A chill hits your bones mere frames into True Detective: Night Country.
I’ll credit some of that creeping cold to the show’s location: Ennis, Alaska, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There’s nothing there but vistas of crisp, cold blue, extending as far as the eye can see. Even if you’re watching Night Country draped in blankets in your warmest room, one look at the infinite ice is enough to make your breath catch in your throat and fog in front of your face.
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But more chilling still is Night Country‘s opening scene. The sun, which is setting for the last time before weeks of endless night, passes behind a calm herd of elk. As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, the elk sniff the air, perk up their ears, and charge off a cliff en masse. What led to this leap into the abyss? Was it some kind of group madness? Or did something — some unknown, unseen force — drive them to it?
That tension between madness and the supernatural, the maybe-real and maybe-paranormal, is what drives True Detective‘s extraordinary fourth season. Yes, you can certainly expect several of the hallmarks of the much beloved Season 1: A tortured pair of detectives with a contentious relationship, a deeply atmospheric murder case, and even hints at the occult. But in the hands of new showrunner Issa López — who has taken the reins from show creator and exec producer Nic Pizzolatto — True Detective: Night Country leans harder into horror, a choice that perfectly suits its icy, pitch-black setting. That, coupled with two powerhouse leads in Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, makes for a gripping season of television that pays tribute to the True Detective that came before — but more importantly, paves the way forward into something new.
What is True Detective: Night Country about?
Jodie Foster and Finn Bennett in “True Detective: Night Country.”
Credit: Michele K. Short / HBO
Every detective story needs a case, and True Detective: Night Country‘s is a doozy. As the long night falls over Ennis, eight men working at the remote Tsalal Arctic Research Station go missing. When they do turn up, they’re miles out on the ice, fully naked, and frozen together in a grotesque “corpsicle.” Grim stuff, with no answers in sight.
The bizarro nature of the case leads Ennis Police Chief Elizabeth Danvers (Foster) to label it a “shitbowl.” But that doesn’t stop her from seeking out who might be responsible, especially when evidence found at Tsalal links back to a cold case from six years ago: the murder of Iñupiaq activist Annie Masu Kowtok (Nivi Pedersen).
‘True Detective: Night Country’ trailer teases Jodie Foster and Kali Reis hunting a serial killer
Also on the hunt for answers is trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis). She carries the weight of Annie’s unsolved murder with her, even after her dogged pursuit of justice led to her demotion. While Navarro’s relationship with Danvers may have soured years ago, the two resolve to work together one last time to understand what, exactly, happened at Tsalal.
True Detective: Night Country gives us two astounding new leads in Danvers and Navarro.
Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in “True Detective: Night Country.”
Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO
The core of True Detective has always been the relationship between its leading detectives: the long nights spent obsessing over a case, the conversations and secrets shared over car rides. That’s no different here, with the prickly dynamic between Danvers and Navarro blazing at the heart of Night Country’s frigid story. On the basest levels, you can draw a line between this pair and that of True Detective‘s very first season: Much like the philosophical musings of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) often ticked off realist Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), so too do Navarro’s more spiritual leanings grate on straight-shooter Danvers. But make no mistake, these women are not rip-offs. They’re wholly their own.
Danvers gets on the nerves of seemingly everyone she meets, from a mining bigwig whose husband she slept with to subordinates like police officer Hank Prior (John Hawkes). That suits her just fine: If she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t give a damn what you think of her. Things get trickier with people she cares more about, like her stepdaughter Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc) or officer (and Hank’s son) Peter (Finn Bennett). How can she let people in when she’s too busy barreling across the frozen wastes in search of killers? Foster, phenomenal as always, brings a gritty intensity to Danvers, along with a wry streak of humor that lends a dark season a tad of levity.
In her first TV role, former boxer Reis matches Foster beat for beat, with a powerful screen presence that grips you tightly every second she’s on camera. Her Navarro is a fierce fighter with a vulnerable, spiritual streak. She can’t stand by while women, especially Indigenous women, are hurt and ignored by the Ennis community — a trait that sometimes drives her to make impulsive, not-quite-legal decisions. She also has a conflicted relationship with God and the possibility that there is more to life than just our world. With a troubled family history, including her sister Julia’s (Aka Niviâna) ongoing struggles with mental illness, and visions calling to her from across the ice, Navarro sometimes feels caught between the real and the supernatural. Just like True Detective: Night Country as a whole.
True Detective: Night Country is a hypnotic ghost story.
Kali Reis in “True Detective: Night Country.”
Credit: Michele K. Short / HBO
True Detective is no stranger to flirting with the paranormal, albeit to varying degrees, depending on your interpretation. But López, known for her horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid, positions us squarely in the realm of ghost stories. Whispered voices issue cryptic warnings. Apparitions guide characters closer to answers. The dead may not always be gone.
Ennis functions as the perfect location for this strangeness to play out. Self-described as “the end of the world” and shrouded in nonstop darkness for months of the year, the town is as close as True Detective can get to the barrier between Earth and whatever lays beyond. For some residents of Ennis, any ghostly happenings are just a part of living there. Survivalist Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) calmly tells people that she gets visits from her late husband. At one point, a resident simply says, “This is Ennis, man. You see people sometimes.”
So, are the ghosts just a part of living in the night? Or are they as real as the snow that crunches below Danvers and Navarro’s boots? True Detective: Night Country leaves you enough wiggle room to make the call for yourself, forgoing easy answers in favor of deep, dark atmosphere.
All this talk of ghosts doesn’t mean True Detective: Night Country steers clear of real-world evils and issues. Night Country is as much a portrait of an embattled isolated community as it is a ghost story. Many of the people of Ennis, especially the Indigenous community, protest the mining operation polluting their water. That same operation fights back with the argument that there would be no town without their presence, even though the Iñupiaq were here long before Ennis. Elsewhere, characters like Leah and Navarro grapple with how to engage with their Iñupiaq identity. And when it comes to the case, Danvers, Navarro, and especially Peter find themselves sacrificing their personal lives for their work too many times to count.
These are all-too-real concerns that are often augmented by the madness of the long night. And while it’s quite a bit to juggle, the season’s six-episode run is lean and mean enough that this puzzle never outstays its welcome or overspills its bounds. Night Country is a riveting, pensive addition to the True Detective canon, one that invites you deep beneath the ice in search for even a glimmer of light.