TNT’s I Am the Night
Episode 2: “Phenomenon of Interference”
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Sam Sheridan
* For a recap & review of the Pilot, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Dark Flower” – click here
Pat a.k.a Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) goes to see family in Los Angeles while she waits to get in contact with her mysterious grandfather George (Jefferson Mays). Her cousin Tina (Shoniqua Shondai) shows her around the city. They take the bus and Fauna sees more of the big America out there divided deeply by race.
Across town, Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is excited about the mysterious phone call from Fauna’s adopted mom, Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks). Peter Sullivan (Lelan Orser) tells him it’s a “bag of snakes.” He reminds the younger reporter what happened last time he chased the Hodel story. Peter tells him: “Power never changes.” A perfectly cut sequence between Fauna witnessing the LAPD get violent with black people on the bus, to Peter discussing how far the power of the bourgeois extends, particularly in L.A.
We see Fauna and Tina go to the Hodel mansion, where nobody answers the door. Later, Tina takes Fauna to a party. A black guy, Nero, starts to press Fauna about being light skinned, saying she can’t be black. She responds smartly it’ll be ten dollars to see her birth certificate. A nice guy, Terrence Shye (Justin Cornwell), saves her from the harassment and they sit together. She tells him about her black father and “white family” and Terrence comments that “one drop [of black blood] will hold you down forever,” each recognising, in different ways, how hard it was – and still is – being black in America, no matter HOW much percentage is in your skin. After the party that night, Fauna notices the man following her nearby in his car, and it sets her on edge.
Jay sees the Hodel case as a “biblical plague.” He can’t move forward until he figures out what happened. The questions about Hodel’s daughter Tamar being sent to a convent and other rumours haunt him. He spends the night looking through files he keeps back at the apartment. He’s also got baggage, like Lily, whose addiction he seems to have fed, or at least nurtured.
Jay goes to see Peter at his office. He finds Mr. Sullivan’s latest story scooped by another paper reporting on “Bloody Romeo” cutting up Janice Brewster. He has to get a better angle for the story. Peter pushes for good work and fast, but Jay’s continually occupied by the other things in his life impeding progress. The disgraced reporter goes to a bar where he meets Horace (Myles Cranford), a “jail house snitch” who gives him info. At a diner, he has lunch with his Korean War buddy Dt. Ohls (Jay Paulson) and they spitball hypotheticals about the Hodel case.
Fauna calls the previous Mrs. Hodel, now Huntington, to try and track down her real mother Tamar. She’s told her mom died. She gets nothing else, but plans to go meet the woman in spite of all the weird mystery. She goes back to the mansion, knocks three times as instructed, and Corinna (Connie Nielsen) answers the door. Corinna married an artist after George. She talks to Fauna about her Mayflower family and the Hodel line descending from “Russian nobility.” She explains Tamar was her stepdaughter, and she had problems with reality, supposedly a constant liar that ruined the family.
And the two stories of I Am the Night begin converging when Jay starts staking out Corinna’s place to see if he can find any further leads on Tamar, only to see Fauna with Corinna going for a drive. There’s also the mystery man in the black car following the women, too.
Corinna takes Fauna to a fancy lunch, where she gives the young girl lessons on stupid class nonsense like which fork to use and sitting up straight in between bits and pieces of history about George, the famous surgeon who once specialised in “sexually transmitted diseases” and worked overseas in Asian countries, where WHO KNOWS what sort of nastiness he got up to decades ago. Mostly Fauna’s looking to figure out the mysteries of her birth and what happened to Tamar. It’s clear Corinna is stalling, though it isn’t entirely clear why. At the art gallery where they dine, Fauna sees the man from the black car discussing art with someone who might just be George.
We see Jay go looking for a woman, Wendy (Mickey O’Hagan), who knew Janice, victim of the so-called Bloody Romeo. Wendy says Janice was “prejudiced” and wouldn’t be with a black guy. Nobody there knows the apparent culprit Styles from his picture. They only know their friend met someone new before she died. But while Jay’s high on drugs there, he gets an idea about the Hodel case from fellow addict Mary (Dale Dickey) talking about having a child taken from her, leading him to wonder about Tamar having a baby taken from her, too.
At the gallery, Fauna sees a room of art belonging entirely to George. Does he own the whole gallery? She hears her grandfather speaking with the mystery man about art: “The truth is in your veins.” The two come face-to-face finally, and Fauna realises there’s something larger going on, seeing as how she met grandpa at the bus stop before ever arriving in L.A. This sends Fauna off in a panic, scared by whatever’s going on in that place. She still doesn’t know that’s her grandfather, though. Simultaneously, Jay’s rushing through the gallery looking for Fauna, just missing Corinna drive the girl away.
“Art is mankind’s noblest endeavour”
Fantastic follow-up to the Pilot. This is an interesting series, and it takes such a well-known case from history that anyone who digs true crime knows well and brings in some of the literature about the case to provide a compelling story.
“Dark Flower” is next.