It’s a time of secrets and searching for answers on the 1965-set I Am the Night Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot,” where Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) and Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) are on missions to uncover something lost to them: their origins.
While the two narratives do not feel connected for most of the episode, it’s the dual story of discovery which ties the two together. Jay’s odd job work shows the lengths he is willing to go in order to secure a story, even if it means getting roughed up pretty badly by cops looking for any excuse to hurt him.
Chris Pine’s Jay Singletary is a fascinating role for him, one full of anger and frustration, a loose cannon mentality which serves him the opportunity to play a character with little regard for the blowback. He can certainly take a beating, almost enjoying it as he laughs gleefully. It’s a slightly unhinged performance, one Pine handles perfectly.
But the main crux of the episode is in India Eisley’s Pat, or Fauna Hodel as she comes to find out from her birth certificate. Eisley plays Fauna as one to rush to react, driven by the moment.
Her truth comes in berating from her adoptive mother Jimmy Lee (a fantastic Golden Brooks, whose venomous and drunken anger is palpable in Jimmy Lee), the morning scene in the living room a standout of the episode.
The truth does not come easy in this scene, painful barbs sent back and forth as the mother and daughter relationship begins to crumble. Perhaps it always meant to, with how the night before went with flying glasses and rage, but it is still a wrenching scene for both Eisley and Brooks.
The pilot spends a lot of I Am the Night in set-up, where the characters are given their push into the true narrative, only touched on in the last few scenes. Some will find the episode frustrating and slow for this reason; but it is necessary set-up, establishing its two leads and their circumstances so what comes next is more potent and personal.
The juxtaposing of both Jay’s infiltration into the morgue and Fauna into the records is a nice bit of editing, allowing both of their threads to coincide, not quite ready to connect, but still allowing them to feel of the same narrative. Both the name Fauna discovers in her records and the body Jay photographs are likely larger pieces of what is to come, hints of Los Angeles history from nearly two decades before.
The introduction of George Hodel (Jefferson Mays) is a great way to build the character in a few short moments. We see him in a friendly but ominous meeting between Fauna and himself at the bus stop, where we’re led to think he’s only a fellow passerby who strikes up a conversation.
The choice to make the connection just as Jay is back on George’s trail with the phone call from Jimmy Lee makes Hodel a grave danger, just as Fauna lands in Los Angeles. It’s a great starting point for the premiere to end on, as we now fear what could be coming for her, or rather, what she is walking into.
It also makes you wonder if he ever intends to meet Fauna properly if he spends his time with her under false pretenses at the bus stop. Is the invitation to tie up loose ends of a time long in the past, rather than to meet his granddaughter?
The production team under Sam Sheridan’s writing and Patty Jenkins’ direction have made a gorgeous episode of television, down to the period detail, costume design, and noir style brimming with foreboding.
The use of color is especially beautiful in the episode. Jay’s third scene, heading in to meet Peter Sullivan (an especially great Leland Orser, even in just this short scene) at the bar, has the dark streets rain-soaked, the neon reflecting in the pools and helps create a great sense of atmosphere.
The episode is a carefully crafted suspense noir, using its time to build to a tense conclusion and more than enough to leave you wanting more. I Am the Night is a tense character drama, which uses its mystery to set its characters toward destinies they did not know they were meant for.
The pilot is an examination of belonging, about trying to find purpose through identity. Jay and Fauna are tied to their pasts, in different ways. But it’s in their future where this purpose can bring closure.
What did you think of this episode of I Am the Night? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
I Am the Night airs Mondays at 9/8c on TNT.
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