‘True Detective: Night Country’ Ruined Its Entire Season in One Last Scene

Michele K. Short / HBO
Michele K. Short / HBO

If there were ever a series that could afford to take a massive swing in its finale, it’s True Detective: Night Country. After all, the fourth season of HBO’s True Detective series’ central mystery involved a group of scientists that were all killed at the same time, their frozen bodies discovered together in the tundra. And those same scientists remained frozen, their giant ice block kept cool in the town’s community center. They called it a “corpsicle!” That’s wild in the best way—absurd, eerie, and spine-chilling.

For six weeks, Night Country made us wonder what on Earth could have created this terror on such a mass scale. That’s why it’s incredibly disappointing that the reveal of the scientists’ fate felt like the easiest possible solution, lacking all the creative verve that infused the first five episodes.

What’s especially frustrating is that, in Sunday’s 75-minute finale, it felt like Night Country was building to something spectacular. Revelations came thick and fast as detectives Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) and Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) try to get to the bottom of what happened to the scientists while trying to uncover the truth behind the grisly death of Annie K., an Indigenous woman whose murder was never solved. They discovered the truth about Annie—she was killed by the scientists after she started attacking their research. But what the hell happened to the scientists?

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When they noticed a unique handprint with only three fingers, it led them to a startling discovery: There was a far simpler explanation for the scientists’ deaths than they thought. When they went to the home of Blair (Kathryn Wilder), the three-fingered woman, they learned the truth—a group of Indigenous women discovered that the scientists killed Annie, and took it upon themselves to avenge her death. They stormed the research center, forced them to undress, and took them into the frozen wilderness where they’d inevitably freeze to death. The show treated this reveal like a girl-power revenge tale, which would be a lot more interesting if Night Country had done anything in the previous five episodes to lay the groundwork for it. But it didn’t.

Instead, this final twist made the show a victim of its own success. A giant ice block of dead scientists was a fantastic, unforgettable invention, one that encouraged us to question what happened to them, and, perhaps most importantly, who or what was responsible. But that meant the show created a lot of expectations for itself that would be difficult to achieve in just six episodes. Perhaps a cop-out was to be expected—you can’t possibly please everyone, so why please anyone at all? When confessing to their crimes, the women made vague suggestions that there was a spirit that killed the scientists once they were abandoned in the ice. But even that potentially fascinating nugget was delivered with a smirk and followed up with, “It’s just a story.” Ugh.

A photo including Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in the series True Detective on Max

Kali Reis, Jodie Foster

Michele K. Short / HBO

Liz’s reaction is the bigger problem. It made sense that Evangeline was willing to overlook the truth of the murders, given her long-lasting frustrations with the police force, as well as the reality that she is desperate to find those responsible for Annie’s killing so she can bring them to justice. And since the women killed the scientists that had murdered Annie, Evangeline considered the scientists’ deaths to be the conclusion to the case that’s been tormenting her. Her turning a blind eye, and ultimate resignation from the police, satisfyingly completed her arc.

But how are we supposed to believe that someone like Liz, who we knew to be so devoted to her work, would allow an entire group of murderers in Ennis to get away? Sure, we had seen evidence that Liz didn’t follow every letter of the law; she allowed Evangeline to kill Clark and helped her stage a past murder to look like a suicide. But that simply didn’t feel like enough to convince us that Liz would let a confession slide without hesitation. She wasn’t one to forgive major transgressions, but her tacit acceptance of this reveal ran counter to everything we’d come to know about her. Worse, such a quick unmasking was an awfully convenient bow to wrap around what we thought to be an extremely complex mystery.

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If anything, it would have made more sense for Liz to dismiss the findings initially—given the whole group of women staring her down menacingly—and report the truth once she was in a safe area to do so. She did very narrowly escape death the night she discovered what happened to the scientists, so not wanting to arrest a bunch of people hours later would seem reasonable. But in the next scene, we jumped ahead to see Liz talking to investigators. Despite their (understandable) curiosities and questions, Liz couldn’t muster much more than, “Some questions just don’t have answers.” That nod to ambiguity would have been a great ending, had Night Country continued to lean into its harrowing unknowables. But since we just discovered there was nothing mysterious about the deaths, it instead came off as the show trying to have its cake and eat it too.

A photo including Finn Bennett and Fiona Shaw in the series True Detective on Max

Finn Bennett, Fiona Shaw

Michele K. Short / HBO

The end result was a jarring shift for our protagonist at the very last moment. She had a track record for saying some pretty nasty things about the Indigenous people throughout the series, and she had a rocky relationship (to put it lightly) with her Indigenous stepdaughter. Liz also had a testy relationship with Evangeline—at the outset, it was pretty clear that they despised each other. They did finally come to an understanding in the finale, but it still didn’t feel like nearly enough growth to justify Liz doing a complete 180, putting all her deep-seated prejudices aside for the sake of girl power.

Revealing that there was no otherworldly element to the scientists’ deaths runs diametrically opposed to the show’s own interests. If the supernatural elements were just going to be dropped in the season’s last 15 minutes, why lean so heavily into them throughout the previous five-and-a-half episodes? Night Country was chock-full of things that cannot be explained. It’s a shame, then, that instead of buying into its own universe, the show chose to wrap up on a huge shrug.

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