In the fourth season of TRUE DETECTIVE, two Alaska cops find themselves embroiled in trying to crack a case with supernatural overtones. Despite some flaws, notably in what’s missing, it’s the best season since the first, making me love the franchise again.
This time, the detective noir is also Arctic noir, as the researchers at a biotech station in Alaska die under extremely odd and mysterious circumstances. On the case are local small town police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and state trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis). These two have history, don’t like each other much, and had a big parting of the ways over the unsolved murder of an activist some years back, a torch Navarro still carries. Along the way, they have to contend with the local mining interest, natives and locals angry at mining pollution killing their children, and the Alaska state police, who want to take over the case. Oddness, heavy atmosphere, and supernatural overtones bring back the creepy vibe so beautifully created in the first season.
What I liked, though it’s loved, actually: two strong female characters. Not perfect, they’re heavily flawed actually, and loaded with old baggage, but they’re smart, driven, and tough–everything we expect and hope for in the detective noir genre. Their personal lives are a mess, and they can be nasty to the people who love them, but they’re capable. The other characters we’re shown are all well drawn and terrific. The acting is terrific across the board, particularly by Foster and Reis. Billie Eilish’s 2019 song “Bury a Friend” sets the mood at the start of each episode.
I also loved the core mystery. The Dyatlov Pass-style disappearance of the scientists, the organism they were pursuing in the permafrost, the weird recurring symbol, it all added to the thick atmosphere of dread and mystery and put me on a hook.
What I didn’t like: I felt like with only six episodes, the story was a bit rushed, especially in the last act. We don’t get to see the two do a whole lot of detective work. The last episode, particularly, contains a lot of plot gifts to help them solve everything to the point of being contrived. Most of the supernatural elements are kind of explained but overall left a bit hanging. The final explanation of what happened and why made total sense and it fit what they were going for with this season, but it wasn’t surprising or even provocative. And there were references to Season 1 that at times felt shoehorned and so out of place they took me out of the story.
The love way outbalanced any reservations I had–this is TRUE DETECTIVE at its finest, way better than the weirdly bad second season and the meh third. I didn’t love it as much as that mindblowing first season–not even close, and I’m not sure it could ever be replicated–but the fourth season is great, and it brought me back to rooting for the franchise again. I hope the show gets another season, as I’m curious what they’ll do next. I just hope they’re regain the confidence to do 10 episodes and flesh it out.