TNT’s I Am the Night
Episode 6: “Queen’s Gambit, Accepted”
Directed by Carl Franklin
Written by Sam Sheridan
* For a recap & review of the penultimate episode, “Aloha” – click here
* For more on the Black Dahlia case & George Hodel, listen to the podcast Root of Evil.
1917. In a massive mansion, young George Hodel (Nicholas Brown) plays the piano. But his mother (Lauren Flans) is angry to hear an instructor won’t tutor him. “He plays without emotion,” the pianist says: “He‘s a mimic.” Looks like even as a boy there was something robotic, not quite artistic about him. It was all the way back then that George first saw the image of the bull looming.
In the mid ’60s, Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is being pummelled “medium rare” in a cell by Dt Cuddy (Theo Marshall) under supervision of Sgt. Billis (Yul Vazquez). Nobody wants to hear anything from the reporter. Not even when he’s got actual proof. Jay rages at the cops about the paedophile murderer of a surgeon they’re helping to protect. This is not a case of early paparazzi, like after the Hodel case ruined Jay and he made money chasing celebrities for photographs. This is a point of truth for him.
Things aren’t going so well in Los Angeles. This is at the same time as the infamous Watts riots. Police were on a rampage. Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) is trying to go see Corinna Huntington (Connie Nielsen) so she can get money to return home. She has no idea her adopted mother Jimmie Lee’s been stabbed near to death by creepy old daddy/grandpa Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays). She convinces a nervous Terrence Shye (Justin Cornwell) to put her in the trunk and drive her. At the mansion, Fauna tells Corinna she found Tamar (Jamie Anne Allman) in Hawaii, then realises she’s been drugged after taking a drink offered to her. Oh, my— not good.
In jail, Jay’s locked up alongside the many young black men beaten and tossed into a cell. He’s only just finding out about the city’s African-American population trying to “fight back” against the white powers that are holding them down. Maybe he’ll find inspiration in the black struggle? Maybe he’ll find strength in seeing them fight against seemingly insurmountable odds?
When Fauna wakes she finds Dr. Hodel waiting for her. She tells him of meeting Tamar and Mr. Singletary. Grandpa’s sure the young lady must believe he’s “Lucifer himself.” He smears the reporter as a “yellow journalist,” sounding much like an ageing white man in 2019 complaining about fake news when his ugly past/the violent truth is finally catching up with him. Fauna doesn’t believe him. She can’t get away from that place. Simultaneously, Sgt. Billis drops by to see Dr. Hodel. Fauna tries to convince him to take her. Gramps won’t have that. Will Billis come to his senses? Is he in too deep?
Next morning, Jay’s woken up properly with a punch to the kidneys. Sgt. Billis cites the reporter’s “credibility issues” and keeps trying to run him off the case. Jay pleads with him to look at the evidence. The sergeant lays out the truth: Hodel simply has too far of a reach. That’s when Jay offers to be named the killer of Janice Brewster, to be ‘released’ into the madness of L.A. so he can murder Dr. Hodel. He willingly takes the knife in his hand to seal the deal. Only problem is he’s got to escape a police car with three cops to get himself onto the streets so he can complete his transaction with the devil.
“I was supposed to be a journalist”
Fauna refuses a drink with her grandfather, so he takes her downstairs. She gets to see a surgical room— a “safe and secure” place to work. Things are devolving quickly. She sees strange paintings and a picture linking everything back to the Black Dahlia murder. She’s finding out that all the worst secrets about him are true.
In the cop car, Jay springs himself free by knocking two of the cops out then steering the driver into a nearby parked car. The brutal Marine in him has not yet worked out of his system and likely never will. He’s got himself a weapon and he’s off to try and kill the murderous surgeon.
Dr. Hodel is busy painting his granddaughter/daughter, who’s terrified of what could happen any moment. Fauna bides her time until she can whack George with one of the ornaments she hid away from upstairs. “You sure talk a lot of shit,” she taunts, preying on his ego to make him drop his guard, then cracking him with the ornament. She’s able to get his gun. She holds it on him and refuses his legacy, calling him out as a “cliche” of the patriarchy. She won’t sink to his level and kill him. Why give up her future to kill this powerful, corrupt man? Cuts far deeper to denounce his ego and his work as “boring.” She gets out of there just as Jay arrives. The journalist still wants to kill Dr. Hodel, however, when he goes downstairs he can’t find the doc anywhere.
In the aftermath, Dr. Hodel flees the country, only galvanising suspicions about him in many minds. Jay’s also fled to his own corner of the world. Fauna goes to see Jimmie Lee in the hospital, who’s luckily going to survive her attack. Life goes on. If Jay can use this to get past his own demons, it’s possible it can save him. He’s helped Fauna move onto a new chapter of existence, one of her own choosing, not one defined by the tangled roots of her past. Neither of them are responsible for catching the monster. They did their best within a corrupt system. They each have to deal with monsters in their own ways.
A beautiful moment before the credits shows a photograph of the real grown Fauna with her two daughters in Hawaii, of all places, circa 2015.
“The devil is something we all carry in our hearts. We have to make peace with him, Jay.”
Father Gore genuinely loved this series. For those who’ve been interested in the Black Dahlia case, this is a captivating, fresh look at Dr. George Hodel, which many of us true crime fanatics never knew until now. Although the end may seem anti-climactic to some, it’s true to life. George lived in 1999, though he didn’t die without making sure he used his connections to halt a movie about Fauna’s life. His machinations were enough to leave Fauna believing she was mixed race for years upon years, not knowing anything of her true roots, and preventing her from truly connecting the family who raised her and cared for her, likewise keeping her from any of the truth and the real people who gave her life. So, really, there IS a closure to this ending, despite Dr. Hodel not being brought to justice. Fauna got to go on and live her life, knowing herself totally rather than go on missing a huge chunk of her identity. That’s at least some justice.