True Detective: Night Country Review: Season 4 of HBO’s Crime Anthology Is More Chilling Than Thrilling

The True Detective franchise clearly needed a jump start. After a meteoric first season that revitalized the crime drama genre, it plummeted back to earth with a rightfully maligned sophomore run before returning for a middling third season in 2019. So HBO hit the reset button for the new Season 4, subtitled Night Country and premiering Sunday, Jan. 14 at 9/8c (I’ve seen all six episodes), moving the setting to chilly Alaska, putting two women in the lead roles and handing the keys to a new showrunner and director in Issa López. It was a good instinct to start fresh, and Season 4 has its moments, but it still falls victim to many of the same problems that have plagued this franchise since Season 1, hampered by familiar plot elements and a lackluster lead performance.

The action takes place in the remote Alaska town of Ennis, during the last sunset of the year before darkness takes over for weeks. After a mysterious incident at an arctic research station where a group of scientists vanish without explanation, police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) is called in to investigate. Her fellow cop Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) thinks it’s connected to the unsolved murder of an Indigenous woman years ago — a case that got Navarro demoted to trooper. But there may be more than just human foul play at work here: What were the scientists studying, exactly? And did it come back to haunt them?

True Detective Season 4 Navarro Kali Reis

The move to Alaska pays off in a big way here: Season 4 has an exceptionally strong sense of place, with a bleak and frigid landscape that gives you the chills just watching it. But the season can feel claustrophobic at times as well, all drab interiors and pitch-black nights. Night Country is at its best when it leans into horror, with eerie hints of the supernatural and people seeing things that shouldn’t be there during the long Alaska nights. (The scientists’ corpses are frozen into a gruesome sculpture of body horror, a stunning image that lingers stubbornly in your psyche.)

It’s hard to shake the sense, though, that Season 4’s story is patched together from other shows and movies. Mare of Easttown is a clear inspiration, with its gruff lead detective in a tight-knit small town where everyone knows everyone’s secrets. ABC’s Alaska Daily covered similar ground, too, with a murder mystery in Alaska investigated by a skeptical veteran and an earnest young local, and the scientists’ close encounter with unexplained phenomena recalls John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing. (Plus, it wouldn’t be True Detective if we didn’t see detectives combing through case files to a soundtrack of moody swamp rock.) The central mystery also gets too convoluted to follow, folding in a corrupt mining corporation and environmental protests and throwing an array of rabbit holes and red herrings at us.

True Detective Season 4 Jodie Foster Danvers

This is Jodie Foster’s first TV role in nearly half a century, and it was worth the wait: Danvers is prickly to the point where no one wants to be around her. (She’s even casually racist towards Navarro, even though her own stepdaughter is Indigenous.) She’s a million miles from wide-eyed FBI recruit Clarice Starling, and Foster artfully lets us see the years of pain and regret that have accumulated behind her tough outer shell. True Detective is all about the partnerships, though, and Kali Reis — a former boxer with only a handful of screen credits prior to this — doesn’t match Foster’s level as Navarro. Her performance is flat and opaque, making it hard to connect to Navarro’s struggles, and the animosity between her and Danvers feels manufactured just to add conflict. I wanted to spend more time with John Hawkes as grizzled deputy Hank Prior, and with Fiona Shaw as quirky recluse Rose, but their screentime is sadly limited, though newcomer Finn Bennett is impressive as Hank’s young cop son Peter.

The finale does manage to build genuine tension, and it offers maybe the most satisfying conclusion to a True Detective season yet. (Season 1’s ending was an infamous letdown, you might remember.) I’d even put Season 4 slightly above Season 3 as the second-best True Detective season so far, and it will certainly scratch your itch for an HBO murder mystery. But as far off the mark as original series creator Nic Pizzolatto wandered at times, I kind of missed the wild swings he’d take here. We may just have to accept that we’ll never approach the heady heights of True Detective’s freshman season again. Time may be a flat circle… but you can’t go home again.    

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: True Detective boldly hits the reset button in Season 4, but runs into the same problems that plagued previous seasons.

Related Posts

Everything you need to know about Lindsay Lohan’s Irish rom-com

Pic: Netflix Lindsay Lohan had the country in a tizzy when she landed here in 2022. She was here to film her upcoming film, Irish Wish. And…

Take a look inside the February issue of VIP Magazine

VIP’s February issue is here and it’s simply gorgeous, if we do say so ourselves. We’ve given our magazine a little bit of a makeover as we…

Lisa McGowan makes incredible donation to LauraLynn Children’s Hospice

Pic: Brian McEvoy Lisa McGowan AKA Lisa’s Lust List has made a generous donation to LauraLynn Children’s Hospice. She was able to raise an incredible €200,000 with…

Cillian Murphy’s son to make movie debut!

Pic: CW It looks like Cillian Murphy has inspired his son. Yes, his son Aran is following in Cillian’s footsteps and will make his film debut very…

Irish acts come together for free concert this weekend for great cause

If you’ve been looking for something to do this weekend, then we have you covered. Several well-known Irish artists will be coming together for a free concert…

10 rom-coms to watch this Valentine’s season!

It’s rom-com season! With Valentine’s just around the corner, now is the time to get planning the perfect movie night and to help we’ve compiled a list…