‘True Detective’ Review: Episode 6 Brings ‘Night Country’ Full Circle in a Tidy Finale — Spoilers

[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for “True Detective” Season 4, Episode 6, “Part 6” — the final hour of “Night Country.” Read our previous review here.]

Heading into the finale of “True Detective: Night Country,” there are two key mysteries that need to be solved: What happened to the Tsalal scientists, and who killed Annie K? Yes, these are the same mysteries Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Navarro (Kali Reis) have been tasked with unraveling since the beginning, but given the startling events of the penultimate episode — Hank (John Hawkes) is dead! His son, Pete (Finn Bennett), killed him! Otis (Klaus Tange) is dead, too! — Episode 6 has to smoothly juggle a number of balls in the air. On top of our trio’s pressing commitments, there’s still emotional baggage to sort through and loose ends to tie up. With so much ground to cover, and most of it is still shrouded in darkness, no wonder Episode 6 clocks in at a whopping 75 minutes.

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Despite these pressures, “Night Country” creator Issa López — who directed every episode and gets the sole writing credit in the final hour — does an admirable job bringing it all together. Certain arcs could’ve used more time to develop, and I will go to my grave demanding a clearer resolution for Qavvik (Joel D. Montgrand), but “True Detective” Season 4 succeeds where it matters most: Revealing the truth isn’t just surprising, but heartening. Finding out who did what and how is only half the story, and the second half is where things get really, really cool.

So let’s start there: After crashing through the ice caves, stumbling into Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell), and interrogating him with apt brutality, Danvers and Navarro discover Annie K was killed by all the Tsalal scientists. How? Well, while she was dating Clark, Annie started snooping around the research base, trying to find evidence that they were falsifying environmental reports on behalf of their benefactor (the mining company). Except, it turns out, that’s not what the scientists were doing — not exactly: “We were pushing the mine to produce more pollutants,” Clark says. The more pollutants in the ground, the softer the permafrost, and the softer the permafrost, the easier it was for the scientists to extract and study a miraculous microorganism that “could’ve changed the world.”

Sure, bud. It’s not that I don’t believe in science, it’s that I don’t believe a bunch of dudes living in long-term isolation are thinking clearly enough to be trusted with such grand, world-saving, homicide-justifying conclusions. Also, maybe finding a cure for cancer doesn’t justify murdering a woman who ruined some of a small portion of your research and broke one of your toys, which is what Clark cops to while repeatedly insisting he really did love Annie. Again, I say… sure, bud.

But right about now is where Episode 6 gets really interesting. When Danvers and Navarro press Clark on what happened to the scientists, he claims it was Annie K. “I kept seeing her and hearing her voice, more and more,” he says. “I knew she’d come back.” So when the lights went out at the base and Clark had his seizure visions, he bolted, sprinting through the station and hiding in the tunnel, holding the latch in place so Annie’s spirit couldn’t get to him. That’s too far a stretch for Danvers, and when Clark starts blathering about how Annie has been living in Ennis’ caves “forever” — “before she was born, after we all die, time is a flat circle, and we are all stuck in it” — our non-believing law-enforcer storms out of the room.

“Time is a flat circle.” Wow. Honestly, I can’t believe López went there. Even though she’s been making consistent allusions to Season 1 throughout “Night Country,” bringing back the most oft-quoted (and misinterpreted) line in franchise history — right in the middle of your finale — is a pretty big move. Fans are either gonna sit up and clap or roll their eyes so hard they fall off the couch, but why it works for this critic, dear readers, is that it’s impossible not to be thinking about Season 1 from that moment forward. And Season 4 wants you thinking about Season 1 when it reveals its second major mystery: What happened to the scientists?

In a way, Clark is right. Annie K’s vengeance came sweeping through the station that night, punishing everyone involved in her death. It just took the form of a dozen or so native women, who found out who killed Annie and took justice into their own hands. Led by Bee (Diane Benson) and Blair (Kathryn Wilder) — the two women seen working at the fish-cleaning factory in the first episode, who Navarro interviewed after Bee clocked Blair’s abusive ex-boyfriend with a metal bucket — the group broke into the research base armed with guns, rounded up every evil scientist, and drove them out onto the ice to die. Technically, Bee said the scientists could’ve survived if Annie’s spirit was forgiving enough to let them find their clothes, but “I guess she wanted to take them. I guess she ate their fucking dreams from the inside out and spit their frozen bones.”

With a little hindsight, the ending checks a lot of boxes. It explains what happens to the scientists, it ties the season’s two central cases together, and from a thematic standpoint, it’s incredibly rich. All those connections to “True Detective” Season 1 are a reminder of what it was, the good and the bad, and how it treats women falls firmly under “the bad.” For Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), their investigation began with a dead woman brutally killed and graphically displayed by a psychotic man. They solved the case and found justice, as best they could, but much less focus was put on who Dora Lange was than the twisted world she fell into. “Night Country,” from the start, has been invested in Annie K: in her culture, her cause, and her impact on the community. Combined with an ending where the very people she was closest with come together to fight back on her behalf, and it adds an emotional layer the first season of “True Detective” didn’t have. (It also gives new resonance to the corpsicle, since we don’t need to feel so bad for all those frozen men, or the less-than-civil way they were displayed.)

After five years off the air and with a new creative team in place, “True Detective” Season 4 set out to continue the franchise while reimagining what it could be. That’s a lot to take on, but like the finale itself, “Night Country” pulled it off. Bring on Season 5.

Grade: B+

Case Notes:

• OK, setting aside the bigger picture, a few complaints: Pete’s closing arc is pretty rushed, which is all the more noticeable because he does exactly what they tell him to do at the end of Episode 5. There’s no suspense over whether he’ll get away with it, no diversions from the plan, nothing. He gets a moment of sincerity with his wife, Kayla (Anna Lambe), to help bring them back together, and his last shot — laying in bed with his son — emphasizes the implication the family will be OK, but the heaviest lift (no pun intended) belongs to Rose (Fiona Shaw), after she helps him dump his dad’s body into the ice. “I guess you’re thinking the worst part is done,” she says. “And it’s not. What comes after, forever, that’s the worst fucking part.” As Danvers’ protege, Pete’s life has always been on a parallel track to hers, so implying he’ll survive his trauma just like she does works well enough. But it’s one of a few arcs that could’ve benefited from “Night Country” expanding to seven or eight episodes, instead of shoving it all into six.

• Danvers’ spiritual pseduo-epiphany is another aspect of the ending that felt a tad hurried. She goes off on Navarro for claiming to have seen her dead son in a vision — which, if I must say, is a powerful piece of acting by Foster — only to chase her out onto the night, spot her son under the ice, and fall through herself. Then, after Navarro saves her, Danvers asks what her son said, and Navarro tells her, “He says that he sees you. He sees you, Liz.” That’s as far as it goes, but the intensity of her earlier flare-up paired feels a little forced, the concession later on happens pretty fast, and their whole “bonding while freezing to death” sequence doesn’t significantly contribute to the cathartic final shot of them hanging out in a cabin overlooking the lake. That bond was solidified all season, in the present storyline and in what we learned about their past relationship.

• That being said, I appreciated how most of the supernatural elements were integrated into the episode. “True Detective” is always split between reality and surreality — it’s just not an even split. The case needs to be solved in a way that’s empirical, so simply saying “spirits did it” would never suffice. Still, Episode 6 sees Navarro follow the voices only she can hear to find her way through the ice caves. She also has a moment where she sees Raymond Clark seizing up — and he sees her, implying that Navarro was the ghost that sent him running scared through the station before the cleaning ladies showed up. And something out in the night finished off those scientists, whether it was Annie K’s spirit or their own subpar sense of direction. Not everything has an answer, after all.

• In one last nod to Season 1, Danvers’ closing voiceover comes courtesy of her interview with two detectives investigating Hank’s death. They’ve got the same little video camera that recorded Cohle and Hart back in the day, and she’s even got a big ol’ mug of coffee to sip. (Thankfully, it says “Hawaii” and not “Big Hug Mug,” which would be a little too on the nose.)

• If I’m being 100 percent honest — and I always try to be — then I need to admit my biggest gripe with the finale is what happens with Qavvik. Or, more to the point, what doesn’t happen. Why doesn’t he get to be with Navarro? Why doesn’t she get to be with HIM? Qavvik is the best — making pancakes, cracking jokes, cleaning his teeth with a novelty children’s toothbrush. And hey, no one loves the recurring joke about his SpongeBob toothbrush more than me, but that’s all we get to close his arc? Navarro leaving him another toothbrush (or the same one, it’s hard to tell)? Come on, they have something real, and if she’s sticking around — which I am assuming she is, given people have spotted her around town, plus Danvers’ closing line, “No one ever really leaves” — then we deserve a little more closure to their arc. He asked Navarro to come back! Let’s see her come back!

• I am not looking forward to the rest of the internet’s reactions to hearing “Time is a flat circle” spoken anew in the year 2024. Better hurry up on that Season 5 order, HBO.

“True Detective” Season 4, “Night Country,” is now available in full on HBO and Max.

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