True Detective season 3 ending theories - is Isabel Hoyt they key?

True Detective season 3 ending theories

There's only one episode of True Detective season 3 left, and there are a lot of loose ends for the show to wrap up. We have more clues than we know what to do with, and there's the distinct whiff of a red herring here and there too. Naturally, the internet investigators have plenty of intriguing, insightful, and just plain mad theories to enjoy about the Purcell case. 

In case you need a recap, the main mystery is the apparent disappearance of Will and Julie Purcell, two children who go missing after going out to play on their bikes. Will's body is discovered, posed, and surrounded by straw dolls. Julie remains missing, presumed dead, until her fingerprints are found in a Walgreens a decade later, and someone claiming to be her calls a police tip line. 

Detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) are put on the case, and the show jumps between timelines in the 1980s, 1990s, and the present day. There are occult references, mysterious characters, and a detective with a failing memory. 

We've gathered the best True Detective season 3 ending theories, and added some of our own, so you can head into the office with plenty to say about the hit HBO show. Obviously there are spoilers below, so make sure you're up-to-date.

Roland West is shady AF

While I'm completely in love with Stephen Dorff as Roland West - especially as adorable, pot-bellied old man Roland West - I don't think he can be trusted. Despite the odd accidental murder of Harrison James he's character has seemed inherently good, making it the perfect set up for the show to break our hearts by revealing his was involved in the disappearance - or covering it up - all along. Even nice little character details like the dogs he cares for in his old age could be his way of trying to balance the scales, and assuage his guilt. After all, Hays wouldn't necessarily remember any suspicious behavior on West's part, and West's interest in helping Hays finally solve the cold case could be more about keeping him off the trail than closure. I don't want to believe it of Hays, but something about his story line so far just feels like a splinter waiting to be extracted. 

Julie Purcell has been brainwashed

Julie Purcell seems to be alive and (sort of) well, but also hinted that someone, or some substance, has warped her memories of who she is. Early in the episode a young drifter says he knows her and she spoke about being a "secret princess from the pink rooms." This sounds like nonsense, but we've seen a pink room before, in the drawings (below) Hays and West found in the very early days of the investigation. We also saw her father, Tom, get a glimpse of a pink room right before he turned up dead. 

Julie Purcell also protests that "the man on TV acting like my father," is not her father, much to Tom Purcell's horror, and hints that he did something. The relationship between her mother, Lucy, and her father, certainly makes it possible that Tom isn't her biological dad. Did her 'real' father come and claim her, and convince her she was a princess who needed rescuing? 

It's more than memory loss that makes Wayne Hays an unreliable narrator

What if - and bear with me here - we can't trust anything we've seen so far? We know that Hays is really the center of the whole series, but we also know his memory is failing him, even though he's haunted by the Purcell case he's also lost huge chunks of it. Perhaps he'll prove to be the ultimate unreliable narrator, one who's fragile mind is trying to protect itself from remembering the more painful moments. We know he seems to have little contact with his daughter - is his behavior to blame? There are those visions of Amelia Hays telling her husband "you’re worried what they’ll find. What you left in the woods," which we can assume means the corpse of Harrison James, or is it something else?

The presence of a true crime documentary crew, or his wife's book on the case, could all be ways for the show to reveal completely different perspectives on what we think we already know.

It was never about Will Purcell

This theory centres around the idea that Will Purcell's murder was a tragic by-product of a plan to kidnap Julie Purcell. We know he was protective of her (there are those notes promising to keep her safe) and it seems likely he would have reacted strongly to anyone trying to take her. Even if she wanted to go with them.

This would mean that the reason no one heard from her between the two investigations is because she was happy to escape her troubled family home, one where her parents rowed and her child molester relative hung around. We've heard that Julie spoke about an "aunt" - she has no such blood relative - and that a brown Sedan housing a mysterious couple was seen on the day the Purcell kids disappeared. Has a new family taken her away for a better life? Is that why she talks about being a princess in 1990? Is that what she was promised?

Hoyt Foods is key to the mystery

Hoyt Foods has been a bit player so far, Lucy Purcell worked there, the Detectives went up there with questions about employees early on, but I'd bet a silver dollar it's got a bigger role to play. It's the way the company - and the wealthy family behind it - haunt the whole series. The Hoyt family founded the Ozark Children’s Outreach Center, which offers a reward for information about the disappearance of Julie Purcell. An act of kindness, or a way to keep track of the investigation? 

In a gothic twist, the Hoyt family set up that non-profit because they lost a girl called Isabel who, an old photograph shows, looks similar to Julie Purcell. Did they kidnap Julie promising her a life as a princess? There's that sedan driving around at the time of Julie and Will's disappearance, and the strangely specific detail (if his characters has no role to play in the mystery) that Mr Hoyt was "on safari" around the time of the disappearance. The latest episode leans on this gothic element hard, with tales of poor Miss Isabel, staff confined to certain areas of the house, and Watts/Mr June as her loyal companion. 

Or was it maybe not a kidnapping at all? Did Lucy "give" Julie to Mr Hoyt? For money? Or as part of a darker deal? Or because he was her real father? It would explain why she felt the need to write a ransom note...

What are your True Detective season 3 ending theories? Let us know on Twitter and check out the other series you should be watching with our breakdown of the most anticipated new TV shows coming soon.