“… for we do not know what beasts the night dreams when its hours grow too long for even God to be awake.” —Hildred Castaigne
While writer-director Issa López attributes this opening quote to a character from True Detective Season 1, she wrote this poetic prose herself, imagining the impossible endurance of winter without a single ray of daylight. Welcome to Night Country. And like the previous seasons of True Detective, season 4 comes fully equipped with its own cast, story, and location.
López spent time in northern Alaska to experience the local flavor and recreate it onscreen. Filmed in Iceland but set in northwestern Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, Night Country takes place in the fictional town of Ennis. Ennis is home to a small population of both indigenous and non-indigenous residents, mostly with modest incomes and education but probably with superior survival skills. Northern life has a raw, primal edge. Addictive substances are available. And those endless, dark winters invite the unimaginable. Be prepared to be spooked.
In a small research lab in Ennis called Tsalal (a name from a Jules Verne novel), eight international male scientists have taken up residence to study the impact of climate change on the Earth’s northern biosphere. But three days after December’s final sunset, a local delivery man makes a strange discovery. All the researchers seem to have disappeared. Upon inspection, the police note that the residence still looks lived in, and conclude that the scientists all left at once, suddenly, and unexpectedly. Yeah. Be prepared.
The stars of this six-episode season are the police. The fine cast features Jodie Foster as Police Chief Liz Danvers, a tough cookie and a challenging boss, especially for State Trooper Evangeline Navarro, played by professional boxer Kali Reis. For good reason, Navarro and Danvers have an antagonistic relationship. They’re two good cops who can’t get along. But they’ll have to.
John Hawkes is Officer Hank Prior, the kind of cop who shows up but might get distracted. And Prior’s son, Officer Peter Prior, is brought to life by Finn Bennett. The young Bennett is a natural-born actor who energizes each scene and is a pleasure to watch.
If this supernatural story seems far-fetched, consider that it was partly inspired by historical events. In 1872, for example, the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste departed New York for Italy carrying ten people. But sometime after departure, the ship was discovered floating at sea, abandoned, with no one on board. And 150 years later, this ghost ship still remains a mystery.
Whether you’ve seen the first three seasons of True Detective or not, Night Country is now airing the old-fashioned way: Sunday evenings on HBO and streaming on Max. And since Alaska is a remote concept for those of us in the other 49 states, here’s something I found satisfying. Keep a USA map handy as a geography lesson (an old-fashioned travel atlas is ideal, not your teensy little smartphone app). Observe the size and location of Alaska, the largest of our 50 states, stretching north across the Arctic Circle. Continue north to the North Pole, a virtual dot marking true north, beyond the reach of human inhabitants and Uber.
See? Even fiction has something to teach us. Now that you know your way around, hop onboard for a visit to Ennis. The cold, dark, haunted lands of the north are expecting you.