‘True Detective: Night Country’ series review: Jodie Foster, Issa López revitalise an iconic show with a new perspective

López’s approach, adamant on focussing beyond the two people solving the case, becomes crucial in making this season a memorable standout

February 21, 2024 01:47 pm | Updated February 22, 2024 06:24 pm IST

Jodie Foster in ‘True Detective: Night Country’ 

Jodie Foster in ‘True Detective: Night Country’ 

True Detective so far has had four different iterations. Each one set in a specific location, following a pair of detectives whose lives are consumed by a kryptonic case. The idea, as envisioned and executed by Nic Pizzolatto in the first three seasons, was to use a major crime as a moral flashpoint in the lives of the different detectives, who are forced to look inwards while solving the case.

Sharpening this formula, Issa López delivers a riveting fourth season, reviving the show after five years. Calling back themes from the first season, López dials up the supernatural elements along with the sinful ones, but her masterstroke lies in how she folds in the misery of the victim with the existential dread of the detectives. With both parts intrinsically interlinked, True Detective: Night Country sets off on a refreshing journey over six episodes.

At the beginning of the sunless period, in the icy planes of the Alaskan town of Ennis, a group of male scientists go missing from their remote research station, leaving behind only a woman’s tongue. Playing a cop over three decades after she essayed Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster as Chief Liz Danvers is tasked with solving the case. Not well received in most parts of Ennis, Danvers is especially at odds with Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), who insists that the tongue might be connected to the murder of an Iñupiat woman that took place six years ago.

True Detective: Night Country (English)
Director: Issa López
Cast: Jodie Foster, Kali Reis, Fiona Shaw, Finn Bennett, Isabella Star LaBlanc, John Hawkes, and others
Episodes: 6
Runtime: 50-60 minutes
Storyline: In the sunless months of Alaska, eight men disappear into thin air and are later found frozen to death. As the police investigate, they find connections to a previously unsolved murder

True Detective: Night Country juggles several different genres over a short time frame. While López has traced her inspirations to classic sci-fi horror flicks such as The Thing (1982), at the heart of it, the show remains devoted to its origins as a small-town murder mystery. The complicated personal lives of Danvers and Navarro take centre stage often, and the town’s mining company appears to be hiding its own secrets. Everyone knows everyone in Ennis, but no one seems to know anything.

López ultimately appears interested in operating this show on at least two different tracks. The first is Danvers’ office, where the technical details of the missing and the murdered are dealt with. The second track on which the show travels encourages a mild suspension of disbelief to surrender to the ghostly realities coursing through the veins of this sleepy town. Fiona Shaw, who plays a town recluse named Rose, advises Navarro early on not to “confuse the spirit world with mental health issues.” Rose’s advice is a giveaway of where López is trying to take this season — the grey area between horrors of the mind and actual hauntings, where most great masters of horror have already operated. Most of López’s writing through this season suggests the same, as she deftly commands the two tracks, letting them gain steam individually before cheekily making them cross. It is a more daring look at the suggestions of occult and other-worldly phenomenon made in the previous seasons of True Detective.

However, a daring approach doesn’t make it immune to pacing issues. Leaving a large part of the case unsolved until the last two episodes means that expository monologues make an appearance. The show also would have benefitted by writing in the actual culprits in the script throughout, rather than bookend appearances. If Night Country were just a crime show, these issues would have stood out more, but an expansive narrative canvas ensures that the audience has several conclusions to look forward to.

Buoyed by incredibly strong performances by Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, who are supported by a richly talented ensemble, Night Country’s strengths lie in its imaginative yet sensitive story. It is made better by a constant acknowledgment of the victims, and of the Indigenous Iñupiat community. Issa López’s approach, adamant on focussing beyond the two people solving the case, becomes crucial in making this season a memorable standout.

True Detective: Night Country is available for streaming on JioCinema

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