As presented and discussed across three different timelines, ‘s big Season 3 crime involves the mysterious disappearance of adolescents Will Purcell (Phoenix Elkin) and sister Julie (Lena McCarthy). They went missing from West Finger, Arkansas on Friday, November 7, 1980, the same day Steve McQueen died.) The kids were supposedly going to see “friend” Ronnie’s new dog, with the permission of their father Tom, portrayed with excellent Southern non-grace by Scoot McNairy. Many witnesses saw the kids go, but no one watched them return.
They were reported missing by Tom that night, with Mahershala Ali’s Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff’s Roland West serving as the two lead detectives. Far from an open-and-shut situation, this disappearance-and-murder could have been caused by just about anyone, so let’s look at everything else the premiere showed us.
Clue #1: The Suspects
Given that this was viewers’ first look at the season’s central case, just about everyone that was introduced could be considered a worthy enough suspect. Without breaking things down too far, here’s a list of the characters that immediately earned some suspicions.
Tom Purcell – Sure, nobody wants to believe a father would be responsible for harming his own children, but there’s something going on with Tom beneath the surface, and he’s definitely guilty of SOMETHING. Just ask his wife Lucy.
Ronnie Boyle – The kid with the new dog. Will said they were going to see it at the playground, but Ronnie seemed not to think that was the case. What’s the real story there?
Freddy Burns – Rhys Wakefield (in his 30s) plays a teenager who’s probably half-guilty of every rotten thing that happens in the area, along with his cohorts. He drives a purple Volkswagen Bug, and does not look comfortable talking to cops. Probably not a creepy killer, though.
Brett Woodard – vet Michael Greyeyes plays a military vet with an obsessive streak of collecting trash and hoarding refuse. He’s always riding around, so what does he know?
Dan O’Brien – Lucy’s cousin stayed at the Purcell household and presumably left a few curious details behind that marked him a pervert, if not an outright murderer.
Other characters were questioned during the premiere, and more people will likely enter the scope of the investigation in the future. Those listed above attracted the most follow-up questions, however, and seemed more likely to have played a tangible role in the case.
Clue #2: The Bike
Without much to do in this town, teenagers like to hang out by a forest ranger tower in the woods, in an area ominously dubbed Devil’s Den. That’s where Freddie Burns and his friends were heading, and that’s where viewers later saw Freddie goofing around on what can be assumed was one of the missing kids’ bikes. This moment probably happened on the same Friday night the siblings went missing, though time may not always be on our side here.
One student who was questioned — the boy in the Black Sabbath shirt — admitted to seeing Will and Julie at the park the day before, along with a lot of other kids who were running around. He wasn’t sure if they were at the tower, though. That would almost necessarily need to be the case, however, if Freddie and his friends hope to maintain their innocent stances in future episodes.
Wayne later found the bent-up bike when he was off on his own track-finding mission, with literally zero other authorities looking in the very obvious places that Wayne walked to. Was it just stashed there after it was used by the older teens? It’ll probably come up later, right?
Clue #3: The Kids’ Rooms
When Wayne took a look inside Will’s room, he discovered some pretty disturbing things. For one, there were older pornographic magazines beneath Will’s mattress that a 12-year-old likely wouldn’t have had easy access to. Mostly weird for that reason, right?
But more concerning was the hole drilled into the closet wall that looked into Julie’s room. It was revealed that Lucy’s cousin Dan O’Brien had stayed with the Purcells the previous spring, and that he’d slept in Will’s room while the young boy slept on the living room couch. That explains the older magazines, maybe. But though he was like an uncle to the kids, he might have had far more lurid takes on that relationship, which is super-gross.
Clue #4: The Dolls
Similar to how Season 1 dealt with occult items, Season 2 dropped its own weirdo keepsakes in some straw dolls found near the scene. Quite the crafty clues to be left behind for someone to discovery, and they’re not exactly indicative of spontaneous crimes of passion. Somebody had intentions behind this crime happening. Or at least in determining how the body would be found.
What can we gauge from the dolls? One looks kinda like a bride? I don’t want to really consider someone thinking of either Will or Julie as a bride, though, at that age or any other. So here’s hoping more clues come up soon. Impulse question: Why was Roland so interested in the kid’s Black Sabbath shirt before any potentially religious or devilish stuff had been found?
Clue #5: Will’s Body
As Wayne discovered, Will’s body was specifically placed inside a cave within the wooded area somewhere in the vicinity of where the kids were playing. He was laid out, probably in the same clothes he died in, lying on his back, without a clearly visible sign of what killed him.
Beyond the dolls that led Wayne to finding him, it was quite interesting the way that Will had his hands together in just such a hands-clasped pose. That can’t just be a random thing, right? At least his fingers weren’t stitched together.
Clue #6: The Documentary Team
In the year 2015, Wayne Hays is being interviewed for the crime show , and it’s clear that his memory is nowhere near what it once was. However, it’s not yet clear what the TV team is up to, or what new information they may be holding onto.
Everyone involved, including Sarah Gadon’s host-documentarian-person is apparently ready to spend quite a few days speaking with Wayne about the matter. That was made clear enough just because the interviews were clearly meant to last through a full season, but still. It must mean they’re sitting on something major, right?
Clue #7: Amelia Reardon
Carmen Ejogo’s Amelia Reardon had the somewhat unique position of not being introduced with suspect-lite elements, but that’s not to say she’s wholly transparent. It’s clear that Wayne and Amelia will continue their professional flirtations in the future, and that she’ll play a huge role in the outskirts of the central case. But how does Amelia affect the overall narrative?
Here’s what we know about her. She’s very intelligent and has some detective-esque traits, which aid in her writing a full-length book about the Purcell kids’ case, which gets published right around the 1990 timeline. (And is later brought up in the 2015 interview, which could mean the book got an updated edition or two over the years.) The book is called , which is almost definitely a clue unto itself.
Unfortunately, Amelia appears to have died at some point during that 25-year gap, since she’s not around to talk about the case. It’d be silly to assume that Amelia’s involvement with the case was purely outside the lines, so I can’t help but think that she’ll end up playing a deeper role in the narrative, possibly due to her closeness to the kids as an educator. Or possibly due to other slightly more nefarious reasons.
Clue #8: The Julie Sighting
As it was revealed to Wayne at the end of the episode, the reason for the 1990 deposition came down to a new development. Julie Purcell was revealed to be alive, possibly, by her fingerprints being pegged from a Walgreen’s robbery in Sallisaw, Oklahoma two months prior.
The pharmacy section of the store is what was hit, and Julie’s prints were the only ones that came up. Does that mean she’s really alive, though? Or does it mean that someone is…somehow making it look like Julie is robbing pharmacies in neighboring states? Disembodied hands come up in kinds of situations, right?
With presumably tons more real clues, red herrings and outlier details on the way, Season 3 will continue airing every Sunday night on HBO at 9:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows will be on the way in the near future, head to our midseason premiere schedule.