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True Detective season 4 episode 1 recap: in the dark with a double mystery

 Jodie Foster in True Detective.
Jodie Foster in True Detective.

A decade has passed since Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson teamed up in Nic Pizzolatto's critical smash True Detective. The HBO anthology crime series hit some bumpy patches but returns with True Detective season 4, aka True Detective: Night Country, a six-episode Alaska-set mystery from showrunner Issa López that immediately references the debut outing.

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Part 1 opens with a quote from Hildred Castaigne, the narrator of the 1895 short story collection The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, which also happens to be the text viewers thought could crack the key to the Yellow King in True Detective season 1. It is a significant callback, but this quote also speaks to a location with its last sunset of the year in the opening scene. "For we do not know what beasts the night dreams when its hours grow too long" is an ominous warning.

It's December 17. Christmas lights decorate the fictional town of Ennis, which lies 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The polar nighttime provides the perfect creepy backdrop for events tying a cold case to the current one, with Jodie Foster as the skeptical police chief Liz Danvers leading an investigation into eight missing researchers. Danvers is confronted with flashes of her past and Part 1 immediately throws many questions into the mix.

The Tsalal Arctic Research Station Mystery

The all-male Tsalal Research Station occupants go about their regular day, from exercising to watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off, until a colleague wearing a pink parka says ominously, "She's awake." Cut to December 20, when a delivery driver enters the now-empty building. The movie is still playing, but the scientists have vanished. Time to call the cops.

Danvers, Lieutenant Hank Prior (John Hawkes) and Officer Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) — Hank's son — begin searching the facility. "We are all dead," written on a whiteboard, adds to the unnerving atmosphere. There is a human tongue under the kitchen counter, which Danvers thinks came from a Native woman based on the repetitive behavior marks.

At the station, Alaska State Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) wants to know everything about the tongue. Danvers is hostile to Navarro, telling her she is no longer APF or on the case. They are interrupted by a call from an angry parent, forcing Danvers to pick up her teen stepdaughter Leah (Isabella LaBlanc).

The issue was Leah made a steamy video, but before Danvers can continue scolding her stepdaughter, they almost get hit by another car. When Danvers gets out to check on the drunk driver, her mind briefly flashes back to broken glass on the road and daylight.

The Silver Sky Mine and the Annie K connection

Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in True Detective
Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in True Detective

Navarro waits outside the town's mine and meets Ryan (Phillip Blanchett), who asks if there has been a break in his sister Annie's case. Navarro wants to know if Annie ever mentioned the Tsalal station (she didn't), but doesn't have much else to tell him. Annie was an activist protesting the mine, and he was barely speaking to his sister in the last year of her life as the mine is vital to the town.

Like Danvers, Navarro receives a call about a family member. Navarro's sister Julia (Aka Niviâna) called the cops about a non-existent person in her apartment. Jules is teary and reiterates, "I'm not like mom," begging Navarro to not put her in a mental health facility.

At the station, Danvers asks Hank to get her the Annie K file, but he is evasive. Peter has already gone home to his wife and young son, but Danvers rings to ask him to get the file from his dad's house, where he moved several boxes after a flood at the station. Peter acquires what Danvers needs. In return, he wants to know about the case.

Flashbacks show Navarro first on the scene when Annie K's broken, bloody and beaten body was found. Somebody cut Annie's tongue out and stabbed her 32 times with an unidentified object. Annie was a midwife and an activist who started "bugging the wrong people." It was before Danvers moved to Ennis, and Hank took Navarro off the case. "She's got this thing about women who get hurt," Danvers says about Navarro. Danvers thinks the case is unsolvable because of the hatred toward Annie.

Polar bears and walking on the ice

Fiona Shaw in True Detective
Fiona Shaw in True Detective

"It's really stupid that we never talk about that day," Leah says to Danvers, possibly alluding to the brief broken glass flashback after the car crash. In bed, Danvers hears someone say, "Mommy, she’s awake." She finds a one-eyed polar bear toy on the floor that unnerves her. Is the voice her son? And is he dead?

Earlier, Navarro arrested a guy for a domestic violence incident, and when she sees him outside the liquor store, she pours Baileys into his gas tank as an act of revenge. Navarro's also hears an otherworldly voice when driving home. "She's awake," it says. Then, a one-eyed polar bear walks across the road.

Unable to sleep, Danvers gets all the photos of the researchers and images from Annie's file and spots a pink parka worn by Annie and missing scientist Raymond Clark (Owen McDonnell). Danvers heads to the lab to look for the coat and finds Navarro there. They don't see a parka, but they have a hostile catch-up. Danvers tells her to let Annie go, but Navarro cannot.

Meanwhile, another woman has been experiencing something unusual out on the ice. Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) follows a man called Travis (Erling Eliasson) into the dark. Travis isn't wearing shoes or a coat but isn't bothered by the cold. He dances and then points into the distance.

Back at the research facility, Danvers gets a call that the scientists have been found by Rose. Once on the scene, Navarro asks Rose what led her to this spot. Rose responds, "Travis showed me." The problem? Travis is dead. So are the scientists. The final shot reveals some of the men buried in the snow with looks of horror on their frozen faces.

How did they end up here? And what does Annie K's murder have to do with their demise?

Watch True Detective season 4 Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO and streaming on Max in the US; airing on Sky Atlantic Mondays in the UK.