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Who Done It? Breaking Down the Fourth Episode of ‘True Detective: Night Country’

Episode 4 presents some significant progress in the Tsalal murder case as the spirit world and reality continue to meld

HBO/Ringer illustration

After four years away, True Detective returns for a new season with a sinistrous subtitle. We’re in Night Country now, and we’ll be following along each week to try to piece together, with the help of police chief Liz Danvers and detective Evangeline Navarro, who perpetrated those gruesome crimes in Ennis, Alaska. Read along for a breakdown of Episode 4.

Who Done It?

If endless darkness in the Arctic Circle didn’t sound isolating enough, try spending that time alone on Christmas. Episode 4 of True Detective: Night Country sees pretty much every resident of Ennis spending the holiday solo or reckoning with some form of personal turmoil—but it wouldn’t be True Detective without festering psychological trauma and existential dread, would it? But hey, it’s still Christmas—sit down, relax, and let your favorite Warner Bros. Discovery crime drama promote your favorite Warner Bros. Discovery Christmas movie.

Screenshots via HBO

Episode 4 presents some significant progress in the Tsalal murder case. Last episode, Liz Danvers and Co. discovered a chilling video of Annie Kowtok that she took of herself just before her death. It shows Annie in an ice cave with unidentified bones embedded in the wall, which leads the crew to deduce that Annie’s body was moved from that location into town to make some sort of statement to the locals.

Meanwhile, when tasked with tracking down anyone who had suffered similar injuries to the Tsalal scientists, Pete discovers the record of Otis Heiss, a seemingly crucial piece of the Night Country puzzle. After surviving the injuries—which included burned corneas and self-inflicted bites, with no reported cause—Heiss went off the grid. (He’s traceable only through his police record of disorderly conduct.) When Danvers and Evangeline Navarro seek out Ennis High School teacher Adam Bryce for assistance in locating the cave Annie was likely killed in, he suggests tracking down whoever mapped out the dangerous tunnels. A quick Google search reveals none other than Heiss as the man responsible.

This episode also has no shortage of flirtations with the spirit realm—which probably shouldn’t even be described as flirtations anymore. We just flat out saw multiple Conjuring-ass ghosts. Night Country has been very clear about the possibility of the supernatural at play; True Detective Season 1 never went far beyond merely hinting at it. I still don’t believe the killer will end up being a wholly supernatural force, but visions of the dead have been shown so frequently and assuredly by multiple characters that the existence of the paranormal doesn’t seem to be just speculation at this point.

Heartbreakingly, these visions lead to the death of Julia, Eve’s tormented sister whose persistent encounters with the dead drove her to walk into the freezing ocean. In Episode 3, we discovered that Eve and Julia’s mother was also driven mad by hearing voices, and she eventually left home and was murdered by someone who was never found. With her sister now gone too, Eve fears she’s next in line to be targeted by these specters, though it wouldn’t be her first brush with the supernatural. Episode 3 showed us that Danvers and Navarro’s last case involved a man named William Wheeler who abused and killed his girlfriend—it’s suggested that either Danvers or Navarro killed him upon arriving at the crime scene and covered it up by falsely reporting his death as a suicide. Episode 4 reveals that Navarro saw the dead girlfriend’s ghost in the room before one of the cops likely pulled the trigger on Wheeler.

The episode culminates with the spotting of a man wearing Annie’s pink jacket—the same one Raymond Clark was seen wearing in a Tsalal video—near the town dredges. Navarro and Danvers go to scope it out and basically find themselves in a game of Silent Hill. They quickly locate the mysterious figure, and Danvers chases him up the ladders of a dredge, only to discover the man is actually Heiss rather than Clark. So where is Clark? “He went back down to hide,” Heiss says. “He’s hiding in the night country. We’re all in the night country now.” Hey, that’s the name of the show! As Danvers races after Heiss, Navarro starts hearing voices calling her name and follows a trail of footsteps to an ominous Christmas tree. There, she stumbles upon an apparition resembling Julia—Eve’s haunted by another woman she couldn’t save. Danvers comes down to find Eve in a catatonic state with blood dripping from her ear (akin to the ruptured eardrums the scientists suffered, perhaps?) after the encounter.

Oh yeah, this episode also treated us to more oranges and one-eyed polar bears, plus Billie Eilish songs. Are we any closer to solving the Tsalal mystery? Let’s round up the suspects.

1. Raymond Clark

The Nikola Jokic of murder suspects, our boy Raymond remains atop the list. His whereabouts are still unknown (unless “hiding in the night country” counts as a location), but that Danvers found Heiss in the state he was in, in the same Annie jacket that was last seen on Clark, indicates that something went down there. Speaking of “down there,” what exactly did Heiss mean by saying Clark “went down” to hide? Last week in this column, my colleague Ben Lindbergh introduced the Inuit goddess of the sea and ruler of the Adlivun underworld, Sedna, as a potential suspect. It doesn’t get much more “down” than the underworld, and “night country” seems like an apt description of a frozen wasteland where souls are imprisoned. Could Clark be posing as, or possessed by, Sedna?

Clark has been built up to be such a prime suspect over the course of these four episodes that it seems almost too obvious for him to be the sole perpetrator. But the mounting evidence shows he is clearly involved in the murders somehow. That he’s been missing for so long also seems to be foreshadowing a big showdown for when Danvers and Navarro do eventually track him down.

2. Oliver Tagaq

Even though Tagaq wasn’t seen in this episode, he was still key in an important scene. As Danvers obsessively rewatches the Annie Kowtok video, she notices that it ends with the lights getting cut in the same way they do at the end of the Raymond Clark Tsalal video. Danvers surmises that there was some sort of power outage at the end of both videos, but Annie’s video was evidently taken in an ice cave—how could there have been power in there in the first place? Danvers remembers that Tagaq was an equipment engineer at Tsalal and would likely have access to the lab’s emergency generators. She sends Eve and Pete back to Tagaq’s place to investigate and, what do you know, he’s vanished. Tagaq left right after Danvers and Navarro confronted him in the previous episode, according to the others at his camp. Eve and Pete find a spiral symbol drawn on the ground and carved into a stone, and when they ask Oliver’s former neighbors if they know what the symbol is, they don’t answer—their dogs start barking, and they kind of just … stare menacingly.

My hunch is that Tagaq is a red herring who’s just very distrusting of authority. (Understandably so, after how the Indigenous population has been treated.) But he obviously knows something, and his connection to the spirals can’t be meaningless.

3. Kate McKittrick

Even if Kate didn’t actually murder the Tsalal scientists with her own two hands, she’s still evil as hell and guilty of something. Actually, we already know she’s complicit in polluting Ennis’s water supply as an executive of the Silver Sky mining company, which Annie had been protesting against before her death. Plus, we know Kate is close with Hank from their interaction at the ice rink in Episode 2, and he’s the one who hid Annie’s case files and failed to report some key evidence in her investigation.

In Episode 4, we see a brief scene with Kate after Danvers’s daughter, Leah, was caught vandalizing the mining offices, spray-painting the word “MURDERERS” across the front door (badass!). If Leah becomes a target next, that would further heighten my suspicion that Kate is involved somehow, but even if not, Kate seems very unhappy with the reputation of her company. Unhappy enough to commit murder? I’m not sure. She does have a potential motive for killing Annie, but theorizing why she would kill the Tsalal scientists is just conjecture—maybe they discovered something in their research that would be detrimental to Silver Sky if made public? And since Night Country takes so much inspiration from Season 1, Kate could ultimately serve as a Billy Lee Tuttle figure in a web of corruption.

4. Sedna

Not to copy Ben’s homework from last week, but the supernatural is still a huge possibility in unlocking the Tsalal mystery, and Sedna is still the best explanation. And Heiss’s description of Clark’s location wasn’t the only clue we got in this episode that could lead to Sedna.

Listen to the way Eve describes her family’s relationship with spirits to Danvers: “It’s a curse,” she says. “Something calls us, and we follow.” It’s been said that Sedna can imprison the souls of the living, and Julia’s death was due to walking into the ocean, which happens to be Sedna’s domain. As Julia marched in, it did seem as though she was being led somewhere—could it have been Sedna calling to her?

The prevalence of these visions makes it seem like the paranormal will play a part in solving this mystery in a way that it didn’t in past seasons of True Detective. I still believe a human will ultimately be found responsible for the murders, but there were simply too many ghosts in this episode to ignore.

5. Hank Prior

I almost feel bad including Prior here because my guy had a horrendous outing in Episode 4. He was supposed to finally meet his Russian fiancée, Alina, at the airport, but, alas, she never showed. Well, he might have seen her briefly get off the plane, make eye contact with him, and get right back on, which is an extreme case of getting curved. But in all likelihood, Alina is probably just some dude with an internet connection catfishing Prior into sending him money. Still, Prior does a terrible job of pretending to brush off the whole situation to his son, saying that Alina’s cell service is probably just out (a classic rationale for victims of ghosting). As we see Prior sulk in front of a bottle of champagne and a rose-petal-adorned bedspread intended for a romantic night with Alina, we know he’s pretty heartbroken.

But that we get such a sympathetic portrayal of Hank in this episode doesn’t necessarily absolve him of culpability in the murders. He obviously tried to cover something up with Annie’s case, and he’s overall been a pretty big asshole to Danvers, Navarro, and his own son. But the Alina situation shows how naive Hank is, and that probably makes him a pretty terrible cop. With the Annie case, it seems possible that Hank is doing the bidding for some powerful person—maybe Kate?—while being kind of oblivious, or even willfully ignorant, about the severity of these cases. Which, again … really shoddy stuff for a cop to do. But it probably means he’s not the one committing the murders himself.

6. Captain Connelly

Let me cook for a second. The thing that raised my eyebrows this week was the way Captain Connelly responded when Danvers asked if he’d seen the Annie Kowtok video she’d sent him: a short nod and then, “You keep that on a need-to-know basis.” Yes, he’s a police captain who probably doesn’t want evidence leaking to the public, but it just struck me as a bizarre reaction to the uncovering of a crucial and traumatic clue in a years-old murder case. Plus, he’s been trying to wrangle control of the Tsalal case ever since it opened.

Danvers has made a lot of comments about how Connelly wants to look good for his future mayoral campaign (which Connelly himself has never really responded to), and that might be true—and that could certainly include ensuring that any skeletons in his closet never come out. Prior is, in all probability, compromised by his connections to Silver Sky one way or another, so why couldn’t Connelly be too? True Detective Season 1’s Errol Childress murders had connections all the way up to the Louisiana governor. A powerful and ambitious man like Connelly could easily get his hands dirty, too.

Galaxy-Brained Theory of the Week

Now let me really cook for a second. There have been multiple visions of a of one-eyed polar bear throughout Night Country so far (which have been presented in a sort of dreamlike manner but could be a real sighting in an Alaskan town). Both Navarro and Danvers have experienced these visions in the same way: by almost crashing into the bear in Episodes 1 and 4, respectively. A plush one-eyed polar bear that once belonged to Danvers’s son, Holden, has been a recurring image as well. It almost reminds me of another polar bear sighting …

Look, I realize it’s probably a different experience running into a polar bear in the Alaskan tundra than it is on a deserted island. But the polar bear sightings on Lost, surprisingly enough, actually had an explanation: They were brought to the island by the DHARMA Initiative for studies in electromagnetic research. So those polar bears had to come from somewhere. Who’s to say that the DHARMA Initiative never had a study-abroad program at the Tsalal research station specializing in polar bear recruitment? I don’t know, man, I’ll just take any opportunity I can to bring up Lost again. What a program.

Vikram’s Alaska Corner

True Detective: Night Country takes place in the cold fringes of the Last Frontier, otherwise known as Alaska. (Never mind that the season was filmed in Iceland.) The Ringer’s own Vikram Patel is a former resident of the state who still spends his winters there. Each week, we’ll pose a question to Vikram about his second home as we look to learn more about the local geography and culture.

Julianna: I have to be honest with you, Vikram—I’m four episodes into True Detective: Night Country and my California mind is still unable to comprehend just how cold Alaska is. I’ve lived in the Golden State my entire life and am currently typing this from Los Angeles, where it’s a lovely 73 degrees in January, and I still saw jackets and beanies outside. I could count the number of times I’ve seen snow in my life on one hand, and at least a couple of those times I’ve foolishly worn jeans and sneakers that quickly got sopping wet.

So my question is: How do you adapt to extreme cold? Do you ever get used to it? What are the wardrobe essentials for an Alaskan winter? Is an Andy Reid frozen mustache a common sighting? I realize that was multiple questions, but this is truly a world that boggles my mind.

Vikram: Like you, Julianna, I am from California. When I first moved to Alaska, I hadn’t had much exposure to cold weather, and it showed. The first winter I spent in Anchorage, my “coat” was a thin corduroy jacket, and I mostly wore a lot of sweatshirts and jeans. As many locals warned me, cotton kills. But I was too stubborn to buy myself a puffy jacket or the stretchy technical clothing that my friends wore to exercise in the cold. I was neither warm nor fashionable.

Fortunately, despite my inadequate wardrobe, my body did adjust. Exposure to cold weather activates something in our bodies called “brown fat,” which helps keep our bodies warmer, a sort of internal layer of long underwear. I noticed this effect most when I would visit my family in Los Angeles during the winter; they wore sweaters and jackets all day, while I could wear shorts and T-shirts without a shiver. It felt like a superpower.

But there’s a limit to what our bodies can withstand.

The coldest temperature I have ever been in is negative 35 degrees Fahrenheit, near Fairbanks, Alaska. It was a whole different kind of cold than I had grown accustomed to in Anchorage, where the temperature rarely drops below zero. The layer of ice covering the road in Fairbanks was a few inches thick but not as slippery as warmer ice (the thin layer of melting water on the surface of the ice is what makes your car slide around on the road). Taking a deep breath at negative 35 is an adventure—air that cold tends to cause an instant coughing fit. We visited some hot springs on that trip; I remember dunking my head in the water, coming up for air, and feeling my hair freeze in seconds. Extreme cold can be delightful.

But does Ennis get that cold? It’s hard to say—there isn’t a weather almanac to consult for fictional Alaskan villages. But we can make an educated guess. Night Country creator Issa López described Ennis as a “fictionalized amalgam of northern villages Kotzebue, Utqiagvik, and Nome.” These villages are further north than Fairbanks, but they are located on the water, which can help keep temperatures relatively mild—the brown fat of meteorology.

Stuck in weather-estimating hell, I reached out to Brian Brettschneider, Alaska’s leading climatologist. Brian told me that Ennis is likely “not as cold as Fairbanks, but notably colder than Anchorage. Nome, Kotzebue, and Utqiagvik are also quite windy places and are in the tundra,” where, he reminded me, trees cannot grow. Brian also sent me this handy dynamic temperature map. By my estimation, Ennis likely sees temps as low as negative 15 or negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the depths of winter. In a word: brrrrr!

If you are planning to visit a northern Alaska community next winter, here are some items you will want to bring along, courtesy of my Real Alaskan Advisory Committee (Tara, Emily, Zach, and Barry):

  • A wool hat that covers your ears
  • A thick neck gaiter that you can pull up to protect your face
  • Heavyweight thermal underwear—this is your second skin
  • Mittens (not gloves!), preferably with a long gauntlet—covering your wrist and lower forearm—to keep the warmth in and the snow out
  • A down parka, ideally 600 fill or above, that goes down to at least your thighs and has a proper fur ruff (synthetics don’t cut it when snow is blowing sideways)
  • Wool socks
  • Bunny boots, which are cartoonish snow-white boots that keep your feet warm by trapping air and leaving room for thick socks—if you can’t find any, a pair of Bogs or Muck boots (cold-weather boots all seem to have exceptional names) will also do
  • Hand and foot warmers to tuck into your mittens and boots—get the foot warmers with adhesives, or you’ll end up with a crumpled mass far away from your toes

Julianna, now that you’re prepared, I hope you’ll decide to visit Alaska in the winter sometime. I can’t guarantee you’ll see anything supernatural, but a snowy, dark Alaskan winter is magical all the same. The juice is worth the squeeze, even if it’s a little bit frozen.

Iconic True Detective Looks of the Week

Underneath the true crime mysteries at the forefront of each season, True Detective is admirably devoted to capturing the aesthetics that define each of its many eras. With that comes some pretty incredible costume and makeup work, which we’ll be highlighting throughout the season.

Rose Aguineau’s little Christmas party (and dress!) looked lovely. She seems like a great hang. Other than the fact that she has to deal with, as she says, “all the fuckin’ dead.”

Bro put on his best turtleneck and brought along a well-dressed stuffed animal only to leave the airport alone thinking he got stood up on sight. It’s so sad it almost makes me forget he’s a terrible person.

You ever look so good you cause a stranger to spiral into an abyss of loneliness and heartbreak?