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TV Review: ‘True Detective: Night Country’


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Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

(L to R) Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

Premiering on Max January 14th, ‘True Detective: Night Country’ offers a very different spin on the usual mystery story, one that draws upon the eternal clash between modern progress and native lands, between parents and children, and between the forces of right and wrong, even as the main characters sometimes cross those lines.

Built around a typically excellent performance by Jodie Foster, in what might be her most iconic law enforcement role since Clarice Starling of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, the new ‘True Detective’ pivots away from creator Nic Pizzolatto’s seasons of the show to focus instead on a stranger mystery –– time might have been a flat circle in the first season, but here it is frozen in ice.

Does ‘True Detective: Night Country’ find the light in the darkness?

Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

(L to R) Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

As mentioned, this will feel very different to past ‘True Detective’ seasons. While the show has generally re-invented itself with each iteration (from the Louisiana-set first to the California-inflected second and Ozarks-featuring third), incoming showrunner Issa López maintains what worked about particularly the first and third seasons while imbuing the fourth with her own particular viewpoint and energy.

And filming in Iceland –– standing in for the fictional Alaskan town of Ennis –– gives the new season a distinctly different look too, its dark, snowy night-time setting upping the stakes for the officers and locals as they try to figure out what exactly is going on in this frosty, close-knit community.

‘True Detective: Night Country’ : Script and Direction

Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

(L to R) Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

In addition to running the show (and having a hand in all the scripts alongside writers Alan Page Arriaga, Namsi Khan, Chris Mundy, Katrina Albright and Wenonah Wilms), López directs all six episodes of this new season.

And the result is a hauntingly consistent look for the story, which makes full use of the gloomy, doomy landscape against which the mystery takes place. This is a haunting and haunted place, which makes for a fascinating backdrop for a neo-noir. The writers’ minds are full of conflict and survival, and subplots about protests against a local mining operation and the strange case of the frozen lab staff give the narrative plenty of weight.

Related Article: 10 Things We Learned at the ’Nyad’ Press Conference with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster

‘True Detective: Night Country’: Performances

Jodie Foster in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Jodie Foster in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

Foster, in a very rare TV performance (she’s primarily been a director on the small screen) and, in concert with López’ writing, her Liz Danvers is a fine creation, weather-beaten and careworn, not afraid to bend the rules to do her job and with little time for the fantastical theories others suggest as to what happened to the victims in her cases.

She’s also dealing with her step-daughter, Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc), a young woman caught between her native heritage, her anger at the world and her own new romance. Their dynamic is complicated and truthful, and while it sometimes slips into expected teen-parent cycles, it’s always involving.

But while this is often the Jodie Foster show, that’s not to say that the rest of the ensemble doesn’t match up to her level. Kali Reis is the intense, torn trooper Evangeline Navarro, once a close colleague of Danvers whose relationship with her after a particularly tragic case, is now frostier than the air they breathe. Reis brings a damaged vulnerability to the role, cloaked in a steel attitude towards her job and those who would hurt her family. She certainly gets her moments to shine.

John Hawkes in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

John Hawkes in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

While Reis might be less familiar to some, there is also a host of “it’s-that-person” character actors to bring smaller parts to life with their usual care and attention. John Hawkes plays Hank Prior, one of Danvers’ direct colleagues, whose approach to law enforcement is decidedly more macho. He oozes toxic masculinity (which Hawkes portrays perfectly despite his wiry frame), his manner nevertheless hiding his own damage, yearning for love he can’t quite make work.

Then there’s Christopher Eccleston (best known for the likes of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘The Leftovers’), as Danvers’ superior, with whom she has a complicated relationship. He’s a perfectly-judged mix of authority figure and ridiculous doofus. Fiona Shaw, meanwhile, is Rose Aguineau, who lives on the outskirts of town and appears to see visions of the dead. It’s a role that Shaw fully engages with.

Beyond the core cast, there is a tapestry of bro-style hunters and some compelling native characters, who appear to offer clues to what is really going on.

‘True Detective: Night Country’: Final Thoughts

Kali Reis in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Kali Reis in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

Bold and melancholic, with some wonderfully pitched performances and well-realized detail, the new run of ‘True Detective’ is a more than worthwhile addition to the show’s canon. It’s great to see Jodie Foster given another meaty role to get her teeth into, and she’s aided by a top-notch ensemble.

It’s certainly not going to be comfort watching, but then do you expect that from a ‘True Detective’ tale?

‘True Detective: Night Country’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.

Fiona Shaw in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Fiona Shaw in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

What’s the story of ‘True Detective: Night Country’?

In Ennis, Alaska, the sun sets on December 17 and won’t rise again until after the New Year. On the third day of night, police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) is called to the scene of a strange maybe-crime: the Tsalal Arctic Research Station, home to eight scientists who spend their days investigating arctic biology, geology, and the impacts of climate change.

But when Danvers arrives, all eight are missing. They’ve left behind their access passes, their cell phones, an uneaten sandwich; it’s as if the entire group has simply vanished into thin air. To solve the case, Detectives Danvers and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) will have to confront the darkness themselves and dig into the haunted truths that lie buried under the eternal ice.

Who is in ‘True Detective: Night Country’?

Jodie Foster stars in the series as Danvers, with Kali Reis as Navarro. The cast also includes Fiona Shaw, Isabella Star, Christopher Eccleston, John Hawkes, Finn Bennett, Anna Lambe, Aka Niviâna and Joel Montgrand.

Christopher Eccleston in HBO's 'True Detective: Night Country.'

Christopher Eccleston in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO.

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