“The Night Of” is Dark and Full of Terrors

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HBO

“The night is dark and full of terrors.”

That is a refrain from HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, but it applies just as well, literally and figuratively, to the premiere episode of the network’s latest eight-part miniseries The Night Of.

The episode takes place over a single night in New York City, following Naz (Riz Ahmed), the soft-spoken son of a Pakistani cab driver. Naz’s night begins like so many stories about millennials coming-of-age over the course of an evening out in the Big Apple. He breaks the rules, taking his father’s taxi without permission, meets a mysterious seductress (Sofia Black D’Elia) and even swallows some pills (probably Molly). The night culminates with Naz having sex with the hot girl.

But the night is never “fun.” There is no soundtrack of plucky indie music that swells at just the right moment. Instead, Naz awakes to find the girl dead, stabbed to death in a grizzly scene out of a Saw movie.

That’s when The Night Of takes a turn for figurative darkness. That’s the moment when it defined itself as the prestige thriller/murder mystery primed to fill the crater Ray Velcoro’s mustache left behind by season 2 of True Detective in HBO’s television catalog.

When I compare The Night Of with True Detective, I’m talking season 1, and not just because I already anticipate diving down a Reddit rabbit hole filled with fan theories about who the murderer is. True Detective was more concerned with telling stories about men discussing flat circles than it was about solving the Dora Lange case. In the opening of The Night Of, Naz is confronted with Islamophobia in a post-9/11 New York. He’s already trapped in a flawed judicial system that strikes many of the same cords as Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer. Whether Naz is innocent or guilty is already positioned as a secondary question.

And yet, The Night Of is made for the age of internet speculation and amateur detective work. While True Detective was the catalyst for a million fan theories, most were ultimately proven false because the show never laid the appropriate groundwork to uncover the killer. Sure, we met the Yellow King (Errol Childress) in the third episode, but there’s no real evidence to link him to the crimes until the finale.

The premiere of The Night Of was littered with evidence. The camera lingered on television screens monitoring Naz’s movements and eyewitnesses throughout the episode. Anyone familiar with a cop procedural, or who fantasized about verbally sparring with Jack McCoy, can see the moments that will serve as evidence as this case plays out. Two of those witnesses already appeared at the police station to identify Naz. We should expect more of the details from this episode to become crucial in the future. Perhaps more importantly, I think The Night Of will give its audience the pieces to solve this mystery before the finale.

For me, the greatest mystery may be the most obvious one: did Naz do it? The premiere paints him as a naïve, college-aged New Yorker engrossed in a night far outside his comfort zone. He’s hesitant to give a beautiful girl a cab ride. He’s resistant to both consuming alcohol and knife play. And yet, an episode that meticulously documented Naz’s every movement left out the most crucial portion of the night. I want to believe Naz is innocent, but there’s still a part of me that can’t fully believe that until we see it. If Naz truly can’t remember it, maybe he never will, and that would make the remaining seven episodes even darker.

Either way, HBO appears comfortable returning to an old refrain, with just a slight variation: The Night Of is dark and full of terrors.

Stray Thoughts

  • He wasn’t a large part of the premiere, but I’m excited for more John Turturro playing the role of the lawyer who fights against the world to prove his client’s innocence. Possibly the only part of the premiere I didn’t like was the clichéd meet-cute, where Turturro’s character Jack Stone leaves the police precinct, only to stop and look wistfully into the night, before returning to Naz’s cell and beginning his righteous fight.
  • Bill Camp plays an amazing antagonist. I’m thinking of his most recent work on The Leftovers, where he plays with Kevin Garvey’s mind while they both wallow in purgatory. Sign me up for seven more episodes of that, please.
  • HBO really likes its feature-length premieres. The Night Of clocked in at 90 minutes. Earlier this year, Vinyl premiered at over two hours. So far, HBO is one-for-two with this format, but I’m hoping these extended premieres don’t become a trend.
  • Who has a deer head hanging in their brownstone? Is that possibly the least New York décor ever presented on television?
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