The Night Of: “The Art of War” Episode Review

How do you look a man in the eye without looking him in the eye?

That’s the conundrum for Naz at Rikers. This episode felt a little muddled, as he loses one nameless black mentor for another, all the while Freddy watches him from the tier. 

Stone is back to representing low-end clients who plea out, but he can’t let it go. He keeps calling the shelter about the cat and watching Andrea’s brownstone. He learns she was in rehab and stakes out the facility. One of the counselors (Max Casella) gets him her file—for a price. He attends her funeral, where Detective Box warns him off. He’s not Naz’s lawyer anymore, and he has no reason to investigate. That doesn’t keep him from photographing Taylor (Andrea’s stepfather) arguing with a young bearded man we haven’t seen before. 

Most impressive is how the story follows the burden on Naz’s family. His father can’t work without his cab, and Naz’s younger brother has to do his homework with no computer, after the police confiscate his. That doesn’t keep him from being expelled for fighting when other students taunt and provoke him. 

Stone finds Chandra, the lawyer who Allison Crumb uses to speak Hindi to Naz’s family, and feeds her clues. Umar Lee mentioned on Twitter that they speak Urdu in Pakistan. He also made a good point that it’s very unlikely that the only Muslims in Rikers are Nation of Islam (and specifically, those faking it so they can get the better halal meals).

This is New York City in 2016, there are between 600,000 and a million Muslims living there. It’s a small detail that dates the jail scenes, which rely on decades-old verisimilitudes. After the recent exposé of beatings and punitive use of solitary at Rikers on juveniles, the comfy image where everyone gets along unless you’re accused of killing a young woman just does not ring true. Not a deal-breaker, but a distraction from an otherwise gripping story.

For example, Freddy gives Naz a copy of Call of the Wild, saying it’s all he needs to know to get along in there. The episode gets its title because “The Art of War and The Other Side of Midnight are the two most read books in Rikers,” which I have trouble believing. For one, you don’t get to pick and choose.

However, there are some enjoyable scenes. Freddy was a boxer, but is most proud of his high school diploma. He has no problem using his fists, and we see them in action against a con who is muscling in on his cell phone business.

We also get to see that Allison is aptly named “Crumb”—she’s a crumb-bum. Very good at what she does, but not looking at Naz’s best interest. She mocks John Stone in front of the judge at Naz’s bail adjustment hearing, and both the judge and the D.A. are offended.

Stone isn’t a big-time lawyer, but he tries to give his clients the best deal they can get. So, when Allison deals with the D.A. to plea down to “Man 15”—Manslaughter, with a flat 15-year sentence, no early parole—she loses her heroic luster. She just wants to grandstand in front of the media that the charges are prejudicially motivated against him because he’s Muslim and not fight for the long haul. 

Everyone wants him to take the deal. Stone. Freddy. Everyone except Chandra, who looks into his eyes and tells him to ask himself, “Did I kill her?”, and if the answer is no, don’t take the deal.

Naz is afraid pleading guilty says, “I killed her.” Stone tells him, “No it doesn’t. It says you don’t trust twelve idiots on a jury.” Naz’s plea of “not guilty” makes Allison quit angrily. She offers Chandra’s services to his family, but not for free. She can’t be the hero, so she lets Naz swing.

It’s a confusing middle episode that leads us back to where we were last week, wishing that Naz would trust Stone and Freddy, because we know they’re in his corner.

NAZ: “My parents will never know I didn’t do it.”
STONE: “They don’t now.”

And, do we? I know I keep harping on this. Stone cares about him, and it seems like Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams) does, too. Do they see his innocence?

Stone asks Box if he’s figured it out yet, that Naz isn’t the killer. I’m ambivalent. I’ve seen too many fresh-faced young monsters. I wish we knew more about Andrea, the victim. She was in rehab for drugs. If they’re setting her up as a dangerous woman who ruins the life of a “young man with promise,” I’m going to kick a hole in my television. 

See also: The Night Of: “The Dark Crate” Episode Review

 


Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT. He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim (not as part of a clever heist). Hailing from Nutley, New Jersey, home of criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, Thomas has so far evaded arrest. He shares his hideout with his sassy Louisiana wife and their two felines. You can find him at www.thomaspluck.com and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.

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