By now, you might have read some of the critical praise that HBO’s latest limited series, “The Night Of” has been receiving. The show starring Riz Ahmed (“Nightcrawler”) who plays a young Pakistani-American college student named Nazir “Naz” Khan and John Turturro as his lawyer John Stone, is probably the best show on television right now. It certainly edges out Season Two of Mr. Robot so far, which after its first stellar season, has pivoted from a thriller last season mainly focused on the machinations of hacking to a drama centered around the mental instability of its unreliable protagonist and narrator.
What’s ultimately most terrifying about “The Night Of” is how plausible the series of events are. Naz takes his father’s cab one night in New York City, picks up a young, mysterious woman named Andrea by chance and returns to her apartment to engage in a night of partying with drugs, alcohol and sex. We find Naz passed out in the downstairs kitchen early the next morning, in a hazy stupor, as he discovers Andrea has been viciously stabbed to death in her bed. Naz panics, grabs a knife from the house that was used the night before, and drives his father’s cab away from the brownstone. He is later caught and charged by Detective Box, after a short investigation, with Andrea’s murder as the primary suspect in the heinous crime.
His transfer to Riker’s Island jail as he awaits his trial offers us, the audience, a hard glimpse into the inner workings of the criminal justice system, from the bottom-feeder lawyers to the high-profile lawyers capitalizing on an opportunity for good publicity, to the terrifying strategies young men must quickly learn to survive in the vicious prison system. For a wide-eyed Naz, who never had a criminal record, it doesn’t matter in jail if he’s guilty or innocent in the meantime; he needs to stay alive, come hell or hot water and baby oil, before his trial, even it means seeking the help of an ominous character like Freddy, a menacing inmate from whom he seeks protection.
Luckily for Naz, whose case has become tabloid fodder for the 24/7 news media, Stone the lawyer, has taken on the high-profile case, with a steely determination to repudiate his own seedy reputation, despite being hampered by a horrible case of foot eczema that he often alleviates with the aid of an unlucky chopstick.
As the series slowly unravels, we see the devastating effects of one night gone horribly awry. Andrea, a young woman who previously went to rehab, and who was in emotional distress the night she met Naz, is dead in the estate left by her wealthy mother. Naz’s parents, both working-class Pakistani immigrants, must wrestle with the aftermath of the criminal charges, emotionally and fiscally. Left without the cab, which has been impounded by the police as the investigation continues and the family’s primary source of income, his parents must also struggle to survive as they grapple with retaining a lawyer for their son for what will amount to be a very expensive trial and withstand the unrelenting news media, underpinned with wafts of Islamophobia in a post 9/11 world, that is hounding their house. Even Naz’s younger brother is left to fend for himself at school, bullied by the news of his older sibling, as he gets kicked out of school for fighting. And, then there’s Naz, who is slowly becoming a calloused soul in Riker’s as the series progresses. He is left no choice, after he rejects a plea deal, but to wait until the case reaches the trial to prove his innocence.
Is Naz guilty or innocent of murdering Andrea? Ultimately, it may not even matter after the series concludes. The criminal justice system has robbed Naz of so much already: innocence, reputation, time and future. Andrea may have paid dearly with her life, but this glaring look inside the criminal justice system reveals how much it can devastate the lives of so many others in its wake, in the pursuit, ostensibly, of justice.
The series is approaching Episode Five of the eight-part series, most of which I expect may focus on the investigation and the trial. Here are some things that I think will come into play in the remaining episodes:
- Andrea’s cat: In the first episode, Andrea opens her back door to let her cat outside her house at the end of the night. Stone, Naz’s lawyer, returns to Andrea’s house after her murder, and finds the abandoned cat begging to be let back into the home. The decision to concentrate on the cat will undoubtedly factor into series as the trial plays out. Did Andrea fully shut the door when she let the cat out that fateful night, and could have the real killer let him or herself into house?
- Naz’s inhaler: Also, in the first episode, Detective Box finds Naz’s inhaler at the scene of the crime, and returns it to him while he’s in jail. Naz is obviously asthmatic and must use an inhaler. Will Naz’s use of his inhaler, in combination with the drug and alcohol cocktail that night, factor into his defense and why he passed out?
- Stone’s eczema: Naz’s lawyer skin condition is a particularly curious character detail, one that I think will play into some kind of eureka moment for Stone. I think Stone might stumble upon some type of revelation while continuing his seemingly futile attempt to find relief for his skin ailment. By the series’ end, I hope that he will finally be able to literally fit into the dress shoes for a lawyer in court.
- Andrea’s stepfather: Andrea’s stepfather, played by “House of Cards” actor Paul Sparks, is a suspicious character. At first, he’s reluctant to identify his deceased stepdaughter, and we later see him quarreling with an unknown character about money after her funeral. Redditors have speculated that the stepfather may have been the motorcyclist peering into the cab on the night that Naz met Andrea.
- The deer head: The camera has focused several times on Andrea’s deer head hanging in her house. The police swabbed what looked to be blood from the deer head after the murder. Redditors have speculated that the bloodstains were there before the night of the murder, while others have suggested that the deer head may have been moved by the killer. Could there be a hidden camera inside the deer head? Perhaps.
Ultimately, I believe that Naz will be cleared of the crime. Interestingly, the last episode is titled, “The Call of the Wild”, the same Jack London book that Freddy asked Naz to read. Could this be a foreboding portent towards the end?