This True Detective article contains spoilers for Night Country.
True Detective: Night Country hasn’t been shy about drawing connections to season 1 of the hit crime series, down to the very clear supernatural bent of the new case, which sees Detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) investigating mysterious disappearances in rural Alaska during the region’s long polar night. Trailers for season 4 have even teased a familiar swirling symbol, the same one that a pair of odd couple Louisiana detectives followed all the way to Carcosa and the Yellow King back in 2014. In fact, with the premiere of Night Country, it really feels like we’re back in the “good ol’ days” with Rust and Marty.
Danvers and Navarro’s case inevitably leads them to the icy sea beyond the fictional town of Ennis, where they find the final resting place of the scientists who disappeared inexplicably from the research station earlier in the episode. Drawn on one of the victim’s foreheads is that symbol, reminding us that time is a flat circle and something spooky that can’t be easily explained is definitely afoot. The sweet spot for any season of True Detective. But that’s not the only way the first episode calls back to the season 1 case that led Rust and Marty to cosmic horrors in the Bayou and two truly fucked up siblings.
From the very first second of the episode, before a single character has popped up on screen, before the mayonnaise has hit that doomed sandwich, before “she’s awake,” there’s an epigraph. It goes like this: “For we do not know what beasts the night dreams when its hours grow too long for even God to be awake.” – Hildred Castaigne
On the surface, the epigraph is a vibe setter and is clearly referencing the long night about to fall not only on Ennis but the characters themselves as they delve deeper into this latest case. But there’s more to it than that. Just who is Hildred Castaigne?
If you’re a bibliophile, and particularly if you love classic weird supernatural horror fiction, then you may recognize the name as one of the characters in Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, one of the works that heavily influenced creator Nic Pizzolatto‘s writing on season 1. This collection of interconnected stories not only features the titular evil entity whose name the show borrowed for its own serial killer, the grotesque Errol Childress, but also a malevolent symbol that haunts the victims of the King in Yellow. Chambers also references the realm of Carcosa throughout these stories, although he likely borrowed that from a story called “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” by journalist and horror writer Ambrose Bierce.
Hildred Castaigne appears in the collection’s opening story, “The Repairer of Reputations,” as the tale’s unreliable narrator. When we meet Hildred, he’s being treated in a mental asylum after suffering a life-altering head injury. Hildred reads a censored play called “The King in Yellow,” which also recurs throughout the collection, and becomes wrapped up in a conspiracy that he believes will allow him to become “the Last King” of a nightmare version of the United States run by racist aristocrats who legalized and encourage suicide. Of course, it’s unclear if any of this nonsense is actually true or if it’s all in Hildred’s head, even the murders he thinks he’s committed on his way to claim the throne of an America.
What’s really interesting is that, after a little digging into Chambers’ work, we couldn’t actually find the quote from the epigraph, in “The Repairer of Reputations.” It’s not something Hildred actually says in the book, suggesting the quote is made up, just like Hildred’s own story. Just what the hell is showrunner Issa Lopez is up to here? What does it all mean? Perhaps the message is that we shouldn’t believe everything we see or hear in the long, dark nights ahead. True Detective really is back, baby.
New episodes of True Detective: Night Country air on HBO and stream on Max on Sundays at 9 pm.