“Time is a flat circle and we are all stuck in it."
"It's going to be one of those nights, isn't it?" a character asks in a poignant moment of the highly anticipated fourth season of True Detective. But, what is "one of those nights" when the show's setting of Alaska experiences 60 days of night above the Arctic Circle – a time when Polar Madness is an oft-occurrence?
In season four, we see Jodie Foster as Chief of Police Liz Danvers and newcomer Kali Resi as former detective Evangeline Navarro go head-to-head in a combatant highwire act, pitting indigenous, familial, and female bonds against one another. It is the first time the show has had a predominantly female cast. In the masculine form, we have seen these tales before. The surly suspicion of partners. The brooding exposition of an agitated cop. The tightly wound male ego. Detectives haunted by unsolved cases. Men with quiet strength. Men with secrets. Men with hidden depths. Men haunted by the past.
In this new but no less revolutionary format, women are in the driver's seat. Written and directed by Issa López, tensions are anew, cast along lines so personal that they feel marrow-deep.
As Danvers, Foster is brilliant. Her tight-lipped smile comes across as a grimace; she is cagey and full of secret pain. While she plays the classic steely female detective, she finds deft nuances that create a fully realized character. For example, she declares facetiously that she "hates everyone" but later cooks a youngster macaroni and cheese and talks to her about unicorns so Evangeline can question her mother. Resi, as Navarro, is palpably aching with loss and suspicion, ready to take it out on the nearest cluster of soft tissue, but she is secretly a tender soul. She wears the moments that hollow her out so clearly on her face. Together, she and Foster create a combustible partnership, fueled by unspoken female rage.
True Detective: Night Country, a spiritual successor to the tightly drawn and deliciously paranoid first season, starts on the last sunset of the year, a precursor to long shadows and untamed tales of the imagination. Our mystery is set in Ennis, Alaska, a secluded and suffocating mining town where everybody knows everybody. Eight male scientists at the nearby TSALAL Arctic Research Station vanished without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues. When they are found, their conditions are unbearably gruesome. While it begins like a traditional horror film (with shades of John Carpenter throughout) – like its forerunner – it will leave you wondering just how much the supernatural was responsible for the outcome.
There are immediate and frequent callbacks to the first season's "Crooked Spiral," a symbol of "The Yellow King" investigated by Rust Cohle and Martin Hart (played by Woody Harelson and Matthew McConaughy, respectively) that might hold a different distinction this time around – bound by something deep and ancestral. There is also a strong parallel between Danvers' classic maneuver of needing to ask the right question, a callback to a similar distinction Cohle demands in season one. And similar to the first season, which had a terrific score by T. Bone Burnett, the music in season four is brilliantly used to amplify the storytelling (be on the look out for the surprisingly humorous use of a Beach Boys song). Because of its associations with the first season (and the way season four's main characters are also tethered by a tenuous alliance), it's hard not to compare the two.
The first season of True Detective was a huge moment for television, seeing the arrival of two major A-list film stars to the small screen. Not previously known for television, these heavy-hitters elevated the format to its zenith – heralding the third Golden Age of Television. This age doesn't follow a formulaic narrative arc and puts a huge amount of trust in the viewer to analyze and solve the mystery on their own. It's both challenging and satisfying to be part of the careful dance of detective work. In returning to form, True Detective: Night Country pulls you into a world where facts combat supernatural fiction, where nothing is as it seems, or is it?
The show is a slow burn, but when the fire really starts roaring, it threatens to consume everything in its path. By episode five, the emotional entanglements of the characters reach a shocking crescendo, but that's only the start of the mystery's unraveling.
There are those for whom the conclusion of this story will astonish and satisfy and those who will leave questioning whose justice was really served. But remember, as the show itself says, "A story is just a story."
You can now stream True Detective: Night Country exclusively on OSN+ and air on OSNtv.