Time is melting a bit. Transitions among 1980, 1990 and 2015 are getting more abrupt and fluid. We even start in an unspecified time we haven’t seen yet, in which Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) drops a college-age Becca off at school. In 1990, though, time has stopped for Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy), who turns up dead of a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound with a strange typewritten suicide note next to him. Roland West (Stephen Dorff) looks understandably stricken; no one feels good about how their spurious interrogation of Tom went. At home, Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) tells Wayne about the one-eyed man who came to her reading, and Wayne tells her about Tom. The whole thing’s a hot mess.
By the time the filmmaker in 2015 asks him about whether they’d suspected foul play in the death of Tom Purcell, it’s tough to tell whether Wayne’s responses are sincere or whether he’s downplaying what he knows. But when she notes that the 1980 and 1990 investigations both ended with a violent death and a misguided outcome, he says, “I guess I never thought about it that way,” at which point we cut to 1990, where he’s saying to West, “It’s like ’80 all over again.” The filmmaker asks if there was evidence of conspiracy. “You have evidence of something like that?” Wayne asks. She counters, asking if Wayne had been “satisfied” with the outcome of the investigation. He notes that he has never been satisfied with anything about the Purcell case. He seems genuinely surprised when she mentions that the creepy dolls were likely “code” for child sex trafficking. She thinks at least one of the parents sold the kids. Like most of their interview sessions, the conversation ends abruptly, with Wayne rebuffing her and walking away. Roland’s reluctant to help Wayne pursue this (for different reasons than in 1990, though the dynamic is the same), but he takes him to visit a retired domestic worker who’d worked for the Hoyts. She notes that there was “bad luck” in the family, including a suspicious-sounding accident, after which “Mr. June” watched the daughter, Isabel, who was kept under lock and key. Mr. June was a black man with one eye.
In 1990, Amelia pays a visit to Lucy’s friend Margaret (Emily Nelson), who’s making a wreath for Tom. “I don’t understand why he’d do that now,” she says. “He got through so much.” The woman has a point. Amelia feels her out for a connection between Lucy and the one-eyed man, and the friend attempts to find a delicate way of saying that while Lucy would mostly screw anyone, she’d likely draw the line at a black man. It turns out she has a picture of them from Halloween, and Amelia thinks a costumed pair of ghosts in the background might be of interest. The friend has mixed feelings about letting the photo go, but ultimately lets Amelia borrow it to make a copy.
Meanwhile, Dan O’Brien seems to have vacated his motel room, leaving behind evidence of a struggle. And Nevada phone records have turned up something disturbing: eight phone calls right before Lucy’s overdose, seeming to come from Harris James (Michael Rooker), who also appears to have been in Las Vegas when she died. Wayne is sure Harris James planted the evidence at the Woodard house and that the timing of his move to private security is not coincidental. And that Tom’s death was not a suicide. The “interrogation” of Harris James goes badly sideways, resulting in that man’s death and a scary scene with a very activated Wayne burning his clothes in the yard and Roland angry at Wayne for using Tom Purcell’s death to goad him into taking Harris James behind the woodshed.
And Amelia is continuing her own investigation. At the bar. The manager doesn’t recall the mysterious biracial couple, but the one-eyed man rings a bell, and he recalls that guy talking to Dan O’Brien.
In 1980, Amelia actually asks Wayne the question I’ve been asking for seven episodes: “Do you think it’s a conflict of interest [if I’m sleeping with you and writing a book about your case]?” Interestingly, Wayne doesn’t seem too concerned, though perhaps it’s the glow of new intimacy. You almost get the sense that he finds the idea of having someone to share this with a bit seductive.
In 2015, Roland finds out Wayne’s not hallucinating the car: Someone is, in fact, casing his house. The two get the car’s license plate number—together, like they used to be. But in 1980, the car belongs to Hoyt, who is making not especially veiled threats against Wayne’s family, and he gets in and Amelia watches them drive away.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.