“Don’t confuse the spirit world with mental health problems.” Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) says these words to Detective Navarro (Kali Reis) early in the second episode of True Detective: Night Country. Seems like an important comment True Detective’s season one, in which Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) often walks a tightrope between the spirit and the real world, though his hallucinations are explained by his mental health issues and drug use as an undercover cop.
It’s no coincidence, surely, that in the same conversation Rose waxes poetic about her dead lover, Travis, who we saw as a dancing ghost last week, and who led Rose to the frozen mass grave where the scientists found themselves. He tells Navarro about their last meeting. Croissants, sex, not much talk, and then left on the ice to die rather than suffer the long misery of leukemia.
“That’s when I found him,” says Navarro.
“Yeah, one last gift from Travis Cohle,” Rose replies. “I need to meet you.”
The fanservice here is incredibly thick, served up on a thick exhibition platter. The fan theories, it seems, were all true. Rust—who lived with Travis’ father in Alaska!—is actually Travis’ son. They don’t say it outright, but there’s no way this guy shares Rust’s last name.
I’m both a little surprised and a little disappointed that the Season 1 connections are so plentiful and heavy this season. I was expecting some subtle nods to previous seasons, which we’ve seen throughout the anthology series, but there are very few minutes in this one.
In their investigation of what happened, Prior (Finn Bennett) reveals that the science station is funded by an NGO shell company called NC Global Strategies. He tells Danvers (Jodie Foster) that this shell company belongs to Tuttle United, a company with its fingers in a bunch of different industries, from shipping to cruise lines to video games.
Danvers laughs this off as “really useless,” but to anyone who’s been paying attention, she’s clearly wrong. The Tuttle Cult was at the center of the horrors of Season 1 and I can’t imagine that Tuttle United is just a coincidence here anymore from Travis Cohle.
Then there’s the spiral symbol, which appears half a dozen times in the episode.
Rose draws a picture of him in the snow (more dramatic than on a piece of paper) to show Navarro and tells her that he’s bigger than Ennis, possibly bigger than ice, all of which is super fuzzy and “really useless “. We learn from the delivery that the scientist Raymond Clarke (Irish) who said “She’s awake” when he had his seizure (which Danvers and Prior later witness on one of the recovered cell phones) had a tattoo on his chest.
Most importantly, we see an image of Clark with dead native Annie, who has the spiral tattooed on her back – standing naked in a photo Clark took of the two of them in front of a mirror. As you can see, this is the exact same image from Season 1, right down to the coil placement:
What this means has yet to be revealed, but it’s a pretty strong indication that the Tuttle Cult has somehow made it to Alaska. The money that funds the station comes from Tuttle’s empire, and we know that the scientists were trying to find the key to eternal life, which seems to go along with the weird satanic stupidity that Tuttle was into. How the murders are connected is less clear. Why Annie — who was protesting the mines — has it on her back, or is apparently Clark’s mistress, is another mystery. It seems pretty obvious that Clark’s strange behavior isn’t because he killed Annie, but because he loved her and mourned her death, and that focusing on him as a potential killer is just a red herring.
This theory is somewhat complicated by the trailer that Danvers and Navarro find and investigate. Here we have a very creepy scene from every serial killer’s nightmare. The trailer is filled with photos, images of the spiral, and a full-sized “face” made of stuffed clothes and dolls and other arts and crafts that are very reminiscent of things we saw in season 1 and 3. On the wall above the “body” is something which looks like a board of evidence, like someone trying to solve a mystery, but it’s also kind of crazy. The music outside this scene sounds like someone screaming under the ice. Very creepy!
Back at the hockey rink where they brought the bodies to thaw, they discover that only six of the seven scientists’ bodies are present. Clark is missing. “He’s alive,” Navarro says. Another needle drop lands — or rather on-the-nose ‘Seven Devils’ by Florence & The Machine. Lots of lyrics about crowns and devils and being dead and evil and all that jazz. Like I said, very on the nose and heavy, as is most of the dialogue, exposition and imagery this season.
So far, I’m not impressed. The setting is cool. The endless darkness is surprisingly effective and even two episodes in, I find the atmosphere quite suffocating and oppressive. If only the rest of the production lived up to the setting, but there’s something about it all, from the opening credits to the cinematography. It feels cheaper than previous seasons. For all the obvious connections to Season 1, it just lacks the aesthetic and feel that Season 1 achieved.
It also bothers me how confusing everything is and for no apparent reason. The story so far isn’t that complicated, but it’s buried in episodes that are overstuffed with too many characters and subplots, many of which seem unnecessary. Do we need Navarro’s boyfriend or Danvers’ stepdaughter? There’s Navarro’s sister and her mental health issues. Rose and her stories about Travis. The miners and the townspeople. I’m not sure what Hank Prior’s (John Hawkes) purpose is or why he’s allowed to have official files in his house for his son to steal. The former has his wife Kayla (Anna Lambe) and their baby.
Danvers’ boss, Ted Corsaro (Christopher Eccleston) appears in this episode for two reasons, apparently: First, to keep Danvers from disobeying him, and second, so the two can give us another wildly awkward sex scene . Sorry, I have no desire to see Eccleston and Foster banging a chest of drawers. At least the season 1 sex scenes made sense!
All of these characters and their relationships might be okay if we got to know them over time instead of each of them being involved in the first two episodes. But even then, we’re talking about a six-episode limited run. There is no room for this huge cast in such a short show. It’s distracting and makes an otherwise interesting mystery too busy and distracting.
Worse, it seems almost everyone hates everyone else. Sure, there’s a little affection between Navarro and her lover, but that’s somewhat clouded by the fact that she seems to treat him pretty badly, both during sex and when she shows up at his house unannounced and scares him in the bathtub. Navarro and Danvers hate each other. Corsaro and Danvers are lovers, but they don’t seem to like each other at all outside of that. Peter Prior is nice, but Danvers is rude to him and his wife and his wife’s mom (yeah, wow, too many characters).
It’s hard to keep up with all the names, let alone all the reasons everyone is so mad at everyone else, let alone what real mystery is being solved at any given moment.
- Navarro seems really out of place. He’s supposed to be a local Native American, but he doesn’t look like or speak to anyone in the area. I would have believed her character more if she was an East Coast or Los Angeles transplant.
- Eccleston is perhaps best known for Dr. Who but I first saw him in the really great Robbie Coltrane mystery series Rusk. Check it out sometime. It’s a better mystery show than Night Country so far at least.
- I keep wanting to like Jodie Foster more than I actually do in this one so far. I’m not sure if it’s just that Danvers is such an unlikeable character or something, but I was hoping for a very different performance / part. As I said last week, at least in Season 1 you really liked both Rust and Marty, even though they were both deeply flawed. I don’t like Danvers or Navarro at all. The scene with Danvers and the old native lady was just like that. . . away from. He is so incredibly rude to an old lady. It was almost as bad as the drunk driver scene last week, when Foster was apparently reading from her lines for the first time. She’s a great actress but I don’t know. . .
- I wonder how much of this season will tie directly into the Tuttle Cult and how much of it is fan-service or red herrings. I dont like it at all. It was a perfect season of TV and anything they do now risks breaking it a la the myriad ways Star Wars it has been spoiled by sequels and prequels and fanservice. Please don’t have some weird Rust look!
- The frozen dead that let out that creepy moan at the beginning was super creepy and I’m not sure what to make of it.
Anyway. That’s my two cents. More like two thousand cents. I’m just not impressed at all and incredibly disappointed so far. In a better role, Jodie Foster could have been the perfect choice for a new season true detective, and the setting is so exciting. Too bad the story is all over the place.
Here is my video review: