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‘True Detective: Night Country’ Offers a Familiar Yet Intriguing Mystery

The show’s reliance on classic formulas does not make it any less interesting.
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(Courtesy of Max)

 

On Jan. 12, 2014, prestige television was changed by the premiere of “True Detective.”

At a time when television was expected to be visibly lower budget and have weaker writing, “True Detective” proved that idea was false. For their first season, they hired two A-list actors and put them in one of the most mature and complex stories ever put to screen. This season showed that TV could be just as cinematic as blockbusters, some even citing the iconic one-shot shootout from episode four as the moment TV transitioned into the modern age.

Creator Nic Pizzolatto wrote a series that was unflinchingly mean-spirited and dove head-first into deep conversations about philosophy. Since then, the series has continued with three seasons in an anthology format. The newest season is titled “True Detective: Night Country.”

After a group of researchers goes missing on the outskirts of Ennis, Alaska, Detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) set out to investigate the seemingly supernatural disappearance.

Surprisingly Paranormal

New show-runner Issa López has claimed she made “True Detective: Night Country” to almost be the opposite of the first season, saying, “where ‘True Detective’ is male and its sweaty, ‘Night Country’ is cold and it’s dark and it’s female.”

While this is true in many ways, it’s also hard to not see direct parallels between the two seasons. The primary reason is the mystical elements intertwined with the main cases. In season one, these otherworldly elements were left ambiguous and never took center stage, mostly used to prop up the philosophy of the show. In “Night Country,” the paranormal aspects are far more overt. They are used to intrigue audiences to the mystery. This is not necessarily a negative, as these components still make for an engaging narrative, just one that is not particularly layered or original.

Lopez seems perfect for this type of story. Her film “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” perfectly balanced a real, gritty tone with supernatural constituents. In “Night Country,” this realism has been lost in exchange for a very familiar tale with very conventional characters. Again, this is not entirely a bad thing. The show’s claustrophobic, wintry atmosphere is reminiscent of great films like “The Thing” and “Wind River.” It makes it easy to return to each week.

The show’s reliance on classic formulas does not make it any less interesting. That being said, the horrors the story features never dig deeper than skin. Once the credits roll, the safety of knowing it’s just a show is always there.

Foster and Reis Deliver

The cast, while never award-worthy, is fantastic. The star is Foster as the no-nonsense Detective Danvers. She constantly pushes down sadness and longing for more while trying to put together the perplexing case. It’s difficult to watch Foster without a smile as she takes control of the screen any time she is in the frame. Whether she’s bossing around her fellow cops or quietly grieving over lost loved ones, Foster demands attention.

Reis as Detective Navarro is also excellent. She sells a soul hardened by trauma and trapped by the Alaskan town that seems to live in repeating cycles. Navarro is not always the most likable character but viewers will find themselves typically on her side, given the depth Reis brings to the role. The chemistry between the leads could be stronger, as usually, it’s just cliche jabs thrown between the two that ultimately conclude in them reluctantly working together. Still, episode three presented movement on building the relationship between the two, so perhaps there is more to come.

“True Detective: Night Country” has little new to offer to the “crime television” arena. Still, it’s frequently entertaining. It has a healthy dose of freaky imagery and a mystery that offers enough mystique to keep audiences clawing for the next clue. The icy world of Ennis, Alaska is fully realized and the two stellar leads bring viewers to the heart of the small town. It may never reach the heights of season one, but for a dark, thrilling program, “Night Country” fits the bill.

Catch up now on Max to watch the season finale, which airs on Sunday, Feb. 17.

 

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@grahamcool8

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About the Contributor
Graham Jones, Arts Writer, News For U Producer
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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