“True Detective: Night Country” leaves us in a place between the truth of crime and feminine mystery

Winter is a woman, stunning, just and cruel. She blankets the land in glitter to give the flowers and grass time to sleep. She slows decay and gives cover to sinners charged with noble dirty work.

Earth’s varied peoples call her by many names – Chione, Perchta, Skadi, Yuki-onna, to name a few. Also beast, b***h and other epithets hitting back at her meanness.

But winter is a mother who commands and demands respect. Surrender to her and she’ll embrace you in warmth before lulling you to sleep forever. Disrespect her, and she’ll twist you up in her frigid uncaring.

Winter is a time for stories, too – the pretty ones persuading children to believe in magic, and masterful, spooky epics like “True Detective: Night Country,” through which Issa López seduces us to contemplate the many realities crossing Ennis, Alaska, an ancient place plundered by industry where the ice keeps the dead but doesn’t silence them. From the start López kept reminding us, through her prickly police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), to question everything. All the while she correctly suspected we probably wouldn’t ask the right ones.

In the premiere, for example, when Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) answered an assault call at the local seafood processing plant, there was no reason to wonder why a matron called Bee (L’xeis Diane Benson), spoke on behalf of her younger co-worker Blair Hartman (Kathryn Wilder). Blair had moved in with Bee to escape her abusive partner, who came to her workplace seeing red. Bee stopped him from hurting Blair by knocking him out with a metal bucket. When the man comes to and lurches toward the woman, Navarro arrests him, not his assailant.

And it was Bee, the secret queen of Ennis, who discovered what really happened at Tsalal – that the men working there dug too far into the ice and, believing their scientific discovery held higher importance than the lives of Ennis’ townsfolk, compelled the mine to poison the water and the land.

Bee didn’t know about that crime. Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell) confessed it once Navarro and Danvers beat him into submission and tortured him with the piercing wails of his dead lover Annie Kowtok (Nivi Pedersen) playing on a loop until he gave up everything.

This is how they finally solved Annie’s murder. But the womenfolk in town were way ahead of them. Six years later after her murder, Bee found the same underground lab and the star-shaped weapon used to stab Annie to death. How? Because she was the facility’s cleaning lady. And if there’s one behavior that’s as predictable as the seasons, it’s that men who think they’re better than everyone else will always ignore the help.

What’s true of the Tsalal scientists stands for the cops. A fellow maintenance worker at the police station pulled Annie K’s file and took photos of the autopsy report.

True Detective: Night Country

True Detective: Night Country (Michele K. Short/HBO)
The women put together the evidence, true detectives to the core. Then, rifles in hand, they stormed Tsalal station, rounded up the scientists at gunpoint, herded them into a truck, and drove them onto the sea ice to run naked into the subzero December darkness. If Blair, who’s missing two fingers on her right hand, hadn’t left behind a telltale handprint nobody would have known the truth.

This still doesn’t explain the corpsicle horror. Simple death by exposure would have left peaceful bodies that looked as if they were slumbering, as a veterinarian consultant observes in an earlier episode. Bee, however, knows why these men died screaming, and why she and the other women left their clothes nearby, as she tells Danvers and Navarro when they arrive at her house to question her and Blair.

If “she” wanted to take them, she would, Bee said. “If not, their clothes were there for them. They’d be half-frozen, but they’d survive. But they didn’t though. I guess she wanted to take them.”

Bee calmly adds, “I guess she ate their f**king dreams from the inside out and spit their frozen bones.”

But it’s just a story, Bee concludes. One of many.

Another, told from Clark’s perspective, is that Annie found the caves beneath the facility where the team was engaged in their true work. She realized the extent of the harm they’d wrought and destroyed it. Anders Lund (Þorsteinn Bachmann), the temporary survivor of the so-called “corpsicle,” caught her, snapped, and stabbed her more than 30 times with an implement that made those star-shaped wounds. The rest of the scientists held her down.

Not her lover Raymond, he alleged to his captors. “I would never hurt her,” he told Navarro and Danvers. This, however, is fiction. The audience sees Annie flit back into consciousness and struggle with Clark, who finishes her off by smothering her with his t-shirt.

For all its flirtations with the unexplainable, “True Detective” always lands on the side of a crime’s circumstances being mundane and entirely human. Navarro and Danvers may have kept hearing whispers on the wind warning them that “she’s awake,” as did Clark, who insisted that Annie had been hiding in the ice caves forever: “Before we were born, after we die . . . Time is a flat circle, and we are all stuck in it!” But these crimes are acts of male anger and hubris, and female vengeance.

López might have been having some fun with that obvious reference to Rust Cohle’s famous free-associating, one existential obsessive responding to another echo. Or she might have at last explained what that means. Everything that has happened before will again. Actions have consequences we’re constantly forgetting. When Bee makes her mysterious reference to “she” and “her,” it’s understood she’s referring to something eternal that shouldn’t be messed with.

Maybe it’s winter. Maybe it’s Mother Earth, which the Tsalal scientists eagerly despoiled by urging the mine to increase its poisonous waste output to soften the permafrost and enable them to extract the microorganisms they source with less damage and faster. If that increased cancer rates and stillbirths among the locals, what did that matter?

True Detective: Night Country

True Detective: Night Country (Michele K. Short/HBO)
Thus Bee is secure in what she and the rest of Ennis’ women accomplished – a group of vigilantes nobody would suspect, who trickled into Bee’s home, one by one, as she tells the cops everything now that justice has been done.

Besides, as she clarifies to Navarro, she and the other women didn’t kill the men. “Honey, they did it to themselves. When they dug in her home in the ice. When they killed her daughter in there,” Bee said, before repeating one of this season’s recurring motifs: “They woke her up.”

Danvers is content to let that stand, having dealt with enough d**ks to take a cosmic win when she gets one. Captain Connelly (Christopher Eccleston) already accepted the false results in the Anchorage forensics report, letting its explanation of a slab avalanche killing the scientists to stand.

López’s framing proposes they rumbled maternal forces that refused to allow their transgressions to stand. Annie was a midwife, and midwives help women transform into mothers. To find the truth, then, Danvers and Navarro had to face the spirits they’re pushing away — the former’s son, and latter’s mother.

“Part 6” opens with Danvers and Navarro seeking rebirth, piercing through virgin ice to gain entry to the caves, traversing slick tunnels, and falling into darker places before finding the lab. Above it are the spiraling bones one of Danvers’ sources and conquest saw in Annie’s gruesome video and identified whale bones. But the skull attached to those remains looks more like that of an ancient serpent.

While they’re in the caves, the barrier between the living world and the dead gets thinner, affecting Navarro – and Danvers, perhaps more so.

Holden, her dead son, keeps reaching out to Danvers through strange signs, including a broken hubcap materializing from nothing. Then a disassociating Navarro tells Danvers she can see Holden. The power goes out too, driving both women over the edge, nearly joining Clark in their madness. He runs out into the winter storm that covered their approach and freezes, like the other scientists.

Navarro walks into the storm too, although she takes herself to be in the spirit world. There, she finally allows her mother to reach out in comfort, revealing the Iñupiaq name she never knew.

Danvers pursues, falling through a thin patch when she thinks she sees Holden under the ice. She nearly drowns, but Navarro pulls her back. It’s a hellish, necessary baptism that results in Danvers finally accepting that Holden is still with her and that she should mourn him.

True Detective: Night Country

True Detective: Night Country (Michele K. Short/HBO)
Through Danvers’ memory, we also see what happened in the Wheeler murder-suicide case that wasn’t. Navarro shot William Wheeler in the head – but she may have been compelled to do it. Whether you buy that depends on how much you believe in Ennis’ supernatural factors.

Or it could come down to one’s faith in these women, which brings around Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) to their side. He was closest to finding out their secret before taking part in patricide, a crime the universe doesn’t easily excuse.

Connelly’s bureaucracy wouldn’t either, as Navarro and Danvers know. Prior, having seen enough horror to foul a good man’s soul for all eternity, agrees with them; after all, his father was about to kill his boss to get a promotion. So while Navarro and Danvers are spelunking, he cleans his father’s brains off a mirror and pulls a tooth out of the wall.

Somehow he finds the wherewithal to stop at his house and mend his marriage on his way to get rid of the body, which Rose (Fiona Shaw) helps Prior with by burying him at sea. “I guess you’re thinking the worst part is done. It’s not,” Rose warns him. “What comes after, forever . . . that’s the worst f**king part.” Now he’s in the Night Country too. Forever.

That’s not such a terrible proposal for us, though. López departs “Night Country” on solid ground, leaving enough tantalizing trimmings to make us want more. (She even explains the oranges: they’re messages from Navarro’s mother, who peeled them in one long spiraling strip. A flat circle.)

As for who left Annie’s tongue in the lab and why, “That’s not part of our story,” Bee insists.

The “Night Country” epilogue picks up on May 12, the first long day of the year, as Danvers claims to have no answers about Hank’s disappearance or why Clark was found frozen to death in the same manner as his colleagues. “Some questions just don’t have answers,” she alleges, although we know these do.

Then it’s revealed that Evangeline Navarro has disappeared too. We see her walking onto the ice on a sunny day like she hinted she might. Before she does, she leaves Holden’s toy polar bear for Danvers along with a recording on her phone of Clark giving a detailed confession outlining Tsalal’s role in poisoning Ennis. (She also returns Qavvik’s toothbrush.)

Someone leaked the video; Danvers claims she doesn’t know who. As a result, though, the mine has shut down. And Danvers and Leah are, at last, happy together.

True Detective: Night Country

True Detective: Night Country (Michele K. Short/HBO)
Danvers tells her questioners that this town existed long before the mines, before Ennis was called Ennis and Alaska was named Alaska. “I’m just going to show up and do my job every day like we always do,” she tells her investigators, who press her again about Navarro’s whereabouts, adding there have been reported sightings.

Danvers answers, “Let’s put it this way. I don’t think you’ll find Evangeline Navarro out there on the ice.” This is a triumph, the last sign that Navarro, whose Iñupiaq name translates to “the return of the sun after the long darkness,” is at peace. The scene cuts to Danvers at a lakeside cabin taking in the serene landscape from its deck as Navarro walks into view, just out of her reach. Whether she’s really there, or not there doesn’t matter. The two of them are present as they are – a mother and a daughter. Sisters.

“This is Ennis,” Danvers concludes. “Nobody ever really leaves.”

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