“We’re all in the Night Country now.”
So reveals our newly introduced person of interest in the latest installment of Issa López’s icy spin on HBO’s True Detective. In a show with less emotionally devastating plot developments, I might’ve heard that line and assumed it to be a cheeky little Alaskan euphemism for cunnilingus. But for a prestige vehicle starring Hollywood’s lesbian foremother Jodie Foster and the gorgeously brawny, sexually fluid boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis, Night Country has been queerly heterosexual. Of course, the season opens with Foster’s bitter police Chief Liz Danvers chastising her teenage stepdaughter Leah for making an ill-advised sex tape with an underage girlfriend, but aside from that, each successive episode has left many viewers—I swear I’m not the only one—wondering why on earth this show seems determined to sidestep the queerness that threatens to erupt from every intense moment on screen. Not to stereotype or get too lost in the grand (and fraught) tradition of queer cops on the small screen, but how could a show starring these actors as hard-nosed, brutish, cagey law enforcement officers revolve so much around those women somehow looking for men to sleep with in their tiny town at the end of the world?
But what if I told you that, in recent weeks, I’ve become something of a true detective myself? A thorough investigation has led me to a veritable glacier of evidence that suggests that lesbianism is just as pervasive in the town of Ennis as Cyclops polar bears and mysterious rolling oranges—or, at least, that may explain why so many of us suspect that more is afoot. (And believe me, it’s not just that Reis has an eyebrow-slit-and-dimple-piercing combo that has heretofore never been seen on a straight woman.)
Let’s begin with the all-important dynamic between Danvers and state trooper Evangeline Navarro (Reis). Between nasty (sometimes outright racist) comments and screaming matches, these two women seem to know—and care for—each other deeply. They also appear to have a history that’s more charged than one between merely cop partners. Take, for example, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Navarro’s kitchen: Danvers waltzes into Navarro’s home and unpacks her groceries. As Danvers goes through the cabinets, struggling to place the items where they belong, she demands an explanation: “Did you change where you put the cans?” I don’t know about your workplace dynamics, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell you where any of my colleagues keep their cans, not even with a sexy True Detective holding a gun to my head. It suggests a certain level of intimacy, one accomplished perhaps while looking for a caffeine fix in the wee hours after spending the night on more than one occasion.
Danvers also teases Navarro with the kind of sexual comments that should probably get you reported to HR—is this a workplace violation, or simply too-familiar comments between exes who still have a rapport (or both)? In a classic banter-while-driving-around-investigating scene, Danvers presses Navarro on her hookups with the sweet bartender/dog lover Qavvik and questions if she’s “gone back to girls.” Navarro scoffs, brushing off the question, and rolls her eyes in a way that’s all too recognizable to anyone who’s had to deal with the barbs of a past lover.
If Navarro and Danvers did have a romantic history, that would fit right in with what appears to be Danvers’ known track record, among Ennis’ inhabitants, of sleeping with her subordinate mentees. (For what it’s worth, she also seems comfortable with fucking lots of people, emotional and professional complications be damned: Both a married high school geology teacher and a former law enforcement colleague interested in undermining her authority within Ennis feature in the Danvers bedroom rotation.) When a colleague, seemingly out of nowhere, accuses her of playing “Mrs. Robinson” with his rookie cop son, she splashes his coffee into his face. Could it be an overreaction because she’s aghast at the suggestion she’d take advantage of her position over a young colleague—or a case of a hit dog hollering because the suggestion occurred with her previous inappropriate workplace fling within earshot?
Danvers and Navarro do find lovable dudes to shack up with: an old boss named Connelly for the former, and Qavvik for the latter. But there’s something to be said about the women’s sexual domination of both of these fellas. In their dalliances throughout the perpetual night, the men function more like a human dildo for these women, who are often on top and totally in control. Danvers and Navarro use their men solely to get information and get off. Not to mention, the pillow talk that follows these encounters is almost always lacking in tenderness: Danvers in particular is far more likely to tell a man to fuck off than she is to forge any kind of intimacy.
Much has already been said, including by the actors themselves, about how Danvers assumes a type of “maternal” posture toward Navarro. But is that relationship really maternal, or is it more akin to the distinctly lesbian dynamic of the “Mommi” figure, the dyke equivalent to the gay “Daddy”? Danvers’ version of “Mommi” is hypercompetent, prickly, and even domineering. She can wordlessly compel a colleague at the station to fetch her coffee. She’s got another young charge so eager to please her at work that he’s bailed on his wife and toddler son more times than frosty ghosts have materialized in Night Country. No one can say no to Mommi, let alone a Mommi with a gun. Furthermore, Danvers isn’t the only Mommi around—joining her is the stoner loner Rose Aguineau, played with no-nonsense charm by one of the Mommi GOATs, Fiona Shaw (see: Fleabag).
The prevalence of this kind of matriarchal figure wouldn’t be out of place on Night Country: It’s hard not to notice just how much the Native population of the fictional Ennis operates, to a certain extent, within a matriarchal society. When Navarro tracks down murder victim Annie K. in the past, she stumbles upon an Inupiaq birthing center. Navarro is so bewildered and overcome by the scene that she briefly abandons her duty to arrest Annie K. for a previous protest action. Annie demands that Navarro fetch hot water for the laboring woman’s birthing pool, and Navarro tenderly obliges. The bonds forged in that moment—particularly as the newborn struggles to take her first breath—run deep. Women fostering community and creating intimate connections in spite of the bitter cold, the settler violence of Ennis’ white population, and the physical harm wreaked by the mining operation is powerful in its defiance.
So, perhaps I am grasping at straws and stringing together yarn connections on my big lesbian corkboard that just don’t exist. But between Danvers, Navarro, and the ambient and thematic queerness of eschewing established norms—of both the hypermasculine True Detective and Western social structures—there’s a reason why viewers can’t stop seeing signs of gayness. Many things lurk beneath the drifting snow and the eternal dark of Night Country—including, I’d reckon, a handful of lesbians.