True Detective: Is Tsalal Arctic Research Station a Real Place?

Image Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO

HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country’ takes the audience to the dark and cold days of Alaska, where a mysterious disappearance of a group of scientists rattles the small town of Ennis. The case takes a lot of twists and turns, especially after its connection to another cold case comes to light. All eyes turn towards the place where it all started, the research facility that hides more secrets than previously anticipated. Considering the role the location plays in the plot, the audience is bound to wonder if it is a real place at all. SPOILERS AHEAD

Tsalal is a Fictional Research Facility in Night Country

The fourth season of ‘True Detective’ is the brainchild of writer-director Issa Lopez, who wanted to explore the setting of the Arctic to explore the scenario of a whodunit. She was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of the Russian hikers in the Dyatlov Pass incident, and as she started to create her own stories, she found the icy setting of Alaska as the perfect place to set the events. After heavily researching the people, the culture, and the geography of Alaska, Lopez settled on a research facility as the starting point.

Image Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO

For this purpose, she created the fictional Tsalal. The name most probably is a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,’ in which Tsalal is the name of an island the protagonist visits during his voyage or to the book by Thomas Ligotti. Interestingly, the word also relates to darkness or moving towards it. Whatever Lopez’s inspiration for the title of the research station, it’s clear she wanted the audience to know that it has to do with something sinister.

In real life, there is no Tsalal. However, there are two Arctic research stations in Alaska— Toolik Field Station and Barrow Observatory, both of which have remained unmarked by any similar eerie and mysterious disappearance that might spark public interest and make one wonder what happened there.

One of the reasons why Lopez turned towards the Arctic setting was to subvert from the previously established aesthetic of the show but also to stay connected to it in some ways. The research station delivers an incredible opportunity in terms of creating mystery and leaving the audience with a lot to speculate about what may or may not be happening there. It also adds a sense of wonder, with the viewers wondering if the research at the station might have something to do with what’s going on with all the disappearances and the murders.

As expected, Tsalal hides a lot of secrets, and uncovering them leads the investigators down a dark path of self-exploration while also coming face to face with the horrible reality of the things and people around them. In some ways, looking into Tsalal opens a Pandora’s box that poses more questions than the mysteries it answers, keeping the detectives as well as the audience on their feet throughout the investigation.

Read More: Is True Detective: Night Country a Real Story?