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‘True Detective’ Season 4, Episode 6 Recap: Stories Are Stories

One of the tricky parts of a ghost story like “True Detective: Night Country” is the banal, inevitable business of having to explain events that were once teasingly inexplicable. It is more haunting, for example, to imagine a supernatural force turning terrified scientists into an Arctic “corpsicle” than to learn that they were commandeered by a vigilante band of Indigenous women taking justice into their own hands.

This is the risk the creator Issa López has courted all season, as the show’s procedural elements have been intermingled with obscure symbols, hidden traumas and outright ghostly hallucinations. In order to solve the practical mysteries facing Danvers and Navarro, it would have to come crashing back to earth.

Yet the achievement of this flawed but compelling finale is that López succeeds in having her cake and eating it, too. The important whodunit questions about the deaths of Annie K. and the scientists have concrete answers, but she’s unwilling to sell out the spiritual and psychological unrest that’s unique to this locale.

From the beginning, the strongest element of “Night Country” has been its evocation of Ennis, Alaska, as this northernmost outpost of humanity, a border town to oblivion. There have been several moments, including a few in the finale, where a character is one step away from disappearing into nothingness, like Werner Herzog’s deranged penguin in “Encounters at the End of the World.”

The big revelations start hitting before the opening credits here, as Danvers and Navarro bust into the ice cave system in the middle of a storm that looks formidable even by Ennis standards. Yet López is still unwilling to part with the uncanniness that’s been such an important piece of the intrigue: As they make their way through the caves, Navarro peels off through a narrow crevasse, certain that she “hears” Annie leading her to where they need to go. That’s more than a detective’s instincts at work; that’s a sixth sense. And López validates the moment when the two discover the secret lab where Annie was murdered.

The connection between Annie’s case and the dead scientists had been something Danvers and Navarro had worked hard to connect, from the romantic relationship between Annie and Raymond Clark to the shady financial arrangement between the mine and the lab, which needed help in finessing its pollution numbers. When they find the underground facility and capture Raymond, their suspicions are confirmed, though the details are a little surprising.

As it turns out, the lab’s multiyear effort to extract DNA from a microorganism in the ice benefited from robust pollution from the mine, which softened the permafrost. Annie had gotten wind of the project through Raymond’s notes and tried to destroy the research, leading Lund and the other scientists to stab her repeatedly.

In an ironic twist, Danvers and Navarro are far from the first people to learn about what happened to Annie, despite having investigated the case so obsessively. We discovered last week that Hank had moved Annie’s body at Kate’s behest, strung along by the promise that she’d use her political connections to secure him the police chief job. But later in this episode, Danvers uses Raymond’s testimony about “holding the hatch” while his fellow scientists were attacked to deduce that there must be evidence of someone trying to get in from the top. That leads her to an Indigenous custodian who discovered the hidden lab, figured out what the scientists had done and took the law into her own hands.

As staged, the flashback to the vigilante assault on the scientists seems like a bit of a stretch, too extreme an action for ordinary women to take. But López has done well in laying the groundwork to make it semi-plausible, given the conspiratorial coziness between the mine and the authorities and the hostility directed toward Natives who have been paying the steepest price for profits. They cannot trust that justice will be done on Annie’s behalf, and even Navarro and Danvers, two women of the law, have to concede the point. After all, one of their own helped cover up the murder.

In the end, as Navarro says, “Stories are stories,” especially in Ennis, where it seems like the most important business happens off the books. If Kate and Connelly have the gall to shrug off the scientists’s fate as a “weather event,” then Danvers figures she has the same authority to use the official story to exonerate the women responsible for that abstract work of art that thawed on center ice. The same lie that had been used to cover up a conspiracy would be used to grant mercy to Indigenous people who had suffered the loss of one of their own — to say nothing of the stillbirths the mine had cost their community.

But there’s still the matter of living with all of it. Peter spends the episode cleaning up a murder scene. When Rose helps him slip his father’s corpse into the sea, she does him the mercy of having him turn away while she punctures the air out of his lungs to keep him from floating. But she’s cold comfort to him otherwise, saying the worst part isn’t over, but “what comes after: forever.” He will have that stain on his conscience. Danvers won’t forget her son. Navarro may or may not follow her sister’s path into the darkness.

The finale of “Night Country” is finally about Ennis, a town that, in Danvers’s words, “was here long before the mine, long before APF, long before Alaska was named Alaska.” In a semi-tacky callback to the first season, Raymond moans “time is a flat circle” in reference to Annie, who he says has been hiding in the caves before she was born and will continue to after they all die. Even after tying up all the loose ends, López holds onto the idea of Ennis as a place where ghosts commune with the living, whether through fevered hallucinations or lingering guilt that flourishes in the dark like a mushroom.

“Nobody ever really leaves,” Danvers says. That’s a comfort and a curse.

  • A couple of notable nods to past work here: The hatch leading to the secret lab feels like a hat tip to “Lost,” the ultimate TV puzzle box, and Navarro slowly gaining consciousness as Raymond drags her along the floor recalls Shelley Duvall trying to drag Jack Nicholson to the kitchen storage room in “The Shining.”

  • The great rolling orange mystery is solved! Navarro’s mother used to love oranges and would peel them with the knife. The shape of that peel? A spiral, of course.

  • Raymond genuinely loving an Indigenous woman while actively conspiring against her and her community makes this season of “True Detective” an ideal pairing with “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

  • Rose’s deflated response to Peter knocking on her door — “It’s going to be one of those nights, isn’t it?” — makes you wonder if she has a side hustle dumping bodies in the sea. She’s really good at it.

  • Dirge-y covers of pop songs have become a staple of trailers, movies and shows looking for an edge, but please let the mournful rendition of “Twist and Shout” here be the end of it.


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