I Am The Night’s first episode takes place in 1965, 18 years after the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, and sets up our two main characters: Fauna Hodel and Jay Singletary. They both have a connection to Dr. George Hodel – a man who was investigated as a suspect for The Black Dahlia murder. Patty Jenkins doesn’t waste any time with setting the stage for what is to come and sprinkles the infamous murder around the characters’ lives without it being the main focus. It isn’t until the end of the episode that we are thrust into the mystery surrounding The Black Dahlia. Buckle up for I Am The Night.
Before the recap, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself on the case I Am The Night is based on. In 1947, a woman found the body of a mutilated young woman in an empty lot near Leimert Park in Los Angeles. The mutilated body was drained of her blood and scrubbed clean of any evidence. The victim was identified as Elizabeth Short, but was referred to as The Black Dahlia by the media covering the case. The only witness to the case was the woman who found her. The case remains unsolved to this day but there was strong suspicion that Dr. George Hodel was the one who committed the crime. The murder itself was strange but the chase of Dr. Hodel proved to be stranger.
In I Am The Night, Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is an L.A. reporter that takes tabloid photos and snorts cocaine. While he isn’t the main focus of this episode, his setup holds just as much meat in it as Fauna’s introduction. Before snapping pictures of cheating celebrities on the beach and sneaking into morgues, Singletary was a reporter for the L.A. Times.
A bad story, his service in Korea and other hardships forced him into hole where he is inches away from killing himself on a daily basis. The cocaine he snorts keeps him at bay long enough until the next hit. Keeping his mind focused and away from the dark thoughts.
Something interesting about this first episode is that Singletary is asked to take pictures of Janice, a murder victim that was mutilated very similarly to the Black Dahlia case. Either it’s a symbolic gesture to the past murder or it’s a hint that the killer mutilated more than one victim.
At one point, after Singletary is begging for a more meaningful story to cover, Peter tells an aspiring young journalist next to him that “some stories don’t want to be told.” He hints that Singletary is still suffering from a story he covered and hasn’t fully come back from it. That hint comes to fruition when we see Singletary about to hang himself from the rafters on his ceiling. Only a last-minute call cuts his attempt short and reopens a past he doesn’t want to think about. Just like that, he is thrust back into a story that ruined him with a second chance to solve it.
Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) is passed as a half-white woman at the school she attends. Since this is at the tail-end of the Jim Crow laws, segregation is still enforced. Because Fauna’s mother is Black, she is perceived – and believes – to be half-Black. She does not fit in with the people she lives with and works with. Fauna is an outsider to her own life. It’s a perfect build up to her discovery that her mother, Jimmie Lee (Golden Brooks), is not her actual mother and her life is not what she believes it to be.
After this revelation, she confronts Lee and demands to know the truth. Lee spins a tale about a woman who asks her to adopt her 15-year-old daughter’s baby girl. Lee claims that she believed the woman was drunk and pretended to agree so she could get a good tip. It’s a partial truth and I have a feeling the rest of the origin story will come out in later episodes.
Fauna does some digging of her own and finds contact information for her real mother, Tamar Hodel, and her grandfather, Dr. George Hodel. She calls George first and he asks her to come up to his place. He sounds out of breath over the phone. Fauna agrees and, after dealing with her adoptive mother faking her death, she takes a Greyhound bus to L.A.
At one of the bus stops, a man sits next to Fauna and asks where she is going. He has a sketchy look to him and seems off-putting. A vibe that everyone watching the show seemed to recognize except for Fauna herself. If the bus was not about to leave, she probably would have told him her whole life story. The man talking to her is revealed to be her grandfather, Dr. Hodel, but she doesn’t know that she has ran into him. Which raises the question of how many times has he watched or interacted with her while she was growing up. Creepy indeed.
When Fauna reaches L.A., she calls her grandfather twice with no answer. She gets desperate and calls Dr. Hodel’s wife. Mrs. Hodel gives a clear warning to Fauna: he is a dangerous man. Stay away. Stay far away. While Fauna is warned to stay away from Dr. Hodel in the first episode of I Am The Night, Jimmie Lee calls Singletary in the middle of his suicide attempt and tells him to “keep looking” into Dr. Hodel. Lee tells Singletary that he was right about Dr. Hodel. All of this is in reference to a story he wrote about the doctor in 1949. After the phone call, Singletary pulls up the article that he wrote about Dr. Hodel and it is implied that this is the piece that almost destroyed Singletary’s life.
The pilot episode of I Am The Night ends at Dr. Hodel’s house with an elaborate party. There’s a mystery surrounding Jimmie Lee’s involvement with Dr. Hodel and how she got Fauna. It’s clear that, whatever journey Fauna, Jay, and Jimmie are embarking upon, Dr. Hodel is at the center of it.
TNT’s I Am The Night is a limited TV series with new episodes on Monday nights at 9/8c.