The ‘True Detective: Night Country’ Exit Survey

The sun is up, the murders have been solved, and Qavvik has his SpongeBob toothbrush back. It’s time to dig into the ‘Night Country’ finale.

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After six whole episodes, True Detective: Night Country has come to an end. We learned the truth behind Annie Kowtok’s and the Tsalal researchers’ deaths, watched Liz Danvers and Evangeline Navarro reconcile with their pasts, and listened to a weird, slowed-down version of “Twist and Shout” one last time for good measure. So did the series stick the landing? Were all of our lingering questions answered? And should Night Country enter the pantheon of great Alaskan television and movies? The Ringer staff has thoughts on all of that and much more.

1. What is your tweet-length review of the True Detective: Night Country finale?

Katie Baker: Vitamin D deficiency is a hell of a drug.

Daniel Chin: If time is a flat circle, can we circle back to the premiere so I can properly measure my expectations? I still enjoyed much of Night Country, but even an extended 75-minute finale wasn’t enough to make up for all the faults and puzzling narrative decisions.

Miles Surrey: There was a problem with the heat in my apartment when I watched the screeners in the dead of winter, so one might say I felt really connected to the story. Night Country was about the frostbite we made along the way.

Julianna Ress: Am I the only one who had no memory of the woman with two missing fingers?

Claire McNear: A less-than-satisfying conclusion to a mystery that seemed committed to everything but the actual mystery.

Austin Gayle: Wait, you’re telling me Pete poured his heart and soul into Googling all of that evidence and calling his veterinarian friend just to find out one of the killers is already dead, and the other killers—the ones who killed seven scientists—are chill? Like, they’re fine. They did it for kind-of-not-really good reasons, so they’re chill. They stood on business. No charges. No arrests.

Ben Lindbergh: As Bee puts it, “a different story, with a different ending.” It’s always darkest before the dawn return of the sun after a long darkness, but Danvers and Navarro work it on out (work it on out), thanks to a plot twist and shout (plot twist and shout).

2. What was the best moment of the episode?

Surrey: Navarro forcing the scientist to listen to a loop of Annie Kowtok being murdered was hard AF.

McNear: When Pete’s long-suffering wife, who was on the brink of leaving him, does a complete emotional 180 as soon as he partakes in the most beloved Ennis pastime (extralegal killings).

Baker: I was most affected by the way Danvers blew up at Navarro for mentioning she’d had a vision of Holden. It had a really raw and honest combination of tenderness and rage that was hard but important to watch, and it set up their later connection over Holden really nicely. Runners-up: I enjoyed the tension of Leah’s stop by the house just as Peter stopped cleaning up, as well as the smirking facial expression Bee had right before she said: “But … it’s just a story.”

Lindbergh: Rose Aguineau’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Rose was planning to ring in the new year in traditional festive fashion: by quietly cleaning her rifle. But when Pete knocked on her door, Rose rolled with the cop’s request to help him bury a body, saying only, “It’s going to be one of those nights, isn’t it?” How many of those nights has she had? I wish we knew more about Rose; not only does she know where the bodies are buried, but she knows how to bury them.

Chin: When Pete Prior and Rose Aguineau are sitting on the ice under the northern lights after they dispose of Hank’s body. As the corpse of Pete’s father sinks below them, Rose candidly tells Pete that the hardest part is just beginning. Rose has some horrible bedside manner, but she gives him sage advice nonetheless, and it’s a funny moment to undercut such a somber scene. There’s still a lot we don’t know about Rose, and yet Fiona Shaw’s performance gave her so much depth that it didn’t really matter. To be one of the wisest people in Ennis and the person you come to in order to dump a dead body? Now that’s range.

Gayle: Are the lines of dialogue below from the Night Country finale or Madame Web?

We were digging for the DNA of a microorganism in the permafrost that could potentially … save the world. We could do it because the pollution from the mine helped soften the permafrost. We could extract the DNA with much less damage and faster by multiples of hundreds, thousands.

It could have changed the world. It still could.

When did Jodi Foster join the Spider-Verse? (This is the best moment of the episode because I nearly died laughing.)

Ress: Danvers and Navarro’s chase of Raymond Clark through the ice caves was the kind of thrilling stuff I’d been waiting for all season. Clark had been built up to be such a mysterious, looming figure over Night Country that the payoff had so much inherent gravity to it.

3. What was your least favorite part?

Ress: I felt physical pain watching Danvers struggle in the freezing ocean.

Surrey: Anytime my guy Qavvik wasn’t on-screen. He is literally the only good hang in Ennis.

McNear: … Was that a dinosaur skeleton in the cave lab? Can we get some answers? Like, maybe even one?

Chin: There was a lot that bothered me about the finale, but two things stand out above the others. The first: when Night Country gave us a recreation of exactly what happened to the Tsalal scientists near the end of the episode. After chasing ghosts and dead ends all season, for the actual events to be shown in near entirety just before the conclusion felt too cheap and convenient. I appreciated the idea that the women of the community took justice into their own hands, but the setup just wasn’t there. The second: that “Twist and Shout” needle drop as Danvers is fighting off hypothermia. I nearly fell off my couch.

Gayle: I watch Suits on Netflix at 1.5 times speed because the episodic “aha” moments are so repetitive and cliche that I need to rail them at warp speed just to avoid tuning out. I didn’t realize the final piece of the puzzle in Night Country would be a Suits-esque repeated line between Danvers and Navarro.

Navarro: “The thing Clark said about holding his hatch, being down there in the dark, I’ve been feeling that way for so long. Holding the hatch, fucking terrified of the one trying to open it.”
Danvers: “What did you say?”
Navarro: “That I was wrong?”
Danvers: “No, holding the hatch.”

I won’t even get into the fact that there was a coincidentally placed UV light right by the hatch to help them reveal the handprint. It’s all just such an unsatisfying way to identify the last piece of evidence that solves the case.

Lindbergh: Nic Pizzolatto was right: Matthew McConaughey didn’t show up. But Raymond Clark quoted Rust Cohle, which made me groan. Speaking of Clark: I couldn’t accept his half-assed explanation of Tsalal’s research. The only way to thaw those lifesaving microorganisms out of the permafrost without damaging their DNA was to tell the mine, “More pollution, please”? If the microorganisms were so vital to humanity that the scientists would kill to uncover them, shouldn’t Lund and Co. have made more of an effort to document their work or spread the word? Did Clark at least leave some instructions for saving the world in that video confession?

Baker: Not sure why this irked me so much, but I didn’t like how it cut so quickly from Navarro pulling Danvers out of the water to the two of them recovering by the fire. I think it’s because I definitely thought Danvers was a flash-frozen goner (and for that instant, I was digging that as a bold choice, and I felt so bad for Leah). I’m still not quite sure how she lived, and it would have been nice to see some glimpse of the physical struggle to move her from ice to chair.

4. Are you satisfied with how Night Country tied up its loose ends? What lingering mystery do you still need more answers on?

Chin: Nope! I was bracing myself to have some lingering questions by the end of this season, and then we got far too many rushed answers instead. Due to the uneven pacing of the season and the decision to pursue trivial subplots instead of the actual investigation, so much was left to these final 75 minutes. As a result, too many loose ends were clumsily tied up in quick succession. I felt like this show could have gotten away with an ambiguous, unexplained mystery behind the case if it had been properly executed, but Night Country might have put itself in too difficult a position for there to be any chance of a satisfying outcome.

One tiny missing detail that is still bothering me: Who wrote “We are all dead” on the whiteboard at the Tsalal facility? Did Clark really take the time to write that in between holding on to that hatch for dear life and going up for a midnight snack? Because, in hindsight, it feels like that writing was there for little more than the drama of it all.

Gayle: I apologize if I was supposed to piece this all together with the random flashbacks, but what actually happened to Danvers’s son, Holden, and her partner? When did that happen? Whose fault was it? I’m assuming it was some kind of car accident, but was there alcohol involved? Was Danvers also in the car?

Also, can they not still dig for the world-saving microorganism? Could the government step in to temporarily move everyone out of Ennis and make a play for it? If those things really could have “changed the world,” why not go after it safely when all of this is over?

(I can keep going. Did Ted Connelly and Kate McKittrick ever get into any trouble? Are we supposed to be happy that Danvers and Navarro got away with two murder cover-ups? Did Hank’s fake Russian fiancée matter at all? Did Leah and Danvers ever make up?

I’m so confused.

Lindbergh: I wouldn’t say I’m fully satisfied, but I wasn’t really expecting a tidy resolution. (Sedna is still at large!) However, I have to ask: Where’s my man Oliver Tagaq? “He wouldn’t serve much purpose in this story unless he’s hiding something,” I wrote in my recap of Episode 3. Well, I guess he didn’t serve much purpose in this story. (Except to make us think he was hiding something.)

Ress: Those loose ends were tied up, all right. Too tied up! One of my favorite things about the ending of Season 1 was how Rust (and the audience) knew that the crimes went beyond Errol Childress, all the way up to the Louisiana governor, but it was impossible to bring them all down. Night Country wrapped everything up so neatly that I was almost expecting a Breaking Dawn–esque credits montage set to a Billie Eilish song. Give me some unfinished business! (Wait, what was the point of Oliver Tagaq, though?)

McNear: WHO IS “SHE”?! I get the “hell yeah” that the Ennis womenfolk were the Tsalal culprits, but even they suggest there was another power responsible for the scientists’ deaths. (Not sure this one would stand up in court—pretty sure kidnapping and the resulting hypothermia and fatal trauma still amount to murder—but fine.) Frankly, it sucks that a series about detectives opted to make the big bad “ghosts.”

Surrey: Like The Leftovers, I’m fine with letting the mystery be. But I understand why some viewers might feel let down by the fact that a murder mystery that heavily teased supernatural elements ultimately boiled down to Murder on the Tsalal Express.

Baker: I’m sure there are perfectly reasonable explanations for all of these that I totally missed and will subsequently learn about on Reddit, but here’s what’s nagging me right now: (1) When did Clark record the confession video on the phone Navarro left behind for Danvers? His shirt didn’t look bloody? (2) Why were Danvers and Navarro stranded at Tsalal during the storm but Petey P and the bodies in his trunk were hitting the open road and making stops all over town? Side note: I wish I had a map of the Ennis environs like they have at the beginning of fantasy novels. And (3) I didn’t quite get the significance of the tongue slime that Danvers fixated on under the table right before she hit her head.

So these are my quibbles. I actually don’t particularly care that any bigger mythical elements were left vague. Mythical elements ARE vague! Works for me.

5. What do you think was Navarro’s ultimate fate?

Surrey: She becomes a professional boxer.

Gayle: If she hadn’t returned the SpongeBob toothbrush to Qavvik, I would have buried her in the night country. That’s all that mattered to me.

Baker: Hmm, good question. I really thought she was beginning to connect with her Indigenous roots in a meaningful way, but I also understand why she’d want to remove herself from that town in particular. Maybe she’ll become a midwife someplace else? (Speaking of which: This piece is great.)

Lindbergh: I would’ve thought that learning her true name, relaying Holden’s message (“He sees you”? That’s it?), and solving Annie’s murder would’ve given Navarro enough closure to stop seeing dead people—or wanting to become one—but she just had to heed the call of the wild. (Sorry, Eddie.) Liz did say that if Navarro decided to walk out and disappear, she should try to come back, but I’m not sure she meant “and move in with me.” If that was Navarro’s spirit standing on the porch with Liz, and not just a figment of Liz’s imagination, I envision the two true detectives will fall in love, like in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Chin: So Navarro is just off the grid now, and people are treating her like she’s the abominable snowman with these reported sightings? It seemed like her fate was going the way of the caribou in the premiere, but I guess she’s found a new purpose now that she’s discovered her Iñupiat name and closed the Annie Kowtok case. I’m not all that mad at that outcome despite the somewhat clumsy delivery, but I will say, couldn’t Qavvik have packed up his SpongeBob toothbrush and joined her at the remote cabin she’s at with Danvers at the end? The guy deserved better.

Ress: Navarro and her family seemed to just have some affinity for the supernatural world that would never be satisfied in the human world. I guess she crossed over to the spirit realm but can still visit from time to time? Night Country was overall pretty literal with all the ghost stuff, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the explanation is that simple.

McNear: It’s all fine and good to party at Danvers’s summer house in perpetuity, but what happens when she, I don’t know, needs to go to the dentist? I am not optimistic about Navarro’s long-term strategy here.

6. Who was the MVP of True Detective: Night Country?

Gayle: Rose is the only answer. She’s loading her rifle when Pete bangs on the door asking to bury his dad’s dead body in the ice. Her response? “It’s going to be one of those nights, isn’t it?” What an absolute baller.

Baker: In terms of actual detective value, sometimes it felt like Peter was the only one getting anything done around here. In terms of whom I was always most excited to see on-screen, that would be Rose. I’m a sucker for Seratonic Pixie Dream Hermits, what can I say?

McNear: Connelly, Kayla, and Qavvik are the only rational actors in Ennis (though all have unfortunate tastes in romantic partners). Skip town and never look back! Connelly’s campaign promise should be jailing every remaining citizen of Ennis.

Ress: I agree, Qavvik seemed like a really good and sweet guy in a town where pretty much everyone was miserable.

Surrey: For a relative newcomer, Kali Reis was a revelation, but this has to go to Jodie Foster. She’s a living legend, and it’s a testament to her performance that I was still rooting for someone as loathsome as Liz Danvers.

Chin: Liz Danvers. Any criticism of this show aside, Jodie Foster carried Night Country throughout. She’s the type of teammate who elevates the performances of those around her, which is a crucial qualification for any MVP. Foster’s scene partners always seemed to step up their game when they were working with her. Danvers is a tough, ruthless cop who is high-key an asshole, yet Foster managed to instill layers of humanity and kept you rooting for her ’til the end—and that’s no easy feat.

Lindbergh: Ennis itself. Liz’s contention that “Ennis killed Annie” wasn’t literally true, but the town did do a decent impression of a place “where the fabric of all things is coming apart at the seams.” (At times, Night Country kinda came apart too.)

7. Where does Night Country rank among the pop culture depictions of Alaska?

Baker: I can rank only that which I have seen, so …

7. Mystery, Alaska
6. The portion of Here, Hold My Kid that is set in Alaska
5. Beartown (OK, OK, this was written by a Swedish author and is based in Sweden, but sometimes I thought about it while watching Night Country)
4. Night Country
3. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin saying, “I can see Russia from my house” on SNL
2. Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice presidential campaign
1. Deadliest Catch

Lindbergh: It had a very different vibe than the last Alaska-set series I watched (Alaska Daily), even though both were about the mysterious murder of an Indigenous woman. I’d put Night Country a bit below the top tier of Alaskan thrillers (Insomnia, The Grey, Into the Wild). But not all Alaska-based stories are so scary or somber! If anyone is in the mood for a slightly less intense take on Alaska, check out a classic, Northern Exposure, which just made its streaming debut on Prime Video. And if you feel like a change in climate, why not take a cue from Liz’s mug and investigate another six-episode season on HBO that features a dead body?

McNear: While I recognize that the vast majority of the series was filmed in Iceland, I must say that this absolutely nightmarish depiction of a small town—in which just about every single resident is traumatized and a significant number are openly bloodthirsty—has made me want to reach out to the Alaska tourism board.

Surrey: Technically, The Proposal is Alaska-core.

Ress: Yeah, I need to brush up on my Alaska cinema, but Night Country is at least above The Proposal.

Gayle: Nothing will top Snow Dogs. Night Country doesn’t even come close.

Chin: Yep, I’d put it just below Snow Dogs, and that’s not even a knock on Night Country.

8. Please share your opinion on the show’s … eclectic … needle drops.

Surrey: Whoever was handling the music supervision on this series needs to work for the CW.

Chin: For a show that was so inconsistent, it never skipped a beat with its needle drops. Just about every episode, there was at least one song choice that took me out and made me wonder: How could they have possibly landed on this for this moment? I guess I should have seen that moody “Twist and Shout” cover coming in the finale, especially after Danvers had another moment in the Tsalal entertainment room. I blame Ferris Bueller and the Beatles for this one.

Baker: Eagle-Eye Cherry should get to perform “Save Tonight” at next year’s Grammys.

Lindbergh: I’m still laughing about the ominous “Save Tonight” cover from the end of Episode 5, which probably wasn’t the desired reaction. Don’t get me wrong, there were some jams on Night Country’s soundtrack, but too many of them came from the school of extremely literal song selection. Eclectic can be good; on the nose, nah.

Ress: I’ll just say I wasn’t expecting True Detective to have songs similar to the transition tracks during emotional Love Is Blind scenes.

McNear: Sorry, I couldn’t hear the music because I kept having to turn the volume all the way down in anticipation of jump scares. (Why were there jump scares?!)

Gayle: There is no bad reason to listen to Billie Eilish. I stand by that.

9. Did Night Country successfully rehabilitate the True Detective universe? Does the franchise have legs going forward?

McNear: Absolutely not. Once you’ve opened the door for the answer to the mystery to be magic, there’s no going back. Why should we ever spend time poring over clues with the detectives when at the end they might say, “Anyway, we’ll never know!”? Sure, it’s unlikely that any future installment would repeat the Murderer Is Magical Powers, Actually, but I would have a hard time convincing myself to take any additional investigations seriously. Season 1 was panned for its unsatisfactory ending; Night Country’s refusal to offer a real answer at all is, to my mind, even worse.

Lindbergh: I’ll watch a well-made murder mystery whenever HBO deems one worthy of a Sunday night slot, but the True Detective branding doesn’t do much for me. (I don’t necessarily need my prestige procedurals served with a side of spirals and ambiguous supernaturality.) That said, the audience for Night Country has been bigger than Season 1’s (or, for that matter, Succession Season 4’s or The White Lotus Season 2’s), so I’m guessing we’ll get more.

Gayle: Did Night Country rehabilitate the True Detective universe? No, not at all. Does the franchise have legs going forward? Yes! Having two world-class actors play detectives with haunted pasts in pursuit of a murderer will always be good TV as long as the evidence discovery is on-screen through actual detective work—not miscellaneous files and Google searches—and the twist in the finale is a satisfying “whoa” moment and not an awkward “wait, who?” moment.

Chin: There was a lot I liked about Night Country and, by the end of it, even more about it that frustrated me. Overall, one of the biggest problems came down to the show’s poor pacing, which exacerbated a lot of issues in the storytelling surrounding the case and the characters. I’ll still be seated if and when another season comes around, but they need to give overambitious ideas like Night Country—which had so much potential—more room to be properly executed.

Ress: My feeling on Night Country as a whole is just … shrug emoji. It definitely picked up in the last two episodes, but I’m not sure it was enough for me to say True Detective is officially back. I do like that they let a new writer take a crack at it this time around, though. Season 1 was such a lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon that will always be hard to compare to, but I’m down for HBO to keep giving new voices a chance to recapture the magic.

Baker: I think I liked this show more than most people, but that’s probably because (a) I binge-watched it, so I didn’t have the opportunity to actually take a step back and think wait, what? every day for a week between episodes, and (b) I don’t have any particular emotional attachment to True Detective in quite the same way others do. So I enjoy the idea of having various auteurs give their idiosyncratic takes on the genre, even if some of those visions won’t be generously received. Just think of it kind of like a travel series! The final season should have the detectives investigate a crime that happened at the White Lotus.

Surrey: There’s a world where True Detective could continue as auteur-driven television, letting a different filmmaker take the reins for each season. But all the well-publicized toxicity surrounding Night Country makes me think it would be better for this franchise to be put to rest—unless our moody (yellow) king wants to make a comeback.

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