Tuesday , April 16 2024

HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country’ – Dark, Supernatural Twist the Series Needed

The fourth season of HBO’s series, True Detective: Night Country, is clearly the best entry since season one’s magnificence – I say the best but not better – and is the first led by two female detectives: Liz Danvers (an amazing Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (the equally amazing Kali Reis). It is also the first season with a female writer/director/showrunner, Issa Lopez. The results are a dark, supernatural twist that the series needed.

Unreasonable Negativity

As I was following the reactions to the series and comments online, I found some negative pushback regarding the female leads, the showrunner, and the story itself. As you can see in some of these comments, these reactions sound like childish whining that disregards the enormous success of the series in the ratings, making it the series’ most watched season. It is also a great improvement over seasons two and three, which may have featured some solid acting (Colin Farrell in season two and Mahershala Ali in season three) but had fragmented stories that diverged from the solid story line of season one.

A Stark Setting for This ‘True Detective’

While each season features a setting that is an integral part of the story (season one: Louisiana, season two: Southern California, and season three: Alabama), season four takes place in the barren wasteland of northern Alaska during days with no sunlight – on the shores of the Beaufort Sea – and the place is like a character in the story, an unrelenting and unforgiving antagonist. During most of the outdoor scenes (filmed in Alaska and Iceland), there is snow blowing around the characters as a reminder of the inclement nature of fictional Ennis, Alaska.

Gruesome Evidence

When eight scientists from the nearby Tsalal Research Station disappear, Police Chief Danvers arrives as well as State Trooper Navarro. There is some tension between the two, but this could be because the only piece of evidence is a human tongue that Navarro believes belonged to the murdered Annie Kowtak (an indigenous woman who was stabbed 32 times and had her tongue cut out), who spoke out against the local mine poisoning the town’s drinking water.

A Frozen Mystery

It turns out that Navarro blames Danvers for not having solved Annie’s murder six years before, but there seems to be something else between them that haunts them both. When local eccentric character Rose Agineau (a terrific Fiona Shaw) makes a grim discovery, Danvers and Navarro proceed to a local lake, where the frozen naked bodies of the eight missing researchers await them. How did they get there and how are they somehow connected to the murdered Annie?

It is discovered that one of the researchers is not among the frozen dead. There have been sightings of Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell) wandering the landscape in heavy snow. How was he connected to these deaths?

Danvers realizes the frozen men were tortured – eyes gouged out, burn marks, and other odd injuries – and the question arises: Who or what did this? When trying to move one of the men, one of the investigators breaks off part of his arm, and the victim screams in agony – he is still alive! Danvers wants to protect him at all costs because he is ostensibly her only witness.

Supernatural Symbol

One of the victims had a strange spiral shaped painted on his forehead. When Danvers questions a local indigenous woman about the shape, she tells Danvers it is connected to witchcraft and other unexplainable dark forces. Navarro thinks that this shape is connected to Annie’s murder and, being indigenous herself, believes in the superstitions that Danvers discounts.

Danvers sends Deputy Hank Prior (John Hawkes) on a search for the wandering Clark, which he reluctantly undertakes. His interactions with Danvers indicate Hank is a disgruntled member of her team, perhaps resenting her for becoming head of the department. His son Peter (the impressive Finn Bennett) is given the grisly task of monitoring the defrosting bodies that have been brought to the local school gymnasium to preserve evidence.

Two Powerful Leads

Foster nails her performance, giving Danvers ticks and mannerisms that at first make it hard for the viewer to like her. Foster herself has said she was playing her like an Alaskan Karen, but there are flashbacks to when her young son died in a car accident that she blames herself for along with her failing relationship with her daughter Leah (Isabella LeBlanc) that help us cut her some slack. Meanwhile, Navarro has to care for her troubled sister Julia (Aka Niviana) and worries about Julia harming herself. Navarro also hears voices – including the voice of Danvers’ dead son – and seems haunted by them. 

Finn realizes that there is something that both Danvers and Navarro are hiding about an old case, something that seems to be part of the friction between the two. Flashbacks reveal what the two are hiding that causes them to not trust in one another, and it is more than a significant factor in their tempestuous relationship. There is the undercurrent of lies in the town – the mining company, the research center, and the police department – and it is undermining relationships, harming the citizens, and turning the drinking water black.

The Verdict

The rest of the way is spoiler territory, but don’t let the fact that this is the first True Detective series to dip into supernatural waters deter you from watching it. The cast is excellent, Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography brings the austere setting alive glowingly, and Vince Pope’s score is hauntingly appropriate. Lopez also goes out of her way to respect the indigenous culture represented in the series, and how that especially applies to the murdered Annie and her people’s desire for real justice not just for her death but all the indignities they have suffered.

True Detective: Night Country should be on you list for must-see viewing. It is, however, not for a young audience because of the mature, often violent, subject matter. The series is highly recommended.

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His new novel, 'Unicorn: A Love Story,' is available as an e-book and in print.

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