Review by Sean Boelman
HBO’s detective show True Detective has its fair share of fans, although only the first season received consistent acclaim. With a different creative team at the helm, led by Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), True Detective: Night Country isn’t what fans may expect from the HBO anthology series, but it proves to be one of the most interesting and unique entries — despite its flaws.
This newest season of the anthology show follows the detectives in a sleepy Alaskan town as their community is shaken up after the mysterious disappearance of a group of scientists from a local research station. In many ways, this feels like a story that was designed as something else but had the True Detective brand slapped on it because of loose connections and marketing, but it works nonetheless.
One thing that stands out about Night Country is its radically different tone from the other seasons of the neo-noir. Of course, part of this is due to the location change — leaving the rugged American South for the icy barrenness of Alaska (with Iceland used to double for the Last Frontier). However, this season’s unique approach is also thanks to López’s horror background, which is highly evident in some sequences that feel influenced by chilly classics such as John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Stylistically, Night Country has a much more energetic, youthful spin than previous entries. If you need to know how different this season is, just look at the song over the opening credits sequence — Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend.” However, even though it’s radically different, the production design and effects work are truly phenomenal here.
Interestingly, the crime mystery at the story’s center seems to be much less of a concern to the writers than the subplots. Some moments in the central crime saga are undoubtedly memorable and effective, but many of the best parts come from the various subplots involving the players in the story.
Some themes in the show feel somewhat underdeveloped. For example, there is a narrative thread about protests against a corporation hurting the environment and the local community. This is perhaps the greatest example of the season biting off more than it can chew in a six-episode run, although it can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition.
This season’s lead is Jodie Foster, who is great as always. However, the supporting cast is who shines most. Kali Reis (Catch the Fair One) surprisingly holds her own against the more veteran actress. Finn Bennett also seems like a breakout waiting to happen, with a remarkably grounded and emotional turn — particularly during the final two episodes.
True Detective: Night Country makes a few ambitious swings and misses, but it’s so ambitious that it’s hard not to admire. There’s some truly brilliant stuff going on here, thanks to the directorial flourishes of López and the excellent work from the ensemble.
True Detective: Night Country debuts on HBO on January 14 at 9pm ET/PT, with new episodes airing subsequent Sundays. All six episodes reviewed.