True Detective's Real-Life Inspiration May Have Spoiled the Ending
Let’s talk about the corpsicle.
Believe it or not, we’re already halfway through True Detective Season 4, and the mystery is heating up even if the weather is not. We’ve learned of the connection between Annie K and the Tsalal Station, the connection between the detectives and those involved with the case, and even the connection between this season and Season 1.
But there’s one more connection that could be incredibly important to this story: a connection to a real-life unsolved mystery that has haunted True Detective: Night Country’s showrunner and could be the key to the entire season.
According to Vanity Fair, showrunner Issa López has always been fascinated by unsolved mysteries ranging from spontaneous human combustion and the disappearance of the Mary Celeste, but one mystery was especially interesting to her: the Dyatlov Pass incident.
The Dyatlov Pass incident is the true story of a group of nine Soviet hikers who were camped in the Ural Mountains while on a skiing expedition in 1959. After they didn’t telegram back to base, an investigation started, and their bodies were found weeks later. Some were undressed, others were wearing other members’ clothing, and one was even missing a tongue.
This mystery is very similar to the Tsalal tragedy, down to the missing tongue. Hypothermia was listed as the cause of death for many of the hikers, and just like in True Detective, this was used as a way to explain the states of undress: paradoxical undressing, where hypothermia victims will actually undress as a response to lower body temperatures. In both circumstances, this doesn’t explain everything: it doesn’t explain the borrowed clothing in the Dyatlov Pass tragedy nor the way clothes were folded in True Detective.
However, there is a leading theory to how the Dyatlov Pass incident happened: an avalanche. A 2015 investigation and 2021 model seemed to confirm that even a small slab of snow could be weakened by the hikers, then slide down overnight and cause injuries consistent with the incident.
But López isn’t satisfied with this explanation. “An avalanche doesn’t explain a lot of the details I think,” she told Vanity Fair. “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.”
Much like the Dyatlov Pass, it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get the true answer about what truly happened at Tsalal station. There are so many questions still swirling around the series, especially as the plot thickens. What is the source of the voices the characters keep hearing? How did Annie K’s tongue make it to the station years after her death? What caused a ghost to appear to Rose? And there’s no explanation for just how gruesome the corpsicle, aka the frozen mass of scientists that were recovered from the ice, truly is.
In Episode 3, we saw the most supernatural moment yet with one of the surviving scientists waking up from a coma and speaking in a ghoulish voice directly to Evangeline. While hallucinations and voices can be easily explained away as a figment of imagination, a zombie-esque survivor calling out to a detective is harder to dismiss.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident has multiple theories about what really happened: maybe it was an avalanche, maybe it was a strong wind causing a terrifying sound, maybe it was the result of a military test, or maybe they had a supernatural encounter. Judging from López’s quote about the incident, it looks like the Tsalal Station mystery will reach a similar conclusion: one theory that makes the most logical sense, but still a seed of doubt that something otherworldly happened. Maybe the mining unearthed a mind-altering microorganism, or maybe they encountered some weather phenomena, but maybe the only explanation that can truly explain it all is supernatural.
For a season that has been leaning heavily into the supernatural, this would be a best-of-both-worlds answer: a way to keep those who prefer their mysteries grounded with an answer that will keep them happy, but still add an angle that could be inferred to mean supernatural involvement later on. No matter what happened at Dyatlov, it’s something that will continue to fascinate for years to come. Hopefully, True Detective can pull off the same.