The following story contains light spoilers for True Detective: Night Country, Part 3.
FOR AS SERIOUS, and, at times, indecipherable, as the True Detective franchise tends to be, it’s pretty low on the list of places where you’d expect to find a direct reference to one of the most revered films of all time. But the hit HBO franchise’s fourth iteration, True Detective: Night Country, has taken a step back from some of the introspective monologues of previous seasons and instead put its dialogue into a bit more of a ‘realistic’ zone, and, so, now movie references are seemingly fair game. Or, at least, about as realistic as the dialogue in a working-class Alaska mining town dealing with a number of mysterious, possibly supernatural deaths could be.
By the time we reach “Part 3,” we’re fully entrenched in the mystery of the season: a number of men from the mystifying Tsalal Arctic Research Station (think John Carpenter’s version of The Thing) disappeared off the face of the earth, only to show up dead in a frozen “corpsicle” in the middle of an icy field. As the heroes of the season—Chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis)— catch more and more wind of the case, they figure out that it’s connected to a cold case from years ago, the death of local activist Anne Kowtok.
As we learn more and more clues and get closer and closer to solving the mystery at the season’s center, we also learn more about the characters and the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska. We know about Danvers’ personality—she’s got a no-nonsense streak, and also likes sports (she plays fantasy football); she also keeps herself busy with a Tinder profile and has become known around town for having affairs with married men. Flashbacks have also let us know that Danvers is likely a widow and is possibly mourning a child, informing the way in which she appears to handle her personal life in the present.
Despite all of that, Danvers still values the personal relationships in her life despite the walls she appears to put up; she’s clearly got some kind of bond with Navarro, despite the love-hate thing they put on. She cares for her stepdaughter, Leah (Isabella Star LeBlanc), despite her frustration with some of her choices and perceived teenage rebellion. And she really values her working relationship with Officer Peter Prior (Finn Bennett), despite his dad, Hank (John Hawkes) being a real pain in the ass who also happens to be the local precinct’s Captain.
This all comes to a head in a moment late in “Part 3,” when Danvers and Navarro realize that Hank has withheld information from their investigation into both the “corpsicle” of Tsalal men and Anne’s death, namely the existence of a man named Oliver Tabaq who previously worked in Tsalal and is now off the grid; Navarro bursts into the ice rink where the Corpsicle is thawing, screaming at him, while Hank immediately goes onto the defensive.
When Danvers, in a far calmer manner than Navarro, threatens to file a negligence report against Hank for withholding and hiding the potentially vital information, he snaps back at her, claiming he could file his own negligence report against her for “playing Mrs. Robinson with my kid.”
Danvers is the bigger person and just walks away, as Peter asks her who Mrs. Robinson is. She ignores him (and his lack of cultural literacy), because it’s not relevant. But what is clear from all of this is that Danvers has an uphill battle to face in getting anything done in Ennis.
Who is Mrs. Robinson?
By invoking “Mrs. Robinson,” Hank is making a reference to the classic 1969 coming-of-age film The Graduate, where a young college graduate (played by Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by an older woman (Anne Bancroft) who is bored in her unsatisfying marriage; the two enter a brief sexual affair.
By making this reference as an offhand remark with—presumably—no evidence, Hank manages to insult both Danvers and his own son. We know that Danvers has a reputation around Ennis as someone who enters into affairs. But Hank’s remark is also disparaging toward Peter, because his insinuation is that the duo couldn’t possibly have a strong working relationship without there being something else going on behind closed doors.
The remark is, a way, in a nutshell, for creator Issa López to put on display just the kind of misogyny that someone like Danvers—despite being the town’s Chief of Police—has to deal with. While Danvers has shown herself to be a bit detached at times, she’s without question a smart person and an observant detective; she’s not deserving of the way her colleague insults her both personally and professionally.
While past seasons of True Detective have featured protagonists who are discredited for one reason or another, Night Country features leads who are belittled by colleagues for reasoning that essentially boils down to jealously, pettiness, and pre-programmed sexism.
We’ve only begun to delve into solving the mystery(s) at the core of Night Country, and Hank himself may very well be involved in the conspiracy. But it would probably be an even more poignant outcome if the series puts on display that you don’t have to be an evil murderer—or involved in any kind of conspiracy—to be a jerk who needs to change his ways.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.