TV & Movies

These 2 Real Events Inspired True Detective: Night Country

The unsolved mysteries have haunted the showrunner for decades.

Kali Reis (Evangeline Navarro) and Jodie Foster (Liz Danvers) in 'True Detective: Night Country' via...
Michele K. Short/HBO

HBO’s True Detective: Night Country centers on the mystery of eight Arctic researchers who vanish without a trace, just as months of darkness begin in Ennis, Alaska. Though the case that detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) endeavor to solve isn’t exactly based on a true story, two real events inspired the eerie storyline.

Showrunner Issa López, who wrote and directed all six episodes, explained to Vanity Fair in November that she drew upon two mysteries that have haunted her since childhood: the 1872 case of the Mary Celeste and the 1952 Dyatlov Pass incident.

Here’s what happened in both events.

An Abandoned Ship

The Mary Celeste, a 282-ton American brigantine, set sail from New York to Italy in November 1872. The passengers included the ship’s captain, his wife, their 2-year-old daughter, and eight crew members.

Less than a month later, the crew of a passing British ship discovered the Mary Celeste adrift near Portugal — but there was nobody onboard. A lifeboat was missing, and several feet of water was in the hold. But the ship, which was stocked with six months’ worth of food and water, was undamaged.

Michele K. Short/HBO

The disappearance of all those onboard remains unsolved, though theories of what happened ranged from mutiny to pirates to sea monsters to killer waterspouts, according to Smithsonian magazine.

A Chilling Hiking Mystery

The second case that inspired López involved nine Russian hikers who mysteriously abandoned their Dyatlov Pass campsite and froze to death in the nearby wilderness of the Ural Mountains in 1959. When the bodies were found, some were barefoot and almost naked, according to The New York Times. Nobody could explain what or who killed them, though.

The case is still unsolved, and conspiracy theories include everything from supernatural phenomena to a Russian State conspiracy. However, recent research suggests an avalanche could have been to blame. López doesn’t agree with the avalanche theory, though.

Lilja Jons/HBO

“An avalanche doesn’t explain a lot of the details I think,” she added in her Vanity Fair interview. “Even if it did, I prefer the strange, incomplete answer. I think there is a fascination with puzzles that are still missing a couple of pieces, and that obsess us, and make us angry, and make us not stop thinking about them.”

Not Another Unsolved Case

Similarly, “not all of the questions are clarified at the end” of Night Country, López said, but she promised that viewers would have all the clues they needed to answer them. She elaborated that the character, or characters, “that committed the deed are right there in front of you through the entire series,” if you pay close attention.

Michele K. Short/HBO

In addition to referencing various John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick works, López also leaned into the “supernatural flavor” of True Detective Season 1.

“There is a path here where you can go, ‘Every single event has a natural explanation,’ or there’s more than what we can see at stake,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I love that liminal space.”