Hays (Mahershala Ali) frustrates his son, Henry (Ray Fisher), with his seemingly demented desire to re-work the Purcell case. Henry’s now in law enforcement himself, and he doesn’t want to enable a trip down memory lane for his memory-challenged parent. He especially doesn’t want to track down Roland West (Stephen Dorff). But Wayne insists.
He visits the documentarian who’s been interviewing him, asking for missing pieces. She starts with a big one—photos of the skeletal remains of someone who was identified as Lucy Purcell’s cousin, the referentially named Dan O’Brien. He tries to collect his notes, but things are getting confused. He’s talking out loud, to his daughter. But the people who materialize at his shoulder are Viet Cong combatants. And outside, a car appears to be tracking him.
Hays is at a tense moment in his marriage. Tempers are short. Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) has had it with Wayne’s lack of agency. Wayne, who will never win a war of words with his wife, is stewing in resentment over having been cuckolded by his own case; Amelia’s been writing her book about the Purcells for the past five years while Wayne took the kids shopping for toilet paper. He’s wounded. Not just by her, but also by her. Amelia decides the remedy for the situation is sex (of course she does). And hey, it works: No one meant anything they said. Whew. Meanwhile, the reopening of the case is already presenting complications. The prosecutor is making it plain he means to intervene in the “results” of the re-investigation. They start to go over things again, adding in security footage from the drugstore where Julie’s fingerprints were found. It’s slow going, but ultimately, Hays finds her on the video.
Most of “The Hour and the Day” takes place in 1980, where a Catholic priest gives a catechism class. He seems like a pretty low-key and not overtly creepy guy, but West has a strong instinct to suspect him on the grounds that he’s elected to live a celibate life. West and Hays share a growing suspicion that murdered Will Purcell was just in the way; that whoever did this was after the still-missing Julie.
The elderly church lady who made the corn husk dolls recalls a man buying ten of the dolls at a fall fair; a Black man with “a dead eye” who probably lives “with the rest of them” on the other side of the tracks. They go looking for him; West thinks they ought to try the neighborhood liquor store. “That’s pretty fucking racist, man,” Hays says, without particular rancor.
“It’s one of three businesses in town, because nobody uses it,” West shoots back, unruffled. And yes, the guy at the liquor store does know a man with a dead eye, at the trailer park. That gentleman is not psyched to be receiving a visit from the cops. “White children,” he says. “If it was in the papers, it’s white children.” He levels his working eye at Wayne. “How you gonna wear that badge?” he asks disgustedly. “It’s got a little clip on it,” Wayne shoots back. Man, they are both so good at this. Predictably, things escalate. These cops clearly don’t want to accuse someone because he happens to have a dead eye, but on the other hand it’s a thing you can’t help noticing. The man points out that in a town where the chicken processing facility is one of the only gigs in town, a lot of people are missing an eye, a finger—something. Driving back, Hays asks if West would have been capable of shooting one of the men in the trailer park. “The fact that they were black probably gave me more pause,” West retorts. Back at the church, the detectives seek answers and observations from congregants who might have known the Purcells. The priest offers Hays confession; he declines. The priest hasn’t noticed a black man with a cataract at church.
Wayne takes Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) out to dinner. She’s getting interested in the case. They bond, trade histories. He admits to a “mental handicap” of not being into women he doesn’t have an intellectual or emotional connection to. Meanwhile, West goes to a bar to rescue a bottomed-out Tom Purcell (Scoot MacNairy) from himself.
Amelia brings Will’s things from school to Lucy (Mamie Gummer), who is not in a particularly good space and confesses, in one of the season’s most pointedly absurd lines, “I’ve got the soul of a whore.” (Twice, actually.) She also confesses to not having loved her kids and to waiting for the “courage” to shoot herself. Then she melts down and screams “pickaninny bitch” at the teacher and chases her out.
Meanwhile, the trash picker (Michael Greyeyes) makes the grievous error of talking to a couple of kids in sight of the creepy white trash vigilantes. Hays and West are interrogating Freddie Burns (Hays is really good at scaring white guys with prison rape threats), who confesses to taking Will’s bike—but not to anything more. He says Will disappeared into the woods. A call comes in that something is going on at the trash picker’s house. Hays and West get there just as the fat hamhock vigilante decides to break into the house. Which is rigged with munitions. Cut to black.
The actual story points in this episode, most of which take place in 1980, are almost not the point; they’re a vehicle, and they could be different story points without it changing the real substance of the episode, much of which is about people’s different ways of dealing with race tensions, and nearly all of which is in rich pas de deux exchanges. During each, different pairs of characters—husband and wife, father and son, partner and partner, teacher and parent, cop and devastated drunk—talk about or, more frequently, around things. “The Hour and the Day” gracefully takes on the way a character might develop over 35 years if he were living in a culture that’s inherently exhausting for him. As a Black man, he finds much of the white community doesn’t especially trust or respect him. Since he’s a cop, much of the Black community feels exactly the same way. His relationship with Amelia, expansive and hopeful in 1980 and tired and resentful in 1990, deepens the sense that one way or the other, this man is going to end up feeling like he has nowhere to call home. It develops your sympathies with Hays, but not to the exclusion of other characters, most notably Roland West, who is just cornball and aw-shucks enough that it keeps surprising you to realize how sanguine and clear-headed he is. He has a really intense emotional honesty, and it’s a character choice I’m loving. In 2015, as the increasingly frail Hays becomes more muddled, his most frantic moment comes when he seems to realize he doesn’t know where his partner is or how long it’s been since they spoke. It makes you realize that Hays has always been very clear that West was more than just his coworker—that he was a source of stability and affection in an otherwise pretty alienated life.
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.