Obvious Editor’s Note: SPOILERS AHEAD
Entering the finale, The Night Of was either the tale of an innocent man broken by a broken system, or that of a guilty man whose impropriety was slowly revealed to himself and those around him. I began the final episode of the miniseries unsure which I was watching. I didn’t want to believe Naz was guilty. Neither did the show. That’s why we met a quiet, reserved young man in the premier, one anxious to attend a party with a crowd he obviously yearned to be a part of. But slowly we learned about Naz’s seedier past. We learned he sold drugs. He assaulted two classmates. We saw he had the propensity to seek violent retribution again a fellow inmate and aided Freddie’s murder.
In college, I was on the Mock Trial team. It shares similarities with a debate team, except in the format of a trial. Each year, you’re given a fictional case, with fictional witnesses. You perform cross examinations and closing arguments before judges and get scored on everything from the logic of your argument, to your auditory skills, to whether you wore the correct tie (seriously). I bring this up because it colors how I view The Night Of. I am, by no means, a lawyer – at best, Mock Trial gave me a base understanding of the law and trial processes – but after a few years of pretending to be lawyer, I’ve realized I view this show in a pragmatic way.
I haven’t been as invested in the emotional beats of the show as much as the legal ones. To be clear, the emotional beats are there. The show has hit hardest when following the destruction of the Khan family. Poorna Jagannathan’s blank stare at the throng of reporters outside her home was devastating in its simplicity. Peyman Moaddi’s bewilderment when he learns his son must withdraw from school because of the violent actions of others. Their lives have been turned upside down because of something Naz is accused of doing. But in The Night Of, just like the real world, there is no presumption of innocence, and as a result, Naz’s family has suffered as much as he has.
It took only three episodes for The Night Of to move on from the grisly murder of the premier and focus on the repercussions of the homicide. In an earlier draft, I wanted to write that night set forth “a wild sequence of events.” Then I deleted it immediately. Because they’re not wild, or unique. The Night Of revels in the understated, both in its story and the color of its cinematic palette.
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.
“Hey, have you seen The Wire? No? It’s the best show ever.”
If you’ve ever debated the best shows on television, you’ve probably had some iteration of this conversation. And you know what, that person was right: The Wire was the best show on television. While titles like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos may be popping into your head, the fervent devotees are quick to note the series that depicts an unflinching portrait of Baltimore is undeniably the best. I’d argue its construction is the closest anyone has come to putting a novel on television.
Now, unpopular opinion alert: Orange is the New Black just stood atop a cafeteria table and silently declared itself the best show currently on “television.” It did so by following the blueprint laid out by The Wire.
“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.