This article contains spoilers for Episode 5 of HBO's "True Detective: Night Country."
Episode 5 of “True Detective: Night Country” ended not with a whimper, but with a bang.
After Ennis, Alaska, Police Chief Liz Danvers discovers that Hank Prior, one of her fellow officers, is interfering with her investigation into the deaths of the scientists from Tsalal Research Station, the duo clash over a potential witness. Hank kills the witness in Danvers’ house before his son, Peter Prior, rushes in. In the closing minutes, following a tense standoff, Peter shoots and kills his father to protect Danvers.
It’s a shocking scene that Finn Bennett, who plays Peter, knew was coming from the very beginning, although he wasn’t sure how exactly it would unfold until the cast was actually on set.
“All the scripts went through many different iterations,” Bennett says. “But that one in particular, that moment, was changing all the time. The beats were there, what was going to happen was always there, but how it happened and the lines that played out and [Peter] being pulled in two different directions — that was all changing.”
The scene is pivotal for Peter, who has spent the season kowtowing to Danvers (Jodie Foster) as she investigates a gruesome murder. He’s been pulled between his devotion to work, his wife, Kayla (Anna Lambe), and their young child, Darwin, and Hank (John Hawkes). As Danvers and Hank face off over the investigation, Peter is forced to make a choice that Bennett says represents what the character stands for.
“The big conversation was how Danvers appeals to Prior’s rationality and how Hank, his father, appeals to something more sentimental and emotional,” Bennett says. “I think what it comes down to in the end is: Is Prior sentimental and emotional? Is the relationship with his father enough? Or is he moral and rational? I don't think there will ever be a time in his life thereafter where he doesn't second guess that decision.”
During production, which took place in Iceland, creator and showrunner Issa López held rehearsals with the cast each weekend. To nail down this particular moment, she gathered Bennett, Foster, Hawkes and Kali Reis, who plays Evangeline Navarro, the state trooper who is working with Danvers on the case, in her apartment (even though Reis isn’t in the scene).
Bennett recalls that even though “it was a brilliant scene,” the lines weren’t working. “I workshopped it with Jodie and John, who are complete masters of their craft,” he says. “I was like a kid in a sweet shop watching the two of them going back and forth.”
Being from England, which has some of the strictest firearm laws in the world, Bennett didn’t have much experience with guns. The cast underwent training before production and practiced target shooting, but the actor wasn’t completely comfortable with the firearms. The gunshot onscreen is a combination of practical and visual effects.
“We did a couple of takes where I did a very dramatic blast,” he says. “And they were like, ‘Um, chill out.’ But there is a slight kickback.”
Because of the challenges of shooting in Iceland in winter, including extreme weather conditions, it wasn’t possible to film “True Detective: Night Country” sequentially. But López purposefully scheduled Prior’s big scene toward the end of production. Bennett says he “needed that run-up” to get in the right head space and to feel comfortable in the room with Foster and Hawkes.
“I don't think there's any situation where you're going to go into a room with those titans of the craft and be comfortable per se,” he says. “But it certainly helped that we'd been working for five months before that. … I think it's more than being a dramatic and thrilling scene. It's a deeply sad and moving scene. It's sad killing your father.”
He adds, “It was an intense day. But it was also one of the best days because I was learning so much and I was so involved.”
Bennett was cast as Peter in the summer of 2022. López had seen his audition tape for a series she directed in the U.K. and she was also a fan of his work in Channel 4’s limited series “Kiri.” Although Bennett didn’t end up in López’s previous show, the pair kept in touch.
“She called me and she was like, ‘I'm writing something, and I think you would be great in it,’” Bennett says. “And I was like, ‘Fantastic. Is it shooting in the U.K.?’ And she told me it was HBO’s ‘True Detective.’ I never thought I would actually get it. But to have her in my corner fighting for me has been a real honor.”
The cast worked with a police officer, who Bennett says “had really seen some stuff,” to better understand what it’s like to investigate criminal cases. López also connected the actor with a pastor named Peej Jones, whom she’d met in Alaska during a research trip. Like Peter, Jones is a white man married to an Indigenous woman and he lives in a remote community. Over weekly hour-long phone conversations with Jones, Bennett says he became essential to understanding Peter's complicated life.
“My questions started off quite profound, like, how does it feel to be from outside that community and then move into that community?” Bennett says. “I wanted to know what life is like for him there because it's such a world away from where I live. I've never had to hunt for my dinner.”
Bennett spent six months in Iceland. Many of the days he was there had only an hour or two of sunlight, and because much of the story takes place during the polar night he would regularly get to set at 6 p.m. To convey the stark Arctic life, “True Detective: Night Country” also largely used practical exteriors rather than soundstages.
“You're in the cold and you're in the dark and your nose runs and your eyes water and you’re shivering,” Bennett says. “That kind of stuff makes it believable. And all you really want from something is to make it believable.”
Because the production on the series was so intense and lengthy, Bennett spent a lot of time thinking about Peter and what motivates him. He sees the character as a “people pleaser to a fault,” which explains the lengths he goes to for Danvers. But Bennett also points out that a small community in Alaska, like the one depicted in the show, would rarely see a case as horrific and complex as this one.
“You would be driven as a young cop looking to prove yourself and having a purpose in life other than cleaning caribou off the road,” he says. “I think that's why he's prepared to go the extra mile for Danvers. But it's a really good question why he doesn't go the extra mile for his wife or his father.”
Bennett is aware of the scrutiny “True Detective: Night Country” has received (more recently, López has responded to remarks made by series creator Nic Pizzollato about this season). But as a long-time fan of the series, he’s just grateful to be part of its legacy. Because the first season was such a success, he says, people hold any subsequent seasons to the same level.
“And for my money, I'd say we've achieved that standard,” he says. “I'm so proud of the work we did, not because I was involved and I know the people involved, but because I think it's really f— good. But it's fair to say going into it there was a high expectation.”
While he can’t say anything about the finale, Bennett teases that the conclusion is “a very cooperative ending to a show.” “I think you get to decide how you want it to end,” he says, adding that his own reaction to watching the sixth episode was awe.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “I burst into tears because I was so proud.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.