True Detective: Night Country is Excellent and Terrible At The Same Time 

Photo shows promotional poster for the series; photo courtesy of HBO

The fourth season of “True Detective,” HBO’s much-celebrated detective anthology series, was recently released, and public opinion has been split. Although critics have praised the new direction creator Issa Lopez took the series, many fans have been furious and disappointed by the series. To be completely honest, I agree with both. The series has many, many things to admire, but is nevertheless frustratingly underwhelming.

First, I should acknowledge some context behind the series. The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as a pair of Louisiana investigators, was a revelation for prestige television, with many still claiming it to be one of the greatest seasons of television ever made (I wouldn’t deny that statement). Writer Nic Pizzolatto helmed two more seasons over the next decade, both of which were met with lukewarm reactions, and for a few years, it seemed as though that was the end of “True Detective.” Just months ago, however, Issa Lopez tackled the challenge of writing a new season, this time setting it in the icy cold of an Alaskan winter.

Any “True Detective” season is in a tough spot from the get-go, sheerly because it’s so difficult to live up to the heights of Season 1. I’ll try, to the best of my ability, to review “Night Country” on its own merits as opposed to the incessant Season 1 comparisons many have made, but my inherent bias will likely seep in through the cracks.

Let’s start on a positive note. The show is really, really exciting! Beginning by showing us a genuinely terrifying murder, the investigation, for the most part, stays gripping throughout, and the series always provokes anxiety by hinting at the possibility of an occult influence behind the killing. Like any “True Detective” season, there are plenty of other story aspects to expect: gruff, philosophical cops, an unsolved murder from years ago, traumatic backstories, etc. Although these elements sometimes dip their toes into cliché, most of them are handled smoothly and heighten the emotional and dramatic stakes already established by the killer on the loose.

Despite all the good, the plotting of the show can feel hacky at times, and several storylines are at best predictable and at worst unbelievably boring. The series is often too dependent on a formulaic rotation between detectives doing detective things, then detectives dealing with troubled marriages and/or children, then back to detectives doing detective things, then back to the overwrought kitchen sink drama. This makes each hour long episode feel almost endless, only buoyed by the excitement that comes from the central mystery.

As much as I’d like to complain about it, I’ll try to make this brief: Lopez’s writing is quite awful. The characters are devoid of personality or likability, the dialogue is infuriatingly stale, and there are a plethora of lines that make you go, “Wait, what?” Thematically, it’s a trainwreck. Again, I don’t want to just compare Lopez to Pizzolatto here, but man, he was on another level. He often used his crackling dialogue to take complex philosophical issues with purpose and unique viewpoints, while developing his characters subtly and strongly. Lopez does none of that. Ignoring any sense of depth, she leans far too heavily into such groundbreaking moral positions as “Climate change is bad,” “Sexism is bad,” and “The big mining corporation in the small town is, shockingly, bad.” 

On the bright side, the performances are mostly solid. Jodie Foster nails it as Detective Danvers, elevating the script far above what I thought could be possible. Veteran character actor John Hawkes also does an admirable job in a supporting role, lending his character just enough sympathy to make you feel for him while still successfully pulling off a guy who’s just a real jerk. Kali Reis is up and down as Detective Navarro; on some occasions, she comes across as wooden and unsubtle, but she does well in the more dramatic scenes to sell her character’s anguish and trauma. 

All that said, not all the acting is stellar. Finn Bennett and Christopher Eccleston are both painfully awkward in their parts, in large part because they’re both British. I don’t know about you, but it certainly makes me wonder why they would be cast if they couldn’t convincingly pull off an American accent. Is there some sort of shortage of American actors in their 20s who could play Bennett’s part that no one told me about? That seems like a big deal. Someone should tell everybody about that.

Technically, the series is pretty solid. The camerawork is strong throughout, capturing some gorgeous compositions of the barren ice fields of Alaska. For the most part, the CGI is fairly solid as well, not including the much maligned season opening scene in which a herd of definitely, definitely, definitely real caribou charge off the edge of a cliff. I’ve heard that caribou often run as if they were poorly animated animals in a TV show, so props to the CGI artist for being so real-world-accurate. Music is also employed well throughout. There are plenty of great needle drops, in particular one where John Hawkes sings a haunting tune while a tense montage plays over it.

While I’m on the subject of music, I’d like to touch upon the opening theme, Billie Eilish’s “Bury A Friend.” It’s been getting a whole lot of hate for a litany of reasons, and although some of them are valid, I’m not afraid to defend it. The visuals are fairly decent, and the song itself lends an eerie atmosphere to the show. Perhaps the most common complaint has been that the song is so well known that it doesn’t fit the “True Detective” vibe established in previous seasons. Although this is in some ways true, I think that’s a perfect microcosm of what the show has become. “True Detective: Night Country” isn’t the same show as Season 1, or the lackluster Seasons 2 and 3, for that matter. It’s a far more generic, run-of-the-mill murder mystery, and although that cliché is often disappointing, it’s nevertheless a perfectly decent show with plenty to love, as long as you don’t focus too much on the “True Detective” label. It may be dark all day in Ennis, Alaska, but I have a feeling the sun hasn’t set just yet on “True Detective.”

Lucas Chiorini, '25
Lucas Chiorini is the Culture Editor for the RamPage. He also participates in clubs such as Student Government, Stage Crew, and the YamPage.