Nic Pizzolatto’s ‘Night Country’ ire reminds us some ‘True Detective’ mysteries are easily solvable

In the wake of the “True Detective: Night Country” finale debates arose concerning two mysteries Issa López left unsolved, starting with the telltale tongue of Annie K.

That was the single detail related to the homicide of Ennis, Alaska midwife and activist Annie Kowtok (Nivi Pedersen), and the grotesque deaths of the Tsalal research facility scientists that trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) and police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) had to simply let be.

To them, solving Annie’s years-old homicide was a personal mission. So were the murders of those men who disregarded the value of her life along with the lives of her community. The cases were linked, and the perpetrators were caught and punished. The political arm of Alaska’s law enforcement was content to let the wrong findings stand, leaving it to Navarro and Danvers to make peace with knowing the important facts that had long eluded them and allowing the unknowable to remain opaque. “Some questions just don’t have answers,” Danvers says moments before the end credits roll.

Maybe you embraced that enigma in the same way “True Detective” fans pondered the meaning of The Yellow King or Carcosa or the other ephemeral oddities with which the series’ originator Nic Pizzolatto festoons Season 1. His detectives brought the real murderer to justice too, and long after that file closed fans are still devoting Reddit threads and crazy walls and wild Easter egg hunts to those riddles.

True Detective: Night Country

Finn Bennett and Jodie Foster look at a severed tongue in “True Detective: Night Country” (Michele K. Short/HBO)

The second “Night Country” mystery thematically relates to another López didn’t design. She planted a teaser in the final frame of the season meant to make us question the fate of Reis’ indomitable crime solver who, it is revealed in the season’s last moments, has vanished from Ennis.

In a region full of spirits, López leaves us asking whether the Navarro we see popping up at Danvers’ side is alive or something else. We’re welcome to sow this fertile theory soil with whatever we wish, enabling them to live on together or separately for as long we wish.

All worthwhile TV series remind us that the worlds created within their bubbles keep spinning after production ceases. The best creators set free their progeny to inspire others who might bring different perspectives, perhaps even reviving a title that hadn’t crossed our thoughts for years.

For that reason alone, Pizzolatto’s negativity toward López’s interpretation of “True Detective,” expressed in a series of Instagram replies and reposts, is baffling. The first were mild digs in response to fanbros griping about López connecting “Night Country” characters like Marty Cohle and a corporation, Tuttle, to the first season.

“I certainly did not have any input on this story or anything else. Can’t blame me,” Pizzolatto posted in a reply asking about Rust Cohle’s father, adding that Matthew McConaughey, “doesn’t show up, nor would he.”

Replying to another mentioning the Tuttle connection, Pizzolatto snarks, “Haha. So stupid.”

Although these and other comments are captured in screengrabs – including a series of reposted negative reactions to the “Night Country” finale, which drew 55% more viewers than the third season finale, the last one Pizzolatto helmed – some have been scrubbed from his feed.

Not before enough people noticed to publicly call attention to his pettiness and dub him “an absolutely enormous baby” or observing as user @JimJarmuschHair does, “I haven’t seen the new season of TRUE DETECTIVE so I have no opinion on it, but there has to be classier ways of handling a season you definitely made money on than this.”

Some negative response is to be expected given the zealous idolizing of the first “True Detective” season starring McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. To them López establishing “Night Country” as a response to the first season’s “absolute, precise portrayal of the male mind” may have felt less like a proposal than a shot across the bow.

“Mine is a journey into the night,” López told Salon before the season debuted, adding that her response to the questions posed in the first season emerges from “a female place” because, in case you haven’t noticed, she’s a woman.

Despite proudly having no creative input on “Night Country,” Pizzolatto retains an executive producer credit on the series, which means he could have simply screamed into a pillow or cried in a closet every Sunday night, drying his tears with the dollar bills passively earned by attaching his name to it.

Instead, he’s publicly approved the more poisonous voices expressing their displeasure with López’s season, some of whom have a real incel countertenor in their tone. That is quite a choice at a time when fewer projects are getting greenlit and even seasoned creatives are facing obstacles in getting their work out of development hell and in front of audiences.

While I am not inside of this man’s head, reviewing the section of the “True Detective” case file that precedes “Night Country” yields some insight Danvers might characterize as “a real explanation.”

In 2019, the year “Game of Thrones” ended and the universe wondered how HBO would fill that void, Pizzolatto was fresh off a serviceable third season of “True Detective” and shared with several outlets that he was confident the network wanted another. He went so far as to call his germinating fourth season pitch “a pretty serious crazy idea” in an Esquire interview.

Although he was correct in surmising HBO wanted to continue “True Detective,” what he may not have appreciated was its willingness to continue the series without him. Its brand had long given free rein to auteurs like David Milch, with whom he worked on a third season episode and reportedly assisted, uncredited, on the script for “Deadwood: The Movie.”Although he was correct in surmising HBO wanted to continue “True Detective,” what he may not have appreciated was its willingness to continue the series without him. Its brand had long given free rein to auteurs like David Milch, with whom he worked on a third season episode and reportedly assisted, uncredited, on the script for “Deadwood: The Movie.”

Pizzolatto went on to sign an overall deal with FX and re-team with McConaughey for a project for that network called “Redeemer.” That wasn’t picked up either.

Meanwhile, in 2021 HBO’s and what was then called HBO Max’s top executive Casey Bloys shared with Deadline that it was pursuing other writers to take up the “True Detective” mantle. The trade listed its speculation as to which writers the network was eyeing; López’s was not among them. But at some point, HBO’s head of drama Francesca Orsi invited her to pitch.

Cut to: Present Day. “Night Country” is the most viewed “True Detective” season in the title’s history, surpassing even the sacred first season in popularity. Statistics reported by The Wrap indicate that the “Night Country” finale drew 3.2 million viewers across HBO and Max, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day figures and Warner Bros. Discovery viewing data. That’s larger than the “Succession” series finale’s audience of 2.9 million.

True Detective

“True Detective: Night Country” showrunner Issa López (HBO)
Again, a wise man might celebrate this in public and b***h in private, as any green-with-envy human with a modicum of self control would. Sure, he gave up his child to a stranger to raise and has some regrets about that. But that stranger ain’t no slouch, and she’s given it a better chance to graduate with honors than what Pizzolatto was on track to do.

A sane person might even view that success as a blessing. A strategic one may even reap the benefits of that reflected glory to, I don’t know, push any alleged projects that might be idling in neutral into drive.

On his Instagram, Pizzolatto informed his worshippers that he has a movie and “maybe a new series going into production this year,” and assures a troll that “I’ve never had more work or more abundance.” Whether that work was assigned by his therapist isn’t specified, but if it is of the variety that’s sitting on some studio executive’s desk waiting for a greenlight, none of this makes a persuasive argument that this is a person worth working with.

Blumhouse and Amazon may disagree with that, of course. Last year Pizzolatto was reportedly attached to a horror movie script for the former and received a series commitment from Amazon to create a western-themed drama. From the outside, Pizzolatto’s sour grapes look like the response of a man angry at seeing a job he created and thought was his and his alone be handed to someone else – a Mexican woman, no less – who delivered a brilliant interpretation that both paid homage to him and remained true to her vision.

Instead of meeting his bile with Silver Sky Mining levels of toxicity, López diplomatically told Vulture, “I believe that every storyteller has a very specific, peculiar, and unique relation to the stories they create, and whatever his reactions are, he’s entitled to them. That’s his prerogative.”

López added that she wrote “Night Country” with a profound love for the source material and for the people who loved it. “And it is a reinvention, and it is different, and it’s done with the idea of sitting down around the fire, and [let’s] have some fun and have some feelings and have some thoughts. And anybody that wants to join is welcome.”

That includes those conversations about the tongue, and whether it can also be read as an allegory now that new information has come to light. In “Night Country” we might take it to mean that Annie K received the last word after being murdered and dumped.But it’s also a six-year-old piece of flesh belonging to someone long moved on, a person who should be happy that others stepped into the silence and ensured that what she started received the exposure she fought for, along with a worthy response from the greater public.

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