The latest episode of True Detective, titled “Night Country”, features a standout performance by Jodie Foster that elevates the show to new heights.
Full disclosure: I have never been a fan of True Detective, even in its highly acclaimed first season. It was filled with excessive and dramatic acting and directing. As the following seasons fell victim to the same self-indulgence, I, like many others, stopped watching.
The fourth season of True Detective, titled Night Country, has returned. This season marks the first without its creator Nic Pizzolatto as the showrunner or writer, though he remains as executive producer. The new writer and director, Issa López, have brought about radical changes, stripping back to a brutal and beautiful core. Instead of the scorching sun that previous characters endured, we are now in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, where the days are turning into 60 days of darkness. The new mystery unfolds with stark and sparse horror, as all the scientists from a nearby research station have disappeared without a trace except for a severed tongue and the words “We are all dead” written on a whiteboard. This may be linked to a previous unsolved murder of a native Iñupiat woman and anti-mining activist named Annie.
Detective Elizabeth Danvers is the investigator assigned to the case of the missing men. Jodie Foster portrays her character, who embodies both strength and detachment in the harsh, frozen environment she navigates. Foster’s performance makes one question why she is not a constant presence in all works of film. Danvers was “transferred” to this desolate outpost a few years prior, seemingly as a form of punishment for her demeanor. As a woman, she is often viewed as abrasive, a label that would be lauded if she were a man. However, Danvers is not bothered by societal expectations, as she is both experienced and unapologetic.
Hesitantly teaming up with her on the inquiry, Danvers offers, in her typical brief manner, “Do you want to join?” or “Do you want to handle it yourself?” alongside Iñupiat state trooper Evangeline Navarro. Portrayed by former boxer Kali Reis in her first appearance on television, she displays her talent and commanding presence. Navarro was fixated on Annie’s case and firmly believes there is a link between the two. However, she and Danvers had a messy professional split, with the details slowly coming to light, and their relationship is far from easy camaraderie.
The TV show True Detective has frequently hinted at the supernatural and continues to do so. However, in this remote town, where darkness dominates for months on end, these elements feel less like a literary device and more like a plausible explanation for everything. When dead caribou suddenly move and a group of bodies are discovered frozen in fear in the middle of a desolate landscape, it seems more logical to consider the Iñupiat’s beliefs in the spirit world and the blurred line between the living and the dead, rather than solely relying on the police. Director López doesn’t exaggerate these themes, but incorporates them enough to tap into our deepest fears while Detective Danvers follows the evidence.
The issue of race and gender is also intertwined in the story. The Iñupiat community is not given equal treatment. Domestic abuse is prevalent in the town. Danvers, an older woman who does not conform to traditional feminine norms, is only given minimal respect for her job position. However, there are more pressing matters to address. Who is providing funding for the research station, which is on the cusp of a groundbreaking discovery in cancer and disease treatment? Who is the owner of the severed tongue found on the floor? How can Danvers prevent the case from being taken over by higher authorities in Anchorage? And how can a large number of frozen bodies be defrosted without compromising any potential evidence?
Night Country is a brilliant inversion of the men-heavy, heat-oppressed, narratively bloated series that have gone before. López has kept the off-kilter essence of the thing but made it – with the help of Foster, Reis and an array of other fine actors, including Fiona Shaw and Christopher Eccleston – its own thing. She has created a brooding, melancholy world of terrible possibilities and made True Detective not just worth watching again but more so than ever.