Fifth season of True Detective squanders its strong cast and themes

THE first episode of True Detective’s fourth season started strong. Titled True Detective: Night Country, the season takes place in the furthest northwest reaches of the planet, in the fictional Alaskan town of Ennis.

Nearby the town, the eight member team of scientists working at the Tsalal research station disappear overnight and are later found frozen to death.

Stark naked and huddled together, the deceased scientists form an image of body horror right out of a David Cronenberg film.

Their disappearance and death are then cryptically tied to an unsolved case involving the brutal murder of an indigenous Alaskan woman over five years ago.

In the long weeks of endless night, Ennis police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Alaska state trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) work to solve the mystery.

Night Country has a riveting setup, setting up themes of indigenous rights, police corruption and the exploitation of natural resources by big corporations at the expense of the local community’s health.

But then, from the second episode onwards, the ice sheet below its feet quickly breaks, sending the entire season plunging into the cold, freezing depths of the ocean.

$!On top of everything else, the season also has jumpscares.

Reinforcing stereotypes

There is a current, ongoing trend in Hollywood where the idea of strong female characters is constantly being pushed. In ordinary circumstances, this has to be applauded, if done in a smart way.

In Night Country, showrunner and writer Issa Lopez takes the juvenile route of writing women, with no forethought in the repercussions of what she is putting down on paper and executing in action.

Foster, Reis and the rest of the cast are very good, despite the flimsy material they have to work with. Before heading into the story, it is worth noting that the dialogue is shallow.

The dialogue between Foster, an Academy Award-winning actress and Reis’ characters in their car rides is Lopez’s attempt to recreate the deep, introspective Matthew McConaughey-Woody Harrelson dialogue from the first season of True Detective.

$!Foster famously played an investigator in The Silence of the Lambs, which is a better time investment than watching Night Country.

Each one of these scenes falls flat. If this season only had bad dialogue, it would be forgivable, but coupled with the mental gymnastics the story participates in and gets a gold medal in, it is baffling how no one stepped in to tell Lopez the script was progressively becoming dumber as the season went on.

For example, one of the big revelations in Night Country has a female character finding out something shocking.

Instead of the smart action of bringing that knowledge to the public, the character is instead overcome by hysteria and bad things happen to them.

Due to the writing being extra silly, the bad things are done by male characters, who, despite their intelligence, also enter a state of unexplained hysteria.

This attempt at portraying strong women by ironically having them be beset by hysteria does not end there.

$!Night Country disappointingly portrays spirituality in Indigenous communities as generic horror fare.

No justice, only hysteria

At the climax of the season finale, Danvers and Navarro confront a person they suspect is behind the deaths of the Tsalal scientists.

As the person being confronted begins to reveal what actually happened, a group of women, one by one, begin to enter the room where the confrontation is taking place.

Lopez frames this walk-in as a “badass boss woman” thing, but when you think about it, the entire reveal becomes comical.

For some context, Night Country’s ancillary villain is Silver Sky, a mining company whose operations are causing pollution that is affecting the water, livelihood and health of the mostly Indigenous Alaskans in the area.

Night Country then reveals the connection between the Tsalal scientists and Silver Sky and when this group of women found out, they decided to force the scientists into revealing Silver Sky’s operations to the media and the public.

Intelligently, they realised this was the best way to get Silver Sky to stop its operations and clean up the pollution. Also, all of that was a joke.

That is not what happened. Instead, this group of women were overcome by hysteria and did some things that caused the deaths of the Tsalal scientists, which they are seemingly proud of.

Here is the thing. Their actions, while cathartic, only harm the community. Guided by hysteria and wanting revenge, they have essentially freed Silver Sky to continue operating and polluting the area, while reinforcing Lopez’s views that the only way women can be strong and initiate change is by becoming hysterical.

This ludicrous writing was apparently so good that HBO has renewed True Detective for a fifth season, with Lopez returning as the showrunner.

Clickable Image
Clickable Image
Clickable Image