The Two Sides of “The Night Of”
The Night Of is a story of binaries. It’s the tale of a naïve boy’s first encounter with the legal system and characters that are jaded after years under the crushing weight of the oppressive structure. It’s a story told in the subtly of Jack Stone’s smirk as he begins the biggest case of his career and the blunt reality that comes from the fist of a prison inmate. It’s both the story of the truth and tales lawyers will concoct before a jury of Naz’s peers.
This last binary is what begins the second episode. As Naz tries to explain the circumstances that led him to his prison sell, Stone interrupts him by saying, “I don’t want to be stuck with the truth.” The truth isn’t important, not for the court and not for the viewer. We already know the truth. Well, most of it. The first episode gave the audience an objective telling of the night in question. We saw Naz travel the streets of New York in his father’s cab. We saw him pick up the girl, swallow the pill, have sex. The only part we didn’t see was the graphic homicide. That’s the only truth we are interested in. But as Stone said, that truth does not matter.
What matters is how the rest of those pieces come together. It’s unlikely Detective Box will ever place Naz in that room, holding the knife, committing the murder. Naz will likely never remember what happened. The show does not seem concerned with answering questions about that truth. All we’re left with are the pieces of evidence that Stone is quick to point out as circumstantial. It will all come down to how the prosecutor places those pieces together and how Stone rearranges them. As the season goes forward, that will become the bigger binary to watch: How those competing stories deviate from one another, which becomes more compelling, and most importantly, which is most believable to a jury.
But the bigger parallel that I’m interested in is the idea of naivety versus experience. Stone warns Naz early in the episode not to talk with Box, because Box is the experienced detective trained at coaxing confessions, and Naz is new to the game. Stone doesn’t want his client making a mistake. But later we learn Stone is in the same position as Naz.
Stone’s wife(?) questions his need for a tie, because he so rarely appears in court, if ever. His argument for bail was reminiscent of the scene from My Cousin Vinny, when the titular character gives an eloquent monologue about his client’s innocence when he was expected to give a yes or no answer. When this episode commenced, I feared that Naz would only dig himself a deeper hole. Now, I’m more fearful that Stone’s representation might be what leads to his demise. Again, The Night Of leans into another storyline from Making a Murder. The documentary showed how negligent and incompetent legal representation led to the conviction of Brendan Dassey, even when it was clear to the viewer he was innocent of the crimes. Both shows are clear when it comes to lawyers: sometimes the one’s that claim they have your best interest in mind are the most dangerous.
Stone acts as an example of the show’s larger issue with the legal system. While The Night Of paints Naz as innocent, the show is still more concerned with how he’s being screwed by the system. His parents look for their son at the wrong precinct because they simply travel to the nearest one. His mother brings him a plate of homemade food the rules prohibit Naz from receiving. These fine touches are what show just how ignorant they are to legal proceedings. And it’s not a bad thing. It portrays the Khan family as good, hardworking people, which will ultimately make Naz’s demise all the more heartbreaking.
Demonstrating heartbreak by portraying the collapse of an innocent man might just be the aim of this episode. In the opening sequence, the haunting quotes from the night of the incident were like memories of a different life fading, away in Naz’s mind. It audibly depicted the evaporation of the life he had before and how it has been placed by a reality of jail cells and police interrogations. Steve Zaillian’s direction subtlety included a short look up at the courthouse as Naz was about to enter his transport to Rikers, providing a first-person view of Naz’s last glimpse of freedom. It was devastating to realize his last image of the outside world was of the concrete behemoth where he would be returning only to likely experience further devastation.
The Night Of is depicting an apathetic system that simply grinds on, that finds a cellphone stowed away in a man’ rectum and tosses it away like it was in the original job description. This is a show that throws around racism as casually as Stone scratches his eczema-infected feet. That’s because the show is not from Naz’s point of view. It has decidedly taken on the role of documentarian, showing the world for what it is, with the occasional pan to Naz’s shocked face, to let the audience know it’s okay to stare on in horror.
The second episode created a world filled with binaries, naivety and experience, truth and the truth. But it didn’t accompany the pessimism that permeated this episode with a glimmer of hope. After two episodes, it’s looking grim for Naz, and it is difficult to see a reason to believe this is a redemption story. Maybe Stone will overcome his own pitfalls to ultimately help Naz. Maybe Box will succumb to that nagging suspicion that the quiet Pakistani boy doesn’t fit the profile of a murder. Or maybe, as we scream out for help from the comforts of our couches, The Night Of will only continue to pummel us, until we too remain silent at the horrors occurring around us.
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