True Detective: Night Country is trying too hard to scare you

True Detective: Night Country turns in another solid episode. This is the best ensemble cast the show has ever put together, but the story is a shade too schlocky.
True Detective: Night Country
True Detective: Night Country /

True Detective: Night Country revolves around a group of scientists found dead in a mysterious clump out in the Alaskan tundra. One of the men, Raymond Clark, is still out there, alive, dead, or other. Most of the scientists are thawing out in a giant "corpsicle" at the local hockey rink. But one survived. He's ranking, raving, and missing a few gangrenous limbs by the times he finally wakes up from his coma and our true detectives can question him about what he knows. At the end of the episode, when everyone but Officer Evangeline Navarro has left the room, he becomes suddenly lucid, points a finger at Navarro, and says in a demonic voice straight out of The Exorcist, "your mother is waiting for you." And then he dies.

Right after that, the true detectives return to the police station, where the young Officer Peter Prior reveals that he's managed to unlock the phone of Annie Kowtok, a young woman of native descent who died mysteriously some years back, and whose death may be related to the current murder mystery. We see a video she took of herself right before she died, shot from under her face as she wanders around a strange icy corridor. She's panicked, she's scared, she has a warning to give anyone watching, and then something snatches her from just out of frame and she screams and screams and screams.

It's a loud, shouty ending to a solid episode. These scenes pack a punch — I like the sound effect as the amputee scientist lowers his voice to deliver a message from whatever strange force is behind all of this — but they seem a little...outwardly horrific for this show. Annie K's handheld horror video feels lifted directly out of The Blair Witch Project, parodies of which were already done to death decades ago; there's little in the way of the quiet creeping dread that makes my hair stand on end, the chilling atmosphere that suffused the first season of True Detective, the icy hand on the heart that makes you sit up straight in bed in the wee hours of the morning, convincing yourself you didn't just hear something move beyond your door.

Night Country feels a little less like that and a little more like...well, like a limbless man pointing at you and saying something creepy. Like a giant knotted pile of bodies posed at jagged angles, faces curled in frozen terror. It's bolder, bigger, and a bit more basic than this show is capable of.

True Detective: Night Country /

True Detective: Night Country review, "Part 3"

And that's not necessarily a bad thing — there's a place for in-your-face horror — but it feels a little odd for True Detective, which generally tries to slither up your spine, not smack you in the head. And I get the sense that Night Country is capable of a more subtle kind of scare, because the character work has been very delicate. All the dynamics are very well-developed. I liked Peter Prior being pushed and pulled between his love for his family and his respect for his boss; I laughed out loud when his dad accused Chief Danvers of trying to "Mrs. Robinson" his son, and his Gen Z ass asked, "Who's Mrs. Robinson"? I liked Navarro opening up to her f**k buddy Eddie Qavvik when he's out ice fishing, a new, very specific hobby we didn't know he had. I liked the continued development between Chief Danvers and her stepdaughter Leah, who's starting to champion the same sorts of causes that may have gotten Annie K killed.

Night Country has done a great job of making me like this little cast of characters in a short amount of time; the actors deserve some credit, obviously — Jodie Foster isn't a two-time Academy Award winner for nothing — but writer director Issa López also does a terrific job of letting her characters sit, breathe, and think. She lets them develop idiosyncrasies, rivalries and friendships. I think this is the best ensemble True Detective has ever put together.

I'm just concerned that they may be stuck in what turns out to be a schlocky horror story that prefers jump scares to whispers in the dark. The latter stays with you longer, and I hope Night Country proves good enough to stay with us for a long time.

True Detective: Night Bullet Points

  • The episode opens with a flashback to the moment when Navarro meets Annie K, who's helping deliver a baby. She seems pretty badass; I'd have watned to be her friend too.
  • At one point, Navarro's sister Jules has an episode and wanders off her job at the bar. Navarro finds her near a boat that's frozen out on the ice. When Jules asked how Navarro knew where to find her, Navarro said that she went "home." Hmm.
  • I haven't talked much about the native angle on the story, although clearly there is one. Might whatever killed the scientist be connected to the Native Americans who live in and around Ennis? Something out of their distant past?
  • I loved the aerial shot of Ennis abutting the tundra; the snow looked like waves lapping upon a beach.

Episode Grade: B

Next. True Detective. Original True detective creator doesn't seem to like Night Country: "So stupid". dark

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