True Detective: Night Country is not good.

Eliott Edge
5 min readJan 21, 2024

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You can always count on the American crime drama True Detective to pull you into the world of the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Through intense characters with conflicted inner lives that walk the line between light and shadow, between civility and evil — yes, True Detective is where Americans go to be entertained by their favorite cultural pastime: moral ambiguity. Unless you are watching Night Country. Then you are not sure what you’re watching at all.

Night Country (EP1) is a departure from True Detective’s schematic in the worst possible way. Previously, the show has been all about its characters’ personas and their depths of internal contradiction, but so far Night Country is about surfaces and identities. Sadly, I have no idea who these characters are. As opposed to the world famous first season and the criminally neglected third (I skipped the second on consensus authority); I couldn’t even tell you the names of these characters (I had to look them up for this review.) I could tell you they bicker a lot. I could tell you they have no chemistry. I could definitely tell you we are deep in woke this season — which wouldn’t be a problem if the characters were compelling, but they aren’t. And the supernatural has moved gracelessly from a background ambiance to the stark forefront.

What made Nic Pizzolatto’s work such a departure from the standard crime procedural was its emphasis on very well-developed characters, and particularly on how they think. Season 3, for instance, is nothing short of a tear-jerker about the nature of aging, friendship, memory, loss, and marriage. It is a brilliantly humane turn for a show that’s previous centerpiece was on an anti-natalist and a hypocritical adulterer. Night Country certainly has characters in it, but to describe it as character-driven would be a disservice to what its previous incarnations have until now accomplished so superbly.

“Well, that’s only the first episode,” I can imagine a detractor retorting. So what? S1 and S3’s first episodes pulled you right into the leads’ heads while getting the mystery going so elegantly that it was impossible to walk away from it unhooked. The first episode had no scene in it like Rust showing up drunk to Marty’s house with a bouquet of flowers (“I’m sorry, Marty.”) It has nothing like Wayne and Roland shooting rats in a garbage pile, reminiscing on Steve McQueen, where Roland takes aim at a fox that wanders into the fray, and Wayne tells him, “I’ll give you a dollar not to shoot it.” There is no moment where you are drawn into the leads world — slowly finding out who they are. Stuff just happens. There is no musical rhythm to the story. Liz plays Fantasy Football. Navarro steals a Spongebob Squarepants electric toothbrush from her FWB. That’s all I can tell you about these leads so far. We haven’t entered the heads in the way that the show is so well appreciated for.

The other terrible lack is of emotional resonance. Where S1’s emphasis is on just how dark a human could can become via both Rust and the crime he and Marty are investigating, Night Country was weirdly void of emotion. S3 is nearly overflowing with emotion. Wayne asks his wife Amelia to end their argument because otherwise he’s going to start crying. Roland is in tears when he complains to Wayne that they haven’t seen each other in years for a beer or to watch a ballgame as he promised they would. These are wonderful moments, and they make us interested in what’s going on.

Night Country was like: okay, Log Lady from Twin Peaks. Check. Insert shots of: The Thing on DVD, a copy of Blood Meridian, a Wilco t-shirt (clues effectively telling us, “Men were here… Probably that last men you’re gonna see again in this show.”) Copy that. What else is going on? Everyone seems pretty mean in Ennis, Alaska. No one seems to be getting along. Not the men, the women, the enbys — everyone talks down to each other. The Natives don’t seem to like the other Natives. And the animals are all computer-generated. It’s tiresome stuff.

All the hints are there saying, “this is not really True Detective.” The fact that it is the first season to have a sub-title, or Nic Pizzolatto posting “True Detective S1–3 (NOT Night Country)” on his Instagram profile are all leading us to this obvious conclusion. I don’t blame him. I also would distance myself from a creation that amounts to a fundamental misunderstanding of my beliefs as a writer and artist.

It’s not that the show centers on women, or is written and directed by a woman that makes it bad. That would be a foolish, sexist, bullshit reading, and it is something producers have been using as an easy deflection when their work is less than good. What makes Night Country bad is that its a poorly written and directed first episode. It makes it doubly bad that its attached to the TD brand. That’s why people don’t like it.

And to claim that “toxic fanboys” are review bombing this show purely over sexism is to neglect the above: that the show isn’t really True Detective, because, so far, it is not about complex characters nor is it about moral ambiguity in the face of a profoundly human evil. (No supernatural force will ever be as haunting as the first time we saw Reggie Ledoux.)

I said it before in my review of AMC’s Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire: good writing is not telling me what I should think and feel. Good writing is guiding me to those thoughts and feelings, while engaging me along the way. In a phrase: artful manipulation.

Night Country will not be as long as previous seasons. Based on the strength of its first episode, it is not hard to imagine why. There is simply not that much to say.

I will tune in for Episode 2 with a mix of hope and morbid curiosity. To see how far the show can go off the rails. The wheels on this train already have an arm busted off, that’s just slamming and digging into the dirt.

My bet is that some point near the end, our white police chief Liz, who pokes fun at Navarro’s Native heritage, will have some kind of encounter with the supernatural that changes the way she sees the world. Maybe a rainbow-colored aurora will lead her to a clue.

D.

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Eliott Edge

Author of '3 Essays on Virtual Reality', global speaker, artist, humorist, futurist, netizen, critic & psychonaut Patreon.com/OddEdges EliottEdge.com IEET.org