True Detective

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in "True Detective."

The slow, grim third season of HBO’s “True Detective” has thrown a lot at us in its first three episodes: straw dolls, multiple suspects and at least one creepy peeping hole. 

All these clues and details might add up to the solving of a satisfying mystery or they might just be show creator Nic Pizzolatto’s way of taking us down a bunch of dead ends. (Good as the first season of “True Detective” was, that finale left a lot of questions unanswered.)

In any case, it’s hard not to fixate on one particular detail dropped in the middle of last week’s episode 2, as former detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) discusses his decades-old case of two missing children with true crime documentarian Elisa Montgomery (Sarah Gadon).

“Did you know,” she asks him, “at various times since (your case), large-scale pedophile rings connected to people of influence were uncovered in the surrounding areas? Do you know about the Franklin scandal?”

She’s of course referring to the child-sex ring allegations that rocked Omaha in the late ’80s. The claims at the time centered around Lawrence E. King Jr., who ran the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union in Omaha. Alleged abuse victims said that as children they were flown to Satan-worshipping sex parties on the coasts, where they were abused by Americans in the highest reaches of power.

The allegations were later dismissed by a grand jury as “a carefully crafted hoax,” with two witnesses indicted for perjury. (More info here.) Though King was convicted of embezzling millions from the credit union. 

You can read more about the Franklin allegations here and here.

Despite the grand jury’s findings, the Franklin Credit scandal has continued to intrigue true crime aficionados and conspiracy theorists for more than 30 years, particularly in the wake of so many child sex abuse scandals abetted by the rich and powerful being proven true.

Look for no better evidence that the Franklin scandal never really went away than it being mentioned on an HBO prestige drama more than 30 years later.

Pizzolatto is clearly a true-crime obsessive in his own right, and the mention of the Franklin scandal could just be a throwaway line or another red herring in a season that’s already piling up with them. (Season 3 has similarly evoked the West Memphis Three, teasing three high school boys — one wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt — as suspects in the abduction.)

Of course, “True Detective” isn't making a direct connection between its case and the (debunked) allegations of the Franklin scandal. But it is hinting that a Franklin-eseque conspiracy might be afoot.

This season takes place across three different timelines (1980, 1990, 2015) as Ali’s detective sifts through the clues of the case that changed his life: two children abducted in the Ozarks.

Nearly halfway through its season, the show has proven a mixed bag of fascinating and frustrating. The three-timeline narrative structure willfully omits huge swaths of story for the sake of building up its mystery, complicating what might end up being a simple abduction-and-murder case.

The reason to keep watching “True Detective” lies in the possibility that it might be something more: a far-reaching conspiracy.

The show's true-crime documentary filmmaker sure seems to think so. And a few clues (a brown sedan, a children’s outreach foundation at a chicken products plant) seem to be pointing towards something much bigger than “the creepy neighbor killed the kids.”

There's also plenty of speculation that this season of "True Detective" connects to Season 1, which left a lot of questions on the table regarding a certain videotape.

Given Pizzolatto’s track record, I’m doubtful that he sticks the landing, and so far, I’ve got to admit, “True Detective” has been a bit of a tedious slog (despite Ali’s brilliant work).

But I’ll keep watching. Like any good conspiracy theorist, the modern TV viewer has to return week after week, if only to see how it’s all connected.

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