True Detective's Shared Universe May Have a Single Shadowy Villain

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the third season of HBO's True Detective.

Following a disappointing second season of HBO's crime anthology series, True Detective has earned praise in Season 3 in no small part because it's leaning back into the strengths of its much-discussed 2014 debut. Starring Mahershala Ali as Arkansas police detective Wayne Hays, and Stephen Dorff as his partner Roland West, it's been a roller coaster as they pursue the 1980 death of Will Purcell and the abduction of his sister Julie.

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That leads to the reopening of the case in 1990, followed by the release of a documentary in 2015 that indicates everyone got everything wrong. But what's most intriguing is that, while snippets of evidence have been presented in Season 3, there may remain hidden a shadowy villain with connections to Season 1.

In the acclaimed first season, creator Nic Pizzolatto focused on Matthew McConaughey's Rustin "Rust" Cohle and Woody Harrelson's Martin "Marty" Hart as the two detectives try to solve child murders and abductions in Louisiana. Evidence indicates that children were taken in 1990, as well as a decade earlier. That follows the same timeline in which Wayne and Roland pursue a case they realize is a huge conspiracy that may have links to a cult. Clearly, the two mysteries share common themes.

So much so that, in 2015 ,when documentarian Elisa (Sarah Gadon) grills Wayne about what they missed in the three decades they handled the case, she brings up a picture of Rust and Marty, and raises the possibility that they didn't consider a potential connection. Considering that Wayne now suffers memory loss in his old age, we don't know whether he actually uncovered the link and simply forgot, or if he and Roland simply overlooked what was occurring at the same time in Louisiana.

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Season 1 also focused on the Tuttle family, which possessed money and power, and operated children's homes and churches, where they could prey upon children. Hints have now been dropped that Season 3's chicken tycoons, the Hoyts, are essentially their equivalent in Arkansas, as last week's episode shows a soundproof pink room that appears to be made to house kidnapped girls on their estate.

In True Detective's debut season, Rust theorized the victims he found with "Crooked Spiral" tattooed on their bodies might be indication of the involvement of a cult or some other group that believed killing children was part of a higher calling. It seems the twisted Hoyts fall into a similar category: a rich family that funds a youth home, which may serve to lure in potential victims.

Online fan speculation is running with the idea that the Crooked Spiral may be a philosophy. Rust may have been right, because Will and Julie's crime scene was littered with straw dolls made to appear as if they're praying.

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Straw dolls were present in Season 1's theme of religious fanaticism; additionally, in Season 3, Will's body is found in a praying position. Victims in the debut season were also found prostrate, as if they were praying, as part of a ritual killing.

Only time will tell, but whoever or whatever the Crooked Spiral is, it has far-reaching tentacles.

Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, True Detective stars Mahershala Ali, Mamie Gummer, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Carmen Ejogo and Ray Fisher.

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