How That ‘True Detective’ Flashback Almost Changed ‘Night Country’ Completely

[This story contains spoilers from the third episode of HBO’s True Detective: Night Country.]

Despite its anthological structure, there are a few constants across the True Detective franchise. One, of course, is the enlistment of high-profile actors in the titular detective roles. Another is a case tinged with supernatural mystique and intrigue, as apparent as ever before in the latest iteration, True Detective: Night Country.

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But this new season, helmed by writer-creator Issa López and starring Jodie Foster and Kali Reis as detectives Danvers and Navarro, deviates from the older seasons in one meaningful way: With the exception of a few flashbacks scattered throughout its six-episode run, Night Country takes place during one specific point in time.

Unlike the first few seasons, which either showcased cases across different points in time, or featured major time jumps, the story of Night Country centers on Danvers and Navarro’s attempt to figure out the mysterious deaths of the moment (also known as, “The Corpsicle”), while also figuring out how these deaths intersect with the cold case of Annie K., a woman whose murder several years earlier still haunts the present.

According to López, the initial conception of Night Country included a story told across multiple points in time. “I did toy with that idea,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter, “that we would see the old crime six years ago. But in the end, I didn’t think it would add anything to the story I was telling, except a lot of headaches with makeup.”

If anything, López felt that restricting the audience from seeing too much of the past would heighten the present mystery, putting viewers in the position of figuring out and understanding Danvers and Navarro’s trauma, as the two detectives themselves started to understand that themselves more and more with the passing of time.

“There was something yummy about not knowing the past, not seeing it and then discovering it slowly,” she says. “What really happened there? What’s the real story?”

In that regard, the third episode of Night Country offers an important moment for the audience, where the curtain is slowly pulling back on the events from years earlier. The opening scene of the episode features Navarro’s first meeting with Annie K., solidifying their connection, and humanizing the cold case for the viewers now.

Lopez feels the choice to withhold most of that era ultimately served the season in a powerful way.

“I wrote six different versions of [that whole storyline], and of how I reveal what really happened, and we shot it,” she says. “Then in the edit, we discovered that if we show this but don’t show this, and don’t reveal this until the end…really, we were playing so much throughout [production]. There were so many ways to decide how much information you keep and how much information you give. It was a luxury that I was able to have because we stuck to the present. It was the right choice.”

Three episodes remain of True Detective: Night Country, which streams Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO/Max.

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