Previously on The Night Of, “Ordinary Death”
Perhaps we are conditioned to expect the unexpected, and look for “the twist” in a television series as early as the first episode. But as far as The Night Of is concerned, what you saw was what you got. Freddy (Williams) was not somehow involved in Andrea’s death, taking Naz (Ahmed) under his wing out of guilt. Freddy didn’t have a secret agenda to keep Naz in prison because he hungered for his intellectual company. The real killer is, most likely, a character we’d met previously and stood to benefit from Andrea’s death – not financially, but she wouldn’t be able to report his criminal activities. Stone’s (Turturro) skin condition was stress-related, a fact driven home in “The Call of the Wild” when he panics over composing the defense’s closing arguments. And Duane Reade was just a creepy criminal with an unfortunate name.
The lack of an eleventh hour twist isn’t a bad thing, but in the absence of that, I was left wondering the point of it all. If The Night Of was meant to be an examination of the criminal justice system in New York, it would appear that writers Richard Price and Steve Zaillian wanted to drive home the point that almost everyone involved in the system ain’t shit. Corrections officers are in the pockets of the inmates; veteran detectives thisclose to retirement will become sloppy; disrespected defense attorneys will trade legal aid for sex; the prosecutors and medical examiners will purposely lie to ensure a conviction; and a young defense attorney will engage in an inappropriate relationship with her client, including smuggling in his drugs.
Unfortunately, the motivations for these actions are never fully explored. Bill Camp was excellent as Detective Box all season, but he spent way too much time studying videos, circling maps, and staring off into the distance and not enough time selling why he ignored his gut and didn’t do his due diligence in investigating other witnesses or suspects. It felt as though the only reason he didn’t do those things was so Chandra Kapoor (Karan) could trip him up on the stand in “Ordinary Death.”
And Chandra. Oh, Chandra. Her kiss with Naz was a head-scratcher, but you could maybe, maybe, chalk it up to Naz’s doe-eyed charm and her potentially confusing her faith in his innocence with something romantic. However, the series delivered not one legitimate reason for her to agree to smuggle in drugs so that Naz could handle testifying at trial. Did anyone really buy that this smart, capable woman would risk her entire career for a client who constantly withheld information?
When Freddy is given video of the kiss, because of course he is, he anonymously sends it to Stone, confident he’ll use it to push a mistrial. This is to Naz’s benefit after his disastrous cross-examination by Weiss, in which he admits that he doesn’t know if he killed Andrea or not. While Chandra will most certainly be disbarred, the judge refuses to declare a mistrial so close to the end, and insists that Stone deliver the closing argument as Chandra becomes second chair. Despite his flare up, Stone delivers a fantastic performance and Turturro delivers his best scene of the entire series. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of turning a strong woman of color character into a trope.
The one relationship that received the most scrutiny was the one between Naz and Freddy, and it ended up being the most uncomplicated one of them all. Freddy believed Naz was innocent. He was like a unicorn in Riker’s and it was an accomplishment for Freddy to take him under his wing. In the end, he just really liked Naz.
After a hung jury, and with Weiss declining to pursue the charges further, Naz returns to Riker’s Island for the final time (maybe, but more on that in a bit) to gather his belongings. It was oddly touching that Freddy made himself unavailable to say goodbye, choosing instead to give Naz a parting gift of The Call of the Wild via an officer.
After only a few episodes it was clear whether Naz was found guilty or not, he was never going to be the same. He returns to a community that still believes he’s a killer – and a mother who thought so as well – with nothing to show for his time in prison except a few pounds of muscle, several disturbing tattoos, and a drug addiction.
Box and Weiss may have decided to finally pursue who they believe is the real killer, but the damage to Naz’s life, inflicted by his arrest and what he had to do to survive in prison, may prove to be too great for him to overcome. As he sits under the George Washington Bridge, in the same spot he sat with Andrea before everything changed, getting high, it feels like a safe bet that he’ll be reunited with Freddy eventually.
For more on my thoughts of the finale and the season as a whole, listen as we discuss the episode on Podcast Fandom below.
The Night Of - Part 8 = 9/10