In one of my favorite issues of one of my favorite superhero comics, Astro City—in volume one, #2, “The Scoop”—veteran reporter Elliot Mills looks back at one of the biggest stories he ever stumbled across, when he witnessed an epic fight between heroes and villains in a subway tunnel, with team-ups and world-ending threats the city had never seen before, plus freaky cult activity that involved sacrificing a shark on the train-tracks. The only problem? Mills was the only one able to go on the record about it. After his editor forced him to reduce the story only to provable facts, what Elliot was left with was this: “Trolley Delayed By Shark.”
I thought about poor Elliot Mills while watching “Aloha,” I Am The Night’s penultimate episode. Early in the hour, flaky muckraker Jay Singletary corners his beleaguered editor Peter Sullivan—once again—to update him on everything he’s dug up lately about the Hodel family. Sullivan—once again—warns him not to bother with any of that “boogeyman shit” about George Hodel being the Black Dahlia killer. Instead, Peter likes the one actual, verifiable hot scoop Jay’s found: that George’s estranged, long-absent daughter Tamar has a kid of her own, Fauna.
So here’s Singletary, sitting on what could be the story of the century (or at least the mid-century); and his editor won’t let him bring it home, because he’s been burned before by Hodel’s powerful, moneyed connections. He does though offer to give his shrewd but shaky reporter the money for a couple of plane tickets and a rental car, to take Fauna to meet Tamar. That’s the hot story, to Peter. And Jay will take whatever he can get—even if it means lying to his boss and to Fauna—because he’s still certain that if he can ask the right questions to the right person in the right place, he’ll find the key to unlock the Dahlia case.
Like every episode of I Am The Night, “Aloha” has its highs and lows. But while the lows are lower than usual, this episode’s the best of the miniseries so far because its highs are higher—thanks to Chris Pine’s grasp of the Jay Singletary character, and thanks to the direction of Carl Franklin.
Frankin’s an under-sung hero of American cinema and television: a former actor (guesting in dozens of crime shows in the ‘70s, the greatest decade for TV detectives), who became an unusually sensitive and crafty director for the big and small screens. His movies include the likes of One False Move, Devil In A Blue Dress, and Out Of Time—all neo-noir classics.
When Franklin and Pine are really cooking in “Aloha,” they make I Am The Night feel like The Great American Mystery Show it was always meant to be. Pine’s Singletary is so casually cool at times: whether he’s absently giving the finger to some yahoo at the bar who calls out, “Hey, Shellshocked!,” or he’s making Fauna laugh by trying on heart-shaped sunglasses, or he’s saying goodbye to Peter by asking, “Want a lei? I’ll send you a lei.”
But this episode—written, as this whole miniseries has been, by Sam Sheridan—doesn’t spare the dark side of Jay, either. To Sheridan’s credit, I Am The Night has never pretended Jay could be set right “if someone just believed in him,” or anything corny like that. He’s a deeply damaged soul… something that becomes obvious when he sees some drunken sailors eying Fauna at a Hawaiian tiki bar, and disappears into one his dark “I’ll punch anything that displeases me” holes.
That’s not even taking into account Jay’s recurring nightmares, which have been a consistently disconcerting fixture of this story for weeks now; or the way he’s withholding key facts from Fauna. He’s been saying all along that George Hodel was a scandalous figure in Los Angeles because of his illegal abortion clinic. He’s purposefully left out his own theories that George is a serial killer… and, perhaps even worse, that he was put on trial after being accused of having sex with Tamar. It’s possible—likely, even—that Fauna’s the product of incestuous union.
“Aloha” isn’t all that action-packed of an episode. If anything, it’s almost like a short, relaxed Hawaiian vacation, just before what should be a stressful finale. The main purpose here is to let Fauna in on the big secret that most viewers probably figured out back in episode one, and to do so in the most dramatic way possible: by letting her hear it in person from her own mother (played by Jamie Anne Allman). Fauna is, understandably, pretty steamed by this—but mostly at Jay.
I wish I could say India Eisley gives that moment the gravitas it deserves, but alas, she’s still stuck playing a character with an inappropriate accent and fluctuating awareness of her surroundings, so her Fauna looks a little timid and lost, even when she’s scolding Jay for not trusting her with the truth. She’s better in the scenes when Fauna’s amused by Singletary’s attempts at entertaining her; and she has a righteous reaction when he confesses that killing Sepp in self-defense was satisfying, and now he feels guilty about that. (“I’m only breathing because of what you did,” Fauna says, matter-of-factly. “I don’t care how it makes you feel.”)
That said, Jay’s speech about killing—and how it makes him feel “like riding in the chariot of the sun god”—is awfully purple. And the episode is filled with other questionable moments, too: like an introductory flashback to George Hodel’s morals trial, where his attorney gets the gallery chuckling with his references to Tamar’s “Elektra complex,” and to her accusations that her father killed the Dahlia; and like an overly pulpy climactic scene, where Fauna’s adoptive mother Jimmie Lee Greenwade gets stabbed by George Hodel in her Reno home.
Still, for the most part “Aloha” is strong stuff, especially when it considers that maybe George Hodel’s crimes aren’t news, because everybody who matters in L.A. already knows about them—and doesn’t care. “Real evil is tricky, Jay,” Peter says at the end of the episode, after delivering a moving monologue about how he was with the troops who liberated Dachau.
For Sullivan, it’s not worth antagonizing George to print something obvious. He’d rather ruin Fauna’s life; and he’s dangling a plum gig as a war correspondent in front of Singletary if he’s willing to deliver the goods So what’ll Jay do? That’s the big question for the finale—and, believe it or not, it calls back to the series premiere, when Jay hesitated to give Peter the sleazy paparazzi shots he wanted, before being browbeaten into it.
For the past few weeks, I’ve poked fun at the goofier elements of this miniseries, suggesting the show’s better the less sense it makes. But I have to admit: I’m kind of impressed by how everything’s rounding out here. Could it be, as I Am The Night moves into its final hour, that Sheridan, Jenkins, Pine, and company have known what they were doing all along?
- Pop-culture anachronism-check! I was all set to hop down here and smugly point out that Sullivan’s “What’s behind door number two?” crack was being made a few years too early; but in fact Let’s Make A Deal debuted in 1963 (even though the more popular version of the game show didn’t arrive until the early ‘70s). The “Arnold Palmer” drink also dates back to sometime in the ‘60s, so that’s plausible (although I don’t recall hearing people refer to iced tea and lemonade that way widely until much later). To my ears though, the version of “Dedicated To The One I Love” heard in this episode is the one by The Mamas & The Papas, which was released in 1967. Too soon!
- One Day She’ll Darken check! According to her semi-memoir, the real Fauna Hodel did have a conversation with her mother Tamar, in which she found out: a.) that her mother had another child named “Fauna,” and b.) that Tamar told the authorities that the first Fauna’s father was “a negro” just because she thought black people were cool. In the book though, this all happens after Fauna marries an actual black man, the father of a baby conceived out of wedlock. Also, in the book, Jimmie Lee doesn’t get stabbed by George Hodel. (I did though just read a scene similar one in the first episode, where Fauna’s mama pretends to be dead in order to get her adopted kid to come home. So that was real-ish.)
- Finale next week! I assume that, just like in our reality, a fictional character will crack the Black Dahlia case once and for all.