‘True Detective: Night Country’ Finale: Women (and Tongues) Inherit the Earth

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/HBO
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/HBO

After six weeks of speculation over who killed Annie Kowtok and the Tsalal Station’s research scientists in True Detective: Night Country, we finally have our answers. And, to my surprise, they were laid out without a heavy hand. They were delicate kernels of a greater truth, placed carefully throughout the 75-minute finale of the anthology series’ fourth season. That hasn’t always been easy for Night Country, which had more than a few bright spots, but spent its previous five episodes relying too heavily on cliffhangers and minuscule glimpses of the larger picture.

But the finale brought it all together in a concise, affecting manner. It confirmed that Night Country did indeed have a creative intention beyond HBO execs looking to restart one of their biggest series of the last decade. The finale gave us the answers we so desperately craved, without too many red herrings or disappointing twists. I much prefer the way showrunner Issa López tied things up than how another recent, similarly chilly mystery did. The Night Country finale made good on its connections to the series’ brilliant first season, taking the anthology’s core themes of cosmic justice and the battle between ancient good and evil to fascinating new places.

Part of why this episode was so solid was because it was largely set in one location. Night Country deftly crafted its small-town Alaskan setting at the start. But toward the end, it became frustrating when characters received phone calls to tell them where to go next—an age-old hack to transition from scene to scene. Episode 6 opens with Chief Danvers and Trooper Navarro digging into the ice cave where Annie K. died, hoping to find some kind of explanation behind the video of her screaming demise. They find an opening and climb down, assuming it’s safe. “Can’t you hear it?” Navarro asks. “She’s calling.” Moments later, Navarro falls through a fault in the ice like she’s in an Indiana Jones temple, and the floor beneath Danvers gives way.

Shocking Deaths Push ‘True Detective: Night Country’ Toward the Finish Line

The production design in the ice cave scenes is incredible. Navarro’s flashlight shows its details—as well as a look at Raymond Clark, who has been hiding in the cave, just as they thought. The two officers chase him into a makeshift laboratory, but lose track of him. While they’re clearing the area, Danvers motions for Navarro to look above them. Fixed into the ice is the skeleton of a horrifying aquatic creature, frozen into the same spiral shape that has been a constant appearance throughout the series’ first and fourth seasons.

A still showing Kali Reis in True Detective Night Country.

In the lab, they find the screwdriver with the star-shaped end that killed Annie, as well as a ladder leading up to a hatch door, which opens into the Tsalal Station. Navarro eventually apprehends Clark after a struggle inside the building, and Danvers and Navarro tie him to a chair to uncover the first major answer to this multi-pronged mystery.

After they had been dating for some time, Annie found notes in Clark’s possession and began to piece together what the Tsalal researchers were really up to. They were indeed digging for the DNA of a microorganism contained in the frost, one that could save the world if its genealogy was studied. (Or maybe, given that the corrupt Tuttle Foundation from Season 1 was funding the lab, it will keep the wicked alive forever—just my theory.) “We could actually do it because the pollution from the mine helped soften the permafrost,” Clark tells Danvers and Navarro. “We could extract the DNA with much less damage, much faster.” The Tsalal scientists were pushing the Silver Sky mining company—which Annie and her cohorts were fervently protesting against—to produce more pollutants. “The more waste in the water, the more waste in the ground, the better the permafrost for our work,” Clark says.

After learning this, Annie destroyed the drill and the ice core samples. She was caught by Lund, one of the other scientists, who snapped and began to stab her. “Everyone else just finished the job,” Clark says, denying his role in Annie’s death when pressed by Navarro and Danvers. A scene reveals that Annie woke up after the men had stabbed her, and that Clark was the one to strangle the remaining life out of her. This dissonance between what actually happened and what characters claim occurred is a nice callback to Danvers and Navarro’s testament that they didn’t kill William Wheeler, as well as Rust Cohle and Marty Hart deceiving investigators about their role in the murder of violent criminals in Season 1.

Matthew McConaughey’s Sexless ‘True Detective’ Turn Has Only Gotten Hotter

Though he’s partially lying, Clark is adamant about him and his colleagues not being the ones to cut out Annie’s tongue. He also doesn’t know how the other men died in their final hours out on the ice; he had been hearing Annie’s voice more often and, thinking she had come back for them, ran to the ice cave bunker when someone or something broke into the lab. Clark held the latch on the bunker door for hours, hoping he’d survive.

Danvers and Navarro take a break from their interrogation, only for the station’s power to be cut in their absence. They return to their makeshift examination room and find that Clark is gone, now frozen outside in the snow. With the ice storm raging outside, Danvers and Navarro bundle themselves in blankets and light a fire to try to keep warm in the rapidly declining temperature. Navarro tells her partner that she’s seen Danvers’ dead son, Holden, trying to tell her something in visions. Danvers doesn’t want to hear any of it, but Navarro insists. “There is more than this, there is so much more than just this,” she says. “It can be a comfort.””

“Shut up,” Danvers replies. “You don’t say his name. You don’t know. When he was trapped in that car, was he scared, was he hurt? Was he screaming, ‘Mommy!’ You don’t come here and tell me, ‘He said,’ or I will shoot your sick fucking mouth right off your face. … You leave my kid out of it, or I will rip you apart. I am not merciful. You understand? I got no mercy left.”

A still showing Jodie Foster in True Detective Night Country.

Jodie Foster is remarkable in this scene. It may be her “big” moment in the finale, but it reflects a mother, whose child has been ripped from the world beyond her control, reaching the end of her rope. She storms off and tries to go to sleep in one of the station’s dorm rooms, but regrets the way she yelled at Navarro. When Danvers doubles back, Navarro is gone. She too has been called out onto the ice, and Danvers flees to search for her in the snow. A voice tells Navarro her Iñupiaq name, connecting her to the greater force she has been trying to understand all season long. Looking for Navarro, Danvers falls through the ice into the frozen water, but is pulled out by Navarro just before her heart stops.

Inside the station, trying to come back to life, Danvers can see Holden. She sees the car crash that killed him and her husband, she sees his birthday, and she sees the tender moments when she still had love. She is at once filled with the warmth of an old life and no warmth at all, and asks Navarro what Holden said to her in her visions. “He says that he sees you, Liz,” Navarro responds.

The Surprising Horniness of Jodie Foster’s ‘True Detective’

It’s here where Navarro and Danvers finally accept that they are bound together by much more than they realize. The levels of pain and loss that they have felt give them a deeper understanding of one another, but it was not until they let themselves wade into the thick muck of grief that they could come to terms with their similarities.

Danvers thinks back to what Clark told them about holding the hatch of the bunker, hoping he wouldn’t be caught. Suddenly, she remembers that if he held the hatch, someone must have been trying to open it. Danvers runs back into the room with the bunker entrance, and uses chemicals and a UV light to uncover the handprints still left on the door. The handprint is that of someone with two severed fingers, shorter than their others. The episode cuts back to flashes of Blair Hartman (Kathryn Wilder), a local cleaner who worked at Tsalal, whom Navarro interviewed in Episode 1 for a domestic violence incident, and Danvers spoke to in Episode 2.

A still showing Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in True Detective Night Country.

“We weren’t asking the right question,” Danvers says, repeating her investigative mantra. “The question isn’t, ‘Who killed Annie K.,’ but, ‘Who knows who killed her?’” With the storm finally passing, the pair of officers leave the Tsalal Station to speak with the collective of women who clean Ennis area businesses. Their manager, Bee (L’Xeis Diane Benson), sits Navarro and Danvers down and tells them her story.

“Those fuckers killed Annie K.,” Bee says. “For six years, we thought it was the mine, the town, to shut her up. Then we understood.” The episode cuts to Blair spilling a mop bucket in the lab, watching as the water seeps below the floor and onto the hatch door beneath the tile. Blair investigated beneath the lab and found evidence of Annie’s death. “It’s always the same story with the same ending—nothing ever happens,” Bee says. “So we told ourselves a different story, with a different ending.” The women in the collective banded together to seek justice for Annie, storming Tsalal with guns. They forced the scientists into the back of a truck, drove them further outside of town, demanded they remove their clothes, and told them to walk out into the ice.

“They did it to themselves,” Bee says. “When they dug in her home in the ice, when they killed her daughter [Annie] in there, they woke her up.” Bee is speaking about the power that was present long before Ennis was ever an established town, a spirit among the Native population that has been there since the beginning of time. “If she wanted [the scientists dead], she would take them. If not, their clothes were there for them,” Bee says, explaining why all of the clothing was folded not far from where the corpsicle was found. “They’d be half-frozen, but they’d survive.”

Danvers and Navarro, themselves guilty of killing Wheeler for the greater good, have no objections or arrests to make. Instead, they get up to leave. Danvers asks one final question: Who left Annie’s tongue at Tsalal? Bee claims that she has no idea, and all of the women party ways.

In the epilogue, Danvers is questioned about the case, and plays clueless to any greater happenings. As far as anyone looking into the case knows, the Tsalal scientists did die of a slab avalanche, as the forensics reports claimed, and Raymond Clark froze to death. Hank Prior was never found after being killed in Episode 5 (and dumped in the water by his son Pete and Rose Aguineau in this episode). Navarro has disappeared after leaking a video she took of Clark explaining Tsalal’s role in the mine’s pollution of Ennis. Danvers ensures the police that they’re likely to never find Navarro, and the season ends with a shot of Danvers and Navarro having coffee at a lake cabin far away from Ennis.

Obviously, in True Detective style, there are details left in the shadows and questions that don’t have easy answers. The biggest one of those would be the mystery behind Annie’s tongue. For my money, Lund cut it out after she died, realizing that the indents on it were indicative of the fishing line that Ennis’ Native population works with, often at nomad camps like the one Oliver Tagaq lived in. Any investigator could’ve traced it back to Oliver; if you’ll recall, Danvers speculated that Oliver provided the generators to Tsalal, and therefore to their ice cave. Had Annie been found with her tongue, maybe the pieces would’ve come together much faster.

But apart from theories, which will always boggle the mind if you think too hard about them, what I think was the strongest part of Night Country was its tale of collective good and justice. This season’s thematic content paralleled the first season’s nicely by its end, asking questions about the existence of a greater good to be able to fight evil. Clark tells Danvers and Navarro that “time is a flat circle, and we are all stuck in it,” echoing Rust Cohle’s famous musing from Season 1. In the end, Rust—who also lost a child, like Danvers—was plagued by the eternal struggle between light and dark. By the end of Season 1, the perpetually pessimistic Rust turned a corner, believing that trying to snuff out forces who do wicked deeds is a noble fight, even if you can’t reach the broader web of perpetrators. Night Country is an expansion on that message, one that encourages action from those who believe in virtue and justice, outside of the traditional policing system. It was not a perfect season, but its place in the series makes it a fascinating study for fans to continue pondering long after its end.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.