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We Build Alaska

Review: True Detective: Night Country – Episode Three

(Firstly: I’d like to apologize. I neglected to mention in last week’s review of Episode Two that the mysterious tongue found on the floor of the Tsalal station was, in fact, Annie Kowtok’s. Keep that in mind going forward.)

In this episode of “Night Country,” we begin with a flashback. Trooper Navarro, hearing screams coming from behind a door while serving an arrest warrant for vandalism at the Silver Star Mine, kicks it in, guns blazing. What she finds is not a murder scene, but a birthing clinic – with a very-much-alive Annie K as the midwife. Annie delivers a baby in a rubber pool, then offers herself up to Navarro, who lets it slide. Seven years later, the troopers and Ennis police are organizing a search for the missing Raymond Clark, the Tsalal scientist who was carrying on a romantic relationship with Annie.

Officer Prior (the elder) has enlisted a group of his redneck Ennis friends, on side-by-sides and snowmachines, to help look for Clark – and all of them are brandishing firearms, prompting Navarro to caution Prior that the police actually want the scientist alive.

“Do we?” Prior responds. (Something’s up with this angular officer – I can tell.)

Meanwhile, Danvers puts the younger Prior on the task of cracking Annie’s cell phone, found in the trailer from last episode. In the process, he demands that Danvers explain what the last case was that drove her apart from Navarro. She grimly describes William Wheeler, a domestic abuser, with a habit of beating up his girlfriend (who refused to press charges). The hands of the Ennis police department were tied, until one day, Wheeler pushed it too far and killed her. Upon discovering the scene, with Wheeler sitting in a chair whistling smugly, Danvers says that the perpetrator killed himself – but it’s implied that one of the cops did a little extrajudicial enforcement of the law on the abuser, and the other couldn’t handle it.

Navarro, in the meantime, is out on the ice, assisting in the search for Clark. Finding an orange discarded by the mob of deputized rednecks, she tosses it out into the darkness – but it comes rolling back and bumps her boot. Spooky! Unfortunately, she’s never given the opportunity to investigate, as Danvers calls her back to the station to go through the evidence taken out of Clark’s trailer. A picture of Annie with dyed hair leads them to the town hairdresser and friend of the murder victim, who reveals that she did know Annie and Clark were seeing each other, and that she was also seeing a Tsalal employee – Oliver Tagaq, who quit the lab just before Annie’s death. The hairdresser reveals that she anonymously tipped off the station about Annie and Clark during the initial investigation – and who did she reveal this information to? Well, Officer Hank Prior, currently out looking for the missing scientist. (Told you something was up with the guy.)

The hairdresser also reveals that Annie’s spiral tattoo, that inspired Clark to get the same design, was based on a dream she had in high school. Once she got the tattoo, the dreams stopped.

Back at the hockey rink with the thawing corpsicle, Navarro confronts Hank about his negligence in ignoring the tip about Annie. He sneers that “she was sleeping with half the town,” and he didn’t feel the tip was relevant. Danvers separates the two before it gets violent, and tells him to call back his army of hillbillies on the ice before someone gets hurt.

The forensic examiner called out to look at the bodies has been snowed in, so to get eyes on the corpsicle before they thaw, the younger Prior suggests his veterinarian cousin be called, who has experience with “large animals.” Danvers grimly agrees.

Navarro goes out to Qavvik’s (her romantic partner from earlier episodes) ice fishing shed to ask where the mysterious Oliver Tagaq can be found, wondering if he might have some information about Clark and Annie. Qavvik says he’ll put the word around, but asks for Navarro to reveal some information about her past in return. Begrudgingly, she reveals that her mother left Ennis at 15 and met her father in Boston.

“Dad was bad,” she says. He drank and abused Navarro, her mother, and sister Julia, all of whom left Boston to come back to Ennis. Her mother, Navarro explains was “not okay.” Similarly to Julia, her mother heard voices and had episodes, and eventually ran away and never came back. “She was killed,” Navarro says bitterly. “Fucker was never found.”

Back in Ennis, Danver’s stepdaughter Leah attends a protest in a warehouse, organized by a faction against the Silver Sky mine. A baby has just been stillborn, one of the speakers laments, blaming it on the mining runoff. “We were here before!” chants a group of Alaska natives (real-world environmental politics, here we come). Danvers, upon discovering Leah attended the rally, is furious.

Navarro, back on the search for Clark, sees a ghostly toddler running out on the ice. In pursuit, she slips, hits her head, and has a strange vision of the same toddler, who asks her to “tell my mommy….” (Danvers’ son?) When she gets back to her car, she receives a call from one of the bartenders at the place her sister Julia works, telling her that Julia had another episode. “She started screamin’ that someone was coming,” the bartender says. “And then she started praying.” Navarro finds her sister huddled in the deserted wreck of an old fishing trawler, and they embrace.

At the hockey rink, Danvers gets Prior’s vet cousin’s opinion on the bodies. The vet opines that they don’t look like they died of freezing, which is a more peaceful death. Instead, the vet thinks these bodies look more similar to caribou that have died of fright. Navarro interrupts the conversation to reveal that she’s discovered the whereabouts of Oliver Tagaq – a nomad camp on the North Shore. (What is this – the Big Island? Come on….)

Tagaq’s nomad camp, bedecked with old snowmachines (and a few Timbersleds, which I found sort of out-of-place for a Nome stand-in – after all, the snow bike is sort of the expensive vehicle for Girdwood white boys looking to shred some gnarly pow, brah) is a hostile place, indeed, and information is less than forthcoming. Oliver points a shotgun at the two cops, demanding that they leave, and when he hears of his former colleagues’ death on the ice, he gets even angrier. As Navarro and Danvers get back in the car to leave, they get a call from the hospital. Lund, the scientist who was in a coma, has woken up.

Directing them down the hall, the nurse has to talk over Lund’s shrieks and screams of pain. He’s gone snowblind, both legs have been amputated, and one arm is missing. He looks like a living corpse, and his information is less than helpful, but plenty creepy.

“We woke her,” Lund moans. “And now she’s out. She’s out there in the ice. She came for us in the dark.” (She’s awake, if you’ll remember, was whispered by a Tsalal scientist just before they all went missing.) Lund lapses back into unconsciousness as Danvers is called down to the hospital lobby to mediate a brawl between Prior’s hillbillies and State Troopers. Navarro, who has stayed behind, is unnerved to see Lund sit back up and talk to her in a deeper, scratchier voice, telling Navarro that “Your mother says hello … she’s waiting for you.” He then lays back down, and expires. (In an episode that felt flat, and devoid of any real pacing, this scene was a bright, scary spark.)

In the lobby, young Prior greets both of them with Annie’s phone. He’s cracked the password, and there’s a video of Annie in some kind of ice cave. “I’ve found it,” she whispers to the camera, before she is dragged, screaming, into the darkness by an unseen entity. The episode ends with her screams, prompting viewers to wonder – what got her? And where is Clark? And what is out there, on the ice, hunting people?

We’re halfway through “Night Country,” and I’m concerned that many of the threads the showrunners have introduced, will remain unresolved. Environmental politics, missing and murdered indigenous women, callbacks to season one, plus the actual mystery that’s ostensibly driving the show – these are all admirable things to include, but it feels like the writers have tried to shoehorn too many things in, to the detriment of the show’s overall quality.

The dialogue, as mentioned, lacks the spark that made season one truly incredible television. Rust and Marty’s car talk bears little resemblance to Navarro and Danvers’ – it often feels like they aren’t even in the same room talking to each other!

The general supernatural atmosphere was more absent from this episode, which was fine – divvying it out in smaller chunks is probably a better move, and there were some pretty cool moments that inspired dread – the orange being tossed back, Lund’s speech about Navarro’s mother, Annie’s unseen assailant. Let’s hope that whatever’s being hinted at can live up to the hype.

Finally, the environmental politics of the show seem flattened out. Obviously, you can’t fit all the nuances of your Willows or your Pebbles into an hour long episode, but the whole mine protest thing seems hastily added on – like the showrunners saw one too many pastel Instagram infographics about how something needed to be done about drilling on ANWR, and decided to throw something in there about mining. Unless this has a tangible connection to the Tsalal deaths, it’ll probably end up being remembered as just that – an attempt to be politically relevant.

Some closing thoughts – Foster is trying her best, and some elements of her performance are extremely watchable. Side characters like Qavvik and Tagaq feel fleshed out and real, adding credibility to Ennis’s world. The Alaska references, while tuned down this episode, still make the show feel more real. I remain, as always, optimistic and excited to see what next week’s episode brings.

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Paul Byno
3 months ago

Whatever for your bullshit

3 months ago

I am thankful for this rundown. The writing is not great and I feel had Jody just add Lib some of the scenes it would’ve come off more real. They probably should have given her script approval.