What a mindblowing journey.
Throughout the course of its eight-episode first season, I was never once bored by The Night Of. Not for a single moment, scene, or subplot – every aspect of this production is carefully structured and executed, creating a mind-boggling experience from start to finish.
Without spoiling anything, The Night Of explores the criminal justice system as a young Pakistani-American is accused of murder. To say any more will rob you of this captivating experience, but rest assured that the entire narrative is richly crafted and engrossing right from the start. There are no needless twists or Hollywood bombshells, just complex characters and real-life stakes that keep you invested. And this is a heavy show; it tackles racism, corruption, the intricacies (and loopholes) of the justice system, all the while injecting a healthy dose of subtle comedy as well. Yes, a running subplot with one of the character’s bouts with eczema and a stray cat proves to be an undisputed comedic highlight. Who could imagine?
Furthermore, the performances are exceptional all the way around. First off is Riz Ahmed; the young actor delivers an intense tour-de-force performance as as our accused protagonist, and his transformation across the season is a joy to behold. Equally brilliant is John Turturro as John Stone, his eccentric lawyer and certainly the most memorable character of the entire season (see the eczema above). Special mention must also be made to Michael Kenneth Williams as Naz’s prison acquaintance Freddy. Williams’ turn is both acutely terrifying and strangely heartfelt, and that’s no easy combo.
Bits of the Night
This section is filled with spoilers so only read after you’ve completed the season.
– The most tense I’ve ever been this year: the entire sequence with Naz waking up, discovering Andrea, running out to his car, then back inside, all the way leading up to his arrest. My heart seriously couldn’t handle all the tension!
– Naz’s parents really broke my heart. Seeing the entire world treat them horribly was just painful to watch.
– The extended shot of the penis in the morgue was just bizarre. And they kept coming back to it!
– Creepiest scene of the year: Chandra confronting the hearse driver Mr. Day. Did anyone else feel he was going to snap at any moment?
– Hilarious Chinese guy who gives Stone the ointments and viagra alternative.
– I’m not saying she’s bad, but something about Jeannie Berlin’s performance as district attorney Helen Weis bugged me. Maybe it’s the way she enunciates or doesn’t really express visible emotion? Maybe the fact that she played the role SO well unsettled me. Whatever it was, it was sort of… odd.
– I kind of wish Freddy did something bigger by the time the season came to an end. I felt like we still needed one final act from him. Did he not say goodbye to Naz because he was hurt?
– The nastiest thing I’ve seen all year: Naz having to swallow the drugs (after they were you-know-where) and being forced to poop them out in front of Freddy and the gang.
– Pretty sad moment to see the poor kid killing himself after being forced to perform oral sex on Calvin. Obviously Naz was guilty because he saw everything and never did anything about it.
– Poor Chandra. After that kiss and probably getting disbarred, she’s going to be needing a new line of work.
– So who do you think killed Andrea? Is it definitely her financial adviser (whom Weiss and Box will now undoubtedly chase?) Is it her creepy step-dad? Mr. Day the hearse driver? Duane Reede? Or was it a drug-fueled Naz? I love that the show never gave us a definite answer and so many potential suspects.
– It’s a heartbreaking ending to Naz’s story to see him return to his old life and yet nothing is the same. His relationship with his mother is now strained (since she believed he was guilty), and he continues to use drugs. The scene with him in the same spot where he got high with Andrea was especially effective at bookending his tragic journey.
– There could be no shot more perfect to end the season on than with that lovable cat strutting through Stone’s apartment. After so much negativity, it’s a hopeful and uplifting ending to see that he did indeed go back for her after all. There’s a lot of analysis online over what exactly the cat represents. To me she’s definitely Naz, and just like him, she’s free in the end.
Cops & Quotes
Naz: You keep saying story, like I’m making it up. I want to tell you the truth.
John: You really, really don’t. I don’t want to be stuck with the truth. Not until I have to be.
Naz: But you need to know what happened.
John: I need to be flexible.
John: Trevor, after 9/11, two things happened. You started calling guys “Abdul Fazul,” and Homeland Security started putting up cameras everywhere.
Woman: You know what he does?
John: A personal trainer, apparently.
Woman: I mean his real line of work. He’s a trapeze artist. Swings from one old bag to another.
Prisoner: You didn’t do it. He didn’t do it. I guess don’t nobody do shit, huh? This joint is so chock-a-block with “I didn’t do it” motherfuckers, they falling from the rafters.
Student: Would you defend Hitler?
John: In theory, it’d be my duty as an officer of the court.
Student: He killed my great-grandparents.
John: You know what I really resent? Attractive, young women telling me I remind them of their fathers.
Doctor: Well, this is some cocktail, I’ll tell you that.
Weiss: Too high to know what he was doing?
Doctor: That depends on the individual. I’ve had patients this fucked up who could fly 747s through five time zones, others who couldn’t lift their head off the floor if their life depended on it. Which are you interested in?
Weiss: The aviators.
Chandra: Do you remember the man she was with?
Mr. Day: That wasn’t no man, that was a ball of yarn.
Box: Well, if one could describe what goes on in their sub-conscious mind, it wouldn’t be sub-conscious, would it? So, I guess there’s no way for us to know. Unless you got Freud out there waiting to be called.
John: You know who you really want? The prize of all prizes… Young, urban women.
John: Because they don’t give a shit about anyone’s opinion but their own. And odds are one of them’s gonna be on our side, just by accident. And all we need is one.
Chandra: Young, urban women. Well phrased.
John: I try.
A raw, bleak and haunting look at the criminal justice system. This is television at its finest, and it is certainly not to be missed.