‘True Detective: Night Country’ Tries to Make the Familiar into Something New
As a series, “True Detective” has always been strongest when focused on characters instead of plot. For example, the chemistry between Matthew McConaughey (as haunted detective Rust Cohle) and Woody Harrelson (as ostensibly upstanding but deeply cracked detective Marty Hart) is what made the show’s first season so iconic; but ask a viewer to break down the actual story, and they’d probably mutter something about serial killers and corrupt families before trailing off into silence.
It was a similar deal with the show’s second and third seasons. The second season (which I really liked, despite its critical lambasting) was an overly complicated piece of California noir, complete with shadowy conspiracies and big gunfights, but what most people remember is Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams growling at each other as they drove along some of the West Coast’s grittiest highways. As for the third… well, Mahershala Ali is always magnificent, but the missing-children plot doesn’t really stick in the memory.
All of which, of course, brings us to the show’s ongoing fourth season, which stars Jodie Foster (snarky, snarly, often funny) and Kali Reis (brooding, punchy) as a pair of Alaska cops investigating the deaths of several scientists at a research station in Alaska. In contrast to the first three seasons, there’s no slow-burning plot here, no incremental trickling of clues and details. Instead, the first four episodes have piled on twist after twist: Suicidal caribou! Child ghosts! A pile of corpses frozen in ice! A fugitive! More ghosts!
And whereas the first three seasons merely flirted with a hint of the paranormal, this current season leans heavily into the spookiness. A murder victim’s severed body part reappears on a floor after six years. A woman throws an orange into the darkness… only for the darkness to throw the orange back. And a man awakens from a coma long enough to scream about a mysterious entity returning to kill everyone.
Meanwhile, there’s not much interplay between Foster and Reis, at least compared to the detectives in previous seasons. They mostly investigate on separate tracks, only coming together occasionally to compare notes or yell at one another. One of the show’s hallmarks, a philosophical discussion between detectives during a long car ride, doesn’t happen in earnest until the fourth episode. Perhaps things will change in the season’s final two episodes, but the muted interplay between the leads is probably the surest sign that the series is embarking on new directions.
You can ascribe the show’s shifts to its new showrunner, Issa Lopez, who takes over from Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote and produced the first three seasons. She’s accomplished an interesting thing: preserving the series’ spookiness and sense of existential dread while speeding up the action. If we’ve lost some of the philosophical digressions and delightfully odd back-and-forths that defined the previous seasons, so be it; the show already achieved perfection on that front in the first season, with McConaughey’s laconic ramblings about morality. We’re in a different country now.
Nick Kolakowski is the author of „Maxine Unleashes Doomsday“ and „Boise Longpig Hunting Club“ as well as the Love & Bullets trilogy of novellas. His noir fiction has appeared in Tough, ThugLit, Mystery Tribune, Plots With Guns, and various anthologies. His „Payback is Forever“ (Shotgun Honey 2022) is inspired clearly by the novels of Richard Stark. Our review here (in German). – See also his Hell of a Mess. A Love & Bullets Hookup.
Nick Kolakowski, geboren 1980, aufgewachsen in Washington. D.C., hat Geschichte in Chicago studiert. Er schreibt Romane, Kurzgeschichten, Lyrik und Essays, viele davon über Crime Fiction und verwandte Themen. Seine Texte erscheinen u. a. in der Washington Post, in Shotgun Honey, North American Review, The Evergreen Review, Rust & Months. Kolakowski lebt in New York City. Eine Besprechung des von Parker inspirierten „Payback is Forever“ in unseren Bloody Chops.
His column „Smoking Gun“ with us:
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‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought?
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No, Time to Die – The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core.
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece? – „The Councelor“
„Nightmare Alley“ – How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel
David Cronenberg – The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”
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