True Detective Theory: Season 1 Crossover Reveals Season 3's Ending

Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective

True Detective season 3 takes place in the same universe as Season 1, and that might give us a big clue as to how the story is going to end. Nic Pizzolatto has been building a mystery in three timelines, but it’s the reference to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) that has really caught attention.

Given how lackluster True Detective season 2 was, this is understandable. Season 1 remains the pinnacle of the show, and the one when discussion about it was at its most frenzied. Linking back to that is bound to spark a lot of chatter as to what it all means. That’s especially true given the most prominent reference has arrived in the penultimate episode of season 3: it's posited that the mystery that plagued Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) across four decades is connected to Cohle and Hart's defining case.

Related: True Detective Season 3 Cast & Character Guide

There’s a lot going on in True Detective season 3's story leading into the finale. Whether it’s the unfolding presence of the Hoyt family as major players in the disappearance of the Purcell's, the unreliability of the multiple temporalities, or the question of if Amelia is a red herring, there's a sea of clues to be broken down. The image of Cohle and Hart, while not directly connected to the plot, is one of the biggest for the themes.

True Detective Season 3's Connection To Season 1 Explained

Mahershala Ali Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective

Going into True Detective season 3, there wasn’t any hint of a shared universe. Seasons 1 & 2 had been very distinct, with nothing to suggest they were connected; they very well could have been in the same universe, but if so, Nic Pizzolatto wasn’t telling anybody about it. That ethos was thrown out very early in season 3. The first reference came in the premiere, where Elisa, the woman fronting the documentary in 2015, makes mention of “crooked spirals”. It was just a passing reference and easy to miss, but the ears of True Detective die-hards would’ve pricked up; they were a big clue in True Detective season 1. It made sense in context too, since Elisa was discussing similar crimes. Given the proximity of the years, it was an easy way to tie things in, and that could have been the end of it.

In episode 7, “The Final Country”, things get more overt. Elisa shows Wayne Hays an old newspaper headline, which features an image of Cohle and Hart. The story is about their takedown of a pedophile ring, and Elisa links the two cases. Parallels are drawn between the spirals of season 1 and the straw dolls of season 3. She even suggests it could’ve been the same people behind the Purcell case.

To make it clear: True Detective season 3 is very much telling its own story. No one should be expecting this to go much further in literal terms. It’s not like Matthew McConaughey is suddenly going to turn up and start handing out the cans of Lone Star. But there are potentially very important reasons for linking the cases. Could the people involved in the Purcell case be tangentially related to Erroll Childress? Maybe. But there’s a bigger picture at play here that should be the focus of investigation.

Read More: True Detective Season 3 Is In The Same World As Season 1

True Detective Season 3 Fixes A Big Season 1 Complaint

True Detective season 1 is a revered piece of television. Coming out in the midst of TV’s Golden Age, it managed to stand apart from the crowd thanks to its A-list cast members, visual flair, and Reddit-baiting mystery. Not since Lost had a series sent people scurrying to the internet in search of answers and theories after each episode. As time has worn on, that legacy has only become greater. With season 2 being a major disappointment, and True Detective then being off the air for years, season 1 has almost taken on a mythical quality.

That’s why it’s easy to forget that a lot of people were unhappy with the ending. The first seven episodes built up a huge mystery that pointed towards a grand conspiracy that snaked through every scene. The Yellow King, Carcosa, the involvement of the Tuttles, the hints of the supernatural: people were drooling over this stuff at the time. It’s a major reason the show became so popular in the first place; people were so obsessed with the Yellow King that 1985 book The King In Yellow became a bestseller. And yet True Detective's ending chose not to focus on any that. Instead, while it resolved most of the mystery, but the finale's lens was very much on a more personal ending for Cohle and Hart. It wasn’t just fans on Reddit who were upset either, as a number of critics ran pieces calling it out for being disappointing.

To that end, the reference in True Detective season 3 feels like Nic Pizzolatto throwing the fans a bone. Sure, season 1 didn’t go all-in on the Yellow King stuff in the end, but the case actually was part of a larger conspiracy, it just wasn't addressed by Rust and Marty. It’s a means of recognizing those criticisms and offering an olive branch without doing anything as drastic as repeating the same story or making major retcons.

Page 2 of 2: True Detective Season 3 Will Have The Same Ending As Season 1

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