This I Am the Night review contains spoilers.
I Am the Night Episode 5
I Am the Night episode 5, “Aloha,” opens at Dr. George Hodel’s (Jefferson Mays) 1949 incest trial. A psychiatric expert is explaining how 14-year-old Tamar suffers from a kind of dementia that causes delusions of grandeur and comes from a mania for sex. This was apparent even when Tama was 11. The daughter has been making up stories about her father for a long time, and the list of accusations includes the Black Dahlia murder, the testimony continues.
The series has a lot of ground to cover in the George Hodel backstory, most of which directly affects how we see the main character, Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), his granddaughter. Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) covered the original trial. It destroyed his career. As he drops off 500 beautiful words clearing murder suspect Brody Styles in a case he was assigned by “Sun-Examiner” night shift managing editor Peter Sullivan (Leland Orser), he comes bearing gifts. Jay says he’s found Hodel’s granddaughter and his investigation is coalescing into something resembling actual proof. All he needs is two tickets to Hawaii and Jay promises an A-bomb of a story.
As difficult as it is to sell the idea of two tickets to paradise to a newspaper editor, it is downright impossible to put it over on the woman who raised Fauna. This isn’t Jimmy Lee’s (Golden Brooks) first trip to Los Angeles, and she pegs Jay as a pervert, ripping up the plane tickets that will reunite Fauna and her birth mother Tamar. Jimmy Lee doesn’t know Jay saved Fauna’s life when she was being readied for an artistic display by Dr. Hodel’s late protégé, Sepp (Dylan Smith). Once in Hawaii, Jay also saves Fauna from a dirty dance with a sailor on leave, teaching her a maneuver in the process.
There is only one bed at the motel Jay and Fauna are staying at, and he offers to sleep in the car while The Mamas & The Papas’ 1967 hit “Dedicated To The One I Love” plays. While this is an anachronism in I am the Night‘s 1965 setting, it can be taken as a subtle reference to the friendship between the real-life Tamar Hodel and the singer Michelle Phillips, who sang soft counterpoint to Mama Cass’s belting voice.. Their relationship is fraught with conspiracy theories of a child abuse underground which flourished in Hollywood from the time of the Black Dahlia murders through the sexual revolution of the sixties.
Jay offers up his own disturbing revelation after waking Fauna up with his nighttime screams. The former veteran and proficient killer was dreaming about bellying up to a bar filled with patrons who’d died at his hands, including new barfly Sepp. This is similar to the ghosts which haunt Wayne Hays in HBO’s True Detective season 3 in that he is not disturbed by them in the real time of his subconscious, even as it drives him to yell loud enough to wake up someone from a parked car.
Jay admits to Fauna he was surprised at how good it felt to take lives. We wonder if Jay could be some kind of a pathological killer, addicted to the pleasure of others’ pain, even as he constantly punishes himself by getting into bar fights. Is he embattled because he wants some kind of physical redemption, or because he cherishes the idea he may get the chance to kill again? Either way, Fauna forgives him in spite of himself.
The mother and child reunion doesn’t go as planned for either character. Fauna learns the horrible truth behind her existence. She is a product of an incestuous union, while Tamar’s experience is ruined by all the questions her daughter has. Fauna leaves Hawaii without her innocence, hating Jay for failing to warn her of her origin story. He’s not done making her life hell, though, as his editor wants him to break the only promise that means anything to him and Fauna: leaving her out of the story he’s chasing. Sullivan even promises to send Jay to Vietnam as the paper’s war correspondent.
Tamar’s meeting with Jay is more revelatory. She gives him a series of portraits her father did. Not only do they include Elizabeth Short, but also Janice Brewster, the dead and mutilated woman Jay was originally tasked to solve. The evidence doesn’t impress Sullivan, who is only interested in Fauna. It turns out the night editor is Jay’s biggest betrayer, delivering him into the hands of LAPD Sergeant Billis (Yul Vazquez).
Hodel’s reunion with Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks) is a pivotal scene. She is ready to take up where they left off and even remembers his favorite meal. He is ready to slice her open. Hodel complains about the knives she keeps in her kitchen, a cook is only as good as their tools, and hers are not nearly sharp enough to get to the freshest meat. This is a man who knows his tools. He is a gynecologist with an eye for detail. But everything on the show is telegraphed ahead of time for convenient scrutiny. It needs more of the mystery of its hazy past.
I am the Night gets darker and more complex as it moves backward in time. Hodel was acquitted of incest in 1949 and the trial caught the attention of the LAPD unit investigating the Elizabeth Short killing. They bugged his mansion in a bid for the truth, and the subject of the Black Dahlia killing was even raised. Corinna Hodel (Connie Nielsen) applies basic art appreciation to the family history like she’s putting on lipstick in a moving car. The series has been splattering the canvass with the promise of lurid textures, but gets bogged down in the blend. The series continues to meander as I am the Night episode 5, bids “Aloha” to the mystery of Fauna’s mother.
I Am the Night airs Mondays on TNT.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.