A Slow Burn Tackling Relevant Issues and Causes


With the invention of the Internet and widespread access to the Internet, investigating has never been easier for those who have an interest in trying to find out what the truth might entail. While there has been an endless fascination with crime and murder throughout history. It has become a global obsession to make content about events not long after they have happened. The mediums have now become familiar: YouTube videos breaking down the details of a disappearance, true crime podcasts dissecting everything that could have happened only a few years ago, television shows, documentaries, and movies about events under the moniker of “based on a true story.” Some of these shows take creative liberties with that slogan, but others take the source material seriously.


When it was first released in 2019, Truth Be Told centered itself on how audiences around the world, especially Americans, love these forms of entertainment. Its protagonist, Poppy, is a journalist who decides to start a true crime podcast–an indicator of the time this television show was made. Released for streaming on Apple TV+, Nichelle D. Tramble Spellman created the series around the book Are You Sleeping by American author Kathleen Barber. Poppy’s podcast serves facts to audiences in the first season, leading to investigations reopening and her taking on relevant cases that happened recently. Octavia Spencer stars as Poppy, the series’ protagonist who will be tackling an entirely different beast in the third season.

Finding The Missing Girls

Octavia Spencer in Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told’s third season opens with this: “Is there any circumstance more terrifying than when a child goes missing?” As Octavia Spencer’s character, Poppy, narrates about the disappearance of an eighteen-year-old’s disappearance in Aruba and the death of Gabby Petito, the scene cuts to a police raid. She reveals Emily Mills, a sixteen-year-old local girl, has disappeared, connecting the two scenes, but this isn’t the first time a young woman has gone missing in the area in the past couple of years. A total of eleven girls have gone missing, all of them young adults. One of them, an African-American girl named Drea, is the only one of the missing girls who came back because the community rallied together to find her.

As it turns out, she made some interviews with Poppy, who was a friend of Drea’s mother, before disappearing again, and Poppy thinks that there might be something in those recordings that could kickstart a deeper investigation into the area. At the same time, the local high school principal (Gabrielle Union) is hosting a PTA meeting to discuss how two girls went missing in the past couple of days and ultimately becomes frustrated when several of the parents dismiss the issue at hand because they know Drea was once addicted to drugs. Because she is a young Black girl who fell into a life on the streets and slipped between the cracks when she was placed in foster care, it seems few have little sympathy for her cause and delegate her as someone who is lost forever, having chosen her fate and unworthy of being searched for in the end.

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However, the school principal and Poppy will not give up on Drea, or the other missing girls, so easily. One of Drea’s interviews with Poppy lead to a small reference that if one isn’t paying attention they could easily miss: a drug that even Aames, an inspector at the Oakland police, is not familiar with. As the episode continues onwards and the characters head onto the high school campus, talking with those who knew Drea as a peer, even more bits of information come closer to the surface. While the third season of Truth To Be Told might be starting with the second disappearance of Drea Spivey and another local teenager, Emily Mills, it becomes slowly clearer that this might be a larger issue and things are more interconnected than they seem.

The principal, Evie, and Poppy are going to take on the case together, but this is only the beginning. Even after Drea calls Poppy and tells her to put off the search for her, telling Poppy they need to stop looking, her suspicions are confirmed about human trafficking potentially being a big player behind all of this. Truth Be Told consists of ten episodes in every season, and the premiere is just the beginning of what looks like a larger mess for these characters. This marks a new beginning for the protagonists, though, as new developments arise for both of them professionally when it comes to the podcast and navigating the politics of a school system. Episode one leans a bit repetitive but sets the stage for what’s to come in the forthcoming episodes.

Hitting Too Close to the Truth

Community rallies around in Truth Be Told

The third season of Truth Be Told is already touching upon some very real topics in today’s world: violence against young women and the prospect of human trafficking is alive. Even in the United States, where many people assume they are safe from such crimes, it is estimated by the government that up to 17,500 people are trafficked domestically each year. For Poppy, our protagonist, it suddenly becomes even more apparent when Drea, whose mother she knows and who she interviewed for roughly ten hours of footage, goes missing a second time. While the other girls are mere faces on a missing poster, there’s a devastating sadness and beauty to Drea’s story when the footage is reviewed, and Drea recalls when the last time she truly felt happy outside of drugs.

There’s a lot more already packed into the season to create underlying subplots beyond the search for what happened to these girls. Poppy, in a conversation with her father, admits that she feels like she is not doing enough and has the desire to redeem herself through this new search for the missing teenagers. Emily Mills, who went missing around the same time as Drea, is getting an increasing amount of coverage on the news and resources with the police department–there’s a simple reason why: Mills appears to come from a more affluent background and is white. When Drea went missing the first time, it’s mentioned that one of the reasons she was found was because of the community; the juxtaposition between the two and the resources being used between their cases is stark.

Related: Why HBO’s Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty Is a True Crime Must Watch

In one pivotal scene in the first episode, the “say her name” chant is brought up in front of a local politician in the school gym, exposing the harsh realities of what it means to be missing and Black. It seems fitting for a podcaster to lead a rally with a phrase that came up in the age of digital activism, although, in hindsight, it can erase the subtle nature of these issues in the show and place them front and center, declaring openly that this is a part of the problem. “People always assume this could never happen to them,” Poppy says on the podcast, “or their kids. But the truth is, it is happening.”

Season three is already off to a great start, building the momentum for ten episodes that have a lot of potential with the subjects and themes the first episode is tackling. While familiar characters are entering and leaving the scene, new ones are seamlessly brought in through natural means, making them seem like they have been here all along. Drea, for example, is one of the characters that quickly gain prominence, and her connection to Poppy is established early on. While the episode comes to some quick conclusions early on about what could be happening in real-time behind the scenes, knowing the previous seasons, something more sinister is afoot and a complex issue cannot be boiled down to just trafficking.

For the first episode, Truth Be Told’s season three does what it needs to do. It establishes emerging themes and storylines for the third season and a tentative partnership between the school principal and Poppy. So far, the issues that have plagued the previous seasons–including a lack of cohesion between episodes–are not obvious, but might appear later on. Until then, episode one of season three looks like it is setting itself up for a relevant ongoing issue in the United States, as seen by the references to Gabby Petito and other women who were victims of these situations.

The first episode Truth Be Told’s third season is available to stream on Apple TV+ as of January 20, 2023. The remaining ten episodes will be released weekly until the finale on March 24, 2023.

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