The Great War and Modern Memory
Season 3 Episode 1
Season 3, Episode 1
Written by: Nic Pizzolatto
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Original airdate: January 12, 2019

The Great War and Modern Memory is the first episode of Season 3 of True Detective and the seventeenth episode overall. It aired on January 13, 2019. In 1980, Detectives Wayne Hays and Roland West begin to investigate the disappearance of the siblings Will and Julie Purcell. In 1990, Hays is called into a deposition about the case, which is being reviewed due to new information. In 2015, Hays prepares to be interviewed by a television show over the case.


The disappearance of a young Arkansas boy and his sister, Will and Julie Purcell, in 1980 launches a decades-long investigation for detective Wayne Hays and his partner Roland West. What begins as a routine case becomes a journey to make sense of the many clues and missing pieces.



In West Finger, Arkansas, on November 7th 1980, Will and Julie Purcell ask their father, Tom for permission to ride out to the playground. A friend of theirs, Ronnie, has a new dog that they want to see. Tom agrees, telling them to be home by 5:30PM before the sun goes down. They leave the house at 4:00PM and ride through town, witnessed by multiple residents.

When Tom Purcell realizes his children have not come home, he calls Ronnie's father to ask if they are there. When questioned, Ronnie tells his father that he had no plans to meet the Purcell children. He said they could come by and see the new dog, but not today. Tom drives through town looking for his children and eventually calls the police.

Detectives Wayne Hays and Roland West sit in a junkyard drinking beer and shooting at rats. After riding around for a while, they get the call to attend 5009 Shupike Lane to assist in a missing persons case. Arriving at the house, they question Tom Purcell over the events and ask about his wife, Lucy, wondering if the kids could be with her. She works as a waitress at the Sawhorse and has gone out with friends so Tom cannot reach her. Hays immediately takes charge and orders an APB put out, extra police forces to begin searching the streets and woods, and officers to begin canvassing the neighbors for information.

Hays and West search the house and realize that the parents are having marital problems. Their first theory is that the mother left him and took the kids until Lucy arrives home to find out the kids are missing. She is angry and blames Tom. As West organizes the search teams, Hays continues to search the house, finding pornographic magazines under Will's mattress, and hole in the wall between Will and Julie's rooms.

Questioning the neighbors brings up two leads. The first is a group of teenagers who are known to hand around at Devil's Den State Park. One of the group, Freddy Burns, drives a purple Volkswagen Beetle. The other is the local "Trash Man," a man named Brett Woodard who collects scrap and garbage to resell. They also learn that Lucy's cousin, Dan O'Brien, stayed with the family for a time and lived in Will's room while Will slept on the couch. As the search winds down for the night to wait for daylight, Hays stayed out, using his tracking skills learned in the Vietnam War.

The next day, Hays and West go to the school and meet English teacher Amelia Reardon. They question Freddy Burns and his friends about his whereabouts during the time of the Purcell children's disappearance. They admit to seeing the kids just after 4:00 riding their bikes before then spending time at Devil's Den. Hays then talks to Amelia about Will's studies and home life; she tells him everything she knows.

After leaving the school, Hays and West head to Brett Woodard's place to interview him. He is not home, but the two detectives check out his property and the amassed scrap in his yard. Finding out that he is a Vietnam veteran, West puts an APB out on Woodward.

As the police begin searching the are in large numbers, Hays heads off on his own using his tracking skills. They take him to an abandoned Ranger's tower at Devil's Den which is used for smoking and drinking. Hays continues on and finds Will's abandoned and broken bike. He takes a picture and continues tracking, finding a white chaff doll on a broken tree stump. Hays takes another picture and keeps tracking, find another chaff doll at the entrance to a cave. Inside, Hays finds Will's dead body laid out with his hands position in prayer. Hays contacts West and tells him that he found Will.

As police process the scene, Hays gets up and heads back out to try and find Julie despite West telling him it is too dark.


Wayne Hays is called in to give a deposition about the Purcell cases from ten years ago by Alan Jones and Jim Dobkins. Hays guesses that they are looking to overturn the conviction under pressure from the family and need to go over the case. Dobkins mentions that Hays has memory problems.

Hays goes over his recollections of the first few days of the investigation. At the end of the deposition, he is told they got the wrong man ten years ago, but Hays already knew that. He wants to know why they are going over the case now. Alan Jones tells him that Julie Purcell's fingerprints – which went into the system when the database was established - were identified at the scene of an after-hours burglary in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Hays is surprised to learn that she is alive.


An elder Hays listens to a tape recorder that he uses to counter his memory problems. Recorded by his past self, it tells him the date and that he has memory problems and not to whine about it. His son, Henry, is bringing television people to interview him. His voice tells him how to cope and why he is agreeing to the interview – to find out what they know.

Downstairs, Hays begins his interview with Elisa Montgomery for the show "True Criminal." They go over parts of the investigation until the subject of Brett Woodard comes up. Not feeling up to talking further, Hays asks Henry to show them out.


Main CastEdit

Guest StarringEdit


  • The town of West Finger is a fictionalized version of West Fork, Arkansas.


  • The date of the 1980 segments begin on November 7, 1980. As noted in the episode, this is the day that actor Steve McQueen died.
  • While searching Will's room, Hays finds a book from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons series titled "The Forests of Leng." The book was specially made for the series and does not exist in real life. The title references H.P Lovecraft's fictional creation, the Plateau of Leng.
  • Amelia reads the poem "Tell me A Story" by Robert Penn Warren from his collection "Selected Poems 1923-1975".


  • The logo for the TSR Company and the font used on "The Forests of Leng" were only adopted by the company for the product in 1982.
  • Hays remembers there being a full moon on the night of November 7, 1980. However, there was a dark, new moon on that night, not a full moon.
  • While working on his car, Tom Purcell's radio broadcasts a Major League Baseball game. However, the World Series ended on October 21 and the date the episode is set in is November 7, meaning that there would have been no games to broadcast.


  • Death Letter
    Written by Son House
    Performed by Cassandra Wilson
  • Nights When I Am Sane
    Written and Performed by Mickey Newbury
  • Sugarlight
    Written by Exene Cervenka, John Doe
    Performed by X
  • 1970
    Written by David Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop
    Performed by The Stooges
  • Too Many Memories
    Written by Stephen Bruton
    Performed by Patty Loveless
  • Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
    Written and Performed by Mickey Newbury
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