© 2023 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cheap, not ambiguous – True Detective Night Country finale falls through the ice

After delivering what I consider to be the single greatest season of TV ever produced, True Detective has always had a special place in my heart. And given that the first ground-breaking season has served as both the benchmark and inspiration of Issa López’s Night Country, I feel compelled to draw much needed comparisons, even if it is to the chagrin of López and her apologists like those at Rolling Stone who claimed the finale, which aired on the 18th, was the series’ best one ever. Make no mistake, it most certainly was not 

This review will contain spoilers. 

Reis is a powerful, dominant presence on screen

This is the first season of True Detective without Nic Pizzolatto, the original creator of the show. Instead, season 4 is the brainchild of Issa López, who serves as writer, director, and showrunner. López is no slouch. The Mexican producer has 11 features and several literary awards to her name. In her attempt at the crime anthology series, she seemed partial to carrying the torch of occult spookiness that was lit with season 1, citing not only season 1’s Carcosa, but also the likes of The Shining, The Thing, and Alien as inspiration (see the AV Club’s interview). She also seemed intent on taking the feminist angle, telling Vanity Fair: “where True Detective is male and it’s sweaty, Night Country is cold and it’s dark and it’s female.”   

The female-centred narrative was definitely a refreshing pivot for the largely male dominated series. And despite the season’s shortfalls, I still hold the opinion it was done elegantly. The mystery of Anne Kowtok’s murder was a piercing rendering of violence against women – something that aches in the background of the entire season, and neatly so. Jodie Foster and Kali Reis as cop-duo chief Danvers and trooper Navarro, respectively, give splendid performances, and though Foster flexes 10 times the theatrical muscle, Reis is a powerful, dominant presence on screen that felt more than just a piss-everyone-off, she-boss personality that we’ve seen wasted on so many performers. 

I had simply too many “Oh, come on!” moments to consider it a well-written conclusion

But that’s about where my commendations stop. Before the first episode, excited though I was, I was most concerned with whether Night Country would be able to balance the gritty realism with the supernatural undertones – a task season 1 executed perfectly. And before writing this, to avoid remaining blinded by my gleeful nostalgia, I went and rewatched a substantial section of season 1’s highlights. As it turns out, my concerns were warranted. 

On a first watch, the first season felt so believably real with its level of gritty realism that I was frequently and thoroughly uncomfortable with just how unsavoury the characters and situations were. Combining this with hints of the supernatural gave the central mystery just enough fuel to teeter into uncharted territory without completely detaching the viewer from reality. Night Country, by comparison, feels kitschier. It just does. This, I suppose, came down to a markedly oversaturated supernatural aspect and poorer all-round cast performances. One can only bear witness to the lone character in the dark room listening to spooky whispers from the ether before it becomes trite, not to mention Anne’s cringe phone-recorded death or Raymond proceeding to violently convulse before whispering, “She’s awake.” You see what I mean? 

I’m sorry, but this is not an ambiguous ending. It’s a cheaply written one 

So, come what was an immensely disappointing finale, it seemed to me López couldn’t quite decide on what she actually wanted to achieve. I don’t feel the satisfaction of a mystery concluded, and I think that’s partly because I was unsure what was being emphasised. I lack the column space to intricately detail my gripes with the final episode, but I had simply too many “Oh, come on!” moments to consider it a well-written conclusion. Despite so much weight falling on the supernatural plotline, I feel nothing came of it. The scientists, a presumably meek and reclusive bunch, murdered Anne (not believable, but fine), and the cleaning staff murdered the scientists by driving them out at gunpoint into a blizzard completely naked. They claim the spirit, if it wished, would have let them live. As you might guess, they froze to death. Shocker. Oh, and Danvers and Navarro figure all this out by getting Raymond, the scientist, and the cleaners to tell them everything. I’m sorry, but this is not an ambiguous ending. It’s a cheaply written one.  

To no help of this unfocused screenplay are the searingly obvious pacing issues. I haven’t seen others critique pacing, but I felt far too much was saved for the final act, including important moments for Navarro and Danvers’ backstory – neither of which seemed to be particularly interesting, by the way. And upon the subject of writing, the characters of Kayla and Leah are completely unlikeable, and not even in a Marty Hart kind of way. They’re just f-cking annoying. And unreasonably petty. But maybe that’s just me. 

Time may be a flat circle, but Night Country shows not all repetitions of history can match the calibre of their original rendition. In fact, I think few shows ever will. A bar set too high? Perhaps. I reckon I’ve become a little spoiled for a good detective mystery in that regard. But by no means does that soften the landing for Night Country. It had the all the right ingredients, and despite a refreshing direction, it seems season 4 might have fallen through the ice. 

Comments (1)

  • Greta Caddick

    I REALLY Love and believe in Night Country!!!! I Hope they make a stand alone series!!!! I Love Jodie Foster and Kali Reis!!!! I hope they bring them back!!!! Issa Lopez Great writer!!!!! Over ALL WONDERFUL!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.