The eeriest True Detective

Embarking on a transformative journey in its fourth seasonTrue Detective: Night Country diverges distinctly from its predecessors. Under the creative direction of Issa Lopez, known for her adept infusion of magical realism as seen in Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), this season transports viewers to a hauntingly isolated Alaskan town.

Here, endless nights and blinding blizzards create a backdrop that not only shapes the landscape but also infuses the narrative with an atmosphere of introspection and surrealism. Drawing from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary style, this season artfully blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, inviting viewers into a world in which human psyche mysteries intertwine with nature’s enigmatic forces.

The recurring image of a polar bear, a motif that lingers ambiguously between the physical and metaphoric, symbolizes the unseen dangers within both the supernatural and human realms, leaving viewers questioning the nature of reality in this gripping psychological thriller. Much of the season often feels like a blend between Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and David Fincher’s Seven (1995).

Boasting venerable Hollywood talent as True Detective’s investigative leads as usual, season four casts Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers, the chief of police. Exuding a small-town charm, she’s a shrewd and sharp-witted detective and a force to be reckoned with. “You’re asking the wrong questions,” she repeats often, pressing Peter Prior (Finn Bennett), a burgeoning officer in her unit.

Called to the site of a research facility to investigate a missing team of scientists, Danvers reunites with her estranged partner Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) at the scene of the crime. The acrimony between them is immediately palpable.

The interplay between the supernatural and human realms is manifested in the unlikely pair. Danvers is a hardened cynic, an atheist who shuns faith and religion at every turn. Navarro, conversely, is an Inupiaq native, trying to hold on to her tribe’s beliefs and customs while grappling with being, in the eyes of her broader community, on the wrong side as a police officer. 

Politics plays a pivotal role in Night Country’s narrative. Firmly transfixed at the intersection of disparate factions and their interests, the plot juggles the politics of its community. The nearby mine, the town’s biggest employer and its source of revenue, is barraged by the local natives with accusations that its operations are seeping toxic elements into the town’s drinking water.

Racial politics are similarly at play. Danvers, a white woman, is largely unsympathetic to the natives’ concerns. It isn’t until her activist hippie daughter, at least half indigenous herself, informs Danvers that the native community had nine stillbirths in the past month that she begins to consider their plight. From indigenous rights to environmentalism, racism, and the ills of big corporations, there are few progressive political matters the season skips.

It is when a clue, found at the scene of the research lab, ties the missing scientists to a previously believed cold case that Navarro and Danvers are, by fate or mere happenstance, thrust back into each other’s lives as they begrudgingly work to discern fact from fiction. 

Throughout the episodes, their layers of history are slowly peeled back, divulging glimpses of their stories. You soon learn that everything is connected, and even the minor characters each have their own slew of stories: Danvers’s disaffected daughter, her late son, and a list of fleeting romances around town so long they make Mamma Mia’s Donna look like a nun. Her partner, Navarro, meanwhile, has her own baggage, from a dementia-afflicted sister to her mysterious and spiritual mentor, Rose (Fiona Shaw), and her own string of flings. In True Detective fashion, every other character is sleeping together.

While Danvers and Navarro do their best to err on the side of justice, there is seldom a sense of right and wrong. Such notions are blurred into moral ambiguities the pair frequently skirts to suit their ends.

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Though, at times, the intricate web of interconnected characters, coupled with the fog of magical realism that weaves in elements of the supernatural, can make Night Country challenging to follow, the season stands as a compelling thriller brimming with twists and unpredictable turns.

If you find yourself wondering how True Detective’s fourth season compares to its predecessors, as Danvers would say, you’re asking the wrong question. Night Country’s triumph isn’t in writing the best whodunit but rather in expanding the boundaries of what the series can be. Incorporating elements of horror and further heightening its suspense, it’s the eeriest season of the show yet.

Harry Khachatrian (@Harry1T6) is a film critic for the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog and a computer engineer in Toronto, pursuing his MBA.

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