Looking for True Detective: Night Country Season 4, Episode 1? Read our recap here.
This week, I'm not going to waste (much) time on windup—episode 2 of True Detective: Night Country was loaded with plot, a surprising callback to season 1, and Jodie Foster saying the word "shitbowl." We have a lot to break down, folks.
Before we start, know this: episode 2 kicked ass. Night Country's HBO premiere was a hair uneven. The series introduced us to a bizarro, gruesome case about a group of scientists we had no natural reason to care about. In this Sunday's episode, though, we learn much more about the scientists, what they were doing in Ennis, and there's a genuine cliffhanger to their story. The whole episode is anchored by much more hang-time with Liz Danvers (Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis). Danvers's complicated family situation is shaping up to be the Chekhov's gun of Night Country, but before we get into it we must discuss a certain member of the Cohle family tree...
Daddy Cohle Fucks! (And Other Paranormal Concerns)
Confirming my favorite fan theory in episode 2, True Detective? What a treat! Last week, my Esquire colleagues rounded up a few Night Country theories, and one caught my eye. In season 1 of True Detective, Rust Cohle (AKA Mr. alright, alright, alright) mentions that his father's name was Travis—and he lived in Alaska at some point. Cut to Night Country's premiere, when we meet a zombie—bear with me–named Travis, who leads Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) to the frozen hunk of dead bodies. Given that Night Country is already heavy on season 1 connections (see: 🌀), this theory didn't feel terribly out of left field.
Early in episode 2, Navarro and Rose catch up after the premiere's climactic reveal: Rose's discovery of the dead scientists, frozen in a block of ice. It's a great scene: Rose delivers a primer about the supernatural shit going down in Ennis. First of all? She sees dead people. Most recently, Travis Cohle—she says his full name aloud, just for you Reddit sleuths—who is a former lover. “Death didn’t change him,” she says, telling a funny story about the time he brought over croissants, before they, uh, fucked. Daddy Cohle fucks! Okay, so, Night Country likely isn't a prequel to season 1, as some suspected when we met Travis. But the parallels are stronger than even Night Country's trailers suggested, which we'll discuss in a moment.
Before we get there, Rose volleys the question on everyone's mind: Is what's going on in Ennis a fit of mass delirium, or the result of some genuinely supernatural shit? The answer might be both. “Ennis is where the fabric of all things is coming apart at the seams,” she says, confirming her belief in the paranormal to Navarro. But when the state trooper suggests that her sister has similar psychic abilities, Rose quips, "Don't confuse the spirit world with mental health issues." Ouch, sure, but important—the remark gives credence to the Ennis-is-suffering-a-fit-of-mass-psychological-rage theory. Onward to that.
Reader, Meet Liz Danvers-Yoda
I confess, the weird family dynamic between Danvers and Peter (Finn Bennett) was one of my least favorite things about Night Country's first episode. (Danvers is annoying and Peter's a dweeb, we get it!) But it only took one scene for me to buy back in. After Danvers successfully—didn't see this one coming—moves the dead-body ice cube to the local hockey rink, she starts true-detectiving with Peter. It's immediately clear that she is invested in his success; the relationship feels very Yoda-Luke Skywalker, especially considering that Finn Bennett actually looks like a young Mark Hamill. (Right?)
Anyway, we learn a lot in this scene. Let's go through them one by one. Danvers and Peter's questions in bold, and their deductions afterward:
Why did the scientists sprint outside in the first place?
Someone infiltrated the laboratory and threatened them. As Peter puts it: "How scared do you have to be to run out into the ice without any shoes?"
Who drew the spiral?
If it happened in the laboratory, it was a prank and/or a game. If after, someone was on the ice with them.
And the decision to throw on their birthday suits?
About that someone—this person (a killer, Peter suggests) could've taunted and/or tortured them, forcing them to strip. Or, the group suffered a fit of paradoxical hypothermia, which happens when freezing temperatures give the body a burning sensation, so you take off your clothes.
Why were the scientists crawling on top of each other?
Feeling that I haven't linked to enough NIH papers in this recap? Here's one more: hysteria caused by sub-zero weather. Living in Ennis's cold, endless night kickstarted some severe psychosis in the Tsalal laboratory—and one night, they threw on Ferris Bueller's Day Off and lost their collective shit.
Here's one last theory, this one mine: what if it's the drinking water? We get another reference to the poor state of Ennis's water supply in the next scene—maybe it was poisoned, and it has the entire town wacked out.
Reluctant Colleagues, At Last
You knew Danvers and Navarro had to make (sort of, not really) peace at some point, right? Watching reluctant partners sift their way through cults, blood, and crazy people is True Detective's whole thing. A reminder: They used to work together, but—according to Danvers, at least—the murder of an Alaska Native named Annie K. unraveled Navarro somehow, leading to her reassignment out of Danvers's department. Since then, Navarro never stopped investigating Annie's death. And Danvers, of course, has the scientists and the Minnesota Vikings's perpetual mediocrity to worry about.
In the back half of episode 2, both women start to suspect that one of Tsalal's members is worth a closer look: Raymond Clark. We learn about the man in bits and pieces throughout the episode (from both Danvers and Navarro's perspectives) but first of all, he's missing from the ice block—meaning that he's likely somewhere in Ennis, up to no good. His other antics, in short: Ennis residents saw him without clothes at one point, doing God-knows-what, he has a tattoo of the spiral on his back, and he may have been involved in a romantic relationship with Annie K.
While deep-diving Clark's activity in Ennis, Navarro figures out that he purchased a trailer from an Ennis local—and near the end of the episode, she finds said trailer. She calls up Danvers, and they break into the vehicle together. Of course, it's laden with red flags. Spirals, cult-like doodles, and pictures of Annie K.
Given the spiral obsession, it's possible that Night Country is teeing up a full-blown extension of season 1's Yellow King plot. That would make Clark—and maybe the Tsalal lab, which has some very suspect funding—somehow agents of the cult behind season 1's bloodshed. Click here if you need a refresher, but don't worry—if you're just here to wear a big ol' Patagonia and hang with Jodie Foster, you can get away with it. There's definitely some, pardon the term, "fan service" going on here, but you don't waste time poring over season 1.
Heading into episode 3, we still have to learn more about Danvers's family history (something isn't quite right with John Hawkes's Hank Prior, and it's no coincidence that we see a young Danvers boogying to "Twist and Shout"), what happened to Navarro when Annie K. died, and why the members of the Tsalal lab were downright trying to cure cancer in the middle of Alaska.
Episode 2 launched us on what feels like True Detective's best ride since season 1. See you next week, detectives.
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