I Am the Night Episode 4 Review: Matador

I Am the Night Episode 4 brings a surrealistic look at a true crime as the "Matador" prepares to check a queen.

This I Am the Night review contains spoilers.

I Am the Night Episode 4

I Am the Night episode 4, “Matador,” puts the pieces at play as Sepp (Dylan Smith) wiles away the hours by a poolside chessboard at Dr. Hodel’s (Jefferson Mays) mansion. The doctor’s protégé is an imposing figure, even in the course of a retreat, having just moved from a four-move to a two-move checkmate. His boss isn’t happy with him, as he lost track of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), the most important piece on the board.

Sepp may have been keeping the conversation less than lively with Dr. Hodel’s clientele, but his silent demeanor, and barely contained rage, makes him appear like a trained dog. The doctor then proceeds to treat his potential patients the same way, telling the woman to follow and the man to stay. You can almost hear him say “heel” in his head as he says the word. Such is the Pavlovian power of the psychopath at the center of I Am the Night.

Hodel’s mental condition and conditioning seem to be infectious, as Jay (Chris Pine) awakens from his recurring Korean war nightmares to the sound of Corinna Hodel’s (Connie Nielsen) sad conspiracies. The doctor’s wife has secrets, and Jay is just the muckraking journalist to dump them on. After all, it was Jay’s reputation and career which was destroyed by his investigation into one of the many stories Hollywood doesn’t want told. Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), meanwhile, wakes up in an almost carefree environment, having skipped out on her aunt’s house to crash with her new friend Terrence Shye (Justin Cornwell), to avoid a visit from her adoptive mother Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks), on her way into LA from Sparks, Nevada. It doesn’t stay carefree for long.

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Fauna and Terrance learn more about the recent killing of Nero from a homeless man who makes a home right under the teen’s murder scene. Nero’s death is related to Fauna’s appearance in LA. We already know Fauna’s line is being tapped, having learned this after she was having a phone conversation with the now-dead young man. Now we learn that a man in a fancy black Buick was prancing around the crime scene like he owned the place. Sepps drives a black Buick and has been snipping off dead ends.

LAPD detective Ohls (Jay Paulson) has been busted down to patrolman for his part in keeping Jay out of further trouble with LAPD Sergeant Billis (Yul Vazquez), a very connected cop. We learn this from a scene at a diner where Jay, Ohls and Ohls’ partner Officer Miller, are eating together. The most revelatory aspect of the conversation is the different way both Jay and Miller, who has his own Black Dahlia stories, take to the motive behind the Elizabeth Short killing. Miller brings an old-school vantage point to Jay’s modern interpretation. The 32-years-on-the-beat veteran cop came up through the force before such killings started coming to light. He knocked on doors in the early stages when the investigation was still being called the “Werewolf Murders.”

Miller is convinced the mutilation of the body reveals the hatred the killer had for the victim. Jay sees something other than hate as the cause for the bisection and coarse facial reconstruction. Pine goes into a deep thought at this, as we see him telegraphing his accumulated reactions. As he goes through Short’s mortuary photos in the sensationalist paper he bought on the Black Dahlia murders, we see shades of things to come rising out of the past.

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

Jay and Fauna both show up at Corinna’s “Happening,” a living art exhibit. The Rolling Stones’ class consciousness infused classic “Play With Fire” plays as the atmosphere darkens. Patty Jenkins borrows fabric walls from Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller Repulsion as Fauna makes her way to Corinna’s “pretentious” performance art. It turns out to be borrowed from Yoko Ono’s one woman show “Cut Piece,” which she debuted in Kyoto in 1964 before bringing it to the Museum of Modern Art later that year. In the piece, Corinna lays back on a stone slab, dressed a vibrant red dress, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The patrons are free to cut as much or little as they want. Hell, they’re free to jab the scissors right into the center of the artist’s prone body if they want, which, on a show like this, is an all-too possible outcome.

Avant garde art is a dangerous game. Whether it pushes the collective consciousness toward peripheral visions or taunts the morally repressed harbingers of old school creativity. This was especially true in the 1960s when it was still a relatively underground movement. This episode may be subtitled “A Portrait of Sepps as a Young Artist,” because he also stages his premiere at Corinna’s Happening. It’s only too bad he winds up bleeding through his opening.

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Fauna tells Jay she’ll help him get in touch with Tamar if he can get her to Hawaii, and he says yes. She’d also helped him get rid of a body he kills. This goes to the old adage, which of your friends you would go to if you need to bury a body. The better question is: which of your friends can get you to Hawaii. With all the cameras around now it might be a little tough to transport a body to a secure place it can be buried, but it’s still easier and cheaper than going to Hawaii. Jay and Fauna have now done both.

Fauna reunites with her adoptive mother Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks) in a nightclub after a set. She tries to get answers about her connection with George Hodel, but only gets a sharp slap. We see in Fauna’s eyes the mental and verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the woman who raised her, but this is the first time we see Jimmy Lee get physical with Fauna, who knows the slap is on its way, but doesn’t see it coming.

Dr. Hodel also hosts his own art exhibit, “Paintings: New Perspectives, Lost Horizons,” at the Pasadena Gallery of Fine Arts. Jay attends in his usual uniform of suit and sneakers, but he’s not kicked out because he stands out. The gallery ending is the most eye-opening of the series so far. It ties the Black Dahlia murders together with the surrealistic art. The bisection of Elizabeth Short’s body, her rose tattoo and the key hole that was cut into her torso are all visible in the doctor’s personal collection, kept in a private room.

I Am the Night is still a little to skittish in its presentation of the horrors it is trying to uncover. There is a sheen to the show that would be better served with the gritty film stock of late era noir films. The performances are still convincing, but the script hasn’t committed to the perspective. “Matador” is a shift in the right direction.

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.

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3.5 out of 5