The Night Of Series Premiere: “The Beach” Episode Review

Richard Price is probably more famous for his writing on The Wire than his sprawling crime novels, but they both deliver the same incredibly detailed vision of how crimes occur and how a city deals with them from every angle. The eight-episode miniseries The Night Of, which airs officially on HBO beginning July 10th, is no exception. This the perfect show to dive into now that Game of Thrones has left us until March. Because, while there are no dragons, there are many layers and webs of interconnected intrigue. 

The story revolves around a nerdy young student named Nasir, or “Naz” (Riz Ahmen, Nightcrawler), whose family came from Pakistan and runs a garment shop. His father also splits a cab with two other drivers. 

Like any second generation immigrant, Naz knows how to hustle, too. He tutors his fellow college students. He’s a good-looking kid, a little shy, carries an asthma inhaler but dresses cool, and he’s excited when one of his tutoring clients tells him about a hot party that night downtown…that his parents won’t want him to go to. Easy enough, he slips into his father’s cab, after his parents are asleep, and roams the streets, which leads to a couple comic interludes because he can’t figure out how to turn the Off Duty lights on.

Which is when She gets in his cab.

A beautiful, aloof young woman (her name is unknown to Naz; she’s played by Sofia Black-D'Elia), who doesn’t get out when he says he’s not really on duty. So, he asks her where she wants to go. “The Beach,” she says, deadpan. They go uptown instead, to her place, where the night turns almost surreal and horrible for both of them.

The direction is tense and insistent. Before much of anything happens, we’re cutting to bystanders watching, switching to the surveillance tape view in a bodega as he buys her a beer. The city never sleeps and it’s always watching. And, it looks as real as anything I’ve ever seen filmed in the city.

The Night Of’s New York looks like New York. The people look like New Yorkers—even if we do get the Price trope of the tough African-American policewoman and the haggard and pallid detective who lives by night, against his will, by the Bat-Signal of his flip-phone buzzing on the night stand. I think I saw more diverse a cast in this episode than I’ve seen in any show other than Orange is the New Black, on the street and the police force, which is how it is. There’s no need to settle into its world and accept how things are, it’s as real as The Wire—which makes me wonder how reliable a narrator the camera, as it follows Naz around, will be.

We’re with him almost the entire time. He’s likeable, vulnerable, and stunned that this beautiful young woman wants anything to do with him. If we’re to believe what we’re seeing, she’s insistent, strange, reckless. They do tequila shots and soon they are upstairs, her leading him by the hand.

Naz wakes up in the kitchen, groggy and unsure of what happened, and he goes to her room to collect his things and say goodbye. Instead, he finds her slaughtered in her bed. When he panics and runs out the door, we are unsure what to believe. The only thing that makes sense is that he killed her after a night of drinking and sex. It’s brilliant, in a way. The show has just made us sympathize with a murderer, possibly a rapist. 

Maybe I’m giving them too much credit and this isn’t going to explore rape culture and how we view women victims, but at the moment, that was all that made sense to me. Maybe it’s pure pulp and someone else stabbed her into a savage bloody mess and somehow left without leaving a trail or fingerprints or DNA? Another lover, a one-night stand, so young Andrea brought it on herself for not being the paragon of female virtue our culture demands?

Naz runs, but he is eventually a suspect. How it plays out is brilliant writing and filmmaking— worthy of Hitchcock—twisting our guts as police, neighbors, racist strangers, and the brilliant Detective Box (Bill Camp) converge on this fresh-faced young man who may have brutally murdered a woman, or been set up for it. He’s a pawn in the system now, crushed between the wheels of the NYPD and a sympathetic, crusty old lawyer named Jack Stone (played perfectly by John Turturro).

He’s there to help a regular client and falls for Naz’s big puppy eyes, much like we do. He goes back and makes himself the kid’s lawyer and tells him not to talk to anyone, in between telling him how he wears sandals because he’s got eczema on his feet, not because he’s a Jesus figure or anything.

Stone swears to himself once he finds out Detective Box got the case. He went in as a Samaritan, but now he’s in a war. Naz’s family realizes he’s gone and goes frantic, calling his phone. The setup is complete: Detective Box vs. Jack Stone vs. Naz and family.

The victim, Andrea, has no one, as yet. We know nothing about her except that she apparently lives alone in a ritzy brownstone. This unfortunately puts her in the all too common place of the faceless female victim trope, like the dead girl with the antlers in True Detective. At least we got to meet her, or did we? Are we only seeing Naz’s recollection, where she is a knife-twirling succubus in the tale he’s going to spin to Jack Stone? 

That will be the mystery for the next seven episodes, as we follow a brutal sex crime in the city. 

 


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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