True Detective Night Country brings horror, Indigenous trauma, and Jodi Foster

by Charles Gerian

“You didn’t find her. You didn’t see the hate. You could see the disgust, the way they cut her…broken teeth, broken ribs. Then they cut out her tongue to shut her up. Wouldn’t have happened if she was white, though.”

5 years after its third season, HBO’s brooding anthology series “True Detective” returned this past weekend with the fourth entry subtitled “Night Country”, heralding a change of form and, perhaps, a much-needed sense of direction for the often good but more-often misaligned crime-drama.

“True Detective: Night Country” takes place in the snow-covered remote region of Alaska where the night stretches weeks at a time.

Outside the small town of Ennis, the all-male team of a mysterious research station vanishes, drawing the attention of the small-town police station led by the seen-it-all Chief of Police Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) who discovers that the case could be linked to a years-unsolved murder of a young Indigenous activist which caused the rough-and-tumble former Chief of Police Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) to forsake her post to become a State Trooper.

The two jurisdictional colleagues/rivals come together to thaw out a chilling murder mystery that threatens to unravel both their lives as well as the entire community.

While “True Detective” dug deep into the brooding, fractured, contemplative natures of manhood, the difference between the series of old and the new and retooled “True Detective” can be found almost immediately from the opening theme song which swaps out the blues and indie/folk rock inspired hits of the previous three for Billy Eilish’s electronic and sinister 2019 track “Bury A Friend”.

“Night Country” owes as much to David Lynch’s original “Twin Peaks” and HBO’s own “True Detective”-inspired series “Mare of Eastown” as it does to its legacy.

This new take uses the familiar “two alike-but-different cops with trauma bond over a grizzly case” trope and injects the paranormal eccentricity of Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” with shades of Taylor Sheridan’s WIND RIVER and Amazon Prime’s under-the-radar dud “Three Pines” as well as continuing to shine the spotlight that has been cast on Indigenous stories popularized by FX’s “Rez Dogs” and this year’s KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON.

“Night Country”, off the bat, roots itself in the paranormal and mysterious while still showing the audience hints of what they come to expect from the “True Detective” tropes with Foster and Reis’s two cop characters.

Foster, a genre icon thanks to her role of Clarice Starling in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, falls right into the role here with the grace and gravitas one would expect from an actor of her caliber. Her co-star Kali Reis is a professional boxer covered in tattoos and piercings including two dimple piercings that accent her hard-edge but still effeminate features. She looks as badass as she is, and we see that off the jump in this new series.

There is a lot to unpack alone in the first episode, especially where the shadowy research station is confirmed, and I’m sure theories online are already flying around.

As far as the content of the show, the role of the Alaskan-based Indigenous population seems to be integral to the tone and plot. That, likely, is thanks to Issa Lopez, a Mexican filmmaker, who pulls triple-weight here as the director, writer, and showrunner with “True Detective” architect Nic Pizzolatto as executive producer.

The influences here can be seen in Lopez’s directorial debut with 2017’s VUELVEN (TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID) which deals with human trafficking, the treatment of women in Mexico, and communities torn apart by hate-fueled crimes with a paranormal twist.

The setting always plays a huge part in any “True Detective” entry from the eerie swamps of Lousiana so sticky and damp you could feel the show cling to your skins to the sun-drenched and seedy streets of Los Angeles where you could taste the cigarette smoke and drug residue in your gums to the poverty-ridden small towns of the Arkansas Ozarks where broken dreams lingered like an aftertaste on the sips of cold beer.

Here, Ennis, Alaska is glimpsed at in the first episode as a cold and desolate place that is as alive as any small town you might know. There is an immediate sense of familiarity, even in such a unique and far-removed location. The cops know everyone, a young man struggles with weighing his one job prospect and keeping his significant other and their son happy, and there is a prevalent sense that a racial divide is simmering just under the surface of it all.

“True Detective” as a must-see TV experience is back. Episode 1 is now streaming on Max, and new episodes air every Sunday on HBO at 8 p.m.