The Black Dahlia Murder of 1947 has fascinated detectives and amateurs alike for years. There are few people in America who haven’t heard of the horrific murder of Elizabeth Short, known more commonly as the Black Dahlia. But most probably don’t know anything about one of the main suspects: George Hodel.
I love true crime and have since I was a teenager. And second to the Jack the Ripper murders, this one fascinated me the most. So, when I stumbled across this tv series, which is based on the memoir by Fauna Hodel, the granddaughter of George Hodel, I knew I had to see it.
The series began on January 28, 2019, and concluded with a total of six episodes. As far as I know, it’s a stand alone series and will not have sequel, which makes sense because the drama is concluded pretty well at the end.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings for this drama, and in order to organize my thoughts, I’m going to separate this review into the things I liked and the things I didn’t like.
Synopsis: Fauna Hodel (played by India Eisley) was given up by her birth mother when she was a baby and believed herself to be half-black. Raised in segregation Nevada by a black mother, she learns of her true identity and travels to Los Angeles to find out about her mother Tamar, only to find herself drawn into the dark world of her grandfather, George Hodel, a powerful doctor in Hollywood. Meanwhile, disgraced reporter Jay Singletary (played by Chris Pine) is determined to solve the Black Dahlia’s murder, a murder which leads back to George Hodel himself.
The acting is phenomenal! India Eisley, who I’m not very familiar with (because she mostly stars in horror movies, which I don’t watch), is brilliant as the protagonist. She portrays the perfect balance between innocent and strong, and I thought she completely stole the show. As for Chris Pine, I haven’t really been a fan of his acting before. I liked him in Wonder Woman, but anything else I’ve seen him in (Star Trek, Princess Diaries 2, Into the Woods, etc.) I just haven’t liked him. But though usually I don’t like the noir washed-up reporter character, his acting was incredible in this show!
Every single actor blew me away with their portrayal of their respective characters. Golden Brooks plays Fauna’s adoptive mother, an alcoholic, and does an amazing job. And Jefferson Mays as George Hodel is so creepy! So yes, I have no complaints about the acting.
The next thing I loved was the historical accuracy. Obviously the story itself takes liberties with fact, but the setting is incredible. The story examines the debauchery of Hollywood in the sixties, the issues within black communities during segregation, the life of drugs addicts, and the corruption of the police in Los Angeles. It’s fascinating to see so many different sides to a setting, as most tv shows stick to one side of a story.
Many little details seem accurate as well. For example, the Watts Riots of 1965 take place during the film and though it’s more of a backdrop, it feels real. The house in which George Hodel lived (known in real life as the John Sowden house which George Hodel did live in the ’40s, designed to look like a Mayan temple by Lloyd Wright) was actually used to film the show and it’s a menacing house.
From the costumes to hair to makeup, it was all so accurate. While the story itself takes a lot of liberates with real life (for example, in the movie George Hodel is still living at the John Sowden House in the sixties, but he actually moved out in 1950), the setting is well-done.
There were a few imagery touches I loved as well. For example, there is this theme of a minotaur appearing to George Hodel (and to Jay). George calls his crony Icarus, and tells him not to try to gain too much power by “flying to near the sun.” This all ties back into George thinking of himself almost as a god, similar to King Minos of Crete in Greek mythology. Minos was also the judge of the underworld and killed many young men and women and, as this drama would have you believe, so did George Hodel. I could go through a lot of the symbolism in the movie (half of which I probably missed), but there were a lot of details I loved. For example, when Jay and Fauna go to Hawaii to find Fauna’s real mother, Jay puts a rock (or something) in his sock to beat a man who is harassing Fauna. At the end of the series, Fauna does the same thing to stop George Hodel from killing her. So there are many little things I noticed which added depth to the show.
But, with everything good, I did have a few complaints.
The pacing of this show is quite slow. Although it’s six episodes, I honestly felt like only three of those episodes were necessary. There are some great scenes, but they are intermingled with a lot of pointless scenes. I won’t give too many spoilers, but there is a young black man killed early in the series who might have been killed by George Hodel’s crony, but it’s never mentioned through the rest of the series, so we’re left to guess. There are also numerous scenes of Jay (Chris Pine’s character) doing drugs and seeing visions of the soldiers he killed in the Korean War. I get that they wanted to show that he was having PTSD, but you can demonstrate that a couple times without doing it nearly a dozen times. I honestly think the story would have been a lot tighter if the pacing was quicker. This is supposed to be a thriller, after all.
But the main thing that I didn’t like about this series was the artistic feel to a lot of the scenes. It’s an extremely artsy series (modern artsy, which I’m not fond of). I didn’t mind some of the scenes, but I felt the immense amount didn’t add anything to the show as a whole. I think the director could have easily woven more artsy shots into the show without taking away from the plot. And many of these scenes feel like they were added to show us what we already knew.
The ending felt like things were tied up too perfectly. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want SPOILERS! Fauna escapes George Hodel and Jay leaves for an island paradise because he’s wanted by the police. But it doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t George Hodel continue to harass Fauna, especially since she knows way too much? He killed everyone else who got in his way, so why not her? The ending just felt a bit too happy and contrived, and I would have liked it to end a bit differently.
For the most part, I enjoyed this six-part series. You shouldn’t watch it as if it’s fact (there is little proof that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia’s killer, though he was a pretty horrible person in real life). However, it’s an enjoyable fiction piece. It is a bit dark and moderately gruesome, so I wouldn’t watch it if you are easily grossed out.
In real life, George Hodel died in 1999 and Fauna Hodel died in 2017, at the young age of 66. Honestly, I can’t imagine that the Black Dahlia murder will ever be solved. It’s been too long. But I did enjoy this drama, and I plan to put the memoir it’s based on on my TBR: One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel by Fauna Hodel.
One question I’m left with is: what does the title mean? Is Fauna herself the night, or does it refer to George Hodel? I’m curious to get the meaning behind the title.
Anyway, have you heard of this series or the Black Dahlia murder? Would you watch this series? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,