Are Seasons 1 & 3 of ‘True Detective’ Connected? All Signs Point to Yes

If you’ve seen seasons one and three of the anthology series True Detective, then you’ve likely noticed similarities. The crimes are bleak (although aren’t all crimes?) and infused with occult-like emblems and characters. The detectives are rough around the edges and haunted by their pasts. They have difficulty maintaining relationships and are prone to substance abuse and other vices.

After watching season three, episode five of True Detective, titled “If You Have Ghosts,” some eagle-eyed fans were quick to notice a major clue about these similarities. It seems that both stories exist in the same universe.

How do we know this? Well, in the 2015 scene between the elderly version of Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and journalist Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon), she alludes to a “larger conspiracy” within the Purcell case. During this exchange, her laptop is turned toward Hays and open to an article with the headline, “Former State Police Officers Stop Alleged Serial Killer.” Guess who’s pictured?

true detective season 3 episode 5 screenshot

Yep, it’s season one’s Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) in all their disheveled glory.

Knowing series creator Nic Pizzolatto’s love of layered and complex storytelling, it’s safe to assume this is not a road that leads to nowhere and that Rust and Marty exist in the same universe as Hays and his former partner, Roland West (Stephen Dorff).

But that’s not the only connection. The victims in each season, Dora Lange (Amanda Rose Batz) and Will Purcell (Phoenix Elkin), are found in prayer-like positions. The crimes are committed somewhat near each other (OK, the Arkansas Ozarks and Louisiana aren’t close, but they’re close) and tangentially involve elite families in the area. In season one, it was the Tuttles, the creators of a megachurch and the Wellsprings Foundation, which promoted a secular education for low-income children (and also perpetuated abuse). In season three, it’s the Hoyts, with their chicken factory where Lucy Purcell was once employed and their children-focused foundation.

Additionally, season three, episode two, titled “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” features a mention of season one’s Crooked Spiral pedophile ring. During a filmed chat between old Hays and Elisa Montgomery, she tells him, “It’s been theorized that the straw dolls are a sign of pedophile groups—like the Crooked Spiral.”

Could the Tuttles and the Hoyts be connected and conspiring through the Crooked Spiral? The Purcell murder occurs in 1980, Dora Lange is killed in 1995, and her killer is brought to justice in 2012. But does it all add up?

In the words of Rust Cohle, time (and plot) is a flat circle.


Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.