At the end of last week’s two-part premiere, a farmer found Terry’s old clothes in his barn, and they were completely covered in goo. Tonight’s episode “Dark Uncle” begins in that barn, where the local police are scouring every inch to find anything they can. They collect the clothes, bring them back to the lab, and test for fingerprints and to determine what the gooey substance might be. The cops assume semen, but the tests bring nothing back. It’s a mystery goo, and nothing good happens when mystery goo is involved.
“Dark Uncle” is a much more contemplative episode than last week’s two-parter. It moves the case a little further along, but more importantly, gives space to the characters to deal with their grief and trauma. This is a heavy hour, where everyone seems worn out and completely baffled by the way things have turned out. Some might call it slow, but I think there’s a sluggishness here that’s purposeful, and that captures that strange, “suspended in time” feeling that comes with your life being turned upside down. Nothing feels real, and yet you feel the weight of everything.
There’s simply a general sense of dread hanging over everyone as if there’s no light at the end of this dark tunnel. Certainly, the events of this episode support that. Ralph is meant to be taking time off, and yet he can’t pull himself from the case despite knowing how hopeless everything seems. Jack, the obnoxious detective who loves to get in fights at the strip club, is moping around, drinking himself into oblivion, and seemingly getting infected by whatever dark force is lingering around all of these people. Then there’s Jessa Maitland, Terry’s youngest daughter, who keeps seeing “The Man” in her bedroom. There’s no escaping the darkness here. It’s everywhere.
Things only get stranger when Ralph is presented with new evidence from the barn. There are two sets of fingerprints on the belt buckle. One set belongs to a middle-aged man, and the second set is fainter and belong to someone very old. The thing is, both sets are a match for Terry Maitland. “Terry young, and Terry ancient,” as they put it. It’s just another puzzling bit of evidence that suggests the deceased Terry Maitland isn’t the only Terry Maitland.
Because nothing makes any sense, Ralph asks Pelley and Howie to help him out with the investigation. Yes, he was going to prosecute their client, but he just wants to make things right and figure out what happened to Frankie, and stop it from ever happening again. Pelley says they have to go all the way back to the Maitland family vacation in Dayton where this all started if they want to uncover anything. Pelley and Howie know just the person to do it, too. Her name is Holly Gibney, and she’s a PI with an incredible talent for remembering dates, numbers, and facts. She’s a human-computer, a “unique” person as Ralph says. She was poked, prodded, and tested as a child, her parents wishing for some explanation about why their daughter was so different. Now, she gets to be who she’s meant to be.
So, she heads to Dayton and visits the hotel where the Maitlands stayed, envisioning them running around and enjoying their time together; simpler times, before the darkness settled in. She doesn’t find much in terms of evidence or security footage, but she does discover another case similar to Terry’s. A worker at the facility caring for Terry’s elderly father was charged with murdering two young girls. The end of his life plays out through vignettes in the episode, as he spends his last day cowering in prison, evading a huge white guy intent on killing him, only to then kill himself. The sense here is that this guy didn’t kill those kids either, the same way Terry didn’t kill Frankie. Something is off.
Something is definitely off because the episode ends with Jack muttering to himself. “Whatever you need me to do, whatever you need me to do, whatever you need me to do,” he says over and over again, the back of his neck a black mess of infection. The figure Jessa keeps seeing wanted to send a message to Ralph; it would seem that the figure is about to find a new way to get his message across.