‘True Detective’ Season 4, Episode 4 Recap: The Monster Under the Bed

There’s a classic bit on “The Simpsons” where a panel of children are seated as a focus group for “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” and asked what they want to see from the long-running cartoon, which has started to flag in the ratings. After an exasperating series of responses, the moderator sums up his findings: “So you want a realistic, down-to-earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots?”

That’s what “Night Country” is starting to feel like as it heads down the backstretch. It is a realistic, down-to-earth police procedural that’s swarming with supernatural beings and lots of storytelling bric-a-brac. To an extent, that’s part of the “True Detective” brand, to flood the zone with enough symbols, Easter eggs and plot tributaries to keep the Subreddits humming all season with theories about which ones will pay off and which ones will wriggle off with the other red herrings. As the season’s showrunner, Issa López, and her writers start to bring the season to a close, there’s already some evidence that the show has spread itself too thin, despite an abundance of laudable elements.

Take the fate of Navarro’s sister, Julia (Aka Niviana). The image of this lonely, troubled young woman spending her last moments among the icebound wreckage before walking naked into the dark is a haunting one. One of the great strengths of “Night Country” — and the three Nic Pizzolatto seasons of “True Detective” before it — is how beautifully it can conjure these modern noir images from distinct locales.

And yet, so little narrative real estate was given over to Julia until this final episode that her death feels more like a device than an emotional payoff. In a pre-credits scene, we witness Danvers’s compassion in scooping her off the streets and bringing into the station, which brings her closer to Navarro. As for Navarro herself, the heaviness of this loss is a family curse that now threatens to swallow her, too.

The most touching moment in the episode is a much smaller one. When Navarro gets the call from the Coast Guard about Julia, she and Peter have just finished a harrowing mission back to the nomad encampment on Christmas Eve. She suppresses her devastation when Peter asks if everything’s OK and sends him off to be with a family that is still intact. Her emotional generosity is a subtle payoff to a relationship that has been building around these two interconnected cases; the further “Night Country” strays from the grit-and-grind of police work, the less resonant it becomes. The mysteries around Annie’s murder and the frozen scientists link up so beautifully to the tensions within Ennis that the continued sprinkling of specters, flashbacks and various uncanny events has gotten distracting. There are many questions still to answer and only two episodes left.

To that end, this week’s episode does address some of the business at hand. The “Blair Witch”-style video on Annie’s phone, presumably documenting the last moments of her life, includes whale bones frozen in the ice behind her, indicating an ice cave system the detectives are keen to locate. A team from Anchorage finally arrives to take the bodies away, despite Danvers’s desire to poke around them a little more for clues. (In sharing the news that the men were dead before they froze to Captain Ted, Danvers admits to doing “an independent pre-forensic evaluation,” which sounds better than saying that Peter’s veterinarian cousin looked at them.)

A new person of interest emerges in Otis Heiss, a German national with a murky record who was admitted to the hospital with burns on his corneas, ruptured eardrums and self-inflicted bite marks. His file turns up in a medical records search for people with injuries similar to those of the Tsalal men, but when it is revealed later that he mapped the ice cave system, it firms up the link between Annie and the scientists. The fact that there was light in the caves brings the investigation back to Oliver Tagaq (Lance Karmer) at the camp, but it appears that he fled shortly after Danvers and Navarro interviewed him the first time. (He does leave behind a rock with a spiral symbol, which may as well be on the state flag at this point.)

The episode ends with a spooky sequence in one of the abandoned dredges, where Danvers and Navarro follow up on a photo suggesting that Clark has been moving around in the area. A hallmark of this season has been its fusion of the horrific and the hallucinogenic, and the action again divides along those lines, with Danvers cornering a man in a parka who turns out to be Otis and Navarro chasing a phantom below decks. In practical terms, they have found a man who could give them some answers. But Otis has a message about Clark: “He’s hiding in the night country. You’re all in the night country now.”

Sounds ominous, but Danvers and Navarro know their way around.

Poor Hank, inevitably stood up by his mail-order bride. The sight of him standing on a tarmac with teddy bear is sad enough, but the rose petals on his bed hit even harder. “I think there’s something wrong with her cell service” is the best excuse he can muster for his son, but he isn’t persuading anyone at this point.

Julie’s last moments at the Lighthouse bring us another rolling orange and a spirit under the bed with a cross necklace, which is associated with her mother and the traumatic past she shares with Navarro. It also nods to Billie Eilish’s opening credits song, “Bury a Friend,” which is about the proverbial monster under the bed.

Until tonight, the Julie and Leah subplots had been running in parallel, demonstrating Navarro’s and Danvers’s efforts to protect a young family member from danger. But Navarro couldn’t save Julie, and Leah assumes that Danvers is not on her side, even when her stepmother gets her out of trouble for defacing the mining office.

Our first glimpse of the Wheeler “murder-suicide” seemed to set up Danvers as an unreliable narrator who is covering up her own actions, but it appears that Navarro might have been in “night country” during the incident.

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