TV: True Detective: Night Country

Evidently, people—well, men—have issues with True Detective: Night Country. This latest season, which among other things serves as a corrective for the franchise’s earlier male-gazey misogyny, has propelled the series back into the online culture wars. Fortunately, that controversy hasn’t overshadowed the fact that the new season is both a ratings success and a critical darling. Deservedly, talented new showrunner Issa López has already been tapped to helm another season. I quite liked it, and while I too had issues, they had nothing to do with the show’s overall quality. It’s beautifully shot, nicely performed, and unnervingly atmospheric.

Set in the remote, icy community of Ennis, Alaska, Night Country focuses on a mysterious tragedy wherein several scientists from a remote research institute are found naked and frozen to death. The investigation falls to cranky local sheriff Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), a hard-nosed, perverse exile who has a bad habit of alienating everyone in her life. With the assistance of her earnest young deputy Pete Prior (Finn Bennett), Liz tackles the case, eventually involving a troubled state trooper named Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), with whom she has a storied history. That past rears its ugly head when the detectives connect the case to the years-ago incident that drove a wedge between them, threatening to reopen old wounds, even as the new ones continues to bleed.

I’m not sure what it is about True Detective that inspires such vehement opinions. For all the spellbinding effectiveness of its  first season, it wasn’t all that much different from scads of equally good or better dark procedurals of recent times. Indeed, if there’s a drawback to Night Country for me, it’s that it’s so reminiscent of so many other shows. In particular, its makeup will be very familiar to fans of Nordic noir who revel in mysteries where remote, cold locales are set upon by creepy goings-on—usually mundane, but occasionally supernatural. Fortitude, The Head, and Midnight Sun are just a few titles that leap to mind, not to mention The Kettering Incident—which, while certainly not Nordic, has a similar mix of slow-burn conspiracy-thriller pacing, environmental dread, and murderous, isolated mayhem. In this respect, Night Country feels very much like part of a tradition, and consequently a smidge unfresh.

That reaction won’t hold, however, for viewers who haven’t inundated themselves in international crime TV in the streaming era. Overall, True Detective: Night Country is a finely crafted piece of work, driven by Foster’s searing lead performance and the capable assistance of Bennett, Reis, Christopher Eccleston, John Hawkes, Fiona Shaw, and the rest of the cast. The dark setting has an ominous weight to it, and the narrative has just the right balance of grim reality and otherworldly intrigue, its ending both unnervingly ambiguous and structurally satisfying. I’m very much looking forward to where López takes the series from here.

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