‘True Detective’ Season 4, Episode 2 Recap: ‘Corpsicle’


During last week’s episode, as Liz and her team were puzzling over the sudden disappearance of eight scientists at the Tsalal Research Station, Hank mused, “Just the third day of darkness and it’s already getting weird.” Based on some of the mysterious events we witnessed that episode, like the gyrating spirit that leads Rose to a grisly tableaux of frozen bodies, a word like “weird” seems woefully insufficient. One question we might have asked ourselves was whether “North Country” would become a genuine ghost story or a hybrid, blending the noir sleuthing of previous “True Detective” seasons with mere intimations of the supernatural.

This second hour throws a little bit of ice-cold water on the weird stuff, at least insofar as it pertains to the deaths of these scientists and the unsolved murder of Annie, a young Inupiaq activist. That’s not to say that the uncanny won’t be an important part of the show, but it seems more folded into the ambience of this sunless locale than a literal explanation for the violence happening within it. When Navarro asks Rose about Travis, an ex-lover who turns up to her as a spirit, it is blithely accepted that such ghosts can appear in the darkness from time to time.

“I think the world is getting old,” explains Rose, “and Ennis is where the fabric of all things is coming apart at the seams.” In other words, “North Country” seems to be a waxing philosophical in the “True Detective” tradition, but the end-of-the-earth environs inspire thoughts that are tied more to Indigenous myths and frostbit hallucinations.

As for the case itself, there’s a lot of strong, meat-and-potatoes procedural work in this episode that suggests it can be solved. And in the process of solving it, we can learn more about Danvers and Navarro, who remain inextricably at odds but have similar appetites for pursuing justice under terrible circumstances and blowing off steam with lovers they keep at arm’s length. The show no longer seems in danger of drifting into the inexplicable.

The episode begins with the folly of small-town cops working a big-time crime scene, which requires both the delicacy of an archaeological dig and the inelegant prying of a chain saw that can carve through ice. Frozen limbs can snap off like brittle twigs, and Danvers’s dimmer underlings, who have never imagined such a spectacle, have to be told not to snap selfies. (“This is a crime scene,” she tells them. “Why don’t you pretend like you know what you’re doing?”)

If Danvers had any sense of self-preservation, she would punt the case to Anchorage, not only because it has a forensics team but also because she won’t have to endure the intense scrutiny of sorting through such a vexing mystery. But it’s an itch that she absolutely needs to scratch, just as Navarro cannot let go of her responsibility to Annie.

Their first priority is sorting through the mass of naked flesh that gets dug up from the ice, which Danvers darkly refers to as a “corpsicle.” In order to preserve whatever physical evidence they can extract from the bodies, the corpsicle must first be thawed out over 48 hours at 38 degrees, which can be achieved by transporting it to center ice at the local recreational rink. As this Edvard Munch exhibit drips away under the hot lights, Danvers and her young protégé Peter start thinking about the questions they need to ask: Why are the victims naked? Why do they seem to have bitten their own hands? Why were some of their clothes found neatly folded by the scene? And what’s with the spiral symbol that keeps popping up?

That last piece of the puzzle seems to be the most crucial because it ties the dead scientists to Annie’s murder. One of the scientists, Clark, had the spiral tattooed on his chest, and when Peter and Danvers trace Clark’s credit record back to a Fairbanks tattoo parlor in 2017, they discover that Annie’s tattoo was the model for Clark’s and that he had it inked a few days after her murder. The spiral was also found drawn on the forehead of another victim, Lund, who had a secret, intimate relationship with Annie. Lund had spent $10,000 on a trailer that served as their ostensible love nest, and when Navarro discovers it buried in the snow, the interior is full of strange etchings, photos and handcrafted objects.

But even as all these puzzles within puzzles start to reveal themselves — to say nothing of the research station’s mission and its vaguely sinister corporate ties — the episode ends with a smack in the face. When the corpsicle thaws completely, one body is conspicuously absent: Clark’s.

Given his connection to Annie and Lund, that makes him seem like the obvious suspect in both of these open cases — which, of course, makes him an obvious red herring, too. What’s clear now, after the dreamlike abstractions of the premiere, is that “North Country” has an investigative path forward. That may strip the show of mystique, but it’s worth the added suspense.

  • Strange happenings at an Arctic research station naturally call to mind John Carpenter’s classic 1982 horror film “The Thing,” as does the “extinct microorganism” that the scientists had been working hard to isolate. Perhaps similar forces have been roused in the ice.

  • Remarkably diverse selection of music in this episode, from the Beach Boys’s “Little Saint Nick” as the corpses are carted through town to Navarro reminiscing over Spice Girls’s “Wannabe” to the incongruously cheerful funk of K.C. & the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight.”

  • One reason Navarro didn’t get the information on Lund’s trailer until now is the tension between the miners and the people in the town, like Annie, who rallied against the pollution coming from the mine. That has nothing to do with extinct microorganisms. That’s a conflict that continues to rage within Ennis.

  • Danvers’s fury when her stepdaughter, Leah (Isabella Star LaBlanc), gets kakiniit marks on her chin, even with nonpermanent marker, underlines another important fault line in the show between Indigenous and white residents of Ennis. Leah is curious about exploring her identity, but Danvers’s insistence on shutting her down speaks to a key disconnect between her department and the community. (“Don’t give me that, Laundromat Grandma,” is a fine insult, however.)



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