True Detective Was Never Just One Person’s Vision

The new season of the HBO crime anthology series needs to remember Night Country’s biggest strength.

Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers in 'True Detective: Night Country'
True Detective

It's been a whirlwind few months for True Detective fans. In January, the beloved HBO crime anthology series returned with its fourth season, True Detective: Night Country, which came from writer-director Issa López. The season was the show's first to be made without the involvement of True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, who decided to let his unhappiness with Night Country be repeatedly known on social media both during and after its six-episode run. At the same time, while Night Country has been met mostly with praise from critics, it's proven to be strongly divisive among longtime True Detective fans.

HBO nonetheless announced shortly after Night Country's finale aired that Lopez has not only signed a new overall deal with the network but that her deal also includes a fifth season of True Detective. The announcement has been met with both celebration and disappointment from Night Country's fans and critics. It's this writer's opinion that the announcement is good — if only for one fact that many of the people who have spent the past few weeks criticizing Night Country and defending Pizzolatto's behavior seem to have forgotten about True Detective and its origins.

True Detective has always benefitted from a healthy amount of behind-the-scenes collaborations.


When True Detective premiered in 2014, it was noteworthy that its first season was not only written solely by one writer, creator Nic Pizzolatto, but also directed entirely by director Cary Joji Fukunaga. The years since have made it clear just how much of what made True Detective Season 1 so special were the contributions that came not just from Pizzolatto, but also from Fukunaga, stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and composer T Bone Burnett, too. (Pizzolatto, for instance, reportedly pushed against the season's now-famous 6-minute one-take sequence, which Fukunaga fought to include and which went on to earn it quite a lot of attention.)

The show's second and third seasons, conversely, were made without the active involvement of strong collaborators like McConaughey and Fukunaga who could push back against Pizzolatto's indulgent tendencies. Neither season manages to match the brilliance of its first. The overwritten nature of its second, which Pizzolatto penned almost entirely on his own, emerged as a frequent point of criticism, and the same became true, though to a much lesser extent, of its third. It is, additionally, worth noting that there were reportedly numerous creative disagreements on the set of True Detective Season 3 between Pizzolatto and Green Room director Jeremy Saulnier, who had originally signed on to direct its first three installments before ultimately helming just two.

All of this is to say that, as much as he and his defenders might think otherwise, True Detective has never been a great show solely because of Nic Pizzolatto's creative oversight. The series was always at its best across its first three seasons when it felt the most like the result of behind-the-scenes collaborations between its directors, writer, and actors. What, therefore, made True Detective: Night Country feel so exciting and refreshing when it premiered wasn't just that it was good, but that it also allowed a new artist to bring their own perspective to the HBO show's world.

Across the season's six episodes, López explores new corners of the True Detective universe all while speaking the same tonal language that has long been unique to it. The season, above all else, proves that it's not only possible but necessary for more than one head writer to get to step into the show's surreal, nightmarish world. Hopefully, that's something that True Detective Season 5 will remember.

True Detective has the chance to finally become one of TV’s best anthology series.


There's no telling what ideas Issa López has in her mind right now for her next True Detective season. After directing every episode of Night Country and serving as its creator and head writer, though, it could benefit both her and the show at large to enlist the help of more writers and directors for its follow-up. Night Country is proof enough of how different voices can make new seasons of what is admittedly a fairly standard crime drama seem fresh, so here's to hoping that López uses True Detective Season 5 as an opportunity to invite more artists into its fictional world.

If she doesn't, the new coat of paint that's been applied to the series could start to seem familiar and boring again real fast. Fortunately, if there's one thing that True Detective has never actually been when it was at its best, it's a one-person show.

All four seasons of True Detective are streaming now on Max.

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