In I am the Night, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) teams with Chris Pine to deliver a better-than-cable-worthy miniseries about the Black Dahlia murders to TNT. Here, Pine is the anti-leading man, a disgraced news reporter named Jay Singletary who can’t let go of an old story about an illegal abortion clinic run by respected physician George Hodel. His off-the-books investigation intersects with that of the story’s lead, Fauna (India Eisley), who is in hot pursuit of her grandfather, Hodel. Together, they pursue the truth, but the cost may outweigh their hopes for clarity and peace.
While the series gets off to a slow-burning start – we know Fauna is stuck in a life between black and white as a mixed-race teenager and that Singletary is an ex-soldier chasing clues to mysteries he doesn’t understand – but the score and Jenkins’ slowly doled out hints of suspense let us know there’s something more coming. Somehow, Jenkins’ willingness to hint at violence but not overburden our eyes with it allows for a terror to build that pulls us closer to the edge.
Let’s be clear: if you stop after the first few moments, or even the first episode … you’ll regret it.
Central to the mystery, but just off-center of the series, is Hodel (Jefferson Mays). We can’t be sure just how bad Hodel is (and for the record, neither are the history books) but we know from his creepy disposition and flashbacks shown later that he isn’t someone we’d trust with our daughters. There’s something just not quite right about him, and the camera refuses to let us in on exactly what it is, showing us just enough to make us queasy.
While Singletary doesn’t really know what he’s pursuing, the audience can see he’s made all of the wrong kinds of enemies. There’s a casual brutality to the way the police force treats him, harkening back to the classic police thriller L.A. Confidential that reminds us that law and order in the twentieth century had less justice than we might hope for. In clear opposition to the police is Singletary, a PTSD-suffering ex-hero who has used enough drugs to soil his name and posted enough wasted stories to be Peter crying wolf when it comes to Hodel. What does it mean when the truth is told but the narrators may be untrustworthy?
From a dramatic perspective, the audience is in hook, line, and sinker on Fauna’s pursuit of her history and Singletary’s search for redemption. But truth is really what is at stake here, along with justice, grace, and, most basically, good versus evil. While the path to the truth gets more and more harrowing as our protagonists wander down it, even as a mysterious stranger spies on Fauna and the persecution of Singletary ratchets up, I am the Night asks us to consider what we know about the truth and how far we would go to find it. If we’re lied to and the truth is covered up, if the things we thought we knew were true are not, then where do we go socially, politically, emotionally, and spiritually?
For Fauna and Singletary, our identity matters, more than we’d like to admit or actually understand. For people of faith, that identity begins in understanding we are created in the imago dei and further confirmed as God’s children through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. More than the designations determined by law, by race, gender, location, or creed, those foundations of identity rise to the surface. Our foundation can become cracked or covered over, much the way that Fauna and Singletary have lost their way, but in pursuit of the truth, we can see who we were always meant to be in the first place.