I Am the Night Episode 1 Review: Pilot

I Am the Night episode 1 introduces the players but obscures the game.

I Am the Night Episode 1

This I Am the Night review contains spoilers.

I Am the Night Episode 1

I Am the Night‘s pilot opens with an insistent beat made ominous by a camera which feels like it’s bringing a malicious force to a sleepy house in Sparks, Nevada. The year is 1965 and the scene at the house is a mom getting her daughter ready for school. “It’s right when I say it’s right,” we hear Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks) tell her daughter Fauna, and we already get the sense of the home life dynamic. There’s going to be some rancor bubbling under the surface, and rebellion. The young teen chides her mother with “who needs school anyway?” and her mom warns her that she’s “different than that” loser talk. And now we see a protective mom who has a reason to be protective. Viewers who are parents envision day-to-day worries of bad elements, everyone else watching has some kind of story.

But Fauna just wants to be normal, like everybody else. At first glance, this line shows a disconnect, but it also has a subliminally darker vibe. It reminded me of Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who believed that “someone should become a person like other people.” Fauna’s disconnect is far deeper than just an overprotective mother who her friends think keep her on too short a leash. India Eisley plays sixteen-year-old Fauna as an almost-misfit. We learn that she is biracial when she gets to lunch and a white girl is invited away from her table. She gets similar flak from her black friends, but it’s more cutting.

Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) the director of I Am the Night brings in the first element of unseen peril at the schoolyard, when we see Fauna is being tailed by a mysterious car. The second element, which is more day-to-day threat, comes at night from the very people paid to protect her: the police.

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Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) waddles into his first scene like a duck out of water. He wears sneakers and socks to the beach, his skin is almost vampire-pale under his sunglasses. He doesn’t care, he’s a man on a mission. Jay snaps some candids that’ll look good on tabloid news next to the latest gossip. The formerly respected journalist and Korean War vet doesn’t feel good about his muck-racking ways, but he’s hopeful for a comeback.

Now working as a stinger for “The Examiner,” that comeback is not going to come from his next assignment: Janice Brewster, whose hacked up body will be sitting in the county morgue the morning after his barroom meeting with his editor. Jay’s got a sense of humor about his fall from grace. It tickles him every time he talks about it. He used to be great reporter before he was in the marines, but his fall came from trying to tell a story no one wanted told. The story is eating Jay alive, almost as much as he is eating at himself. He tries to pick a fight with a writer who is more Cub Scout than cub reporter, and we know it’s going to be a problem going forward. Not for the viewer, and not for Jay, who look forward to a good fight.

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

India Eisley brings an innocent quality to the role of Fauna but we quickly see her lose her innocence. Not only has she suffered mental and verbal abuse from Jimmy Lee, but she’s been lied to since birth.  Golden Brooks brings a combative melancholy to Jimmy Lee, Fauna’s mother. We know she’s hiding something, probably many somethings. She implies her daughter doesn’t know half of what’s been going on in her life, but she is only wasting her time waiting for her skin to darken. This amps up the peril as much as it adds to the intrigue as the story veers into murkier possibilities. Some stories don’t want to be told.

Fauna learns her real name is Fauna Hodel, daughter of Tamar Hodel, who race is listed as white, and someone who’s name is withheld, and classified as negro on the birth certificate Fauna finds in a box under her mother’s bed. Her adoptive mother, we and she learn in the next scene. Fauna is related to some rich doctor in Los Angeles, and Jimmy Lee is just waiting for him to make a house call.

Jay makes a discourtesy call to the house of the dead. Flagged at the door of the County Morgue, he puts on the scrubs he keeps in his trunk and sneaks in as an orderly, pushing carts and looking officious. Fauna also puts on her best teen detective suit, sneaking past security at a catholic hospital to get at her records. Fauna gets away with it. Jay winds up in a comical situation, locked in a corpse tray. He gets the shots, but he also gets pistol whipped by LAPD Sergeant Billis, (Yul Vazquez), who doesn’t think the laughing corpse is very funny. LAPD detective Ohls (Jay Paulson), one of Jay’s Korean War buddies, straightens things out, but warns that the heavy handed sergeant has his fingers in a lot of pies.

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Fauna gets in touch with her grandfather, Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays), who tells her it’s best not to get in touch with her mother, and invites her out to see him in Los Angeles. Just as she hangs up from him she’s told by the nuns who run the hospital that her mother is dead. The lengths Jimmy Lee will go to control her child is laid bare as we find out the scare is not real, merely a power play. The abuse is insidious and this is the last straw for the ill-fitting teen.

We learn Jay’s got a bit of a drug problem, and he apparently hates himself for it. He beats the hell out of his works. We also get the first inkling of what his past journalistic misdeed may have been, as Fauna’s mom makes an anonymous call to open old wounds. It appears the two main characters will be getting together in Los Angeles and somewhere in the city a bacchanalian party is being thrown to celebrate. Fauna is told in no uncertain terms not to bother attending.

further reading: The Best True Crime Series Available ot Stream

The Pilot for I Am the Night serves more as an introduction to the main characters than it services the plot. We know who these people are, and we know they’re in for a wild ride. The atmosphere is shadowy, even as the lighting is bright enough to make the reporter squint. It whets the appetite without offering a taste of the main course until the very last few frames.

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:

3 out of 5