“Corpsicle.” That portmanteau—coined by Ennis, Alaska’s chief detective Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster)—is the key to understanding and enjoying the strange, atmospheric charms of True Detective: Night Country. In last week’s premiere, we got a taste of exactly how Issa López’s new reign of this anthology would feel. It’s darkly funny and unafraid to deliver a heaping helping of morbidity, made even more blistering by the enduring cold of Alaska’s sunless season.
Danvers’ “corpsicle” finds itself smack dab at the intersection of Night Country’s gallows humor and chilling inhumanity. The term—describing the giant block of ice with eight scientists frozen in it, which Danvers, trooper Navarro (Kali Reis), and the rest of the sparse Ennis police squad found at the end of Episode 1—is inherently funny. But one closer look at the sheer terror permanently fastened onto the scientists’ faces by the subzero winter makes the situation a lot less comical. That doesn’t stop the doltish cops of Ennis from fooling around with it, but it does convince Danvers that there could be something much more sinister afoot here. Once that motion is in place, Night Country officially begins its investigation and sinks us deeper into the muck with a thrilling second installment.
The men in the corpsicle have ice-burnt corneas and ruptured eardrums due to a rapid change in pressure. Some of them have scratched their eyes out. One of them has a symbol—a slightly more angular spiral—drawn onto his forehead. It’s enough for Danvers to think about giving up the case and handing it over to the Anchorage team; Ennis doesn’t even have a proper forensics technician to investigate the flesh once it thaws. But Danvers walks herself back. She’ll keep the case, if only to prove everyone else wrong. First, she’ll have to whip her team into shape, and stop them from taking selfies with the dead men and cutting the ice far too close to their bodies.
A few yards away from the scene, Navarro and her friend Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw) watch the rest of the motley crew figure out the best approach to freeing these men. Rose suggests that Navarro let the case go, to which the trooper responds that she can’t. “It’s tied to Annie’s case,” Navarro says, referencing Anne Masu Kowtok, the murdered Native woman whose death got Navarro demoted after she pissed off locals with her intense investigation. “Oh, then you’re screwed,” Rose replies. She’s right. Navarro has never been able to let the case go completely cold, and by the end of the episode, Navarro’s suspicions about there being so much more to Annie’s murder are finally founded.
Rose later tells Navarro, “I think the world is getting old, and Ennis is where the fabric of all things is coming apart at the seams.” Given that Rose claims she can see the dead, her words don’t seem illogical—especially because of the impossible development that happens with the corpsicle. Still out in the cold, Danvers is trying to unearth the mound of frozen bodies, when one of them starts to make an ungodly wailing noise. He is, somehow, alive, and the image of his seizing body is Night Country’s most horrific image yet. Whether that’s a human actor or a cleverly made robot (the stilted movements were reminiscent of Bishop the android’s demise in Alien), it’s positively bone-chilling.
In Episode 2, we find out that Danvers has spent much of her downtime in Ennis sleeping around. Whether or not she does this as a tactic to ascertain info at a later date, we don’t know. But it certainly doesn’t hurt the investigation! One of Danvers’ flings, a local English teacher, tells her that the scientists at the Tsalal Station had committed their lives to finding ancient microorganisms in the ice that could cure cancer, disease, aging, and other maladies. Another one of her lovers was the operator of Ennis’ mines, whose scorned wife reluctantly agrees to let Danvers keep the corpsicle at the local ice rink—which the mining company owns—to thaw out. And finally, there’s police Captain Connelly (Christopher Eccleston), whom Danvers has been screwing on and off for the last 19 years, a prickly relationship that she suspects earned her the less-than-desirable post out in Ennis.
But though Danvers is an expert in getting information, she’s reluctant when it comes to sharing it, even if it might speed up the investigation. While the corpsicle is moved into the ice rink (Christmas trees glowing around the establishment—how festive!), Navarro brings Danvers a photo of the angular spiral found on the forehead of one of the bodies. “This tattoo was on Annie’s body,” Navarro says. Danvers brushes it off, but Navarro insists that the two cases are clearly connected and can be solved in tandem. Danvers doesn’t bite, and we’re left with the implication that there is much more to be revealed about these two cops’ past working relationship.
That won’t stop Navarro from investigating on her own. At a local hole in the wall, Navarro shows Annie’s brother, Ryan (Phillip Blanchett), a photo of Clark, one of the scientists who worked at the Tsalal Station. Navarro has a hunch that Clark and Annie are connected, after Danvers revealed in Episode 1 that Annie and Clark were seen separately wearing the same parka. Ryan doesn’t recognize Clark from the photo, but when a patron named Chuck comes outside to grab Ryan, Navarro notices that Chuck seems to recognize the picture. Navarro later interrogates Chuck and finds out that his cousin sold Clark a trailer for $10,000, which Clark paid for in cash.
The episode’s most fascinating scenes arrive when Danvers teaches deputy Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) how to ask the right questions in a case. They hole up at the ice rink by the corpsicle and break it down. It’s not, “Who drew the spiral on the scientist’s forehead?” Rather, it’s, “When was it drawn?” If it was before they made it out onto the ice, it could’ve been a part of a prank or a game. If it was drawn after, someone was out on the ice with the men. Danvers encourages Peter to keep asking; she wants him to interrogate the way his mind works, and urge him to become more analytical. Why weren’t the men fully dressed when they were found? No, what he should be wondering is how scared they have to be to run out onto the ice without any shoes.
As we find out, this type of encouragement is the Danvers specialty. Navarro recalls it later, after deducing that Clark was having an affair with Annie (confirmed again when Danvers finds out that Clark sported the spiral tattoo on his chest). The question—at least at this stage—is how they managed to keep their tryst a secret. The answer is in the trailer that Clark bought with cash, which Navarro finds covered in snow at a local trailer park. Navarro calls in Danvers, who finally decides to let the trooper in on the case and work together to solve the Tsalal mystery and Annie’s death at the same time. Inside the empty trailer, the women find manic etchings and drawings all over the wall. Behind a curtain, a human-sized doll without a face lays on a bed, bound with yarn, with the spiral painted above it on the ceiling.
Pete calls the two women back to the ice rink; there’s a new problem that they couldn’t have anticipated unless the corpsicle thawed a bit. Eight scientists went missing, and one was found still alive in the snow, but there are only six men buried in the mound of frozen flesh. Danvers identifies them all but Clark, whom Navarro insists is still alive and somewhere in Alaska. It seems like an easy lead suspect, but given all of the surreal, occult-like twists and turns in just the first two episodes alone, nothing about what comes next will be simple.