True Detective: Night Country Part 5 Recap — Fight the Break of Dawn

Pete Prior sitting at a desk in his police uniform in True Detective: Night Country Part 5
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country Part 5 (written by Katrina Albright & Wenonah Wilms and Chris Mundy & Issa López, and directed by Issa López).

Let’s begin at the end.

As Part 5 of True Detective: Night Country ends, Liz Danvers and Evangeline Navarro drive through a brutal winter storm as they make one last attempt to solve the murders of Annie and the Tsalal researchers. As they drive, a cover of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” (this version on the show by Zayde Wolf) plays over top of their Bronco making its way through the blinding snow.

The song, with its simple and globally recognized lyrics, offers about as literal a description as a show about treacherous investigations in an unending night can provide:

Well, we know I’m going away
And how I wish, I wish it weren’t so
So take this wine and drink with me
Let’s delay our misery
Save tonight
Fight the break of dawn
Come tomorrow
Tomorrow I’ll be gone

The hit 1997 song, written about the artist’s longing to spend one more night with the woman he loves before he has to leave, is both a little too on the nose for a show about an endless night and likely a foreshadowing of what is to come.

I am sympathetic to the idea that there are truly some awful needle drops these days. Many of these songs have us thinking about nostalgia and who produced the remake instead of the on-screen tension. But credit is due to whoever juxtaposed the simple words of “Save Tonight” with the complicated concepts of what those words mean in True Detective: Night Country.

Liz Danvers standing in her office
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Even something as simple as “Tonight” or “Tomorrow.” What does that mean in a place like Ennis, Alaska where the night never ends and there is no break of dawn to remind you that the horrors of yesterday can turn into the hope of today?

When someone is “gone” in True Detective: Night Country, what exactly does that mean? The ladies of the Navarro family have all been “gone” in various ways over many years, and now two of them are gone forever. Raymond Clark is currently “gone,” but is his disappearance explainable or is it mystical?

Hank Prior is now technically “gone” from the equation, but his involvement, complicity, and dead body are still very much at the heart of what must be a part of Part 6, the finale. Characters from the past like Holden, Wheeler, and Leah’s father are all “gone,” but each one carries a certain amount of the baggage that makes up Liz Danvers’ emotional state.

And that’s the beauty of True Detective: Night Country through its first five episodes. It combines the mundane and relatable with the complex and unexplainable, all to tell a story that has so many unanswered questions heading into the finale.

Who killed Annie? What did she discover in the caves? How did the researchers die? Will Navarro go down the same path as her mother and sister? What happened to Danvers’ son and husband? Who pulled the trigger on Wheeler? And as Danvers would ask us, “Are we asking the right questions?”

Part 5 jumps ahead several days as we see New Year’s Eve approaching in Ennis. Evangeline Navarro has arrived at the coroner’s office to collect her sister’s ashes. Eventually, she recruits Rose and the two of them go out to the frozen sea, crack open the ice, and pour them in.

Danvers and Pete stand in a hallway talking
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Meanwhile, Liz Danvers visits Otis Heiss after he was brought in from the dredges and sent to a rehab facility so he can come down from his heroin addiction. But because time is of the essence, and Otis appears to still be quite dependent after six days with no drugs in his system, Danvers insists that he help her find the entrance to the cave where Annie was killed.

Otis’ first reaction to this is quid pro quo, baby. Get me the drugs and I’m all yours. This isn’t the last time some quid pro quo will come up in this episode. Danvers is at first adamant that she will not help him get high, but as we later learn, what good is keeping a moral code when everyone around you is dirty and you’re trying to solve multiple murders?

Still unhappy Pete Prior couldn’t even get off work for freaking Christmas Eve, Kayla kicks Pete out of the house right in the middle of his bowl of Cheerios. This is a tough scene to watch from the perspective of Pete, who we know is not just some overbearing workaholic, but desperate to find the killer for both Annie and the researchers.

It’s also tough and revealing to see it from Kayla’s perspective after some aspects of their relationship are enlightened. She fell in love with Pete back in high school after Pete purposefully lost a high school hockey game so that someone on the other team who had just lost their dad could have some joy. Pete, despite what must have been a rough home life growing up, has always been the one looking out for everyone else, even sacrificing his happiness. It’s a chilling revelation about his personality considering what is to come later in the episode.

While Pete is bouncing around from bed to bed, however, he discovers that the Tuttle Organization (from Part 2 and Season 1 of True Detective) is funding both the Silver Sky Mine and the Tsalal research station. Tsalal, in their free time from studying microbiology and life-altering gene regeneration, also has found time to provide false pollution reports for the mine, something that Kate McKitterick has been trying to keep under wraps

At the mine’s offices that night (at least I think it’s “nighttime”), Leah and her girlfriend take part in another violent protest. This time, Leah gets more vocal and more involved and ends up being beaten by a police officer before Navarro intervenes. Leah’s girlfriend runs away, refusing to protect her, and Navarro is left to fight off the police to protect Leah and get her to the police station. Danvers, perhaps as retribution for making her throw away a whole Butterball on Christmas, wants Leah to spend time in jail this time.

Liz Danvers standing in the police station in True Detective: Night Country Part 5
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Armed with damning evidence about the mine and fully prepared to blame the protest fiasco on the worthless Alaska state troopers, Danvers confronts Kate about the protest and the newly-discovered funding concerns. Captain Connelly is also present, conspicuously meeting with Kate before Danvers arrives, and they shut her down.

The Tsalal case is closed, he says. A freak weather event that was completely unexpected (and that apparently also forces men to take off and fold their clothes) is what led to the deaths of the Tsalal men. Danvers knows this is bullshit, but she quickly realizes she is staring down the double barrel of perhaps the two most powerful people in Ennis, and begrudgingly agrees to drop the case.

What we as the audience know is that Kate will do anything to keep Danvers and Navarro from exploring the cave where Annie was killed and the video was taken. How do we know this? Simple. In a shocking piece of exposition that is quite antithetical to True Detective, Kate meets privately with Hank and they discuss the death of Annie, which they were at least complicit in, if not outright responsible for.

It doesn’t appear from their conversation that either one of them is Annie’s murderer, but they both know it happened and Hank later admits to moving the body back to Ennis. That means there is at least one more person in this unholy trinity that know about this crime. Connelly? Raymond Clark? Oliver Tabaq? Some of the mine goons that beat up Navarro in Part 4? This is a mystery I feel confident will be solved in the finale.

After sitting down for a heart-to-heart with Leah (next time, don’t do it while your 16-year-old step-daughter is in the bath, Liz), Danvers begins to realize the literal impact the mine is having on Ennis. Leah tells her about the deaths caused by the pollution, prompting Danvers to visit the bodies of all the stillborn babies killed by pollution from the mine. There are so many of them (nine babies and others who have also died), that they must be stored in an old warehouse to wait for thawed ground so their bodies can be buried.

Danvers decides the fight to find out what happened to Annie and the Tsalal men is not over. She now has the motivation and desire back that Connelly and McKittrick stripped out of her, so she circles back to Otis.

Navarro driving her car
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

With a lot less arm-twisting than earlier in the episode, she agrees to give Otis heroin to convince him to come to the caves and be their guide. Danvers brings Otis back to her house where she is going to let Otis get high on some heroin she must have stolen from evidence lockup. Somehow, he functions better that way, and believes he can get her to the caves.

The final scene of Part 5 is perhaps the most edge-of-your-seat of the entire season. As Liz and Otis prepare to leave, Hank—who has apparently been following Danvers on Kate’s orders—appears and kills Otis so he can’t take her to find an entrance to the mine. Hank then turns the gun on Danvers, but Pete arrives and kills his father, saving Danvers’ life. Pete’s descent from the innocent, all-American kid whom everyone loves to patricide in this moment is jarring.

Pete earlier discovered that Danvers and Navarro must have made up the Wheeler story from all those years ago because his suicide wounds were not consistent with someone who was left-handed. He also discovered that his dad broke into his laptop and stole this information as leverage against Danvers, who is still nominally Pete’s hero and mentor. To lose his family and end his father’s life all in a span of one day breaks Pete. Maybe forever.

Navarro arrives after Danvers calls her to come over and the three agree to cover it up so they can keep looking into the Annie and Tsalal cases. Danvers and Navarro will head to the mines while Pete, all on his own, will clean up the crime scene and dump his father’s body at the same place Navarro placed her sister’s ashes. With a brutal winter storm now bearing down on them, and a constant night still hanging over them, the finale now has even more work to do as the tables have turned with Danvers and Navarro now forced to cover up two murders, while trying to solve two others.

As Danvers and Navarro travel to the mines under the cover of “Save Tonight,” they are headed to the place where Annie, in the video before her death, said “I found it. It’s here.” What “it” is and what “it” is going to reveal has been the right question all along. Only one more episode to see if True Detective: Night Country will provide an appropriate answer now that we have finally found the right question.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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