Becca?

Becca was not present in Hays’ life in 2015, despite the fact that their relationship had not changed since Becca departed for college in the late 1990s. She did make a cameo in the climax, driving Hays home and sitting next to him on the porch.

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But we never learned the real reason he hadn’t seen her for so long. Like Amelia’s passing, the reality probably isn’t shocking: Maybe she and her father just grew apart as his dementia worsened. However, it was lovely to see the Hays family again, without Amelia.

Did Hays Die on That Front Porch?

Hays is last seen in 2015 sipping iced tea with West and his family while reclining in a rocking chair on his front porch. He has a vision of him and Amelia in 1980 followed by the Vietnam scene when he sees his grandkids riding bikes on the street, just like the Purcell children.

true detective season 3 ending

Is it possible that Hays’ life was passing before his eyes as he took his last breath, succumbing to an unexpected illness? Of course, we’ll never be able to know for sure, but it does give us some food for thought—at least until the release of Season 4.

True Detective Season 3’s Finale: An Explanation

What happened to the Purcell children was partially addressed in the True Detective season 3 conclusion. All of this was connected to a rich local woman named Isabel Hoyt, who perished in a vehicle accident in 1977 together with her husband and children.

Isabel kidnapped Julie Purcell in 1980 as she was dealing with her own grief, drugged her, and held her captive in a cellar until Julie managed to escape in 1990. Will lost his life inadvertently while attempting to defend his sister.

While the series’ climax brought some resolution, it didn’t exactly detail Julie’s post-1990 circumstances. Wayne found Julie at her doorstep at the conclusion of the episode, but he promptly forgot his purpose for being there. And Wayne never managed to fully unravel the enigma due to his deteriorating memory.


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