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Billie Eilish Had More Sway Over ‘True Detective’ Season 4 Than Just the Opening Titles

“It’s just really fucking nicely female.”

That’s how “True Detective: Night Country” showrunner Issa López described the Billie Eilish song, “Bury a Friend,” the artist’s 2019 single that now scores Season 4’s main title sequence. The same could be said about “Night Country” itself, which stars Jodie Foster and Kali Reis as the titular detectives and underwent a creative reimagining under López, who directs, showruns, and co-writes the new season. Gone are the macho underpinnings of past entries, so why not set the Season 4 opening titles to something with a feminine edge?

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“It’s such a dark, moody, fun, sinister little song that I thought it could absolutely work,” López said in an interview with IndieWire. “I love the fact that it’s so unexpected. It doesn’t seem that we are going to suddenly cut to Billie Eilish, but it just works so well. [The title sequence] had to be just as memorable [as past seasons], but also its own thing.”

López said when she joined the series, creating the opening titles was her second priority, behind only casting the lead detectives. But Eilish’s influence on “True Detective” was felt long before either of those decisions were made.

“I started writing it during the lockdown, and I was listening day and night to Billie Eilish,” she said. “Billie’s irony and melancholy and poetry informed a lot of what was happening in the series. And then that particular song, it was so weird because I thought of the tongue and burying a friend and stepping on glass — all of the things that are in the show. Then as I was writing, I started to pay attention to the lyrics, and I was like, ‘That’s insane. That’s insane that one by one, all the elements of the series are in the song.'”

Anyone who’s seen the first episode can spot the song’s lyrics coming to life. Captain Danvers (played by Foster) finds a tongue on the floor of an abandoned research base. Later, when she steps on broken glass at the scene of an accident, it triggers a flashback to a harrowing moment from her past. As for burying a friend, both detectives are clearly in mourning.

“We decided to drop little clues of what you will see during the show,” López said. “[After choosing the song,] the images were the next step because I didn’t want to do the same burned images [as seen in Season 1] — not only because it had been done in ‘True Detective,’ but then it was done by so many other series after ‘True Detective.'”

Working with Peter Anderson Studios, a visual design company that specializes in main title sequences (including the openings for “Bad Sisters” and “Good Omens”), López came up with the eerie combination of Eilish’s music and a series of haunting imagery tied to the “Night Country” narrative. There are winding roads covered in snow, bones and body parts floating in icy water, a one-eyed polar bear, caribou heads, and blurred faces. Darkness hovers around the edges of the frame. The vibe is both propulsive and unsettling — an ideal tone-setter for a sunless season of “True Detective.”

Given what López said about listening to Eilish while she wrote the story, one has to wonder if all those song lyrics that made their way into the scripts were completely coincidental — or if her subconscious simply pulled from what she was hearing at the time.

“I’m not going to confirm or deny this,” López said with a laugh. “It’s perfectly possible that the events of the show happened because I was listening to Billie. So I just hope she doesn’t call me wanting some writing credit.”

“True Detective: Night Country” releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max. Read IndieWire’s Episode 1 review here and spoiler-free review here.

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