The truth can go to hell. Because it can’t help you.
The Night Of wastes very little time but never feels rushed. Another short miniseries in the vein of Show Me a Hero, this time HBO gave them a little more room to breathe—and it helps immeasurably. Based on the BBC series Criminal Justice, it feels fresh and in a world of its own making, somehow unlike all the Law & Orders and CSIs and SVUs that preceded it.
With the merest of recaps, we are back in the story. The arresting officers give statements, as Naz sits in a holding cell waiting for a bail hearing and his family frantically looks for him. The confusion of the New York City criminal justice system becomes a very unsubtle beast of its own, comprised of thousands of people working in ancient buildings without sunlight. The cinematography has been excellent, and in the second episode, we feel the walls closing in on Naz as the system swallows him whole. I don’t think we see a tree for the entire episode.
Naz is still too naïve to realize that this isn’t all a misunderstanding that he can clear up by telling his side of the story. Like any coddled young man, he can’t believe what is happening. If we believe what we’ve seen, he woke up in Andrea’s kitchen after a night of consensual sex, discovered Andrea’s mutilated body upstairs in her bedroom, and fled so quickly he forgot his asthma inhaler but remembered to take the bloody knife that may or may not be the murder weapon; they were playing mumblety-peg with it between tequila shots and he cut her with it. The story doesn’t hold up, and Naz’s puppy eyes aren’t enough to make me believe it.
“We got our story, they got their story, and the jury decides which one they like best.” That’s how John Stone (John Turturro) describes the upcoming trial to Naz—that the truth can go to hell because it can’t help them. He doesn’t want to know “the truth,” only what can help him win the case.
We see more of Stone’s life than his skeevy feet. It looks like he’s divorced and has a teenage son and an ex who supports him. She apologizes when she asks if he doesn’t think a murder trial is a bit too big for him. He’s been bottom-dwelling for a while, taking smaller cases. Price packs every small scene with detail and color—like one of Stone’s clients yelling at the judge because a white-collar criminal got a lesser sentence, and Pauline, a trans client that looks like she plays guitar for the New York Dolls.
Stone warns Naz that Detective Box is on the case, one of the best. A very good cop, who works just inside the rules and takes it personally.
He’s a subtle beast.
We get a good look at his subtlety. Box tries to talk to Naz again, but now that Stone’s told him to shut up, he listens—even when Box tries to scare him, tell him that Stone’s only in it for the money, that the evidence is all stacked against him, and taking this to trial might put him in prison for life. Box gives him his asthma inhaler and lets him talk to his parents, without telling them that he is listening in. Because he doesn’t have to.
Naz doesn’t hang himself, but comes close, then switches to his parents’ native tongue. And, even then he’s just cagey enough. Box doesn’t give up; he tries the old “things just got out of hand” method, but in the end, Naz goes to the The Tombs without talking. It would be a short series, otherwise.
The other side of Box hits the family later, when he shows up with a court order to search the Khan household. He takes all their computers, and the father’s cab is still in evidence. So, without income or even a way to Google other lawyers, we get to see how the justice system is leveraged in favor of the prosecution. Even if, as Stone says, “we get to hear their story before we go to court.”
We get more of the victim’s side, and it’s not pretty. Her stepfather is next of kin and answers the phone with, “What did she do now?” Mr Taylor is brought in from Queens to visit the dark and claustrophobic underworld that none of us want to visit to identify Andrea’s body. She had a lot of drug arrests, her mother died of cancer, and her father was gone long before.
And, while Taylor has the familiar and empty eyes of a loved one of an addict, who has seen her flirt with death for so long that he’s been waiting for this call and is killing himself for doing it, he could also be a suspect. Andrea inherited the brownstone from her mother. Taylor mentioned she had a lot of boyfriends. Easy enough for him to be waiting in there for her to be passed out with a one-night stand and stab her a few dozen times, the way killers who have personal hatred for their victim often do.
But, that’s the strength of the show—how it makes us want Naz to be innocent. The fresh-faced, well-dressed, second-gen American young man with the inhaler who tutors other students: the immigrant’s prodigal son. I’m eyeballing the victim’s stepfather rather than the one who discovered her bloody corpse.
Despite my theorizing, the show keeps its cards very close to its chest. What will the story be? That murderous rapists can be as handsome and innocent looking as Naz? That it’s easy to demonize a victim? Or, that we never truly know the truth, only what we piece together from the stories we’re told?
We may never know what happened in those few seconds of black frame, while Naz supposedly slept and Andrea was butchered. As the episodes roll on, the audience will fill those frames in for themselves, like we always do in cases of this kind.
Images via HBO and Inverse
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.