This I Am the Night review contains spoilers.
I Am the Night Episode 2
I Am the Night episode 2, “Phenomenon of Interference,” closes the gap between the two leads: Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), who just found out her grandfather is a rich Hollywood doctor, and Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), a reporter who is hell-bent on reopening old family wounds.
Fauna is settling in at her new home base in the opening and it’s a little unsettling, especially to her cousin Tina (Shoniqua Shondai), who has to show her how to navigate L.A.’s mass transit system. On the way to the rich side of town, Fauna witnesses a racial incident on a bus that spills over to the streets. On one hand, it shows the heavy-handedness of the city cops’ response, but it also works on a horror genre level, offering a subliminal deterrent to Fauna reaching a taboo destination. When she finally gets to the imposing Hodel residency, with its wrought iron gates and ivy-covered doors, Fauna is stonewalled. Her cousin is haunted before she gets to the gate and her eyes widen in both awe and terror as she gets nearer to the front door. The house has a character the interlopers interact with, and it treats them like trespassers, even though they were invited.
Jay is trying to resell bad goods. He’s following up on the call he got last week from Fauna’s adoptive mother, Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks), who is looking to destabilize an already out of control situation. Power never changes, he is told. The fix is in, and he’s out. Dr. Hodel won in court twice and Jay lost once, and it cost him his reputation. We get insight into how much this bad piece of journalism did to Jay’s career and psyche. But the worst part of it, for him, is that he lost a fight he was clearly on the right side of. He is a believer. His managing editor compares the case to the Salem witch trials and downplays Dr. Hodel’s part in everything. The good doctor is a lot of things, he says, but he’s not the boogey man.
Pine wears Jay’s frustration on his sleeve, which he keeps rolled up, forcing all the weight to his elbows. When he gets scooped by the “Sun-Examiner,” he is nonplussed, even with the piece’s old-Hollywood flair. He’s got old war wounds to deal with. Jay’s scenes with night shift managing editor Peter Sullivan (Leland Orser) are snappy in a gritty replication of the His Girl Friday patter which defined journalists in the days of noir. He complements his boss on his embarrassingly small closet of an office while the two of them mouth more than they say out loud. The editor has the Los Angeles Times’ Sleaze Team to pick up any slack Jay leaves behind in his recently sloppy investigative work. Jay counters by comparing the assignment to finding a two-headed baby or an alien abductee piece. He’s got his own pulp magazine story to pound, and everything else is a waste of time. The editor night editor orders Pulitzers all around. He could be Cary Grant rattling Roslyn Russell for one last piece before she heads to the suburbs.
We see Jay get to work, though, pounding the pavement as an investigative journalist. His first stop is at a bar to buy a round, with doubles as chasers, for the most reliable jailhouse snitch. Jay learns that the guy who was arrested on the case he’s been assigned is the wrong man and will end up with a death row sentence. The snitch who gave him up, Brody Styles, works with the LAPD giving up confessions for any case they need to close quickly. The system is indicted by a colluding criminal underground. We also get hints into the upcoming post-war jitters when Jay visits his Marine Corps buddy, LAPD detective Ohls (Jay Paulson) to get inside information for the piece he’s doing.
When she’s not playing detective, Fauna is trying to fit into the local social scene, and immediately attracts the attention of the wrong guy, Nero, who her aunt says is a bad apple from a rotten tree. Fauna is looking for herself in two worlds, both wracked with violence and very different kinds of dangers, real and surreal. She unloads her problems on her now friend Terrence Shye (Justin Cornwell), and you can tell it’s going to cause trouble between her and her cousins, who’ve known him since they were kids. Family is more than blood, and Fauna’s blood is different than what runs through her adoptive mother’s veins. Fauna is sick of being different.
George Hodel’s wife Corinna (Connie Nielsen), who finally gives Fauna the secret knock to get her to open the door to the Hodel mansion, is the daughter of the famous artist Thomas Huntington. She sees the world in the blots of a color pallet. Corinna blames Fauna’s real mother, Tamar, named after the goddess of deceit, for ruining the family’s reputation when her lies ran out of control. But she doesn’t give any details about what Tamar lied about.
Corinna fills Fauna in about her grandfather, saying he is a genius, one of the great minds of the century with an IQ over 180. A child prodigy, George Hodel was instructed by Rachmaninoff himself on the piano and is currently a major influencer of art. Corinna is a big believer in art, which she says is the noblest endeavor. Art will be all that remains after death, which also plays into the overall theme of a dissected victim, the Black Dahlia Elizabeth Short. Corinna is particularly focused on surrealism, which is free of false perceptions and says the waking state is filled with interference. This casts a dark haze on the artwork and lets the suspense bleed into the series in a colorful way.
For all the clarity of the surrealism, the murky quality engulfs Jay even as he gets the Pulitzer-worthy information on his assignment, before his six o’clock deadline. His instincts are intact but he can’t stay away from the dope. As he is walking out after a harrowing interview with a connected hooker, he is drawn magnetically to a plastic bag, held by the woman who vetted him before he gets there. We get the idea that Jay’s addiction is part of a larger tapestry of problems, but it’s good to know he can knock out an elderly security guard with one punch when an opportunity presents itself.
For all the build-up about her grandfather, who we now realize has been showing up throughout the series, the first time Fauna encounters Dr. Hodel, she runs away. By the end of the episode, Fauna’s sense of self is shattered. Her identity itself is on the line. Corinna once again explains that her mother, Tamar, was a liar, and one of the lies she told was about her daughter. Her “negro male father,” whose name was withheld on the birth certificate, was actually a French ballet dancer. Fauna learns she is not part black, she’s just a boring girl. She’s so boring, we notice in the very last moment of the episode, she’s being shadowed on the bus.
I Am the Night episode 2, “Phenomenon of Interference,” begins to fill in the myth of Dr. George Hodel. At this point in the series, he is becoming Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, or the crazy colonel played by Marlon Brando who had to be terminated with extreme prejudice in Apocalypse Now!. His short cameo appearances show Hodel to be quite the gentleman, and quite a gentle man. Looks are always deceiving, especially in the noir genre, and deception is delicious.
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.