‘True Detective’ Review: Episode 5 Puts It All on the Line — Spoilers

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “True Detective” Season 4, Episode 5, “Part 5” — the fifth hour of “Night Country.” Read our previous reviews here.]

Thus far in “True Detective” Season 4, Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Navarro (Kali Reis) have played it pretty much by the book. Some unkind words over here, a little rough-housing over there — plenty of their conduct runs outside the law but very little crosses a line that can’t then be walked back. In the past, they did cross that line. While we’re not sure who did what, exactly, the Wheeler case was not the murder-suicide our detectives put on the record. Someone else killed Wheeler, and they both (either actively or passively) covered it up.

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As intriguing as that mystery remains, what’s key to note about their biggest secret is that neither of them has expressed a shred of regret over what happened. Wheeler was a perpetual son-of-a-bitch; an abuser, a rapist, a thief, and a killer. He ended up in jail a few times, but he always found his way back out, when he’d simply start back up again, terrorizing his next victim. “The Wheeler case … we did exactly what we needed to do,” Navarro said before, and while Danvers didn’t want to talk about it, she also didn’t disagree.

Now, at the end of a wild Episode 5, here they are again: a murder on their watch, a legal system that can’t be trusted, and at least one innocent soul in the balance. Pete (Finn Bennett) kills his father, Hank (John Hawkes), in order to protect Danvers. To those in the room, it’s pretty clear Hank wanted to die, given his last words — “I didn’t kill Annie K. I just moved her body. Blood is blood, Peter. Remember that.” — but whether they can prove as much to anyone else is doubtful.

Navarro decides they can’t trust Captain Connelly (Christopher Eccleston); he did, after all, just threaten to reopen the Wheeler case if Danvers doesn’t close the Tsalal investigation. And if they can’t trust the captain, then they can’t trust any of his underlings. (It’s a very small town.) Peter doesn’t deserve to lose his career, his freedom, or even his life for protecting his boss. They know that. So they devise another cover-up: Claim Hank snatched Otis (Klaus Tange) from The Lighthouse (not true), shot him (true), and then had an accident while getting rid of the body (half-true… ish).

As passive observers, it’s easy enough to go along with this plan (especially after everything we learned about Hank in Episode 5), though it’s a bit harder to justify what started it in motion. Danvers decides that the only way to find Annie K’s murder site is to bust Otis out of his rehab facility and feed him heroin she stole from the evidence room. She was originally willing to wait a few days for Otis to get clean before forcing him to navigate the ice caves, but Danvers speeds things up after she’s ordered off the case, presumably worried if she doesn’t act now, she may never get to act at all. In the end, her choice costs Otis his life.

Was it much of a life to lose? Maybe not. He was addicted to drugs, living in the cold Alaskan wilderness, and getting arrested from time to time for petty theft, breaking and entering, and possession. But he’s not Wheeler. His trouble only started after an accident, where (according to Otis) he and his colleagues were trying to save a kid who was trapped in the ice. That means Otis was a victim, too, and while he was reportedly “in and out of rehab” since his injury, maybe this latest stint could’ve put him on the right track. Life is precious, and hope exists even in darkness. One thing’s for sure: If Danvers didn’t pull him out of The Lighthouse, he would’ve lived another day.

Jodie Foster and Finn Bennett stand in the police station in True Detective Season 4 Episode 5, "Night Country"
Jodie Foster and Finn Bennett in “True Detective: Night Country”Courtesy of Michele K. Short / HBO

Otis’ fate is just one way “True Detective” raises the stakes in Episode 5, the penultimate entry in Season 4. (Yes, there are only six episodes, not eight, like prior seasons.) Hank is dead. Peter’s future hangs in the balance. We now know the mining company is dirty: It’s been falsifying environmental reports for God knows how long, which confirms the protesters’ claims about polluting their water supply, and, oh yeah, Kate McKitterick (Dervla Kirwan) bribed Hank to cover up Annie K’s murder. We still don’t know how, exactly, Annie K’s attack relates to the deaths of those dozen scientists, but as Danvers and Navarro drive off into yet another storm, we have to assume if they find where she died, then those caves will bring them back to Tsalal, its parent company, Tuttle United, or another tie to the initial investigation.

Like past seasons, solving one case tends to coincide with solving the other, and putting the pieces together will also help Danvers and Navarro quell the demons roiling inside them. How Otis’ death and Peter’s trauma over killing his father sits with Danvers is a major question mark, as is Navarro’s literal survival. All season, there have been hints she may not make it to the other side of this case, and Episode 5 keeps piling on the dread. There’s the flashback she has while depositing her sister’s ashes in the sea — when she walks toward an imaginary sun only to snap back to reality while standing on splintering ice, with Rose thankfully there to save her; then there’s the flash sighting of Annie K at the protests, yet another ghost emerging for unknown reasons, and her worrying goodbye to Qavvik (Joel D. Montgrand). “You’re not going to stop me?” she says, getting out of his bed. “Just come back,” he says, before sharing a tender kiss. “Come back.”

It’s a request likely beyond her control, especially since Navarro will be running point as their guide through the ice caves. She claims to know where to go, but it’ll take more than a sound starting point to get what they need and get back out alive. If they do, what will be waiting for them? What’s been lost to this case is sizable. What can be gained from solving it is unknown, though potentially even greater. They’ve made their choices. Now, let’s hope they can live with them.

Grade: B+

Case Notes:

• Navarro hugging her sister’s still-warm urn. Remember that.

• Given how much happened in Episode 5, I’m willing to forgive the multiple insert shots that remind us of what we’ve already seen, like when Otis says he heard Raymond Clark saying, “She’s awake,” and then it cuts to Danvers hearing those same words in the comfort of her own bed. Also, late in the hour, when the little girl crossing the street in front of Navarro stops to point at her, there’s a mini-montage of all the previous instances of ghost-like pointing. It’s a bit much, but “Night Country” is also a bit much, so it works well enough.

• As shocking as the ending feels, the second Hank told that random sob story about saving Pete when he fell through the ice as a kid, you knew he was a goner. RIP, bud. Here’s hoping mail-order-brides actually show up wherever you’re going next.

• “We were here before, gonna stay when you’re gone” — that’s not a great protest chant. It just isn’t catchy or rhythmic. (I had to really focus to make out the second half.) Off the top of my head, why not, “We were here first, then you made it worse”? Or, “It’s time to take a stand, now get off our land”? OK, those aren’t markedly better, but if you’re going to start a movement, don’t waste your breath.

• “Hey, sorry about your divorce.”
“It’s not a divorce, Chief.”
Oh, Danvers. What a softie.

• OK, place your bets! Who killed the scientists? What happened to Annie K? Will our titular detectives survive the finale? What makes this last question doubly interesting is that before the Season 1 finale, there was a lot of debate over who was going to die, with many fans certain one of the leads was going to go. That didn’t happen, but with “Night Country” actively engaging in so much Season 1 lore, perhaps part of their ending’s twist will be a less fortunate conclusion for our cops. Sound off on social, fellow sleuths. Only one episode left!

“True Detective” Season 4, “Night Country,” releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.

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