‘True Detective’ Review: Episode 3 Elevates the Horror as the Case Hits a Dead End — Spoilers

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “True Detective” Season 4, Episode 3, “Part 3” — the third hour of “Night Country.” Read our previous review here.]

“Be prepared,” the nurse says, as she brings Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Navarro (Kali Reis) in to see the last surviving member of the Tsalal research team. “He’s hard to look at.” And she’s right. Anders Lund (Þorsteinn Bachmann), the founder and director of the base, is a ghastly sight. His amputation stitches are still fresh. The one hand he has remaining is black and blue. Burn marks cover his face, which makes his frosted blue eyes all the more unsettling.

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And if you thought the convulsions were difficult to witness, just wait until he’s completely still, sitting up, passing along messages from the great beyond.

It’s hard to say “True Detective” earns this scene as much as it needs it. Episode 3 sees the investigation hitting snag after snag: Their latest lead, Oliver Tagaq (Lance Karmer), kicks them out without giving much hope he’s their killer. Hank (John Hawkes) is stirring up internal problems within Danvers’ police force, and they can’t even get a forensic specialist to examine the corpsicle, relying instead on Pete (Finn Bennett) calling in a favor from his cousin… a veterinarian. Narratively speaking, hardships have to happen. The detectives can’t just follow a neatly lined up trail of breadcrumbs to find who they’re looking for. But dead-ends can be as frustrating for the audience as they are for the characters, and after an hour of grinding toward zero results, Episode 3 needs to end with a bang, so to speak.

Enter: Lund’s “Exorcist”-esque message to Navarro, which will certainly be hard to forget. “Hello Evangeline,” he says, as director Issa López’s camera drifts behind the hospital wall, as if to separate the everyday reality happening outside his room from the extraordinary awakening within. “Your mother says hello. She’s waiting for you.” Lund then points at her, lies slowly back down, and suddenly starts seizing up. Within minutes, he’s dead. Is Navarro next? Did the fateful orange she tossed into the night, only to come rolling back to her seconds later, foreshadow what it so often does in film and television? Are we meant to believe Navarro’s time is running out?

Even if Lund’s haunting last words pull “Night Country” into supernatural territory without ever offering the “real explanation” Danvers previously assured us exists, it’s an effective atmospheric choice, both tonally and psychologically. The jarring impact speaks for itself, but it’s Navarro’s mindset that should be watched moving forward. Faith is a two-way street. Belief in a brighter future can lead to salvation, but sensing a dark future can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it doesn’t get much darker than “Night Country.”

Whether it’s a wave of dire pregnancies or the black water pouring out of people’s faucets, Ennis is awash in more darkness than just the night sky. Episode 3 starts with a successful birth from seven years ago, but it ends with “another” stillborn fetus, implying that time is taking a toll on the community, most likely related to the continued mining. Still, the past wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We also get a glimpse of the case that split Danvers and Navarro: William Wheeler, a repeat offender who, after sending her to the hospital twice, killed his girlfriend and then… what? The official report lists death by suicide, but in the flashback, Wheeler was alive and smiling when Navarro and Danvers came into his house, guns drawn. It sure seems like one (or both) of them killed him, and they covered it up. But there could be more there, given whatever went down was what split up a close partnership.

Joel D. Montgrand (surrounded by incredible colors) in “True Detective: Night Country”
Joel D. Montgrand (surrounded by incredible colors) in “True Detective: Night Country”

López illustrates just how smoothly Danvers and Navarro can work together when they go over the boxes of evidence. It’s a brief but telling scene, as they unpack, organize, and discuss their findings, all in a systemic, collaborative way. Clearly, these two had a sound working relationship. Maybe Navarro got sick of Danvers’ “questions,” and Danvers grew tired of Navarro’s dogged pursuit of old cases, but they have a connection — one that may go beyond common chemistry. When Navarro slips on the ice and knocks herself out, she sees a little boy’s hand, holding a stuffed polar bear, and hears him whisper, “Go get my mommy.” Danvers’ deceased son was already seen with the same toy, and now he’s trying to bring the two cops back together. Does Navarro need Danvers to solve the case? For protection? For more?

As with any season of “True Detective,” solving the case goes hand in hand with saving their souls, and Episode 3 notes plenty of risks for the latter concern. Navarro reluctantly recounts the death of her mother to Qavvik (Joel D. Montgrand) and later has to go tend to her ailing sister, who’s suffering from the same depressive visions as their mom. Danvers is losing touch with her step-daughter, Leah (Isabella Star LeBlanc), and she can’t communicate why. Leah thinks her mom doesn’t care about their community, but Danvers, true to her profession, is just worried about her kid getting involved in anything dangerous. People harass, attack, and kill native women. People harass, attack, and kill locals who protest the mine. Leah is becoming both of these women at once, and all Danvers can see is another Annie K.

Her dying screams end Episode 3, after Pete unlocks her phone (which was found in the trailer last week) and discovers a video she recorded. Onscreen, she appears surrounded by ice, but she’s certain she’s onto something. “It’s here. I found it,” she says, before a noise spooks her, and she’s ripped away from the phone. Her screams last for a long, long time, as Danvers, Navarro, and Pete huddle in the hospital hallway, watching in vain. They can’t save her now. They can only catch her killer and try to protect the rest of Ennis. Perhaps the video will give them more clues. For now, it’s just hard to look at.

Grade: B-

Case Notes:

• Pete — young, innocent, little Petey — may also need to save his soul. Danvers and Navarro have been policing long enough to have regrets, but Pete is just getting started, and his wife, Kayla (Anna Lambe), is growing more concerned by the day. After waking her up at 3:30 a.m. (along with their son), she reminds him that she didn’t marry a cop, she just ended up with one. “You were not a cop. You were just a sweet idiot who made me laugh.” “Well, what if I don’t want to be a sweet idiot?” he says, before another call from Danvers cuts short their conversation. Even so, it’s clear that Kayla thinks Pete is changing for the worse, and he thinks he’s changing for the better. It doesn’t have to be one or the other — they can both be right to different extremes — but another brief interaction later on indicates Kayla may be onto something. When Pete’s cousin, “Vince the vet” (played by Vilhelm Neto), shows up to examine the thawing bodies, he’s clearly upset by what he sees. He should be. It’s horrific. But Pete just calls the corpses “weird,” and then asks, “You think that guy scratched his own eyes out?” Vince, in turn, gives Pete a concerned look and asks, “How many hours have you been here staring at this shit?” Kayla isn’t the only one worried about lil Petey.

• Related: Perhaps we should be more worried about Pete’s dad, Hank. He claims he didn’t report Annie K’s relationship with Clark because “she was sleeping with half of Ennis” and wasn’t going to log every “dude she was banging.” But that’s a pretty explicit lead not to follow-up on: Is he just lazy, or are there other factors at play?

• So, to sum up: Annie K met Clark when the local hairstylist took her to the Tsalal Research Base to help give haircuts to the staff. Immediately, they hit it off, and Clark became obsessed with Annie’s tattoo, which she first saw in a dream and later got tattooed on herself to stop said dreams. It was Annie who wanted to keep the relationship a secret, but the hairstylist also started dating a researcher, Oliver Tagaq, who isn’t talking. We still don’t know where Clark is, but if he’s hiding out in the villages with Oliver, the cops are going to need more manpower — or better public relations skills — to coax him out.

• Danvers calling the chupacabra “chupa lupa” is very funny to me. It’s obviously also somewhat racist (like Danvers in general), but — to justify my childish sense of humor — I like to imagine that a few days before Danvers caught this case, she made her way to the local theater for a screening of “Wonka,” and thus had Hugh Grant’s Oompa Loompa on the brain. Does that fit with her character? Not really. But if it must, then let’s also pretend that’s where she was supposed to meet Captain Ted (Christopher Eccleston) for a booty call, but he never showed up, and she stuck around for the whole Timothée Chalamet experience. Wait, is “True Detective” fun again?

• “Who’s Mrs. Robinson”? Just kidding. “True Detective” was always fun.

“True Detective” Season 4, “Night Country,” releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.

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