SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses plot points in Episode 1 of “True Detective: Night Country,” titled “Part 1.”
After a five-year absence, “True Detective” is back, and it’s as ominous as ever. Jodie Foster and Kali Reis are the dynamic duo leading Season 4, and there are faint echoes of the prior seasons in this wholly original chapter. Written and directed by “Tigers Are Not Afraid” filmmaker Issa López, this Alaska-set missing persons tale focuses on eight men who have vanished from a research station. Need some postgame analysis to understand what just happened? Variety has you covered.
What did we learn in the premiere?
Liz Danvers (Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Reis) are in law enforcement in the fictional mining town of Ennis, Alaska, who are brought together while investigating the men who disappeared from a local arctic research station, TSALAL. The mystery forces the two former partners to team up.
Along the way, the detectives interact with various citizens in the small town, which is in a period of 24/7 darkness due to a phenomenon called “polar night.” Notable inhabitants include father-son police duo Hank (John Hawkes) and Peter Prior (Finn Bennett); Peter’s put-upon wife Kayla (Anna Lambe) and their young child; Liz’s rebellious stepdaughter Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc); Evangeline’s troubled sister Jules (Aka Niviâna); and distressed town drunk Stacy (Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir).
What does a cold case have to do with the mass disappearance?
Evangeline can’t shake the unsolved murder of Native midwife and activist Annie Kowtok, whose body was missing a tongue when it was discovered. The most shocking piece of evidence at the research center? A severed tongue.
The body part is scarred by “marks left by a repetitive behavior,” Liz says, which matches those of a Native woman they had previously found dead, who developed them by licking the thread while fixing fishing nets.
Liz’s investigation, coupled with Evangeline’s knowledge of the Kowtok case and drive to solve it, forces the estranged duo to reluctantly collaborate.
What happened to the men?
Good question! Here are some theories, based on the limited information presented:
*An Alien / a “Thing” — The best guess is an extraterrestrial is in the mix, given some of the hallmarks of classic alien movies: The strange convulsions of the researcher named Clark at the beginning, as well as those of an apparition named Travis that is haunting Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw); the manipulation of electricity at the research station that causes a scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to glitch and play on repeat; and the menacing repeated mention that “She’s awake.” More specifically, could the alien be a nod to John Carpenter’s 1982 creature feature “The Thing”? After all, in that movie, a 12-man research station in Antarctica is picked apart by a shapeshifting being.
*Ghosts led them to their death: As mentioned, Rose is shadowed by what seems to be a ghost. She’s quick to take chase of this underdressed, barefoot man who is not alive. Given that the episode ends with the discovery of men from the facility frozen and buried in the snow, did a ghost lead them to their doom, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin?
*Group hypnosis: This is a stretch, but the lyrics of the theme song (Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend”) point to a potential clue: “When we all fall asleep, where do we go?” Could the eight men have fallen into some sort of trance that ended up sending them away from the research center?
Other burning questions:
*From the creepy opening scene: What were all of those caribou running from? Were they all under the same group hypnosis that led the men in the research center to their snowy deaths? Is this a stealth sequel to the 2008 movie “The Happening,” and there’s an airborne toxin coming from the environment that makes animals kill themselves?
*What was that little beast that flew by the camera when the deliveryman was searching the hallways of TSALAL?
*Did the show’s producers only have to commission footage from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or did they also have to pay for that Beatles recording of “Twist and Shout” separately?
*While walking to Stacy’s car after the traffic accident, Liz is briefly discombobulated by a black-and-white vision. Could it be a flashback?
*What is the source of TSALAL’s funding? It seems like Stacy’s police station antics concealed a pivotal clue.
*Will we ever meet Hank’s fiancée, Alina from Vladivostok?
*Why is Hank so paranoid about the cold case boxes stacked up at his house?
*What was the nature of Rose and Travis’ relationship before he died?
*Could Annie’s bizarre wounds at the time of her death — made by a “sharp, unidentified object” — be from some kind of alien tech?
*Can Liz stage a fantasy football comeback, even with two running backs on I.R.?
*So many dogs are barking wildly in this episode — can they sense the evil in Ennis?
*Will Evangeline and Qavvik’s relationship blossom to the point where he doesn’t complain when she uses his SpongeBob toothbrush?
*Who is Holden? Who told Liz “She’s awake,” the same thing we heard earlier in the episode from Clark at TSALAL? And then who whispered “She’s awake” to Evangeline while she was driving?