Chances are, this won’t be the first True Detective: Night Country review you’ve encountered online. But hopefully, it’ll be the last.
I don’t envy showrunner Issa Lopez.
As we witnessed with the disastrously executed sophomore effort and the scramble recovery of a third chapter, following True Detective season 1 has proven to be an impossible task. Even for the series creator (now executive producer) Nic Pizzolatto.
So how do you live up to what can only be described as televised lightning captured in a bottle? The answer: you don’t.
That’s essentially what makes the recently premiered True Detective season 4 (subtitled Night Country) so damn good. Instead of desperately chasing what the critically acclaimed first season was, and sweatily heaving to shoulder the burden of expectation, it boldly struck out on its own. Plating up something fresh (enough) to the proverbial table.
The result? Ironically enough, a stunning return to form.
True Detective: Night Country takes place in the almost otherworldly fictional town of Ennis, Alaska — a mining outpost bordering the North Pole where winter evenings can last for weeks.
When eight men who operate the Tsalal Arctic Research Station vanish without a trace, leaving nothing but their personal effects, a chilling note, and a severed tongue behind, Detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) are forced to dig up the dark truth which lies beneath the eternal ice… as well as the darknesses they carry within themselves.
For those of you who dug the supernatural elements of True Detective season 1, you’ll be delighted to hear Night Country doubles down on the very spook factor glimpsed in the former. From John Carpenter’s The Thing to Ridley Scott’s Alien, the horror influences are quite evident (though thankfully not too heavy-handed).
In place of Carcosa and The Yellow King, we’re now delving into another equally sinister realm of spirituality and apparitions conjured by personal grief; or at the very least, an entity capable of manipulating the aches of your past. This added dimension elevated the story to something beyond your run-of-the-mill whodunnit. We’re not just dealing with the evils of man here.
Nothing is more paralysing and, at times, claustrophobic than the absence of existence. The kind that leaves generous space for your own imagination to run wild and create fantastical monsters far more intimidating than a creature you can visually perceive. And suffice it to say, the void left by an explicit villain has been leveraged to perfection. We found ourselves staring into the abyss and struggling not to flinch.
Flipping the script with Jodie Foster’s Liz Danvers also made for a wholly captivating viewing experience. Not to delve too much into gender politics here, but the hard-boiled trope often assigned to male characters felt more nuanced with a female portrayal.
Instead of being dogmatically praised for being a badass lone-wolf operator (see: literally me cinema), it shed light on the reality of how alienating working this way would actually be — and how decidedly unlikeable said trope actually is from the outside looking in.
My sole criticism involves that god-awful CGI. That flock of caribou from the opening scene and that one-eyed polar bear appeared positively cartoonish. Granted, how else could they have achieved what they needed from both animals otherwise? But let’s not get lax in this True Detective: Night Country review and call a spade a spade.
People often attribute what made True Detective season 1 so memorable to the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson alone (though they certainly don’t hurt). That is, however, just one piece of a larger and more delicately balanced puzzle.
There’s the genuine sense of slow-burn intrigue; the subtly unsettling conflicts of ulterior motives and secret agendas that snowball as the narrative progresses; there’s the masterful use of an atmospheric setting as its own living-breathing character; and of course, richly textured players who don’t just exist in the story — they react to it, further it, introduce implications instead of merely enduring them.
All of which, we’re happy to report, are present in Night Country.
The original magic of True Detective is back and I, for one, am keen to see where it takes us this time around.
True Detective: Night Country is now streaming here in Australia via Binge and Foxtel GO (new episodes every Monday).
When the long winter night falls in Ennis, Alaska, the eight men that operate the Tsalal Arctic Research Station vanish without a trace. To solve the case, Detectives Liz Danvers (portrayed by Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (portrayed by Kali Reis) will have to confront the darkness they carry in themselves, as well as dig up the dark truths lying underneath the eternal ice.