If you’ve been getting the sinking feeling that True Detective Season 4 is setting you up for disappointment, you’re not alone.
On Twitter and elsewhere, viewers have been expressing their concern that showrunner Issa Lopez has bitten off more than she can chew, gotten in over her head, and other cliches to that effect.
The nit-picking has begun, and the haters are having their say.
Is the criticism justified?
Well, as True Detective Season 4 Episode 4 ushers us into the back half of Night Country's run, we'll admit that we're feeling a little wary about Lopez's ability to nail the dismount.
Danvers and Navarro's conversation at the beginning of the episode serves as a perfect microcosm for the season as a whole.
It bounces from family challenges to Corpsicle matters to inter-departmental drama (involving the higher-up whom Danvers is sleeping with) to the murder of Annie Kowtok.
And that all happens within the space of about 90 seconds.
Danvers' ensuing conversation with Connelly further underscores just how much has happened in the past three episodes (and how much needs to be resolved in the next three).
You have protests around the mine; you had a shooting that ended in a fight at the hospital; you have six dead bodies in the local ice rink, and a still-missing person of interest.Connelly
He's obviously leaving out quite a few important matters, such as his illicit affair with Danvers and the weird zombie-like situation that unfolded at the end of True Detective Season 4 Episode 3.
That was probably just a hallucination on Navarro's part (we think/hope), but still, it's not hard to see why there's a pervasive fear that this show might be taking on too much.
And when Danvers tells Connelly that the Tsalas researchers died before they froze, we're reminded that this series has been showing signs of strain for a couple of weeks now.
As many have pointed out on social media, the storyline where Danvers was forced to use a veterinarian to perform a forensic evaluation doesn't make a whole lot of sense when the episode ends in a nearby hospital that appears to be fully staffed.
(Also, Alaskan cops probably don't need a vet to tell them what happens when people freeze to death!)
Lopez is a big fan of sharp contrasts, so the hard-edged exchange between Danvers and Connelly gives way to a tender moment between Navarro and Jules as the latter checks out into a mental healthcare facility.
From there, we're introduced to Otis Heiss, a mysterious German national who once sustained injuries similar to the ones that seemingly killed the Tsalal men.
Unfortunately, no one can find the guy, a fact that leaves both the Ennis police and the True Detective viewer burdened with one mystery too many.
As though the news that unexplained Germans are roving the countryside wasn't creepy enough, we also learn that Annie K. was murdered in an ice cave with fossils embedded in the wall.
Lopez keeps returning to this idea that the secrets of the past are buried deep underground, and when we go burrowing -- whether to mine for precious minerals or to dig a shallow grave -- we might not like what we unearth.
Speaking of secrets and buried things, Danvers digs up another ex -- the Earth science teacher from True Detective Season 4 Episode 2 -- to help her find the cave where Annie recorded her final moments.
The guy's wife is understandably not thrilled to see Danvers and Navarro turn up on her doorstep on Christmas Eve, but the teacher proves helpful.
(Hey, we've officially reached that point in the narrative where it's time to start answering questions instead of raising new ones!)
The teacher looks up the valiant spelunker who mapped the cave system, and what do you know, it's Mysterious German Otis Heiss!
The scene highlights the perils that come with introducing supernatural elements and philosophical elements into detective fiction.
The bog standard "Eureka!" moments just don't pack the same punch when the show is equally -- if not more -- concerned with the big questions of the universe than with the identity of the murderer.
True Detective Season 4 has drawn comparisons to Twin Peaks, but the difference is that David Lynch made it clear early on that he had no real interest in the traditional trappings of the mystery genre.
Lopez, for all her fascination with the otherworldly, still wants us to thrill along as the cops inch closer to their perp.
It's a tricky, but not impossible, balancing act.
But when the show shifts to The Ring-style horror in the following scene, as Jules encounters a monster under her bed in the psychiatric hospital, it's tough not to think that this series is attempting to do too much tonally.
Santa's elves drowned in global warming, darling. And the rest are all meth heads.Rose
And let's not forget that Lopez is attempting all of this while creating a link between the current episodes and True Detective Season 1.
Speaking of that controversial decision, Rose Aguineau -- thus far, the strongest link between the two seasons -- reemerges after being entirely absent from Part 3.
This time, she's in Martha Stewart mode, wowing Navarro with her domestic goddess skills as the two of them enjoy a decadent Christmas Eve dinner.
Lopez's interest in juxtaposition continues with a scene in which Jules and Leah both "set out" -- Jules, tragically, for the final time -- after familial interactions that couldn't be more different.
Danvers is testy with her stepdaughter after she vandalizes the mining offices, and Navarros is patient with her sister, who, unbeknownst to her, has fled the psychiatric hospital with the intention of taking her own life.
Following a drunk moment of clarity, Danvers refocuses her investigation on Oliver Tagaq and sends Navarro and Peter Prior to his cabin.
Viewers who have complained that this show seems to be spinning its wheels might find themselves somewhat mollified by the fact that the investigation appears to be ramping up.
But those who feel that the show is literally too dark might find themselves annoyedly adjusting their brightness during some seriously underlit scenes.
There's been surprisingly little talk about the performances this season, possibly because Jodie Foster has been delivering top-tier work for so long that it's easy to take her for granted.
But the drunk Danvers sequence serves to remind us of her astonishing range, as well as how impressive it is that relative newcomer Kali Reis has managed to hold her own in scene after scene.
Navarro responds with more rage than grief when she receives word of her sister's death and the tension that's been simmering just beneath the surface all season bubbles over in surprising ways.
We see our first real sign of her character's vulnerability as she gets the worst of a conflict with the wife-beater from True Detective Season 4 Episode 1 and his drunken buddies.
The scene dovetails with a display of fragility from Danvers as she pays a hammered visit to Connelly, who drops more hints about her painful past.
This series has always gotten a lot of traction out of doling out backstory in tiny morsels, but it might be time to offer the audience something conclusive about the death of Liz's husband (we think?) and son.
After a while, it begins to feel like the show is holding back information so that it won't run out of things to say.
The past is once again made physically manifest by the one-eyed polar bear, another aspect of this story that's beginning to feel like a mystery for the sake of mystery.
If all of these winding paths are leading us somewhere satisfying, then all of this confusion might wind up seeming worthwhile.
But the news that yet another suspect has gone missing is beginning to make us feel as though this story is as pointlessly twisty as the crooked spiral painted on that stone in Tagaq's cabin.
Clearly, Lopez is interested in the big questions of the human condition, as was her predecessor, Nic Pizzolatto.
But unlike the series creator, the new showrunner seems poised to say something definitive about the connection between the material and spiritual worlds.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to make such statements without coming off as preachy or hokey.
We're prepared for the possibility that we'll be surprised -- that the spiral of the Tsalal men's drill unearthed something profound while burrowing into the same icy sea where Julia Navarro met her demise.
Maybe Evangeline's visions will prove to be more than mere hallucinations.
Perhaps the encounter with Otis Heiss -- clad in the parka that previously belonged to both Annie K. and Raymond Clark -- will yield answers to some of our questions instead of just raising more.
We're all in the night country now.Otis Heiss
We're still intrigued, but four hours into this investigation, we can feel our curiosity beginning to flag.
Lopez has proven adept at establishing tone, but if she wants to shake off the stigma that the True Detective brand earned with its second season, she'll need to demonstrate that this story is really headed somewhere and not just stuck in the snow.
But hey, at least we got to see that jerk Hank Prior get stood up by his mail-order bride.
Now, that's quality television!
Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.