Ep4: “The Art of War” and the Breaking Bad-ness of ‘The Night Of’

Naz joins a prison book club and becomes Walter White

The former Omar Little surveys Rikers. (HBO)

*minor spoilers ahead

I’ve never been to prison, but I have to assume I wouldn’t last long. Naz is facing the same dilemma and so is finally on the way to beginning his evolution-devolution from his stay at Rikers. Unlike Walter White, he likely doesn’t have enough time to evolve into full-on bad-ass.

That’s reserved for Michael K. William’s Freddy, who politely offers Naz a Faustian bargain. His protection, but at what cost? You can see the doubt and the calculation flickering behind Riz Ahmed’s eyes as he measures the cost against his own soul. Everyone wants to offer Naz their help and advice in fact, including Calvin Hart (Ashley Thomas), Alison Crowe, Chandra, Box, and of course, Jack Stone. Everyone is crowding around for a piece of him, and it’s hard to pick out the vultures from the doves. It’s all one big economy and people are the currency, whichever side of the barbed wire you’re on. This time Freddy and Alison are the big banks.

Despite his shoddy life investments, John Stone continues to gobble up screen time with Turturro excelling at his is-he-sleazy shtick. Masquerading as a detective to the victim’s friends, accepting his flat fee in sex, we’re somehow still with Turturro’s weary, pathetic performance. I’m concerned that Zaillian and Price are playing the shades of grey game a little too hard. Breaking Bad was the same way, each character methodically scheduled to do one morally ambiguous act (in either direction) every so often, lest we forget these are complex characters. I’m just waiting for Chandra to shank a guy or Salim to do a rail of coke while Calvin and Alison go halfsies on a singing apology telegram for Naz.

But the episode is built around whether Naz is going to take the plea deal. We know he’s not going to take the deal, and I practically cried out the words nearly verbatim with Chandra. It still makes an effective initial climax despite knowing exactly what will come. It’s good just to hear Naz speak again even if I think he’ll end up like a former chemistry teacher. He’s able to take back just a little piece of his agency, even if he’s gambling again with his life.

The chess pieces have been maneuvered carefully into place. Naz has one more dangerous stretch of water to navigate in this episode, and you can see it in his last stare down in the final shots. He’s Walter White without the pork pie hat and the goatee. He’s just got to ditch the tighty whities.



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