True Detective is, on paper, an anthology crime drama in which each season's sleuths attempt to crack a unique, standalone case. Three episodes in, though, and its most recent season, the Alaska-set Night Country, looks to have officially bridged the gap between itself and the show's Louisianan first chapter in the form of, well, Easter eggs. I wish it hadn't.
Starring the warm, wonderful Kali Reis and incomparable Jodie Foster, True Detective's fourth season sees Ennis police chief Liz Danvers team up with her former partner Evangeline Navarro to investigate the disappearance (and later, deaths) of the Tsalal Research Station team. As the frosty pair delve deeper into the case, they learn that it's curiously tangled up with the unsolved murder of Iñupiat midwife and activist Annie Kowtok too, which nods to the shocking, very real violence that Indigenous women face throughout the US and Canada.
With such a poignant, harrowing focus, I don't really understand, then, why showrunner Issa López would entertain such unnecessary distractions like the late husband of Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw), being revealed as the father of Rust Cohle, Matthew McConaughey's character from season 1. In truth, it means nothing to this particular story whatsoever – and little more to the first chapter, either.
There’s also the case of Night Country's ominous-looking spiral motif, which was first spotted on the forehead of one of the frozen scientists, before it became clear that Annie K and her lover Raymond Clark, Tsalal's MIA paleomicrobiologist, had a tattoo of the same symbol. Since the premiere, fans have pointed out that it looks eerily similar to the crooked spiral Rust and Woody Harrelson's Marty Hart found painted on the body of murdered prostitute Dora Lange in season 1. Realizing that, viewers have been attempting to outwit Danvers and Navarro and work out what's going on before them, but it turns out, this new spiral doesn't have anything to do with its twinned predecessor.
In Part 3, Annie's hairdresser tells Danvers and Navarro that Clark became so fixated on Annie's tattoo that he copied her design, having already explained that Annie originally had the inking done after being plagued by visions of the spiral in high school. "She got the tattoo, the dreams stopped," she said; a far cry from the cult origins of the spiral in True Detective season 1. What's the point?
"My decade-long TRUE DETECTIVE advice is to stop watching it like it's LOST. It's not a riddle for *you* to solve; it's a world to immerse yourself in. Try it," a fellow fan wrote on Twitter a week or so ago, and I wholeheartedly agree. I'd argue, however, that the show itself is making that more challenging than ever by including meaningless references that feel like knowing winks and red herring-style "clues".
That said, I've personally always had a bit of a complicated relationship with Easter eggs. They can be fun – in the post-credits scene of a Marvel movie, for example, or a nod to an original show in a spin-off, perhaps – but for the most part, they kind of shake me out of a viewing experience and just make me start wondering how 'The Internet' is going to digest said information. I've never been keen on when a show – naturally, this happens way less with movies, as they're typically made in a bubble free of audience interference – becomes too self aware and starts doing things for the purpose of creating social media buzz and memes. For me, the likes of Big Little Lies and Succession, which are interestingly enough both HBO outings, have been guilty of this, and now True Detective: Night Country has followed in their footsteps. But considering its bleak subject matter, it feels especially uncomfortable here.
The show is plenty good enough to stand on its own without such gimmicks and constant reminders that is, in fact, a part of this wider popular series. It's a shame, too, that the first season that has seemingly felt the need to connect to those that came before it is the first led by two women. Night Country has all the makings of a brilliant True Detective series right there; a stellar cast, an atmospheric setting, and a slowburn, unravelling mystery that's proving richer and more engaging every week. I'm loving it. It needn't worry itself with cheap tricks.
True Detective: Night Country airs on HBO and HBO Max every Sunday in the US, and on Sky Atlantic and NOW every Monday in the UK. Ensure you don't miss an episode with our handy guide to the True Detective: Night Country release schedule.