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Is True Detective season 4 based on a true story? Well, kind of

 True Detective: Night Country.
True Detective: Night Country.

*Warning! This article contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country episode 1*

True Detective: Night Country, the fourth installment in the acclaimed drama series, leans into the supernatural a little more than its predecessors – yes, even more so than season 1, so we wouldn't blame you if you'd assumed it was purely a work of fiction.

Most of the previous chapters were loosely inspired by true events, though, so does season 4 carry on the tradition? Well, the answer is... kind of.

Starring Kali Reis and Jodie Foster, who step into the shoes of Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali as this season's sleuths, True Detective: Night Country sees Alaskan police chief Liz Danvers (Foster) and her former partner Evangeline Navarro (Reis) investigate the strange disappearance of the Tsalal Arctic Research Station's crew over Christmas. Before long, the twosome discover that the curious vanishing is somehow related to an old, unresolved case Navarro has been having trouble shaking: the brutal murder of Indigenous midwife and activist Annie Kowtok.

As the prickly pair unravel both mysteries, the outing, of course, strives to draw attention to the very real prejudices and violence First Nations women face, predominantly in the US and Canada. According to the Native Hope.org, the murder rate of Indigenous women is 10 times higher than the national average, despite Native people only make up 2% of the US overall population. Shockingly, murder is the third leading cause of death for women in such communities – and those are just the reports that are actually acknowledged and formally documented.

But what about the missing scientists? Well, back in November, showrunner Issa López, who wrote and directed all six episodes, told Vanity Fair that two bizarre real-life stories she read about as a child influenced the plot. We dive into them below...

The abandonment of the Mary Celeste

True Detective: Night Country
True Detective: Night Country

In November 1872, the Mary Celeste, a 282-ton American brigantine, set sail from New York to Italy. Onboard were 11 people: the captain, his wife, their two-year-old daughter, and eight crew members.

Just a few weeks later, a British ship came across the Mary Celeste near Portugal – and, well, no one was on it. While there was water in the hold, the vessel was undamaged, with its six months' worth stock of food still intact. Only one lifeboat was missing, which has sparked all kinds of theories as to what became of its passengers, from earthquakes and icebergs to pirates and sea monsters, over the past 150 years.

Dyatlov Pass incident

Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro in True Detective: Night Country
Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro in True Detective: Night Country

Given its cold, snowy setting, the Dyatlov Pass Incident relates more closely to the events that transpire in True Detective: Night Country episode 1 than the tale of the Mary Celeste. The mystery involves nine Soviet hikers, who all perished during a trek across the Ural Mountains in February 1959.

While it was concluded in 2020 that a slab avalanche had supposedly caused the death of the hikers, the case's odd and gory details have captured people's imaginations over the years. According to several reports, it is believed that the group cut a hole in their tent and ran out into the tundra without the appropriate clothing. What's more, some of their bodies were found missing certain parts, including two sets of eyes, a pair of eyebrows, and a tongue. Six died of hypothermia, while the remaining three suffered significant trauma to their heads, faces, and chests.

In Night Country's opener, Danvers and her colleagues Hank (John Hawkes) and Prior (Finn Bennett) find a (woman's) tongue at the abandoned research station, which seems to be a nod to what happened to Igor Dyatlov and his team. When Danvers and co find some of the missing men right at the end of episode 1, they're frozen , huddled together and naked; another reference to the incident, perhaps.


True Detective: Night Country airs on HBO and HBO Max every Sunday in the US, and on Sky Atlantic and NOW every Monday in the UK. Ensure you don't miss an episode with our handy guide to the True Detective: Night Country release schedule.

For more, check out our guide to the most exciting new TV shows heading our way.