The following review contains spoilers for “True Detective” Season 4, Episode 2, “Part 2” — the second hour of “Night Country.”
What do we know about Raymond Clark? We know he’s a scientist at the Tsalal Research Base in Ennis, Alaska. We know, thanks to his online bio shown last week, that he studies paleomicrobiology with a focus on “understanding the molecular basis of colonization and infection by Staphylococcus aureus.” We know he was the only person with his own room at the research facility, and we know that he was wearing the late Annie K’s parka in a photograph taken at that base. We know he wore it when he had what appeared to be a seizure, then turned to his colleague in the kitchen and said, “She’s awake.”
Now, after Episode 2, we know that he was in a relationship with Annie K. He rented a trailer to keep their relationship a secret, and that trailer is now decorated in creepy etchings, animal bones, little woven objects, and a big woven doll positioned directly under a giant mural of the recurring spiral symbol. We know that the spiral tattoo on Clark’s chest was copied from the same design on Annie K’s back, which means we know their relationship was fairly serious (at least to him). We know that he got the tattoo just four days after she died, and we know that her tongue was found on the floor of the research station after all its scientists disappeared.
We also know that Raymond Clark (played by Owen McDonnell) was not in the “corpsicle” of dead bodies. We know he’s still missing, as is Annie K’s coat, and we know Navarro (Kali Reis) is convinced he’s alive.
Can you say… prime suspect?rue Detective” Season 4, Episode 2 is packed with information. Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Prior (Finn Bennett) lay out all the clues, ask all the “right” questions, and interview the only people able to speak about life on the base. Reis is kept on the outside until the end, but she’s still working whatever angles she can. After all that effort, they don’t come away with much. But they do have Raymond Clark. Is he responsible for killing his fellow scientists? Is he just another victim yet to be found? Or is he something else entirely, a piece of a larger puzzle we’re just not seeing yet?
While he certainly warrants further questioning, for now, it’s worth recognizing the less obvious elements introduced in a dense Episode 2. Between the jarring opening sequence — where the careless cops snap off a man’s arm, only to then realize he’s still alive (and screaming) — and the reunion of our two lead detectives, “True Detective” drops plenty of tantalizing tidbits. It may not be the most exciting episode of the season, but it lays the groundwork while relying on Foster and Reis to make doin’ the work damn entertaining — which is a winning formula if I’ve ever seen one.
For starters, let’s not overlook how Mr. Bryce (Donnie Keshawarz) first described the Tsalal scientists: “They’re fucking mad men,” he said, when Danvers asked her former fuck buddy to explain exactly what the deceased were up to out there. “No one comes in, no one goes out.” Their research, though, was a “fucking game-changer” that could’ve cured autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders, and more — the kind of scientific discovery that could be extremely profitable for corporations like the base’s parent company, Tuttle United.
Also of interest: What’s wrong with the water in Ennis? Qavvik (Joel D. Montgrand) said the fight in his bar was because townsfolk are on edge over the “water going bad.” “Poor fuckers are too close to the mine,” he said, about a neighborhood called “the villages,” where the tap water went “black” last week and has yet to recover. Ryan, Annie K’s brother, brought it up last week, too, when Navarro went to visit him, and I can’t help but notice that for every mention of bad water, there’s a cousin or friend dying of cancer. Rose (Fiona Shaw) said her old flame, Travis (the same guy whose ghost walked her to the missing scientists), walked out into the cold instead of dying from leukemia. Then the mining worker from the bar mentions how his cousin — who bought Clark’s trailer — died of bone cancer. “This fucking town,” he said, by why of punctuating his point.
Danvers would likely agree with the sentiment. While she’s happy to get what she wants from her current bimbo, she still resents Chief Ted Corsaro (Christopher Eccleston) for “appointing” her to Ennis, in the makeshift police station/”lovely ex-dental building,” by way of a promotion and a punt. Whatever trouble she got into, he was “scared” of her and sent her away. Now he shows up and wants to take her case away? Why? Is he really just trying to protect her, or is there something else going on?
Navarro’s booty call goes much better, despite not actually getting any booty. She surprises Qavvik in the bath, and he makes her pancakes while talking over the case. That’s when she has the realization that leads her to the trailer, moving the case forward, but not before we see just how close he wants to be with her. She keeps her distance, but he wants more. He’s happy just spending time with her, watching a movie or washing his dog. But is his motivation as innocent as those puppy eyes imply, or is he, too, a man with a hidden agenda? (God, I hope not. Qavvik is the best.)
Episode 2’s final major question is also of a personal nature: What is “the Wheeler thing”? When Danvers surprises Navarro in her home and agrees to work the case together, Navarro tries to reassure her about “the Wheeler thing” before Danvers shuts her down. All Navarro gets out is, “We did exactly what we need to do,” which hints at a secret reason the former colleagues went their separate ways. We already knew it wasn’t just about Annie K. Now, at least, we have a name. And sometimes that’s the only clue you need.
• I think we can officially label “True Detective” Season 4 a Holiday Show™. The snow, the lights, the late-December timeline — all that was present last week, when I first mentioned the idea, but this week we see Danvers getting out the Christmas tree and hear The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” blasting as the scientists’ dead bodies are carted into town. Bring on the eggnog!
• That “corpsicle” is something else, huh? Yee-ikes.
• Curious about the new main title design? I spoke to writer-director Issa López about their inspirations, including how she landed on Billie Eilish.
• Of all the unexpected delights so far in “True Detective” Season 4, a sing-a-long to the Spice Girls may be the most jaw-dropping inclusion. I love it.
• Speaking of Navarro’s car ride, Episode 2 features a few key flashbacks. There’s the one to Navarro’s mother, sparked by her discovery of the necklace in the car. Seeing her screaming at her daughters, while pointing in accusatory fashion sure gives us context for what Navarro fears may be happening to her sister. And then with Danvers, she remembers playing with her son using a stuffed polar bear — the same one she found at the foot of her bed last week — and later, we see her dancing with her deceased husband. Each moment, while brief, provides such a cogent picture of the past, you can’t help but empathize with our lead detectives even more.
• “That sticks with you, doesn’t it? Not being good enough,” said the boy whose dad just expressed his disapproval by hitting him in the face, while speaking to the step-daughter whose mom struggles to express her feelings outside of stern warnings and racist assumptions. Oof. This fleeting moment hits hard, too.
“True Detective” Season 4, “Night Country,” releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.