Saturday, February 24, 2024

True Detective: Night Country Asks an Interesting Question: What if The Thing Was a Murder Mystery?


Scott D. Parker

I’m a True Detective newbie but I was all-in on the fourth season, True Detective: Night Country. Why? Jodie Foster. And the setting.

I know Foster moved behind the camera for a long time and she did some great work. She directed an episode of the science fiction show “Tales from the Loop” a few years ago and I really enjoyed that series. Last year she co-starred with Annette Bening in “Nyad,” a movie I’ve not seen (but will now). Thus, Night Country is the first acting performance I’ve seen in a long time. 

She’s fantastic! She’s hard, stern, dogged, determined, and occasionally unlikeable. In a recent podcast episode, Marc Bernardin mentioned that Foster was enticed by the script written by Issa Lopez but wanted her character, Police Chief Liz Danvers of Ennis, Alaska, to be more irritating. I suspect Lopez was initially surprised at the request, but fulfilled it nonetheless.

The other main actress is Kali Reis. She plays Trooper Evangeline Navarro. Navarro and Danvers have history—because of course they do—but must work together again to solve the case with deep ramifications to the town. Navarro has some indigenous heritage that she draws on and deals with, a theme I’ve noticed with lots of recent shows I’ve watched (like Reservation Dogs, Tin Star, Resident Alien, and Alaska Daily). Like Foster, Reis is excellent with saying a lot but not always with words. 

The Setting

The story takes place in Alaska at the Winter Solstice. In this portion of Alaska, the Winter Solstice means the sun doesn’t rise for weeks. As someone who gets irritated when it’s merely cloudy here in Houston for a few days, I could not live in that environment. At all. There’s a foreboding when it’s always dark. It’s claustrophobic. It’s unnerving. And people live in places like that all the time.

This setting pretty much makes the town and the surrounding environs another character. The show puts nearly every viewer in a situation wholly unfamiliar, and pieces out bits of information in dribs and drabs. It was wonderful to be immersed in something so new yet so foreign.

The Story

If you watched the trailer, you probably got instant vibes from John Carpenter’s The Thing. I really appreciated how Lopez drew me into the show and its main crime—the murder of a group of scientists in a research lab—with the possibility of the supernatural as well as good old-fashioned natural violence. I’ve read that along with The Thing, another inspiration for her story was the original Alien (1979) and its ominous setting. Well, it worked.

The other thing that worked was the ending. I didn’t see it coming, and that is a huge testament to my enjoyment of the six-episode series. Too often, the tried and true tropes come out to play and you just go along for the ride, especially if you like the characters and actors. I’m fine with those types of stories, but when something new and original comes along, it’s so refreshing.

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