Fan theorists, start your engines
True Detective is back. Wait. What’s True Detective?
It’s been nearly 10 years since HBO introduced audiences to True Detective in Jan. 2014. A TV show with a name so goofy that it absolutely had to be good for anyone to take it seriously, the first season of creator Nic Pizzolatto’s anthology drama was striking in its pairing of a resurgent Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in a murder mystery with an eerie Weird Fiction subtext and an all-timer title sequence.
Successive seasons of True Detective failed to be a sensation the way its award-winning first was. After a much-delayed third season arrived in 2019, the series was effectively put on ice, and Pizzolatto’s working relationship with HBO came to an end (while another one at FX failed to even take off).
HBO, however, still believes in the magic of that first season enough to put some juice behind a new installment. While it’s likely meant to standalone like other True Detective seasons, Night Country — which stars Jodie Foster as Detective Liz Danvers and Kali Reis as her reluctant partner Detective Evangeline Navarro on the hunt for men missing from an Arctic research station — is definitely trying to woo back fans.
The trailer for True Detective: Night Country is full of callbacks to season 1, in ways that are structural (a cop being interviewed about a harrowing case), stylistic (dark and moody wide shots with the suggestion of the supernatural) and textual (the spooky spiral from the first season is back).
The trailer works hard to make those connections extremely obvious — the spiral was a bit of Lovecraftian symbolism that stood in for the crime ring that season 1 protagonists Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) track down together. The spiral was also invoked in season 3, itself an attempt to return to the show to its roots after a wildly unpopular second season.
But online, viewers of the trailer also noticed that there might be more to Night Country’s season 1 ties than spooky symbolism: The story is set in Alaska, and in season 1’s fourth episode, “Who Goes There,” Rust Cohle claims he went there to visit a dying father that no one can confirm was ever there.
Little tidbits like this are what made True Detective a hit: On its face, it was a seedy crime drama, but it was also one built for the fan theory era, sprinkling in ominous references to Weird Fiction works like Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 work The King in Yellow, which, depending on your perspective, enriched the series or ultimately proved to be a waste of time.
That is ultimately what everyone, from HBO to everyday fans, hope True Detective: Night Country delivers: An engrossing mystery to speculate about, and pore over every frame of. Hopefully showrunner Issa López and producer Barry Jenkins find that magic again. Yellowjackets can’t do it all by itself.
True Detective: Night Country will premiere on HBO and stream on Max “later this year.”