This article contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country episode 4.
Every episode of True Detective: Night Country ends the same way. Having exhausted their investigation for the day, our titular true detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) receive a phone call from junior cop Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) to provide them with a fresh lead.
Whether it’s with two minutes left to go in the hour or eight minutes, the Prior dispatch arrives each time like clockwork. At the end of episode 1, Pete calls to report that Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) has discovered something on the ice. At the end of episode 2, Pete calls to report that one of the scientists is missing from the thawing block of said ice. At the end of episode 3, Pete foregoes the phone call itself and catches up with Liz at the hospital to show her that he successfully hacked into Raymond Clark’s phone, revealing a spooky video message from Annie K.
In the most egregious example of Deus Ex Prior yet, episode 4 concludes with a third act action sequence that Pete appears to have conjured up with the mere power of his phone call. After a mostly quiet Christmas Day of investigating, Prior rings Liz to tell her that “some fisherman spotted something near the Dredge,” sending Danvers and Navarro off to an abandoned mining facility on the ice where they have their spookiest encounter yet.
Through four episodes, True Detective: Night Country‘s inability to imagine a break in its case that doesn’t involve Pete Prior doing the leg work offscreen remains its most frustrating feature. Simply put: the true detectives at the center of this season of True Detective aren’t doing much detective-ing at all. And fans are starting to notice.
Following the conclusion of episode 3, Reddit user u/burnsyboi shared their disappointment with the season thus far, noting that “The biggest disappointment of this season for me has been the lack of drawn out interviews with witnesses and POI which were the most fun and meaty parts of the OG seasons. We have not had a single good interview and we are halfway done.”
Unless you count Navarro’s interaction with the zombie Anders Lund at episode 3’s end, burnsyboi’s point remains true through a full two-thirds this season. Danvers and Navarro aren’t putting in the investigatory legwork that makes for a compelling mystery story. And to be fair to them, it’s really not their fault. It’s the structure of the story’s.
True Detective: Night Country has gone out of its way to prove that Danvers and Navarro are capable detectives. Navarro is dogged and passionate about her community, literally getting to work on Christmas Day moments after the death of her sister. Danvers, meanwhile, has some downright Sherlock-ian traits. Within minutes of arriving at the Tsalal crime scene she works out precisely how long the scientists have been missing (due to the emulsified mayonnaise on their sandwich) and whose mouth the errant tongue belongs to (a native Alaskan woman due to the subtle string imprints from fishing lines on it). Danvers and Navarro have got the goods but the mystery presented in this season is so off-the-wall so there’s quite literally there’s nothing they can do with it.
Night Country has dialed True Detective‘s usual flirtation with the supernatural up to 11. Amid all the ghosties and ghoulies haunting Ennis, Alaska there seems to be little room for actual detective work. Or at least there’s no room for detective work that isn’t Peter Prior poring over mountains of documents offscreen until he finds something interesting. Worse even is that every time Danvers and Navarro hit the pavement to investigate they are often foiled by one inconvenience or another. Raymond Clark’s spooky trailer is empty. The native Alaskans on the edge of town refuse to talk to them. All their best witnesses are already dead.
Episode 4 even ups the ante by suggesting that Danvers and Navarro already visited a place of interest offscreen and turned up nothing. As the duo prepares to enter The Dredges, Danvers mentions offhand that they’ve already investigated the area before, which …. wait, what? There’s a massive excavator on the edge of town where outlaws have been known to hide and this is the first time we’re hearing of it?
The best detective stories allow audiences to investigate the crime alongside their detectives. When it comes to Nighty Country, unfortunately we’ve been left in the dark alongside Danvers and Navarro. Hopefully the next Prior call offers a fresh clue.
New episodes of True Detective: Night Country air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, culminating with the finale on Feb. 18, 2024.