I Am The Night Series Premiere Recap: Can You Dig Chris Pine?

Photo: Courtesy of TNT.
Dark and gloomy but with a hint of Hollywood, Chris Pine’s new TNT show I Am the Night is Los Angeles noir in the vein of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. It’s also a comeback story, a coming-of-age story, a racial parable, and a murder mystery, with elements of true, confirmed events in the real world. I Am the Night is so much more than the night! It’s got a lot on its plate.
The first of such things is journalism. I Am the Night isn’t the first show to put journalism front and center, but it might be the first to have the good sense to cast Chris Pine as a furious reporter. In this series, Pine is disgraced former L.A. Times reporter Jay Singletary. He’s tanned, and he shouts things like “can you dig it?” He’s angry and intrepid, like the best reporters, but he’s been cast from his high-status job at the Times. Thanks to one litigious subject, Jay lost his gig — if his byline so much as appears on a page, the editors will ditch the story. To make ends meet, he’s working as a tabloid journalist, catching the rich and famous in compromising positions.
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“I’m a loser. Can you dig it?” Jay tells a young journalistic upstart in the opening minutes of the pilot.
This show is, in essence, a story of outcasts. Jay’s been cast out of the respected media establishment, and Pat (India Eisley), the show’s other protagonist, has been cast out of her own family — twice. This is where things get noir-ish: Pat’s history is linked to Jay’s big career mishap. This much is clear from the beginning, so don’t take that as a spoiler. Now, the show just has to show us the story that Jay so desperately wanted to tell. And it’ll do that through Pat.
Pat, a quiet but curious teenager, lives in Reno, Nevada and works at a local hospital. Pat is Black, according to her mother. Because of this, Pat sits with the Black students at school and exists in a largely Black community, although she passes as white. She’s being romanced by her hospital coworker Lewis (actor-musician Dabier), a cheerful teen who’s considering dropping out of high school. The color of Pat’s skin is a Catch-22: the Black kids at school don’t believe she’s Black, and the white kids refuse to speak to her, too. On top of all that, Pat’s mother Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks) is an overwhelmed parent teetering on the edge, and there’s a white man who’s been following Pat around town in his car.
A conversation about that white man in the car, though, reveals new information for Pat. After yelling at Pat that she’s “better than this little podunk town,” tipsy Jimmy Lee complains that raising a mixed-race girl has been hard.
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“It is hard raising a mixed-race girl waiting for her skin to darken,” Jimmy Lee mutters. (Incidentally, One Day She’ll Darken was the working title for this series.)
At that, Pat decides to do some snooping, which leads to the show’s first major revelation. Pat is not Pat after all — Pat is Fauna Hodel, according to a birth certificate buried under Jimmy’s bed. Jimmy is Pat’s adoptive parent; she accepted Fauna after the Hodels rejected the girl for apparently having a Black father. Fauna Hodel is a real, Google-able person, and I encourage you to snoop around the name. The show here is less-than-chatty about who exactly Fauna is, though. Her identity is central to the show’s mystery, so it’s reasonable that the character is treated with kid gloves. Just who is Fauna Hodel? At this point, it seems reasonable to mention that the real Fauna Hodel wrote an autobiography.
But this is where Fauna Hodel’s story meets that of Jay, whose career-killing project was an investigation into Dr. George Hodel (Broadway’s Jefferson Mays). Hodel, from what the show suggests, is a powerful man in Los Angeles. He’s also related to Fauna Hodel, as per their shared last name.
“Some stories you can’t tell. Some stories don’t wanna be told. Some stories will eat you alive,” Peter Sullivan (Leland Orser), Jay’s former assigning editor, tells Jay solemnly when our hero brings up his disgrace. It’s a good logline for the rest of this series. This story which I Am the Night aims to tell doesn’t want to be told. It’s probably going to eat us alive. What fun! That’s exactly why I watch TV.
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Pat/Fauna quickly does the math, discovering that her grandfather is none other than George Hodel. And, given that Pat’s already disillusioned with life in Reno, she decides to truck out to Los Angeles, where Jay is busy trying to break a story about a mutilated body in an L.A. morgue. It’s only a matter of time before the two cross paths. (Cue the Law and Order dun-dun.) The scarier possibility, though, is that Pat/Fauna might cross paths with Grandpa George. Twice in this episode, Pat (we’re sticking with Pat until further notice) makes contact with George. First, it’s a phone call, courtesy of a few nickels Pat pilfered from her boyfriend Lewis.
On the phone, George, eerie as ever, tells Pat: “Your [biological] mother sadly is not well. I wouldn’t talk to her if I were you. It’d be very distressing and confusing.”
This does not bode well for Fauna, who has an impressive collection of saddle shoes. The second encounter is even eerier: On Pat’s way to Los Angeles, she meets an older gentleman at a bus stop. This gentleman is none other than George Hodel.
“I’m visiting my grandfather,” Pat, oblivious, tells Hodel.
“That will be interesting,” he notes. Oh, hello, foreshadowing.
What happens next is thrilling: Jimmy, distressed at the thought of her daughter going to George, calls Jay, who is the only person she knows who might have information on George Hodel. (She saw his byline in an old L.A. Times.) Jay, distraught at another career failure, is considering suicide when she calls. Jimmy’s call is his literal calling; she wants him to tell her the story that ruined his career all those years ago. More importantly, she wants him to save her daughter Pat from whatever happened to her birth mother, Tamar Hodel.
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It’s still not clear what kind of horrors Hodel commits. He’s a doctor, which implies all sorts of crimes. Does he abuse his patients? Do strange medical tests? The implications of the story this show is based on pretty horrific — but I Am the Night isn’t necessarily obligated to entertain those. At the end of this episode, Hodel is positioned as a kind of True Blood villain. He’s wealthy, evil, and hosts supernatural-looking parties at his mansion. The final shot of episode 1 features a huge, symmetrical mansion where a party rages. Welcome to the night!
The Chris Pine Shrine
Each week, as Chris Pine digs deeper into his role as Jay Singletary, we’ll catalog his best moments here.
Pine’s tiny board shorts on the beach.
Pine burning his finger on a lighter inside of a deep-freezer.
Pine saying, “If you’re feeling froggy, we can do this dance.”
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