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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

True Detective: Night Country

Liz Danvers, Chief of police in the remote Alaska town of Ennis, and heroine of True Detective: Night Country, is fond of telling other cops they’re asking the wrong questions, prodding them over and over until they ask the right one.

With Night Country, there’s only one question: Was it worth resurrecting the long-dormant True Detective franchise?

The new season, created, directed, and largely written by Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), and starring Jodie Foster, answers with a resounding, “Hell, yes.”

It’s been a decade since the anthology cop drama’s first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. In the moment, it seemed like a bolt from the blue, thanks primarily to McConaughey’s haunted performance and the hypnotic direction of Cary Joji Fukunaga.

But the ending disappointed viewers who were expecting some kind of supernatural payoff to all of the vague allusions to the horror stories of Robert Chambers and H.P. Lovecraft.

Season Two, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams, was a creative disaster on nearly every front. The third season was buoyed by the performances of Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff, but was otherwise a forgettable rehash.

Now comes a new title, a new creator, and a very different setting, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Night Country injects a whole lot of female energy both onscreen — in the form of Foster and co-star Kali Reis, as Danvers’ reluctant partner Evangeline Navarro — and off, into a series that in the past wasn’t exactly celebrated for its use of women.

The end result is a lean, mean, six-episode season that retains most of what was great in Season One, while leaving behind the more self-indulgent or outright clumsy parts of those years.

Night Country begins with Ennis entering a winter stretch of perpetual darkness. The plot - Arctic researchers disappear under mysterious circumstances, which Navarro believes is connected to an unsolved murder she once worked on with Danvers - has plenty of darkness of its own.

Yet López manages to avoid letting the show be consumed by that darkness. It’s an intense, often graphically violent season, but not an oppressively dour one.

The energy between Foster (whose raspy growl is a perfect fit for an antisocial, my-way-or-the-highway veteran cop) and Reis (a former boxer with screen presence to spare) crackles throughout.

And López manages to occasionally let some small but badly needed glimpses of light shine through, particularly when it comes to Navarro and everyone else in Ennis telling Danvers how much they dislike her.

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Lopez gleefully accepts the challenge of telling her story in a way that allows the audience to either take what’s happening as evidence that powerful spirits roam the ice up there, or treat all of the strange doings as products of the madness that can develop in such isolated, lightless conditions.

When a witness is asked if he thought there was another person at a crime scene, he says, “This is Ennis, man. Yeah, you see people sometimes.”

It’s an incredibly graceful balancing act, all the way to the end. By the time someone directly quotes a McConaughey line in the finale, Night Country has already established itself as its own thrilling, nightmarish, riveting thing.

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