The fifth episode of True Detective: Night Country is bookended by death. The cremation of Navarro’s sister, Julia in the beginning. The shocking death of Hank Prior at the end. Between these moments, we get lots and lots of filler. I think Night Country would have worked better as a property not associated with True Detective, but also as a movie rather than a show. There’s not enough plot here to fill six episodes.
On the other hand, we’re treated to John Hawkes singing a very Johnny Cash-like song that is now my favorite scene in the entire show. Peter has shown up at his dad’s house when he hears him playing. He’s looking for a place to crash after his wife Kayla kicked him out—apparently for the grave sin of doing his job and investigating a possible mass murder. I sure do despise this entire subplot, but at least we get a good song out of it!
The song plays as protesters at the mine begin to clash with riot police. I’m a little confused by the scale of everything here. How big is Ennis exactly? How many people live here? Are riot police being shipped in from somewhere more populated? I’m also a little surprised at the speed at which the protest escalate into violence, which boils over when a riot cop starts to viciously beat Danvers’ daughter, Leah. Once again, Leah gets herself in trouble and makes life harder for her stepmom, only this time she drags Navarro into the mix.
Navarro, who is part of the brute squad herself, ends up fighting the cop off—not that Leah thanks her for it. The wretchedly ungrateful teenager is now a full-blown caricature of teenage angst. “Bleeping pigs!” she hollers, after once again asking the adult who saved her whose side she’s really on. Danvers books her in the jail. She should honestly leave her there until the investigation is over. All she does is find every excuse to get in trouble. I’ve really grown to dislike Leah at this point.
My dislike of her only grows once she’s in the cell and Peter brings her Pepsi and chips. Not only does she not thank him—telling him she doesn’t like Pepsi—she tells him that Kayla can’t stop crying after he left and calls him an A-hole. Why? Why does this show try so hard to make everyone crap on Peter all the time? He’s doing his job! He’s one of the only characters doing any actual police work on the entire show but somehow it’s his fault for being a cop during a major murder investigation? It’s driving me crazy. I hate this trope so much.
I’m also bored to death of scenes like this one. Why are we focusing on this stuff? Do I need to hear Leah tell Peter about Kayla telling her about the day she fell in love with him? We’re one episode from the end and I’m bored to tears. “She just misses that guy, Prior,” she tells him, but why? Peter hasn’t changed. He’s just busy!
Danvers is summoned to the Silver Sky mine offices to meet with her boss Ted and the mine boss Kate, whose husband Danvers has also slept with. I guess this scene is supposed to show us how the mine is pulling the strings and has compromised the police, but I’m still pretty confused why Ted would meet with Danvers at the mine offices to tell her that the investigation is off. That’s police business, not mine business, and if the mine wants to cover up their involvement they surely wouldn’t make it so obvious that they’re running the show. Ted would just do all of this back at the police station. (The footage of them at the abandoned mine entrance struck me as pretty preposterous also. They really have cameras just filming nothing and their security already found this footage? Really?)
In any case, the forensics came back from Anchorage and it turns out that there wasn’t foul play and the scientists actually froze to death. Of course, the vet last week said this isn’t how people freeze to death, so we’re left to wonder whether the forensics guys are in the mine’s pocket also or if the vet was just wrong. Danvers confronts the mine lady about their involvement with Tsalal, which Peter discovered are both owned by the Tuttle corporation, which is apparently now some cosmically powerful global corporate entity.
Ted, we learn, has discovered the truth about Danvers and Navarro’s Troubling Backstory™—that the killer didn’t kill himself—and later we’ll discover that Hank almost certainly discovered this information and gave it to Ted by searching his son’s laptop. All of this seems to be happening so quickly it’s hards to keep track of it all.
Hank’s involvement with the mine is also confirmed, when he meets with Kate and she basically orders him to go kill the junky, Otis, and she’ll make sure he gets the police chief job she promised him. He was paid by the mine previously to “do something for them” which we learn later was to move Annie’s body. Weirdly, he says he doesn’t know where to find Otis even though I assume that would be readily available information (it’s not like Danvers has tried to hide him) so Kate tells him to follow her, which all leads to the big climax at the end of the episode. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Before then, we learn that the spiral rocks are actually “warnings for hunters” for “places where the ice would swallow them whole.” She learns that you can just crack the ice and get down to the caves that way. The guy who gives her this info says his grandma warned him that “the Night Country would swallow them” (Hey look they said it again!)
I’m wondering why people would leave little rocks in the snow as warnings. They’re so small, even a tiny snowfall would cover them completely. I think a flag or post of some kind would be more practical. But we have to tie the spiral in somehow and I guess this is it! Notably, almost no other reference to Season 1 has been introduced or explored since all the big Easter Eggs in Episode 2.
This is all very exciting information for Navarro who seems quite eager to be swallowed by the Night Country but Danvers is in no mood. “It’s over!” she hollers, telling Navarro that the investigation has been shut down. Honestly, I’ve never seen a detective show where the higher-ups shut down and investigation and our heroes have to break the rules by going rogue. What a unique plot device!
I’m just glad that we can get another scene with Navarro and Danvers arguing. We definitely haven’t had enough scenes like this. Navarro ends up storming out and telling Danvers that Annie is her problem now. But I don’t think Ted told them they couldn’t investigate Annie—just that the scientists were no longer being investigated as a murder. Navarro let’s Leah out I guess as some petty act of spite.
After this we’re treated to a nice story Hank tells about saving his son when Peter was a kid and fell through the ice into the freezing water below. It’s such a nice, loving story that it makes what happens at the end of the episode all the more jarring. I’m actually reminded of another HBO show as I type this: Game Of Thrones. A bit of a spoiler for that show in the next section, marked off with dividing lines, like so:
Game Of Thrones spoilers.
In Game Of Thrones, Stannis Baratheon has a great scene with his daughter, the princess Shireen. I’m lucky because I wrote about all these episodes, so I can point you to my review of Season 5, Episode 4 in which I discuss the heartwarming scene between these two characters. He talks to her of her affliction—incurable, they told him—and how he refused to let her die, saying: “Because you did not belong across the world with the bloody stone-men. You are the princess Shireen of the House Baratheon and you are my daughter.”
I wrote at the time:
In a world where children are often just tools for their houses and bargaining chips in the “game” or spoiled and terrible, here we have genuine affection. Fierce affection, actually, the kind we haven’t seen much of since Ned and Catelyn died. And we see a good man in Stannis, a man who would be a far better king than his brother Robert, or the wicked Joffrey, or the hapless Tommen.
Just five episodes later, Stannis burns his daughter to death at the stake in order to create some magic advantage against Ramsay Bolton. I was furious. The show simply did not earn this about-face on Stannis’s part. This—along with the entire Sansa change from the books—marked the beginning of the end for me. The moment when Game Of Thrones began its massive shark-jumping leap off a bridge, falling from grace so spectacularly over the next few seasons. Quoth I at the time:
All I can say, to HBO and to the showrunners, is good grief what a monstrosity of a writing decision. What a horrible, no-good, very bad, infuriating way to ruin Stannis as a character and to twist the events of these stories beyond recognition in such a grotesque manner. It’s one thing to get rid of Jeyne Poole and place Sansa in her plight instead—-at least it furthers the story of Sansa and saves a bit character from a horrible fate.
But killing off Shireen this way absolutely decimates Stannis as a character (the show already ruined Barristan Selmy, and now it’s ruined Stannis, too.) It renders his passionate, moving speech to his daughter meaningless. It makes him not so much a hard-to-like good guy struggling against the villains, but a villain himself and one of the worst we’ve seen. Even the ever-deplorable Cersei would never stoop so low. Even Roose Bolton treats his horrible, sadistic son better than this.
It’s also a bait-and-switch. We finally see Stannis’s softer side, we finally warm a bit to his character, and then he kills his daughter. It’s terrible storytelling. Surprisingly bad.
I’ve never disagreed with Matt Yglesias more entirely.
Anyways, speaking of terrible storytelling, let’s talk Night Country, shall we? Other stuff happens this episode but I’m going to skip ahead to the ending because this review has gone on long enough.
What reminds me about this episode and the segment in Thrones is how we finally get this heartwarming character moment between Hank and his son in which Hank suddenly becomes more than a caricature of a bad cop. He’s more than just a corrupt badge, more than just an easily fooled stooge getting suckered in a catfishing scam. He’s a loving father who saved his young son from a terrible death.
And 20 minutes later we have Peter shoot his dad in the head. He shows up at Danvers’ place looking for Otis, who she’s brought there because she and Navarro are Going Rogue™ but Hank drops by and decides that not only is he going to make Otis disappear, he’s so hellbent on covering up for the mine, he’s going to draw his gun on Danvers also. He’s fully prepared to straight up kill a fellow police officer now, except that his son shows up and drops him without a moment’s hesitation. Doesn’t even aim for the knee. Damn.
I just don’t think any of this was earned at all. I don’t think Hank would have gone this far without a more compelling reason. Bribery? No. Maybe if they had something on him and were threatening to expose that he’d go this far, but as it stands the story never earns this moment. And that’s a shame because it could have been a really good scene. It’s definitely the most intense scene in the show so far—but it’s not earned, and it makes the same mistake as Game Of Thrones with Stannis and Shireen. It gives us this great father/son stuff and moments later creates a totally unnecessary familial slaughter, just to create a “shocking” moment.
Only, in Night Country it’s accompanied by an obligatory needle drop. Navarro shows up as the dramatic music sets the mood (again). Danvers wants to call Connelly but Navarro tells her that he’s “in on this” and convinces her to cover the whole thing up. Peter agrees with her. Navarro wants to go “right now” to the caves because the storm will help “cover our tracks” because suddenly there’s this wildly manufactured sense of urgency. Peter even volunteers to clean up the crime scene so that Danvers and Navarro can go to the caves. Navarro tells Peter to take the bodies to Rose who will apparently gladly help cover up two murders.
Also, apparently it’s more important to rush off to investigate a years-old murder than to help poor Peter clean up his father’s corpse, who he just killed. The whole scene is just so bafflingly bizarre. The needle drop—a cover of “Save Tonight”—that plays as the credits roll only makes things more absurd and pretentious. None of this makes sense. The urgency, the conflict, the drama, it all feels so forced I’m just left shaking my head.
Whatever this is, it’s not True Detective. But it certainly is a hot mess. We have some interesting characters here and some missed opportunities to really explore them. Hank, in particular, feels like a character we could have delved into a lot more but was ultimately written off as some cartoon villain. Mostly, I just find everyone tedious and exhausting. The sense of urgency this episode ends on comes out of nowhere. I don’t know about you, but exploring some mysterious murder ice cave in the middle of a major winter storm in the dark doesn’t sound like something to rush into while you make your underling clean up and dispose of his dad’s body, but what do I know? Maybe this is all brilliant stuff and I’m just confused.
What did you think? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. Check out my video review below:
- Navarro and Rose out on the ice, depositing Julia’s ashes into the frozen sea. Rose says that a “Category 4” is on the way. Navarro hears a whispering voice: “Evangeline…” Suddenly she’s back in her vision world; she’s walked out across the ice. Rose saves her. She seems miffed. Navarro is clearly losing her mind.
- The riot fight choreography reminds me of the hospital scene in how bad and fake it all looks.
- Danvers goes to beg Leah to come back for New Year’s Eve and Leah says “Liz, you know I haven’t given up on you” which is just infuriatingly condescending coming from an idiot teenager who has displayed exactly zero empathy over the whole murder investigation. She tells her about the 9 stillbirths that have taken place recently, the direct result of the pollution levels caused by the mine. This is actually a big deal, and something I wish we’d learned about in the first episode or two. The order of events and revelations in this show is so strange.
- This, of course, galvanizes Danvers who heroically decides to take up the case again, damn Ted and his orders, because nothing says True Detective like our heroes going rogue. It is mildly hilarious that she feels justified in being pissed at Hank for him telling Ted about her and Navarro murdering a murder suspect. You can’t just kill people like that! There are consequences for that kind of cowboy justice!
- ASK THE QUESTIONS. ASK THE QUESTIONS PRIOR! WRONG QUESTION. Drink! If you’re playing the Night Country drinking game—drink every time Danvers says the word “question”—you’re gonna be hammered at the end of this episode. Prior continues to prove that he’s the only cop in this show that does any kind of sensible police work, having quite easily figured out how Danvers and Navarro poorly covered up their murder. Hank finds that info and gives it to Ted, I guess, but it’s all happening at the wrong point in the story.
- “As smart as you are, you need to learn when to stop asking questions.” Oh shut up, Danvers. You don’t get to say that. Why is everyone so awful to Peter?
- The kid stopping in the street and pointing as Navarro drives is so silly I laughed out loud. And it’s not even a vision, her mom has to run back and grab her to get her to keep walking. This is all sorts of pretentious wannabee art-house nonsense at this point. Oy vey.
Oy vey, people. Oy friggin vey.