Night Country: Jodie Foster comes full circle from ‘silence of the lambs’

Clarice Starling and Carol Danvers could learn a thing or two from each other.

While HBO has a history of creating influential drama programs that reshape the landscape of “prestige television,” True Detective is perhaps the strongest argument that television itself is a medium equal to film. While the philosophical undertones from showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, immersive camerawork, starkly gothic visuals, and existentialist themes indicated that True Detective was not an average mystery thriller, it was the performances by movie starsMatthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson that made the first season such a standout. The show’s latest iteration, True Detective: Night Country, may have swapped Pizzolatto for showrunner Issa López, but it still features a major star turn from Jodie Foster in one of her best recent roles.

As we all know, this is not the first time Foster has taken on the role of a detective at the center of multiple murder investigations. Foster won her second Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Clarice Starling, the rookie FBI agent who enlists the help of Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in her search for serial killer Buffalo Bill in the seminal horror film, The Silence of the Lambs. The vast differences between Chief Liz Danvers and Clarice Starling show Foster’s incredible range as a performer.

Jodie Foster Has Played Two Determined and Strong Detectives

Set in the town of Ennis, Alaska during “the long night” stretch of the end of the year, True Detective: Night Country explores the aftermath of the murder of Annie K. (Nivi Pedersen), an indigenous woman who disappeared years before eight men working at the Tsalal Research Station also seemingly vanish into the thin air; Annie’s severed tongue is found in the station, provoking deeper questions about what actually transpired. Danvers is called in to investigate alongside her partner, Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), but a history of conflict between the two detectives forces them to conduct separate investigations. While Danvers is a much less outwardly emotional protagonist compared to Clarice Starling, the inciting investigations in True Detective: Night Country and The Silence of the Lambs are quite similar.

In both cases, Foster plays a highly determined character who has the responsibility of protecting an entire community; in Silence of the Lambs, it’s the young women vulnerable to Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), and in True Detective: Night Country, it’s the natives that are forced to reckon with the violence that has rocked their community. In both roles, Foster shows the burden that this tremendous weight puts on a character who is uniquely suited to solve the case.

While they take very different approaches to the investigations themselves, True Detective: Night Country and The Silence of the Lambs are both ostensibly horror projects seen through the perspective of a skeptic. In the case of True Detective: Night Country, Foster plays a character who is openly hostile towards any suggestion that there is a supernatural component to the disappearances of the scientists or Annie K.; she has seen enough bleak things in the world and suffered enough personal tragedy that she doesn’t need “fantasy” to explain it. Similarly, Starling’s approach to conducting interrogations with Lecter is unique because she is willing to treat him as a person, and not as a faceless monster. In both instances, Foster shows how the prioritization of procedure and logic is key to unlocking cases that seem baffling to other investigators.

Foster’s Characters in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘True Detective’ Go on Similar Journeys

Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers in Episode 5 of Season 4 of HBO's True Detective: Night Country

While both characters are unified in their professionalism, Danvers is a more cynical character than Starling due to her advanced age.

The main reason Clarice’s journey is so compelling is that she is a complete rookie, barely out of FBI training when a seemingly unsolvable case is thrust upon her. Clarice, although undoubtedly capable, is put in an isolated, vulnerable position because she is a novice. In True Detective: Night Country, Foster has to show how the Tslal Research Station mystery puts Danvers in a more vulnerable position as well. In addition to the disorienting nature of the case itself, Danvers is met with grim flashbacks to tragic events in her past. While her experience has given her skills that she can utilize in future cases, it’s also stung her with traumatizing memories that she would much rather forget. Foster shows how Danvers has grown unsentimental about her position, a striking comparison to how idealistic Starling is in The Silence of the Lambs.

In both True Detective: Night Country and The Silence of the Lambs, Foster shows how isolation can be both an advantage and drawback for those who find themselves in a challenging line of work. In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice is an FBI trainee brought into the Lecter case with no knowledge of how a traditional serial killer chase works; she is forced to deal with the procedural red tape that comes with the FBI in addition to the inherent challenges of negotiating with Lecter. This quality is subverted in True Detective: Night Country, as Danvers’ isolation is self-imposed.

She’s openly hostile towards her fellow investigators and becomes particularly infuriated when she must work together with Navarro. Foster shows that this is more than a character quirk once the inciting incident in Navarro and Danvers’ past is revealed. Like Starling, Danvers knows the consequences of making the wrong call; the only difference is that she has seen them firsthand. If Clarice is a unique protagonist because of her quiet restraint, Danvers is a character who purposefully puts walls around her; Foster does a great job at subverting any of her inherently likable qualities to create a far more callous character in True Detective: Night Country.

Clarice Starling and Carol Danvers Could Learn Some Things From Each Other

Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers in Episode 6 of Season 4 of HBO's True Detective: Night CountryBoth Danvers and Starling are outsiders within the environments they’re investigating, which makes fulfilling the necessary procedures more challenging. In addition to her youthful age, Starling is in a challenging situation in The Silence of the Lambs because she is the only woman member of the investigation; she is forced to contend with latent sexism throughout the case. While initially, this seems like a burden, Starling’s ability to identify with the victims makes her approach more successful than her counterparts. Comparatively, Danvers starts True Detective: Night Country with hostile feelings towards the native Indigenous culture. It’s only after coming to respect the community she has promised to protect that Danvers is able to make a breakthrough. It’s a great way for Foster to bring the role full circle, as both Danvers and Starling take away different lessons from their experiences. Foster shows in the investigation into Buffalo Bill how Starling has grown in self-confidence; however, she’s forced to walk back this development with Danvers, who has to set aside her ego to become an engaged member of the community.

While Danvers is a far more skeptical character compared to Starling, Foster shows how both protagonists succeed due to their empathetic qualities. While she conducts herself with complete professionalism during her sessions with Lecter, Foster shows how Starling’s personal desire to set the victims of Buffalo Bill free is what motivates her throughout; she understands that her sense of empathy is not a weakness, but what differentiates her from the other FBI agents. Danvers is the exact opposite; she is argumentative and rude to everyone who dares to get close to her, as she fears that opening herself up to compassion will in some way impede her professionalism. Despite the hard exterior that Danvers likes to exude, she is highly sympathetic anytime she is working with children, a nod to the tragic incident in her past revealed in “Part 5.” Ironically, Foster shows how Danvers is forced to act a little more like Starling.

The Silence of the Lambs

Both True Detective: Night Country and The Silence of the Lambs are standouts within their respective mediums because Foster shows there’s more to the case than simply solving it; for Starling, it’s a chance to prove herself, and for Danvers, it’s a last shot at redemption. Danvers is the inverse of Starling, as her vulnerabilities are not evident until the case is already underway. It highlights Foster’s mastery as an actor and how far she has come in her career that she was able to subvert the qualities of her most famous character to give one of her best performances in recent years.

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