I Am the Night Episode 6 Review: Queen’s Gambit, Accepted

The Black Dahlia murderer paints himself into a corner as I Am the Night episode 6, "Queen's Gambit, Accepted," ends a dream within a dream.

I Am the Night Finale

This I Am the Night review contains spoilers.

I Am the Night Episode 6

I Am the Night episode 6, “Queen’s Gambit, Accepted,” opens with a young George Hodel playing for his mentor,  Rachmaninoff. The famed piano maestro, who really did tutor the musical prodigy Hodel, declares his proposed student inartistic. The boy with the super-high IQ who would go on to perform surgery for the Los Angeles’ richest and most powerful, is eavesdropping. We can see him imagining where his first cut should be.

I Am the Night squanders a lot of its possibilities. Director Patty Jenkins teases the audience with cryptic bookends, promising a glimpse into the depths of the evil Hodel will go. But she never gives more than a taste, especially for those who don’t know the backstory. She gives a lot of credit to the audience to fill in their own details, and it works up to a point. We probably imagine far worse things than can be put on a TV screen, but we could have used more.

While most of the true crime time line goes awry in the current timeline, the series includes artistic laid out oblique references to things unmentionable on TV. Certain true aspects of the situations surrounding the cases make themselves known subliminally in the background. The details from history, the dates, times and maybe even some of the Rachmaninoff time signatures are condensed by necessity, but it doesn’t streamline meandering storytelling.

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Further reading: I Am the Night: A Black Dahlia Primer

The series comes into the present as Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is being detained and interrogated in an LAPD holding cell. The scene is adequately brutal and there is real fear in Pine’s eyes at the reprisal scene that ends it. Sergeant Billis (Yul Vazquez) warned Jay he’d be seeing him again if he kept persisting in his story on Dr. Hodel (Jefferson Mays). It almost cost Jay an eye. This time the journalist’s ribs get most of the punishment, but he takes a good jab at the cop’s glass jaw when he says possible future victim, the granddaughter of the man Jay’s been chasing after, Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) is a sixteen year old girl.

Fauna is also a light skinned 16-year-old girl who has to get through the neighborhood as the riots are happening. Terrence Shye (Justin Cornwell) hides her in his trunk to deliver her to Corinna Hodel (Connie Nielsen). Corinna drugs Fauna and delivers her to the doctor. The Hodel residence is its own character, and the man who owns it can command the police department to protect it, like an army, from the nearby and yet so far away riots. Billis, is of course a lieutenant in the force. After meeting and refusing to help Fauna when she is obviously a prisoner in the fortress, he looks like he’s about to break ranks. We can’t be sure, of course, which is something that works because of how Jenkins has set everything in motion, but it gives a glimmer of hope to those hoping for an inevitable happy ending.

further reading: I Am the Night Interview: Jefferson Mays Discusses The Black Dahlia’s Killer

This appears to bear out when Billis goes back to beating sense into Jay. The detective says the evidence doesn’t prove what the journalist says it proves. And Singletary has enough credibility issues as it is. Even if the cop wanted to get clean from the graft that’s been pouring in, and who wouldn’t really, he doesn’t have enough. The second encounter between Billis and Singletary is very telling in that a bit of respect has begun to break through in spite of itself. Not only does the cop admit to being on the take,  not only from the doctor, but from the mob and pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, but he asks a personal favor from the journalist.

Billis accepts the deal as Singletary sells it. The Korean War veteran who earned the crooked cop’s respect promises to get lost in the shuffle of the riots and take out Hodel himself. This is an elegant solution that keeps the cop and the system it protects and defends alive while closing a homicide case and taking out the person who did it, and others. It pays to pay in advance in Los Angeles. The only thing Singletary has to do, besides take on the punishment and all the risks, is not to kill a veteran trooper while making his getaway. Singletary is not a very good negotiator.

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Dr. Hodel is not a very good artist. The piano maestro was correct. The mansion houses secret hallways  and rooms and one doubles as an artist’s den and a surgical operating room. It actually triples as a room of torture if the doctor’s previous canvass is any indication. He’s not very adept at oils, and the woman featured in the portrait, bound and bleeding on a red background, unframed and propped up against the tiles of the lab, is downright lifeless.

Hodel has moved past still life portraiture. He considers his contemporaries to be cowards because they still paint pictures. His grand works are the product of sweat, mixed with real tears and blood. The best part of the fateful scene comes before the craft. Fauna sees the photos of the Black Dahlia murders, and others, taped up on the wall of her dressing room, and shudders. We know this will add a special luster to her cheeks when she poses. It’s not her fear as much as what drove Hodel to hang them. He wants his subjects to feel the horrors of his imagination before he makes a single incision or brush stroke.

further reading: I Am the Night Review (Spoiler Free)

It’s only a shame he has to slap Fauna to get her attention, although it’s probably better than the kidney punch and the threat of the cigarette in the eye Billis uses on Singletary when he drifts off. Singletary doesn’t quite keep his promises just as Hodel never lives up to his promise as an artist. Fauna plays into his ego to unhinge him, and he proves it’s only his prestigious background that allows his works to flourish as far as they have. He is a legend in his mind, whose legend on the outside world only feeds his psychosis. He talks of Marquis de Sade and of throwing off the consciousness, but he can only cast of his superego, not his id. Hodel commits the sin of being boring.

The final scenes play out in a sterile environment, made unclean by the events. But the series would have profited from a more murky center.I Am the Night has all the elements of truly transcendent suspense: a real life horror with a psychopath who eludes justice. It has a supernatural glow, as the concepts behind the art come from place dark enough to be teasingly called satanic. It has some truly frightening flashbacks and montages, the recurring visual theme of the horned animal mask holding special appeal.

Singletary’s own psychopathic tendencies, his dreams and drugged out nodouts, add a well-rounded quality to an already flawed character. Fauna’s fractured backgrounds and the social context of her final choice is an unnecessary redemption to a victim of circumstance. I Am the Night ends with all the pieces of the puzzle accounted for and on the board but some of them were hammered into place. Everyone admits everything and gets away with it all, and there is the delicious lack of closure at the closing, but there is too much paint on the canvass. I am the Night episode 6, “Queen’s Gambit, Accepted,” ends the match but doesn’t change the game.

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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.

Rating:

4 out of 5