True Detective: Night Country, episode 2, review: does anyone stay dead in this town?

Fiona Shaw as Rose Aguineau
She sees dead people: Fiona Shaw as Rose Aguineau - HBO

Time to talk about the supernatural in True Detective: Night Country (Sky Atlantic/HBO). Episode two began with a walking apparition who showed Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) where the bodies of the Tsalal scientists were to be found. It turned out, in a later discussion with Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), that the helpful ghost was Rose’s former lover. One day, dying of leukaemia, he said goodbye and walked off into the ice to die. But, as ghosts do in this corner of the Arctic, he’s kept on coming back.

There are a lot of dead bodies in HBO’s Alaskan Brueghel – the eight scientists, piled up in a frozen delirium with gouged eyes and torn ears; Annie K, the indigenous girl whose brutal murder the year before has become Navarro’s fixation – but increasingly there are a lot of undead too. Whether you find ghosts and spectres convincing is a matter for you, but two hours in, Night Country has worked hard to show that Ennis is the kind of town where weird stuff happens. As a delivery driver said: “This is Ennis, man, you see people sometimes, know what I mean? It’s a long f–kin’ night. Even the dead get bored.”

This second episode pleaded moot point by making clear that, in its mythology, hauntings are just another way of confronting the past. This instalment was, necessarily, a slower ride than the first, as showrunner Issa López worked her way through the histories and inter-relations of the players (alive and dead). We met Navarro’s sister, Julia (Aka Niviâna), brought to Ennis by Navarro to get her away from a history of mental health issues (what was she thinking?). We delved deeper into the indigenous history of the region, complete with tensions between the townsfolk and the mining operation that represents the new ways poisoning the old.

Christopher Eccleston as Ted Corsaro
Among the British and Irish talent in this series, Christopher Eccleston pops up as a downbeat police bigwig - HBO

Most of all we stared hard into Chief Liz Danvers’s (Jodie Foster) past, complete with a touching flashback to her absent husband (in which they danced to Twist and Shout, in a nod to episode one), her multiple trysts with married men since, and a mention of the mysterious “Wheeler case” that first drove a wedge between her and Navarro. Foster was superb throughout, somehow managing to evince sensitivity while still behaving with all the good grace of a rhino.

I said in my episode one review that López seems more interested in atmosphere than plot and here that meant that the bald mechanics of a detective drama were rushed. Danvers rearranging circles of suspects’ pictures, a protracted montage of police asking witnesses questions and Danvers’s impressing upon Officer Pete Prior (the excellent Finn Bennett) – the supremacy of asking the right question over getting the right answer were all a little, dare we say it… Columbo.

But, as the pile of twisted bodies melted in the stark light of the hockey rink, we did end up with a suspect. And for all you True Detective season one fans out there, we even got a sizeable Easter egg: that spiral tattoo that kept cropping up looked distinctly like a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s much-memed “flat circle” speech (“Time is a flat circle,” his former detective “Rust” Cohle drawled. “Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”). If a little bit of Jungian symbolism felt like narrative devilry… well, we now know that’s what to expect in the Night Country.

True Detective continues on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm and on NOW now