I Am The Night
An interesting episode of I Am the Night is at its best when it’s playing in the art world of the rich and possibly insane. For people like Corinna Huntington and George Hodel, the line between art and actuality is blurry. Corinna gives an “avant-garde” performance art show in which she plays a victim, but Fauna Hodel correctly notes that she’s really just trying to abdicate responsibility. And then George Hodel’s art collection becomes a focus of the final scene, as reporter Jay Singletary stares at the paintings and sculptures amassed by a maniac and realizes that his victims are nothing more than property to him, body parts that have as much moral significance to him as paint on a canvas.
The main narrative thrust of “Matador” is the somewhat sad fate of Sepp, George Hodel’s right-hand man. The implication is that Sepp has not only been following Fauna Hodel for years, but killed Nero, and has likely been a part of some truly awful crimes at the behest of George Hodel. And it’s important to note that Sepp is tired of being ordered around and considered inferior by the Dr. Frankenstein to his Igor. Sure, George can beat Sepp at chess without even trying, but Sepp is going to prove that he’s special too. What exactly he plans to do to Fauna Hodel to prove his worth to George isn’t clear, but it involves sharp objects, a large blanket, and a place from which it would be hard to hear a scream.
“Matador” doesn’t really kick into gear until Fauna and Jay both happen on invites to an art show by Corinna Hodel-Huntington. It’s nice to see this show starting to get a little trippy and visually representing some of its themes, such as the “human art” subjects dressed in black-and-white masks that are clearly designed to reflect the issues embedded in the narrative of a girl now questioning her racial identity. (More of that kind of visual language, please.)
Corinna’s exhibit at the show features the artist herself in a red dress and a pair of scissors (again, imagery associated with the other narratives of the show, including even the death of the Black Dahlia). As she reclines, audience members are given the scissors and implicitly asked to cut parts of the dress. As Corinna stands there with the garment barely staying on her frame, it’s Fauna’s turn with the scissors, but she drops them, ending the performance. After a backstage argument in which Corinna discusses avant-garde versus kitsch and even gets in a nice swipe at television, Fauna gets what really matters to the plot: an address for Tamar Hodel. Now “T.H. Apate,” Fauna’s mother, lives in Hawaii.
Before she can leave the art show, Fauna is assaulted by Sepp, and dragged to what looks like the basement underneath. He has a knife and he’s yelling things about being “ready for the next step.” This is the real happening, as actual violence at the end of a scissor blade is being threatened below the same place in which violence against women was used as performance art. Jay gets there just in time, getting the upper hand on Sepp and driving one of the lunatic’s big sharp objects right into his gut. He even looks into his eyes as the life drains from them, which is an interesting character beat. Jay Singletary has a demon too, one forged by war and addiction.
Jay wants to just leave the scene of the crime, but they’re spotted by a couple of drunk “art lovers” looking for some privacy, and so Fauna convinces them some cleanup is in order. As Jay gets drunker and drunker, they dispose of Sepp’s body and snag his wallet and keys. He barely gets through his own door, just able to take off his coat and tie before stumbling over his own table to a couch, and then rolling onto the floor.
The next morning, Fauna and Jay compare notes. She wants to go with him to Hawaii to find her mother. Jay needs to check out Sepp’s place first, where he finds photographs, old letters, and a passport. He pauses for a long time on a crucial photo when someone knocks at the door with an invitation to another art event from the world of the Hodels.
Fauna goes to see her mother perform at a place called Clancy’s Club to a nonplussed crowd. Fauna’s awful mother is so self-obsessed that she tells a story about Sammy Davis Jr. offering to take her to Capitol Records before really checking in on what her daughter needs or has been up to. Fauna is tired of it and she wants some info. She gets smacked in the face instead and then told she needs to come home. It’s a weird scene. Fauna is strong enough now to leave this awful woman behind, and the awful woman is too much of an exaggerated caricature. The core of the problem is that these two performers are on different shows — one an over-the-top noir and the other a character drama.
It’s really just to kill time so Jay can go to the Hodels again. Corinna spots him and denies calling him a few nights earlier. He rushes off before security can kick him out, stumbling to a room of art that belongs to George Hodel. There are headless torsos, body parts—the kind of stuff one would expect to be in the art collection of a serial killer. And Jay has a moment. He realizes how much the art reflects the conditions of the bodies of Elizabeth Short, Janice Brewster, and who knows how many others?
• I Am the Night doesn’t use as much music as most shows, which is often to the program’s advantage given it often feels more like a post-WWII noir than something unfolding in the ’60s, but I did like the use of “Play With Fire” by the Rolling Stones at the art show.
• Has I Am the Night written itself into a corner? It’s clearly laying out the case that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer, but true-crime fans know that case was never actually solved. In other words, don’t expect the finale to include a courtroom scene. It’ll be interesting to see how far they take the Hodel theory and whether they decidedly say that he did kill Elizabeth Short, or leave it as maddeningly unsolved as history has.
• If you’re looking for a resource on the real case of the Black Dahlia, this is an excellent one, complete with a large list of suspects other than George Hodel, and the specifics of how the case against him unfolded.