Sinister occurrences shake up an Alaskan small town in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country.’ The beginning of the polar night is marked by the eerie disappearance of eight scientists from the Tsalal Arctic Research Station, and while the detectives look for the thing that explains what happened to them, they can’t help but acknowledge that some things might be outside their understanding. The first episode of the show dabbles in the supernatural with ghosts, warnings, and omens (good or bad) sprinkled through it. Does this mean that ‘True Detective’ is a supernatural show? SPOILERS AHEAD
True Detective Night Country is More Supernatural Than Season 1
The first episode of the fourth season of ‘True Detective’ sets the stage for its central mystery by leaning into the supernatural territory. The first scene itself starts with something disturbing and unexplainable. A hunter eyes a herd of caribous, hoping to get a shot. But then, the animals sense something and collectively run to their death by jumping off a cliff. The hunter is as baffled and unnerved as the audience, and the creepiness is elevated with the fact that this happens just as the sun is about to set and won’t rise until the next couple of weeks.
The cover of darkness on a sea of ice sets the horror tone of the story, followed by the “She’s awake” declaration by one of the scientists, following which all eight disappear from the station. The “She’s awake” repeats a couple more times in the episode, but that’s not the only supernatural element. A local woman sees the ghost of a man named Travis, who points her toward the location where the scientists are eventually found.
The detectives, Danvers and Navarro, aren’t untouched by the supernatural either. In one scene, the hand of a child appears from behind, waking Danvers from her sleep, only to see the polar bear toy with a wound on one eye. In the next scene, Navarro experiences some disturbance in the connection during one of her calls, “she’s awake” sounds in the background, and lo and behold, an actual polar bear with a wound on one eye appears in front of her.
All of this, just in the first episode, proves that ‘True Detective: Night Country’ has supernatural elements deeply woven into it, and it will become an important aspect of the story going forward. In her interviews, creator-writer-director Issa Lopez has also confessed that she dialed up the supernatural tone after loving the subtlety with which the first season tackled it.
The setting itself proclaims its supernatural nature. Evil things lurk in the dark, and a story that happens almost exclusively in the dark would be impossible to tell without at least acknowledging the possibility of something “more than meets the eye” going on. Lopez also stated that she wanted to set the show in the Arctic environment because this is where the boundary between our world and the other side starts to dissolve and disappear.
With the Indigenous characters, culture, and beliefs thrown into the mix, it would have been a wasted opportunity if the preternatural elements weren’t, at least, acknowledged. The icing on the cake is the pairing of Danvers and Navarro, built in the image of Mulder and Scully, and lending the ‘X-Files’ vibe to the season. With this, the audience knows what to expect, but they are also assured that whatever explanation of the crimes comes out in the end, it will be delivered in a way that makes sense non-supernaturally.
True Detective Season 1 Teased Supernatural Elements But Didn’t Flesh Them Out
One of the reasons that Issa Lopez wanted to go all in with the supernatural elements in the fourth season was because she loved how the first season played with that side of the story. In Season 1, the plot begins with the murder of a sex worker named Dora Lange, whose body is left behind in a ritualistic position. The following crimes also have the same touch, which leads Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart to a cult of the Yellow King and the Carcosa (both references from Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 book). Further, Rust’s hallucinations add another layer to this aspect, which led a lot of fans to theorize whether something Lovecraftian horror was going to be unleashed on the world. The setting of Louisiana also adds to the mystical vibe added to the religious elements of the season.
All of this, however, is explainable. Rust’s hallucinations are due to his drug abuse, along with the PTSD and the grief of losing his child, which he is still processing during the events of the show. He also suffers from insomnia, which doesn’t leave any room for doubt that his visions are a product of his brain rather than the declaration of existence by a supernatural entity. So, while the season did dabble in the occult and was heavy on symbols, especially with the spiral symbol (which is seen again in the ‘True Detective’ universe), there is nothing in the season that does not have a rational explanation. Creator Nic Pizzolatto confirmed that everything that seems otherworldly in the first season is really not so. The perspective of the characters impacts what the audience sees, so one should first question the mind and memories of the character in question.