True Detective: Night Country Review: An Atmospheric Mystery Worth Watching

Jodie Foster returns to television with a new, polarizing season of this thrilling crime anthology.

It’s hard to live up to the precedent set by the first season of HBO’s anthology series True Detective. Nic Pizolatto jump-started the detective genre into the modern age with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as the unlikely pair of detectives solving a series of macabre murders in the rural backwoods of Louisiana. It was a constant shift in tone from humanity’s violent impulses to the great mystical importance of the cosmos, with McConaughey’s Detective Rust Cohle at the center of existential dread. It was bleak, eerie, and perhaps one of the finest seasons of detective television in the past couple of decades.

However, the following seasons would not strike gold every time. Season 2, featuring Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, was a wash. Season 3, starring Mahershala Ali, was a decent enough return to form. Here’s where True Detective: Night Country lands among the previous seasons. Starring Jodie Foster and Kali Reis as an unmatched duo of cops set to solve on the ice, this season is set in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska. The series’ title references the small, isolated towns in Alaska that live off half a year of sunlight and half a year in total darkness, small towns at the end of the world. It’s a compelling setting for this season’s crime, which is kickstarted when a group of foreign scientists suddenly go missing from their research base. While tasked with finding them, Foster and Reis’ characters set out on an investigation resembling Detective Cohle’s ramblings in Season 1. 

Pizzolatto doesn’t helm this iteration; instead, it’s led by Mexican writer/director Issa López. While set in the imaginary town of Ennis, López is committed to grounding this season of True Detective in the reality of the land where it takes place. Night Country speaks to the real issues of Native land and violence against the Native women of Alaska. This is especially true in the way native people are violently ushered out of their own land, how social conditions created by colonial residue and capitalist greed lead to native lives, especially that of women, being risk at all times. Whether it’s domestic violence, mental health issues, or poverty, True Detective: Night Country becomes an investigation into the lawless nature of remote communities, the vast arctic land at the center of its violent outpour. It may be the show’s most polarizing season. Either you will love it or hate it.

López’s attempts to balance out the social commentary with the “whodunit” nature of the series does become a little convoluted, especially when the series also involves a supernatural element that is surprising more than unwarranted. It makes sense. López mimics a lot of what made Season 1 so successful but purposefully through the lens of a female perspective. This could warrant a critical eye, but it takes what Detective Cohle represented and expands on it, hence why the swirl symbol is vital to the mythos of the series. More importantly, it gives credence to Native culture and the importance of spirituality in the dichotomy of land, land stolen and pillaged by mines sent to deplete these isolated towns, leaving everything else to rot. Foster’s and Reis’ visions or dreams speak to that vast emptiness. The way the land bears witness to the violence eventually speaks back. Ghosts of the dead haunt the ice. 

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López’s vision plays on the ambiguity of the anthology we saw in Season 1. It creates an atmospheric detective story with more than just mystery. It contextualizes how crime is unique to its environment in more ways than one. It’s not just the missing scientists that become the central figures of this season’s investigation but how many crimes contribute to destroying these isolated communities already forgotten by local governments. True Detective: Night Country has something to say, perhaps not in with as much nuance as it’s warranted, but it’s worth listening to. 

True Detective: Night Country premieres Sunday, January 14 at 9 pm ET, only on Crave.



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