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Navarro in winter police gear shines a flashlight in the blue glow of a spooky building at night Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO

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True Detective: Night Country’s dead are screaming louder than the living

The ghosts can’t be ignored anymore

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

This week’s episode of True Detective: Night Country opens with a clever bit of sound editing, as the signature white noise of HBO’s logo blends seamlessly in with Police Chief Liz Danvers’ (Jodie Foster) white noise machine, at her bedside, failing to relax her. She can’t stop obsessing over the video she and Navarro (Kali Reis) found of Anne Kowtok’s last moments, looking for more clues. It’s Christmas Eve, and Anne’s cries for help are about to be joined by a chorus.

“Part 4” of Night Country is the season’s most haunted hour, the ghosts in the periphery of the show taking center stage, even as its protagonists continue to deny them. The emotional crux of the episode rests on Navarro’s sister Julia (Aka Niviâna), whom Danvers finds wandering in the snow without a coat, shivering through some kind of episode. Navarro checks Julia into a facility for extended care, but it’s already too late: She sees the dead everywhere. And so she walks out onto the ice and joins them.

Night Country’s protagonists have been speeding toward the brick wall of their own denial, and Julia’s death is the collision. The injustices and tragedies that haunt Ennis and intersect with each other are boiling over, and neither Navarro nor Danvers can ignore them much longer.

That doesn’t mean they don’t try: Navarro, grieving, starts a fight and gets her ass kicked. Danvers, who has been slowly revealed to be a woman broken down and shoddily rebuilt like a work of jagged kintsugi, becomes so hostile and toxic that she can’t hit up her fuckbuddy Captain Connelly (Christopher Eccleston) for a drunken hookup without browbeating him, and ends up spending the holiday wasted and alone. This would be a quiet, sad episode if it weren’t for the growing choir of the dead.

Danvers leans towards a sullen Navarro in a parka in episode 4 of True Detective: Night Country Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO

The thin membrane between the living and dead in Ennis is one of Night Country’s richest thematic veins, and showrunner Issa López never turns down an opportunity to remind us of it. Sometimes it is in casual juxtaposition, staging mundane conversations in front of a horrific “corpsicle”. Other times it’s in the ways the planet’s history is engraved on its surface too deeply for us to scrub out, like the ancient whale bones frozen in the background of the ice cavern where Anne Kowtok died. And finally, it is in the angry shades of dead women who scream in Navarro’s ear.

We’re past Night Country’s midpoint, and the assorted hauntings of “Part 4” form a ghostly mosaic of the show’s many concerns about our past, and how we work hard to ignore it. The eerie secrets locked away in ice, Navarro’s distance from her Indigenous culture, the toxic entitlement of men that causes women’s opportunities to curdle — if it doesn’t snuff them out outright. History can suffocate us if we pay it no mind. We can forget the dead but the dead may not forget us.

Danvers has her own haunting to contend with, a monstrous one-eyed polar bear that causes her to drive into a snowbank — a bear that Night Country suggests is not real. It’s another haunting, the shape of Danvers’ lost son Holden’s favorite stuffed animal. It’s one of the few things of his she keeps around, one of the only signs that she’s never stopped grieving, never did the work of moving on.

“The dead are gone,” she insists to Navarro. “Fucking gone.”

Navarro says that if Danvers believed that, she wouldn’t keep that stuffed bear. And perhaps, the viewer can infer, she wouldn’t throw herself into this job, seeking justice for Anne Kowtok, working her way through the spirals hidden across Ennis, staring at horrors others look away from. The ghosts surrounding Ennis will not be ignored. The white noise isn’t tuning them out anymore.