In “True Detective: Night Country” it’s better to ask questions than pray for answers from the dead

Women are more likely to believe in ghosts than men. Women also tend to be more religious, pray more frequently and believe in heaven. A few polls and studies confirm this, citing women’s reliance on intuition as a related trait.

But don’t bother pitching that “cosmic choompa-loompa bulls**t” to Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), Ennis, Alaska’s police chief and one half of “True Detective: Night Country” investigative duo. Danvers already tried that path to salvation, she tells her state trooper partner Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis). When she was seven years old and her mother was dying, her father told her to pray with all her heart. So she did, praying day and night until her knees turned black. “I couldn’t even walk to the funeral,” she remembers. Navarro darkly jokes, “Maybe you didn’t pray hard enough.”

Navarro prays but expects nothing from it. “We’re alone,” she tells someone who misinterprets her faith as something to ward off loneliness. “God, too.” Her sister Julia (Aka Niviâna) prays too — a lot. That worries Navarro, because to her, praying is about listening. Hearing a response is a problem.

“Night Country” creator Issa López designed Ennis as a place with no obvious community center. Maybe it’s the local hockey rink. For some it’s Eddie Qavvik’s bar. But gatherings of more than a few people take place in closed or private locations. Otherwise socializing is an intimate affair with a few people, mostly family. Beyond that, Ennis is a lonely place where the dead speak, are restless and primarily reach out to women.

Whether they choose to listen is another matter.

Navarro and Julia see dead people . . . maybe. It could be mental illness. Danvers repeatedly insists there are no such things as God or ghosts, but her coping mechanisms of detached sex and alcohol seem to be an effort to stave off something. Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw), a transplant from the lower 48 and Navarro’s personal wise woman, made peace with her spirit radar some time ago.

“The thing about the dead is that some of them come and visit because they miss you,” she tells Navarro in the second episode. “Some come because they need to tell you something that you need to hear. And some of them just want to take you with them.”

Where does this leave everyone on Christmas Eve? “Part 4” presents that night as one long ghost story that’s nothing like the heartwarming sweet Charles Dickens baked up. Navarro’s sister Julia can’t silence the threatening voices in her head or dispel her visions of dead people, so she lets Navarro check her into a nearby mental health facility.

Danvers can’t shake that phone video of a murder victim, Annie K, in her last moments before she’s dragged away, screaming. It was filmed in an ice cave that isn’t on any standard maps, one she and Navarro are later told has whale bones frozen inside its ceiling.

Navarro has seen things she can’t account for, too — a one-eyed polar bear in the road that resembles a stuffed toy carried by a child she meets in whatever world she pops into after she falls on some ice in a previous episode, hitting her head. The boy whispers, “Get my mommy.” Other whispers float to her from the dark, and from the lips of a frightened Tsalal scientist hissing in another phone video, “She’s awake.”

Even Hank Prior (John Hawkes) realizes he’s pinned his hopes on something that doesn’t exist when the Eastern European fiancée he courted online never emerges from the flight that was supposed to bring her to Ennis.

“Night Country” serves a wide array of McGuffins to turn over, cutting all kinds of first-season Easter eggs into the Christmas hash. Familiar spirals return as tattoos, a drawing on a dead man’s forehead, a symbol carved into a rock, or painted on an empty tank in an abandoned dredge. And what’s the deal with those oranges? They roll into view whenever something evil approaches. Or maybe they’re simply the most readily available produce in Ennis.

“Night Country” also picks up the “True Detective” season’s swirl into the supernatural straightaway with a spooked scientist shuddering violently before inexplicably whispering, “She’s awake.” Navarro hears such whispers too, as does Danvers. In the heat-soaked world of Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, creepiness was an affectation — part misdirecting figment, part metaphor. But that same reliance on ghostliness asks us to accept that some things can’t be explained, which either begs us to believe in magic or to overlook plot holes.

That idea challenges a core principle that Danvers holds dear. She insists that everything has an answer. The key is to ask the right questions, the topmost being: where is Raymond Clark, the unaccounted-for Tsalal scientist who was involved with Annie K?

One query thread pulls in a long-vanished German national, Otis Heiss, who was admitted to the local hospital with simalar injuries as the men frozen in the ice, including burned corneas and self-inflicted bites. Following a series of disorderly conduct arrests, Heiss went missing. Danvers has poor Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) put out an APB on him in addition to the one on Clark, guaranteeing his Christmas is shot.

True Detective

Jodie Foster in “True Detective” (HBO)
The same night, Julia decides she’s done with the world, and when Navarro gets the news she lashes out at the hospital, then picks a fight with a group of men she knows have no problem punching women. Physical pain she can understand, and she brings the bloody result of that to Qavvik, who fixes it.

When she shows up at Danvers’ on Christmas morning the dried red has been wiped away, but not the bruises – and she’s lost a spiraled stone she picked up at a suspect’s home. But in Danvers’ living room she finds another clue pointing to the existence of life after death: Holden’s one-eyed bear, the same stuffed animal she saw in her vision. Asking about it sets off Danvers.

“Dead people are dead. There’s no heaven. There’s no hell. There’s no ghosts f**king beyond,” she rants. “There’s nobody out there waiting for us, watching us.”

“Then why do you keep that around?” Navarro presses. Danvers grabs Holden’s toy and tosses it out the front door. “There. Happy? There’s nothing except us. We’re here, Navarro. Alone. The dead are gone. F**king gone.” That’s when Navarro tells Danvers that her sister Julia walked out on the sea until she broke through the ice and drowned.

Navarro says that although doctors diagnosed Julia with an assortment of disorders, she knows her affliction to be a curse. Her mother had it. “It takes us, one by one,” she says. “And you know who’s next?”

Danvers frantically refuses to believe it, yet accuses Navarro of “doing the thing that you did with Wheeler,” referring to the long-ago domestic violence call that broke them up. A previous scene only shows the moment before the deed occurred, with the suspect, Wheeler, sitting in a chair near his girlfriend’s dead body — and Navarro lapsing into a thousand-yard stare. “You saw something in that room,” Danvers insists. “It was a ghost, or some kind of spirit.”

Navarro insists she didn’t, then stalks to her truck. But Danvers meets her in the driveway with an image Peter texted to her. One of the supposed ghosts they’ve been tracking has appeared, wearing Annie’s pink parka.

They trace the suspect to the derelict dredge outside town that doubles as a haunted maze. As they make their way through its rusty innards Danvers glimpses a person she believes to be Clark and takes off after him. But Navarro is lured away by the apparition of her dead sister, floating by in the murky water beneath them.

Danvers corners the figure in the parka, but when the man removes his hood, it’s Heiss, who crumbles into a ball and begins to weep. Danvers sees his drug paraphernalia nearby and realizes he’s been there a long time. Then she deduces Heiss must have gotten the parka from Clark and asks where he is. “He’s hiding in the Night Country,” Heiss ominously whispers. “We’re all in the Night Country now.”

Past seasons of “True Detective” have an odd relationship with mysticism. Rust Cohle slow dances with murmurings about Carcosa in Season 1, and the anthology’s creator Nic Pizzolatto spiced up the mystique by depositing backwoods fetishes near crime scenes.

Draping an ostentatiously macabre homicide case in spookiness contributed to the show’s inebriated atmosphere although, in the end, the crime was entirely explainable. Whatever supernatural elements we thought we saw may have been an extension of Rust and Marty Hart’s absorption into the disconcerting wickedness corrupting everything, or just distracting woo-woo.

López makes us less certain about all that while reminding us to ask the questions. All those spirits must represent something. A longing, maybe? Even Danvers encounters the same polar bear Navarro saw on Christmas Eve as she’s drunkenly driving away from her lover and wakes up from dreaming of Holden.

That part of “True Detective: Night Country” is worth appreciating, by the way. López doesn’t assign these visions to one kind of person or culture, alluding instead that it might be part of Ennis itself. People see all kinds of things they can’t explain.

True Detective

Fiona Shaw and Kali Reis in “True Detective” (HBO)
Rose accepts that without concern or hysteria, proven when she follows the ghost of her former lover (and, as egg hunters noticed, Rust Cohle’s father, Travis) to the hideous corpse tangle that kicks off of the mystery. A willingness to hear what the dead have to say leads Navarro and Danvers to each new clue, but this time their open receivers take us to a foreboding place.

On Christmas Eve, before Navarro receives her bad news, she sits with Rose and makes merry with champagne and nibbles. That’s when Rose reveals she used to be an academic until one day she realized that everything she’d written was meaningless, and simply making a lot of noise. “It is a little quieter here,” she tells Navarro over champagne and nibbles. “Mostly . . . except for all the f**king dead.”

Inside that dredge on Christmas morning Danvers hears Heiss’ warning, then leaves him to rejoin Navarro. She’s listlessly sitting near a creepy Christmas tree whose lights are powered by a nearly spent battery, gazing into nothingness. She’s just been visited by her sister’s spirit — and Julia was not at peace. Navarro’s ears are bleeding.

Maybe that’s a side effect of the clash she started hoping to lose. Or maybe it’s a message from some gloomier place warning her to stop fighting.

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