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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

TV review: ‘True Detective: Night Country’ is determinedly female, but audiences have mixed reviews

Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) in the season finale of HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country.”  (Michele K. Short/HBO)
By Dan Webster For The Spokesman-Review

It’s been nine years since HBO (now called Max) aired the first season of the limited series “True Detective.” Created by the writer/director/producer Nic Pizzolatto, the series attracted reviews that bordered on ecstatic.

Since then, three more seasons have played out, the most recent titled “True Detective: Night Country.” Unlike the previous seasons, which focused mostly on male protagonists, “Night Country” – which was written and directed by Issa López – is determinedly female.

And while the critics have been mostly complimentary, the audience reviews have been mixed – in some cases extremely negative. Variety reports that even Pizzolatto, in a now-deleted post on X called some aspects of the fourth season – which he had no part in shaping – “stupid.”

That’s more than a bit harsh. Much of the criticism seems to focus on the fact that López’s version departs in theme and tone from its predecessors.

Jodie Foster stars as Liz Danvers, the hard-nosed (and hard to like) police chief of a small town in the icy far north of Alaska. Loathed by pretty much everyone, except for her department’s junior officer Prior (Finn Bennett), Danvers gets handed a mysterious case to solve.

Seems the members of a crew at a research station set outside of town have died under utterly strange circumstances. It’s the Christmas holidays, and the weather outside is frightful, yet they – all men – are discovered, nude and frozen, in poses that speak of their suffering some shock of horror.

Navarro (Kali Reis), a trooper who shares an unpleasant history with Danvers, is convinced that the incident connects with a six-year-old unsolved murder of a local woman. And she pressures Danvers to investigate.

Over the course of six episodes (the other three seasons boasted eight episodes each), we watch Danvers and Navarro spar, Danvers’ daughter Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc) get caught up with local protesters and Prior see his marriage threatened by the demands of his job.

Prior’s father (John Hawkes), another member of the department who lusts after Danvers’ position as chief and who seems to have ties to a larger conspiracy, adds to the tension by questioning Danvers’ decisions at every opportunity.

But the biggest difference between “Night Country” and its predecessors is its underlying paranormal theme. Each episode makes frequent references to indigenous spirits, and even the term “Night Country” is what residents of the region call a strange world under the ice.

The mix that López has created, involving women and indigenous spirits, ultimately works itself out. But clearly not to everyone’s satisfaction.

Maybe that’s because it’s a different take on a popular franchise. Maybe because it puts women at the center of the plot. Maybe it’s because each episode opens with a song by Billie Eilish (“Bury a Friend”).

Not that everything about “Night Country” works. Some aspects of the plot are farfetched, but that’s a far cry from calling them “stupid.” And whatever else the series has to offer, Foster makes a pretty good antihero.

In her song, Eilish asks, “What do you want from me?” López could be excused for posing the same question.