Could ‘True Detective: Night Country’s tribute to ‘The Thing’ be a clue for the rest of the season?

Maybe we should stop building research stations in the icy wilderness.

True Detective: Night Country is a terrifying tale of things gone awry at a research station in the icy wilderness. And in its very first episode, it pays tribute to an iconic horror story with a similar setting: John Carpenter’s The Thing.

True Detective: Night Country' season finale — can it stick the landing and  become 2024's first great show? | Tom's Guide

As Night Country opens, a group of eight scientists have gone missing from the Tsalal Arctic Research Station, located 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) heads up to Tsalal to investigate, along with two of her subordinates: Hank Prior (John Hawkes) and his son Peter (Finn Bennett).

While the trio look around the station, we get glimpses of what the scientists’ lives looked like, including the movies they may have watched in their spare time. The Tsalal common area is lined with shelves of board games and DVDs. The collection is eclectic, with Kangaroo Jack, License to Wed, American Beauty, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy all taking up prime real estate on the entertainment center’s shelves. But the most prominent DVD case featured is The Thing, which appears on a shelf behind Danvers as she’s talking to Peter.

In a small continuity error, The Thing actually moves up a shelf between shots, even turning outward so we can get a better look at the film’s title and cover art: a man in a winter coat with light shining cryptically from his face. Basically, Night Country really wants us to see this small background detail.

True Detective: Night Country Episode 2 Review - Loud And Clear Reviews

That’s because the entire setup of the season feels like an homage to The Thing. Not only do we have the isolated research station (Night Country’s is in the Arctic, while The Thing’s is in Antarctica), but we also have hints that something supernatural may have played a part in the deaths of the scientists living there. Tsalal’s scientists turn up frozen solid miles out on the ice. What could have gotten them all the way out there? And what did one of the scientists mean by, “she’s back” in the moments before the station’s power cut out?

I’m not saying that the answer to True Detective: Night Country’s biggest mystery is a shapeshifting alien organism like in The Thing. But in paying tribute to John Carpenter’s horror classic, creator Issa López may be drawing a connection between whatever the scientists at Tsalal are researching and the work of the researchers at The Thing’s Thule Station, which unearthed the Thing itself. As to what the Tsalal scientists were doing, Peter hypothesizes they were searching for “the origin of life.” And then Danvers replies sardonically with, “Oh. That thing.” Tell me that doesn’t sound like it could have massive — maybe even supernatural — consequences.

Given that Night Country’s very first episode hints at ghosts and spirits beyond our real-world comprehension, it’s clear the season will be playing fast and loose with reality. Could that mean the Tsalal scientists uncovered some ancient, deadly being in their attempts to play God? Like the dwarves of Moria in The Lord of the Rings (also on the DVD shelf!), did they delve too greedily and too deep beneath the ice?


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