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True Detective: Night Country Episode 6 Review

Jodie Foster sits behind her desk in her uniform in Episode 6 of True Detective: Night Country

Episode 6 of True Detective: Night Country ends the season with a strong thesis statement about the inescapable gravity of the past.

*This review of True Detective: Night Country will discuss spoilers for episode 6.*

“Time is a flat circle.” It’s a line, uttered by Matthew McConaughey in season one of True Detective, that I quote all the time. It’s as perfect of a logline as anything not just of the first season, but each subsequent one, including Night Country. Every main character throughout these four seasons has been trapped in prisons of their own making to varying degrees. There’s so many ways that this mantra has manifested itself this season, but it’s kind of incredible to see it at work in episode 6. It’s a belief that we can’t really escape the past. We can’t undo the decisions we’ve made, and we can never fully let go of what’s haunting us.

It didn’t surprise me that the search for Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell) ended relatively quickly at the beginning of the episode, as there was so much information left that needed to come to light. The sequence in the ice cave was pulse-pounding and, though I haven’t yet mentioned Florian Hoffmeister’s stunning cinematography this season, it stood out as a visual feast. In my book, Hoffmeister should walk away with an Emmy simply because he bucked the recent television trend of night scenes being literally impossible to see all season long. In a season full of dynamic and haunting imagery, “Part 6” was perhaps the most visually captivating. You don’t have to look too hard to see plenty of circular imagery throughout the episode: the broken hubcap that Danvers sees, the circles as various characters break through the ice, the ice tunnels and the hatch leading up the station, and many more. It’s all part of the show’s visual language, and it’s a kind of visualization of the themes at play.

Yes, we get definitive answers about the “who, what, where, why” in relation to Annie and the scientists’ murders, but Issa López leaves some room for interpretation. Clark reveals that Annie was murdered by the team of scientists not because of the mine’s involvement with Ennis’ pollution, but because the Tsalal station’s research actually improved because of it. It’s an interesting subversion of what I expected – the evil corporation covering up their wrongdoing – and it presents equally interesting implications for the town of Ennis. But what really works on a thematic level is the nature of the scientists’ deaths from Clark’s perspective.

López shows Clark hiding in his underground hatch as his colleagues are slaughtered, believing that Annie (Nivi Pedersen) has risen from the dead to seek her revenge. Of course, the final moments of episode 6 debunk the theory, but I find the thematic implications fascinating. Annie didn’t literally kill those men, but their complicity did. The sins of the past killed them. Their idle hands killed them. They thought the ends justified the means, and their research would save the world, but they were ultimately cogs in a machine that spans all of time and space.

Isabella Star LaBlanc sits on the couch in Episode 6 of True Detective: Night Country
Isabella Star LaBlanc in Episode 6 of True Detective: Night Country (© Michele K. Short/HBO)

Is episode 6 a perfect episode, and was Night Country a perfect season of television? Maybe not. The reveal of Danvers’ (Jodie Foster) deceased son, and the nature of the polar bear, adds layers to an already captivating character, but I don’t know why López felt compelled to save this for the season finale. Yes, it fits with López’s thesis of the past coming back around and the inescapable pull of grief, but it just didn’t coalesce neatly for me. Though I do appreciate the way that López has refused to spoon feed us information all season. I also find myself wishing that López had dedicated more time to the conflict between the mining company – by making them more than a faceless conglomerate – and the people of Ennis.

After finishing this episode, I went back and rewatched “Form and Void”, the first season finale of True Detective, to see if there were any more parallels I had missed. Indeed, there are some story beats that are similar. You have the pair of detectives venturing into the pit of hell as they track down their main suspect. You have the truth being kind of covered up in favor of the larger social justice, bringing a complicated peace to the protagonists’ souls. You even have a couple fun Easter eggs that feel less like fan service and more like the makings of a shared thematic universe: the tune that Wheeler whistles as Danvers and Navarro (Kali Reis) enter in the flashback is the same as that of the Yellow King in the season one finale. One of the characters in “Form and Void” repeats the mantra “he was here before you were born and will be here long after you’re gone” that we’ve heard so much this season. Also not for nothing, McConaughey’s character was born in Alaska.

Ultimately, I think Night Country ends on a more hopeful note than Nic Pizolatto’s season one, at least on a story level. And as I look back on this season as a whole, I continue to be impressed with how López has put her own spin on Pizolatto’s specific vision. Regardless of my minor criticisms, I can see myself returning to this season down the road, and I look forward to seeing more of López’s work in the future. It’s been a joy to read about various fan theories and Easter eggs that have popped up every week; the television landscape is almost always better when we have shows that invite this level of enthusiasm and curiosity.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Danvers, Navarro, and Pete. After disposing of Hank’s body in the ice with Pete, Rose espouses “You may think the hard part is over. But the hardest part is everything that comes after.” The three detectives may have solved this case that has consumed them, and have enacted some environmental justice thanks to Clark’s confession. Even Pete ends the episode back with his wife and son. But how long will their happiness last? How long can the past stay hidden below the ice? After all, time is a flat circle.

Episode 6 of True Detective: Night Country is now available to watch on Max.

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