‘True Detective: Night Country,’ Episode 1: What’s Really Haunting Ennis, Alaska?

Grab your warmest winter parka because we’re headed up north. After half a decade off, the dark cop anthology series created by Nic Pizzolatto returns to HBO with a new installment, True Detective: Night Country, and a new showrunner, Issa López*.* This season, two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster and newcomer Kali Reis join forces to solve a cluster of grisly, freaky murders in their hometown of Ennis, Alaska. As Foster’s Danvers and Reis’s Navarro attempt to get to the bottom of what’s going down, VF’s Hillary Busis, Richard Lawson, and Chris Murphy will also attempt to crack the case on a brand-new season of Still Watching

We open True Detective: Night Country with a bunch of male scientists hanging out at their headquarters, the Tsalal research station, watching the “Twist and Shout” scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and making sandwiches. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, one of the scientists whispers, “she’s awake,” and the lights cut out. After Billie Eilish’s appropriately creepy “bury a friend” plays over the opening credits, we learn that the scientists have vanished seemingly without a trace, though they are eventually found stripped naked and frozen solid in a “corpsicle” on the Alaskan tundra. But that’s not the only murder mystery that needs solving on True Detective: Night Country. Navarro is convinced that the severed tongue found at Tsalal belongs to a Native woman named Annie K, who protested the town’s mine, was brutally stabbed to death six years before, and whose murder was never solved.

Busis notes that showrunner López originally wrote the character of Navarro to be Latina. “[López] changed her to be a half Indigenous person when she really started digging into Alaska,” Busis says. “She was, like, ‘Oh, I can’t set a story here without having a real Native component.” The tension between the Native community in Ennis and the overwhelmingly white miners seems to be a central theme of the season. “The whole town is aflutter trying to find these white men, whereas this Native woman, she’s brutally murdered, stabbed 32 times,” Murphy points out. “That case can just go cold because of how society treats women of color. I think that’s gonna be a pretty important dynamic that’s going to be explored from multiple angles.”

In classic True Detective fashion, both Danvers and Navarro seem to be wrestling with ghosts from their past and present even as they begin investigating. Flashbacks show Navarro as a soldier in battle, while in the present day, she seems to be responsible for taking care of her emotionally troubled sister Julia (Aka Niviâna). As for Danvers, she has a rebellious Native stepdaughter named Leah (Isabella LaBlanc) and seems to be haunted by a one-eyed polar bear, as well as a small child. “We hear a child’s voice whisper, ‘She’s awake.’ We see the polar bear in the street,” Busis says. “It seems as though maybe there’s a dead child involved.”

Elsewhere in Ennis, Danvers is teamed up with seasoned detective Hank Prior (John Hawkes) and Hank’s son, newbie Peter Prior (Finn Bennett), to tackle this case, creating an awkward dynamic that puts Peter between his biological father and his mentor, Liz. Bennet dropped by Still Watching to discuss the premiere episode of True Detective: Night Country and the dysfunctional family formed by Hank, Danvers, and Peter. 

“They’re just the police. They really run that town,” Bennett says. “I guess you could say in some aspects there is a maternal element to Danvers and Peter Prior’s relationship.”

As for working with Foster, Bennett said it was every bit as intimidating and wonderful as you’d expect. “I was really terrified about meeting her, but you meet this incredibly friendly, warm, patient, understanding [person], and you get over all the kind of fear,” Bennett says. “Everything you were worried about kind of slips away.”

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