I Am the Night
In the disappointing second episode of TNT’s I Am the Night, two people are trying to pick up the pieces of their broken pasts, and both need to find the mysterious George Hodel to do so. Disgraced reporter Jay Singletary is investigating a new string of murders with the sensational name of “Bloody Romeo,” while Fauna Hodel is learning that everything she’s been told about her upbringing and even her racial identity has been a lie. Sadly, this episode is far clunkier than the first, anchored by another solid Chris Pine performance, but inconsistent in terms of narrative and entertainment. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that there was a stronger film-length version of I Am the Night that has been stretched out to fit the running time of a six-episode series. Hopefully, the show can find the urgency again next week.
A beaten Jay goes to the King Eddy Saloon to meet his editor, Peter Sullivan, who wants him to focus on the Bloody Romeo story and can’t believe he’s talking about George Hodel again. We learn that Jay worked on a Hodel story years ago and that the creepy doctor has become his white whale, ruining his profession and leading to the addiction that has ruined his life. (We learn that through on-the-nose dialogue like “I lost my entire life!” — which is a running problem in this episode.) Peter encouraging Jay to escape his professional quicksand is intercut with white cops beating up a black bus passenger as Fauna looks on, the connective tissue being Peter’s line: “Power never changes.”
Fauna shows up at the Hodel home, looking for her creepy grandpa. She has no luck and ends up at a party later that night with her cousin, where Fauna’s white appearance makes her stand out. She asserts that she’s really mixed-race, but some of the partygoers don’t believe her. Fauna gets a nice exposition dump for anyone who missed the first episode as to why she’s in L.A., and we see that someone is following her later that night.
Meanwhile, Jay comes home to find a drunk woman in his hallway, whom he carries upstairs and puts on his couch. Rather than rekindle old passions, he goes back to his Tamar Hodel obsession. Again, the writers here lay things out in a clunky manner, both repeating things we already know and handing Chris Pine unrealistic dialogue about how the Hodel story “destroyed everything in its path.” Jay has one last chance to write his own redemption story, and Fauna Hodel is going to help him write it. We get it. Now get to it.
While Peter continues to push Jay to focus, Fauna finds herself in the company of Corinna Hodel, played by Connie Nielsen as a riff on an old-fashioned classic Hollywood drama queen. There are echoes of Gloria Swanson’s scenery-chewing in Sunset Boulevard in this exaggerated performance, one that might have worked better if the entirety of I Am the Night was pitched in a similar over-the-top register, but stands out here opposite the more grounded work by India Eisley and Chris Pine. It’s a jarring, unrealistic performance that’s almost Nicolas Cage–esque in its heightened reality, although it is funny when she says things like, “Her lies ran out of control and into the wide world.”
The “her” she speaks of is Tamar Hodel, who mom calls “the goddess of deceit.” Corinna takes Fauna on a little field trip to the Hodel art collection. She raves about George on the way there, speaking of his high IQ and that he was a child prodigy on the piano. She also claims that “art is mankind’s noblest endeavor,” and all that remains after we die. Think about these scenes practically for a minute. You’re trying to learn about your family and a rambling ice queen is showing you art and speaking in clichés. While they’re looking around, George himself whisks through, whispering Fauna’s name. It’s a moment like the bus-stop meeting. He’s haunting her before they even meet.
While Fauna is drawing closer to her past, Jay works the Bloody Romeo story, going to talk to a prostitute friend of the latest victim. This scene has the episode’s best exchange, when Dale Dickey’s madam character asks Jay, still sporting scars from last episode’s beating, “What happened to your face?” His response: “Everything.” Jay finds out that the dead girl, Janice, was in a good mood lately after having met someone who was “nice and smart.” Safe bet is that Jay learns next week that Janice’s new beau was a creepy doctor named George. Jay gets high before he leaves.
Fauna finally comes face to face with George, recognizing him as the man she saw at the bus stop. As Jay comes to the gallery to find Fauna, Corinna moves her quickly out of the building, dropping her off at a bus stop instead of taking her downtown. And Corinna drops the biggest bomb yet on Fauna: “You’re not black, you boring girl.” Tamar lied on her birth certificate about Fauna’s father. Corinna claims it was a French ballet dancer. A bus pulls up incredibly fast and Fauna boards, stunned at what she just heard. She’s not alone.
• Dale Dickey is a great character actress who can do so much with so little and deserves better parts than this cameo (presuming she doesn’t return, and it would be hard to narratively figure out why she would).
• Where Peter and Jay meet in the opening scene is a famous L.A. establishment called the King Eddy Saloon, on the ground floor of the King Edward Hotel. It was reportedly a regular hang for Charles Bukowski. Here’s an interesting article about it.
• Peter complains about being scooped by the Sun-Examiner, which does not appear to have been a real paper, although there was an L.A. paper called the Herald-Examiner, a famous one that they’re probably riffing on with some creative license.
• Fauna is confronted at the party by a young man named Nero, who accuses her of not being black. He’s played by a young man named Astro, a.k.a. Brian Bradley, and he also appears in an upcoming film called Luce, which just premiered at Sundance. It will be interesting to see if he returns to I Am the Night and to watch this clearly talented young actor develop.
• Speaking of talented actors, Chris Pine is really holding this thing together, isn’t he? He’s fantastic and doing a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to the show’s overall flaws. Let’s hope it doesn’t become too much for him to carry.