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True Detective S4 Hot Take: To Move Forward, The Series Needs to Cut Ties to the Past

While Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective became a standout series in 2014, it’s fair to say we’ve failed to recapture the highs of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. True Detective was in danger of becoming a cold case, but after an extended hiatus and largely giving up on season 4, Issa López has taken the lead — charting unknown territory under the subtitle True Detective: Night Country

Heading out onto the frozen tundra of Alaska for a female-first series that casts Jodie Foster and Kali Reis as Chief Liz Danvers and Trooper Evangeline Navarro, there’s more than enough of that classic True Detective intrigue to keep us coming back for more. As the mystery thaws and we find ourselves in a spin with spirals, we’re expecting a suitably batshit ending. But some are worried True Detective is about to commit the cardinal sin of being (literally) haunted by the ghosts of its past. 

Living in the shadow of season 1

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Despite López promising something different and Foster saying this focus on women is part of what drew her back to horror, True Detective: Night Country is still caught in the icy grip of the show’s debut. Notably, the opening shot included a deep cut back to season 1, featuring a quote from the fictional Hildred Castaigne. Castaigne is the protagonist of Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”, which ties into the complicated lore of season 1’s supernatural mystery. 

Although the opening quote doesn’t appear in Chambers’ work and was made up by López, she told Business Insider it’s a “little wink” to the first season. Saying she’s “particularly a fan of the supernatural vein in the first season,” López’s love letter to season 1 starts to make sense. Alongside a faux Castaigne quote and a bottle of Rust Cohle’s favorite Lone Star Beer at the abandoned Tsalal Station, there’s also the throwaway mention of how its research is funded by Tuttle United — a seeming tie to the Tuttle family that was behind season 1’s sex cult. 

The big one is the return of the spiral that harks back to the symbolism of season 1. Alongside Danvers’ mountain of evidence creating a convenient spiral, the corpse of Annie Kowtok looked like it had been branded with a spiral like season 1’s Dora Lange. It was revealed that this is a tattoo that scientist Raymond Clark tattooed on himself after Annie’s death. One of the other scientists had also been branded with the spiral, and with Clark’s body missing from the corpsicle, it suggests he’s the big bad of this season. 

While season 1 tied most of its mysteries off with a neat bow, the meaning of the Yellow King and his cosmic origins were left dangling. True Detective season 3 already tried to circle back to this via a similarly tantalizing tease that mentioned “The Crooked Spiral” pedophile group. Season 3 confirmed the various cases share a universe, but now, True Detective: Night Country could potentially weave the whole wicked web together. The fan theories are stacking up like frozen corpses, but already, they’re in danger of overshadowing Danvers and Navarro’s story. 


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Daddy issues 

If things coming full circle with spirals doesn’t leave you feeling dizzy, what about the idea that McConaughey is gearing up for a season 4 cameo? It’s all linked to Travis (Erling Eliasson), who memorably pointed Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) to the missing scientists at the end of the season premiere. Navarro revealed Travis was dead in a Twilight Zone-esque twist, but if that wasn’t enough of a jaw-drop, episode 2 wasted no time in confirming Travis is actually Travis Cohle, Rust’s father.

Despite Rust’s backstory being a puzzle of its own in season 1, we know he moved to Alaska with his Vietnam veteran father when the marriage to his mother fell apart. A mention of Rust’s leukemia-stricken father in season 1 loops back to Rose confirming she was the lover of “Travis Cohle” in season 4. Even though season 1’s investigators found no record of Travis Cohle living in Alaska during the past 30 years, Rose says Travis knew he was succumbing to the disease, so took his own life by heading out into the ice. 

More than the bedraggled Travis looking like a dead ringer for his son, Night Country’s ghostly presence is reaching out to Rose for a reason. After Rust’s near-death experience in the season 1 finale, he claimed he could feel the presence of his deceased daughter and father, suggesting that season 4 could bring them back together from beyond the grave. Considering Night Country is even further on from the mention that the investigators couldn’t find Travis, the timelines are a little muddled, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out. 

Never go full American Horror Story

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López told Entertainment Weekly how Night Country will connect to season 1 and that fans should look out for ​​a “big, big thing in Episode 6.” It’s one hell of a leap to connect this to a potential McConaughey cameo, but with the Oscar-winning actor saying he misses Rust, it’s not out of the question. Whether it’s as simple as Danvers discussing the horrors of Errol Childress over the phone or Rust donning a parka and heading back to his former stomping ground, Night Country could be about to undo all its hard work. 

Expanded universes are all the rage, and seeing True Detective take a leaf out of Fargo’s book isn’t unexpected. Noah Hawley’s FX anthology focused on standalone stories but peppered connections and characters from other seasons throughout. Keeping up with Easter eggs and returning characters is hard enough in Fargo, but taking it to the extreme, American Horror Story is a lesson on how not to do it. While it started simply, the crossover chaos of Murder House and Coven sequels in Apocalypse left season 8 feeling like a hot mess. Although we doubt Marty and Rust are going to stroll into the Ennis PD and take over from Danvers, what was wrong with Night Country carving its own legacy into the ice? 

This is an issue that Pizzolatto himself has, slamming the “stupid” ties to Season 1. With fan critiques that season 4 isn’t like its predecessors, it seems Pizzolatto agrees and is trying to distance himself from Night Country. When asked on Instagram whether McConaughey could return, the former franchise overseer said, “I certainly did not have any input on this story or anything else. Can’t blame me. Matthew doesn’t show up, nor would he.” When asked about the fact that Tuttles ended up owning an Arctic research center, he added, “Haha. So stupid.”

Thankfully, López has taken the high road with Pizzolatto’s Scorsese-esque response, telling 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.” Concluding that it’s Pizzolatto’s prerogative, López concluded, “I wrote this with profound love for the work he made and love for the people that 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.” Ironically, it seems that Night Country being shackled to season 1 comes from above. In a separate interview with Entertainment Weekly, López recalled how she pitched it as a wholly different murder on the ice story, which HBO then retooled as a True Detective continuation. 

Although Night Country is leaning into the supernatural with suicidal caribou and the foreboding “she” who is awake, Rust’s ghostly father is arguably more interesting than the central plot of frozen scientists. True Detective ultimately finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Travis being Rust’s father means it’ll be a major disappointment if McConaughey doesn’t return, but then again, bringing back the stoic homicide detective would be a disservice to the women of season 4. True Detective might’ve swapped a sun-baked Louisiana for the icy darkness of Ennis, but as the weeks go on, it looks increasingly likely that all roads lead back to Rust.



Based in Manchester, UK, Tom Chapman has over seven years’ experience covering everything from dragons to Demogorgons. Starting out with a stint at Movie Pilot in Berlin, Tom has since branched out to indulge his love of all things Star Wars and the MCU at Digital Spy, Den of Geek, IGN, Yahoo! and more. These days, you’ll find Tom channelling his inner Gale Weathers and ranting about how HBO did us dirty with Game of Thrones Season Eight.




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