[This story contains spoilers from the season four premiere of True Detective: Night Country.]
Within its first major sequence, True Detective: Night Country loudly and proudly bellows its mission statement: “Shake it up, baby!”
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The fourth season of the HBO crime anthology series comes from a brand-new team helmed by director Issa Lopez, with stars Jodie Foster and Kali Reis taking on the titular detective duties. A new lineup of talent on and behind the screen absolutely shakes up the True Detective formula, offering something that feels entirely new, while also providing a bone-chilling narrative that feels most aligned with the Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson-starring first season.
Emphasis on “chilling,” too, considering the premise of Night Country is that it’s set in an Alaskan town in the throes of an all-nighter. The sun is setting for the winter months, and in the midst of the perma-dark permafrost, an evil lurks.
The premiere sets up the mystery of the season on a couple of different fronts, beginning with the disappearance of a group of scientists, discovered at the end of the episode in a gnarly tableau of frozen death. What happened to these men? Who — or what — is responsible? The task for figuring that out falls to, well, us, in a manner of speaking, at least. Half the fun of a new True Detective season is trying to puzzle out the mystery alongside the characters, and the premiere gives the Reddit detectives enough ammo to start putting major pieces together already.
Just as important, though, are the two true detectives at the heart of the title: Foster as Liz Danvers and Reis as Evangeline Navarro, law enforcement officers with little love lost between them, for reasons still not entirely clear.
“She’s a very interesting, deep, badass with a big heart,” Reis tells The Hollywood Reporter about her take on Navarro, an Indigenous and Dominican ex-military officer who is new to the town of Ennis, Alaska, at least relatively speaking. “She’s very connected to her spiritual side. She has a dark side, too, but it’s actually part of her light side. She’s very calculated, but also unpredictable. There are so many contradictions when we meet her.”
Danvers, meanwhile, is a bit more of a meat-and-potatoes cop — or, more accurately, a Tinder-and-fantasy-football kind of cop. Initially, Foster was reluctant to join the cast of True Detective, not for anything having to do with the quality of the piece.
“It wasn’t an easy yes,” Foster tells THR. “I loved the script — loved the script — but I didn’t feel like I was right to play Danvers. The character was written very differently, not for someone my age, and I felt like there are some changes that happen at that age that needed to be addressed.”
According to showrunner and director Lopez, the initial concept for Danvers was to present “a woman on the verge of breaking down, because I’ve never seen Jodi do that — a woman on the verge of losing it, and then gets strength.” But when the take didn’t completely gel with Foster’s vision, Lopez recalls the way they bridged their creative gap: “I turned to her and said, ‘OK, so you want me to make her an asshole?’ And she said, ‘Yeah!’ And I was like, ‘I love that mission.’”
“I thought about all the prestige TV and all the male antiheroes who are so iconic,” Lopez continues, “the Walter Whites, the Tony Sopranos, and I was like, why don’t we have a bad bitch?”
“Originally, she was vulnerable and weepy and having a hard time adapting to grief,” says Foster, speaking to the past traumas surrounding Danvers — particularly, the as-yet unexplained deaths of her family members that predate the start of the series. “We ended up going the opposite route. She’s a closed-off person that’s completely not accessing her grief at all. She’s sort of asleep, and she needs to be woken up. There’s a lot of meanness and arrogance and a bad sense of humor that’s not really funny. All of that comes from this place of pain she’s hiding. It’s more interesting, and it better serves Navarro’s story, who is the central voice of the piece, the Indigenous voice. I wanted Danvers to serve that.”
“Danvers and Navarro absolutely hate each other,” says Reis, “but they work so well together. It falls in line with the True Detective umbrella. At one point, they had a good relationship. They had so much love and respect for one another. But something went wrong. With relationships — really good relationships — that does happen, in these deep connections. But they respect each other’s skills, and they know they need each other to solve this case.”
Lopez adds that she looked at the original season of True Detective as inspiration for the dynamic between Danvers and Navarro, saying, “If you look at Hart and Cohle (Harrelson and McConaughey) in the first season, you have one of them who is a nihilist and reads philosophy, and one of them that goes like, ‘Man, please stop talking.’ He wants to get home with his wife. So that’s the thing I couldn’t do. [Navarro and Danvers] couldn’t be that. But still the idea of having them discussing the nature of the universe was absolutely essential to keeping it True Detective. So, what were the visions that could be clashing? We could have fun with that.”
While Danvers and Navarro are the central figures clashing and collaborating in the fourth round of True Detective, they’re surrounded by an eclectic cast of characters, including but not limited to: Fiona Shaw as Rose Aguineau, a mysterious woman with a possibly supernatural connection to Ennis; John Hawkes as Hank Prior, a less-than-stellar cop waiting patiently for his long-distance girlfriend to arrive in town; Finn Bennett as Hank’s son Peter, also a cop, who hangs on Danvers’ every word and command, at the expense of his family life; and Christopher Eccleston as Ted Corsaro, who makes his debut in episode two as another law enforcement official with old ties to Danvers.
Could one of them be responsible for the season’s central mystery? Could more than one of them be involved? Without spoiling anything, know this: a very close look at the premiere episode of Night Country provides all the clues required to piece this puzzle together.
You just need to be asking the right questions.
True Detective releases new episodes Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.
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