In its finale, True Detective: Night Country delivers where it counts

You are now leaving Night Country.
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO /

True Detective: Night Country had a lot of questions to answer in its final episode, some big, some small. It didn't answer every single one of them to my complete satisfaction, but it came through where it counted. I left the episode feeling glad, surprised, and full.

Let's dig one last time into the night-blasted Alaskan countryside. What happened to Annie K? Who killed the scientists at Tsalal? Did Hank's mail order bride get held up at customs? Beware MAJOR SPOILERS beyond this point.

Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO /

True Detective: Night Country finale review, "Part 6"

Going into "Part 6," I thought the show had too many plotlines to wrap up. I expected the episode to feel crunched and rushed, but it didn't. It was long, but it entertained me throughout, answering one question at a time, starting with the creepiest: just what is down in those ice caves? What secrets are hiding in the Night Country?

Danvers and Navarro slip into the caves at the top of the episode, and mainly my takeaway is that walls of ice look kind of fake on film. I'm not saying they were fake, just that I have little to no context for what walls of ice look like and if they look like that then they kind of recall standing in line for a North Pole-themed roller coaster at Disneyland. Not an insult, just an observation.

Anyway, the first big zag of the episode comes when Navarro falls through the floor, with Danvers quickly tumbling in after her. It's a light moment in a creepy episode. I checked some of the reviews for Night Country on IMDb, and a lot of people seem to think that pratfalls like this spoil the seriousness of the narrative, but I don't feel that way. I liked that Night Country could occasionally make me chuckle while still delivering chills and thrills.

And "Part 6" comes through by revealing none other than Raymond Clark — the sole survivor of the Tsalal massacre — hiding out down in the caves. We expected that. We did not expect there to be electric lights and work stations down here, much less a ladder leading up to the Tsalal Arctic Research Station itself. Twist!

There were a couple things that annoyed me here. How far had they walked through the ice caves that they're now under Tsalal? It didn't seem like much time had passed. And is "Twist and Shout" really still playing up there? It's been weeks. But the success of "Part 6" is that it distracted me enough that I forget that stuff and focused on Raymond stalking our heroes through the halls of the research base, locking Danvers in some kind of walk-in locker and knocking out Navarro with a fire extinguisher. Sure, they overpower him, tie him to a chair and make him listen to Annie's final moments over and over, but for a minute, he seemed like a credible threat. The episode is constantly dipping and diving like that, making us comfortable and then turning everything round again.

Next we sit down for a long Q&A session with Clark, where we learn exactly what happened to Annie: she discovered that while the Tsalal scientists had succeeded in their work (which involved doing something with ancient DNA that I don't quite remember), it was only because the mine had produced so much pollution that it was melting the permafrost and making it easier for them to dig for samples below the caves. Tsalal was actually encouraging the mine to pump more pollutants into the area to speed up the process, poisoning the water and resulting in stillbirths and sickness, all while finessing the mines "pollution numbers" in return. Annie found out, the scientists killed her, and Silver Sky Mines helped cover it up. Clark delivered the killing blow to Annie himself, even as he later claims he never would have hurt her.

It's an effectively human twist on what was teased as a supernatural mystery. Going back to those salty IMDb reviews, which were written before this finale aired, some complained that Night Country was leaning too hard into the otherworldly, which seemed to jump the gun considering that the show has always teased supernatural culprits only to reveal in the end that man is the real monster. Sure, Night Country indulged in more horror imagery than usual, what with Annie K continually popping up in the background looking like the girl from The Ring, but the chain remains unbroken. The complaints were overblown and premature.

The important thing is that the show maintains a mood of mysticism without getting too literal about it, which is what Night Country did. The final twist clinches it: who killed the scientists at Tsalal? It wasn't Annie K, as a delirious Raymond believes. It wasn't a wendigo or a polar bear. It was the cleaning crew, native women who knew Annie K well, pieced together what happened, and decided to take matters into their own hands rather than rely on the cops, which was a good idea considering how Connelly tried to shut the case down last week. They cut the power, stormed the place with guns, loaded the guys onto a truck, drove them onto the tundra, stripped them, drew spirals on their heads, and let them loose, figuring they'd live or die as justice demanded. We all know what happened.

I was impressed that this twist played fair. The cleaning crew have been in the background the whole time, so they didn't come out of nowhere. They would have had access to every nook and cranny at Tsalal, and have plenty of motive for wanting these guys dead. And even though there's no actual supernatural element, things still feel a little spooky, what with the spirals on the foreheads and the earnest belief in the native gods of the tundra to judge the scientists guilty or innocent as they see fit.

I didn't see it coming, which is a prerequisite for a good twist. There was even something celebratory about this group of overlooked women banding together to take out a pack of murderous bros who valued scientific advancement over human life.

Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO /

True Detective: Night Country didn't deserve the review bombing

I just poked the elephant in the room. Going back once again to those IMDb reviews, I can't help but notice that a lot of them have a "no chicks in my treehouse" kind of vibe. These fans don't outright say that they're bothered by the preponderance of active female characters on the show; in fact, they spend a lot of time saying that they don't have problem with that, which is curious in itself.

But there is a lot of ink spilled on writer-director Issa López's "agenda." Some bemoan that every man on the show is "useless," which comes as a surprise to me, since Peter Prior might be my personal breakout character. Many take issue with the focus on family drama, trashing the show as a "high-budget telenovela" more concerned with sex and relationships than solving the case, as if the first season of True Detective didn't have a scene where Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson get into a fistfight because they're sleeping with the same woman. Whatever protests these critics make to the contrary, I think Night Country has gotten a lot of grief because it revolves around women, and it doesn't deserve that.

I've always thought that a critic should judge a show based on whether it achieves the goals it sets for itself. From the start, Night Country made the home lives of its characters an important part of the story. So to me, the question isn't, "Why does this show have family drama?" The question is, "Since the show has family drama, is the family drama any good?" On Night Country, the answer is "yes," more or less.

The actors pull most of it through in "Part 6." I still think Peter's relationship with his wife is undercooked, but I felt for him as he packed away his father's body, his dad's blood smeared over his million-mile stare. I hope actor Finn Bennett gets more work after this, because he was rock solid throughout.

As they wait out a snowstorm at the Tsalal base, Navarro and Liz Danvers come clean with each other. Liz finally addresses the loss of her son Holden, whom I periodically forget exists; I had to look up his name just now. His death is at the root of why Liz is so shut off from people, but I don't feel we had enough of a window into her trauma. The show stakes a bit too much on actor Jodie Foster to sell Liz's painful monologue about her dead son.

Happily, it still works, because she's Jodie freaking Foster and she doesn't need much of an opening act. But the scene would have been stronger with more setup. I feel like Night Country was trying to be subtle with this plotline, but sometimes subtlety is overrated. Tell me what I need to know. Otherwise I can't cry.

As for Navarro, she finally heeds the siren song of death or the afterlife or whatever is calling her and walks out into the snow, only to come back when Liz needs her. (Liz falls into the ice in a sequence I found harrowing even if it was kinda contrived; that looks like a horrifying way to die and I'm glad Navarro pulled her out.) They bond as they watch the northern lights.

All of these big personal revelations come a little fast and furious for me. Weirdly, "Part 6" might be the only episode where the true crime element was more compelling than the family drama. But everyone — especially the actors — still deserves a round of applause for digging deep, and at least I was compelled. That's what counts in the end.

Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO /

True Detective: Night Bullet Points

  • At one point, a crazed Raymond bemoans that "time is a flat circle," echoing Rust Cohle's iconic line from the first season of True Detective. It's a bit of an eye roll moment, but it comes and goes quickly, like all the other passing references to the first season. Complaints about the show over-relying on its past were, again, premature.
  • We find out that Navarro was the one who actually shot Wheeler, although Liz was about to pull the trigger anyway. I liked how we kept getting drip-fed new information about that incident throughout the season.
  • Once again, Rose is consigned to the bullet points. She didn't end up being as important to the story as I thought she would, although she's a trooper for helping Peter dispose of his dad's body.
  • I didn't get what happened with Clark. He was all tied up, Liz went to sleep, and...Navarro let him go while in one of her fugue states and he committed suicide by going outside the voluntarily freezing to death? Am I missing something?
  • I also don't understand how Annie's tongue ended up at Tsalal, although I think that thread may have been left hanging intentionally. Anyone out there wanna enlighten me?
  • One more bit of family drama for the road: Leah reunites with Liz and they resume living as step-mother and daughter. Leah is another character who ran hot and cold throughout the season, but I guess there's no predicting the mercurial whims of a teenager.

The episode ends with a jump forward in time as we wrap up loose ends. Liz is still chief of police, Peter is still her deputy, the mine has closed, and Navarro has left for parts unknown. It's as happy an ending as we could have expected, even if Peter had to kill his own dad to get here. Get a therapist, Peter. An extremely discrete therapist.

Looking back at past seasons of True Detective, the biggest difference with Night Country may have been how much I liked the characters even when they weren't working on the Big Case. I was happy to see them move on and will probably miss them a bit. I'd also be happy to see a fifth season of True Detective, with or without Issa López at the helm. Night Country proves there's room to maneuver within the lines. How might the next season swerve?

Episode Grade: B+

dark. Next. tdnc5. True Detective: Night Country pulls loosely together in "Part 5"

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels