Sunday, January 14, 2024

REVIEW: 'True Detective: Night Country' - Several Disappearances Force Danvers and Navarro to Examine the Past in 'Part 1'

HBO's True Detective: Night Country - Episode 4.01 "Part 1"

When researchers suddenly disappear, Liz Danvers orders a search but tempers expectations of finding the men. Navarro tries to convince a skeptical Danvers that the men's disappearance is connected to the murder of local activist Annie Kowtok.

"Part 1" was written by Issa López and directed by 
Issa López

Ennis, Alaska resides 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. December 17 features the final sundown of the year. After that, it's continual darkness. Anything can happen during that time. Mystical elements creep into the narrative. It suggests something supernatural is going on. However, it remains grounded in the natural response people must have to survive during this time. It's a unique aspect of their environment. They have had to adapt. That's an aspect of living in this community. Liz Danvers operates with skepticism as Chief of Police. She also backs that up with the investigative instincts necessary when a major mystery emerges. Eight scientists at a research center have disappeared. They vanished while conducting normal business. They too have had to adjust their lives to fit into this specific aspect of their jobs. Danvers and her team don't know what research was being conducted. They just know that something happened. Danvers doubts the scientists will ever be found. It's still important to conduct a search. They've already lost a lot of time. The isolation means she's playing catch up. Moreover, she's hesitant to connect this case to a mystery that happened years ago.

State trooper Evangeline Navarro was the responding officer upon the discovery of Annie Kowtok's body. The Native woman was stabbed multiple times. Her body was severely abused before and after death. Her killer treated her with absolute cruelty. The authorities have never even been able to identify the murder weapon. The pattern was simply too distinct and strange. It was a complete unknown. Navarro hasn't been able to move on. She can't escape that visceral image inside her head. It lingers. She endures the uncertainty. Others in Annie's life have had to accept the necessity of moving on. She disrupted this community through her activism. They have to believe that led to her death. It's not just. It's the apparent truth. That's as much clarity as anyone can provide. Everything else is lost to the darkness. No more resources can be shared on this cold case. Too much time has passed. And yet, everything may now be unearthed by the simple presence of a severed tongue.

That anonymous appendage is the gruesome detail left behind at the crime scene. Everything else presents as normal. It's as if the scientists were picked up from their lives. Eery details linger before the discovery of the tongue though. The lights flicker. The television plays the same scene from Across the Universe on repeat. A figure moves in the shadows. Yet the tongue becomes the one piece of tangible evidence to analyze. Danvers doesn't get the results back right away. She has to wait for those clues to emerge. She recognizes it as human and likely belonging to an Indigenous woman. She has picked up that expertise on the job. She has seen a lot. This brutality is the latest she has had to witness. It's scary enough when she's almost hit by a drunk driver on an icy road. She's meant to be terrified that her stepdaughter made a sex tape with her girlfriend. Danvers oversees the local police. She carries this burden. The work never stops for her. Others insist that the job must come to an end at six o'clock in the evening. That's just not how this world operates. Danvers needs her officers to respond when she needs them. They must do whatever she asks as well.

Danvers sees the parallels between the disappearances and Annie's murder. She remains haunted by it too. She doesn't have the luxury of wearing it on her sleeve. Nor does she have the freedom to take the case file home with her. People must follow her orders. However, many still try to circumvent her authority. Hank doesn't respect her. He does whatever he wants. When the station flooded, he took the files home. That has been the storage system for the local police for awhile now. He doesn't even know all that he has. It doesn't matter to him. It's just more clutter around the house. He will get to it eventually. No one trusts him to move with any urgency. Danvers needs this file now. She makes Peter retrieve it. That's the appropriate task for him. He demands to know the details of the case. That provides the information to the audience as well. This narrative oozes from the unique setting and peculiar details of this story. However, it also needs to be propelled forward by the ongoing investigation. The bodies of the scientists are eventually discovered. Danvers was wrong with that initial assessment. She now has to reckon with what this gruesome crime means without any immediate evidence beyond a tongue that may not even belong to any of the men. They were the victims of this mystery. They aren't the only ones damaged in this environment.

Rose understands it's nonsensical that she followed a dead person to the burial site. That's the reality though. She wasn't taken aback by Travis' presence. He lingers around her life. He arrives with purpose. Once she's ready, she allows him to show her what she needs to find. It's an alarming presence. It highlights the ways in which life is mysterious. The secrets of life may never fully be known. The scientists may have never been successful in their core mission. They will never find out. They were given all these resources in search of some truth. They have now all been killed for their efforts. They didn't vanish into the unknown. Their bodies were found to allow the investigation to continue. More evidence will be collected. Right now, everyone witnesses the horror of what they have just discovered. They don't need to question the logistics of how it happened. That is the essence of life. They need to respond to the eery details. Law enforcement operates with inherent authority. Danvers mocks Navarro's spiritual connection to the world. It doesn't make sense to her. Navarro was forced to take a job elsewhere because she got too attached to Annie's case. That isn't enough to keep these two officers apart. Their lives are entwined. That's true even though Danvers refused to reopen the case in the past. Right now, a mystery has emerged that suggests more is yet to fully reveal itself. That's artful in a way that still allows the viewer to be enthralled by what's real within this world.