True Detective: Night Country
Review by Josh Howie
According to a recent interview with David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, the golden age of television has come to an end. If that’s the case, True Detective: Night Country may be the era’s swan song.
Ostensibly tagging itself onto the True Detective brand, this is more like a reboot, or an homage. Regardless, each series is unconnected, sharing only the theme of dogged detectives stuck on a case with a possible supernatural slant. What makes ‘Series 4’ even more separate though, is the total absence of its creator Nic Pizzolatto.
After the runaway success of the first season, he pushed back against what he saw as an unwarranted focus on its mystical elements — arguably to the detriment of what followed. However, with his blessing, the Mexican filmmaker Issa López is now on board and she certainly has no qualms about straying into the paranormal.
Opening scene: a spooked herd of reindeer leap to their deaths on a windswept Alaskan tundra Next, the inhabitants of an isolated research station?? go about their day, until one of them has a convulsion fit and ominously: “She’s awake.” Three days later a deliveryman find the place totally abandoned, apart from a severed tongue.
This all happens in the first few minutes, but just as you think you’re getting an updated version of The Thing, Jodie Foster rocks up, banishing the creepies through the sheer force of her rock solid presence. She’s in charge of the Police Department for the fictional town Ennis, flashes of an older, seasoned, cynical version of her famous Clarice character in The Silence of the Lambs breaking through.
Great acting can be difficult to quantify – perhaps because when it’s convincing, you don’t register it – but Foster’s presence here alone is enough to justify watching this show. She draws you in, providing a focus on every scene she’s in, effortlessly transporting you into that situation.
Providing her counterpoint is the impressive Kali Reis, refusing to be over-awed in such illustrious company. She plays an Inuit patrol officer who was previously demoted for her overenthusiastic pursuit of the killer of a young woman, found with a missing tongue. By the end of this first episode, the two detectives have forged an alliance of sorts.
Taking its time to set up the rest of the season, every single element of what you see on screen is on point. Music, title sequence, clean but stylised direction, vignettes of normal life in a unique setting, naturalistic actors and script, all serve to ground the more unearthly elements.
As you try and figure out precisely who’s connected to who and how, you’re rewarded for putting your phone away, and really leaning in to focus and think. By treating you like an intelligent human being, it makes you want to rise to the occasion. Great TV is dead, long live great TV!