‘The Night Of’ Ep5: You Come at the Naz, You Best Not Miss in “The Season of the Witch”

Naz enters the darkest timeline

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(HBO)

Well that was fast.

Last week I wrote about Naz slowly morphing into Walter White and suddenly we go from 0 to 60. Our sweet, doe-eyed Naz has turned into Scarface in prison, and despite the sloppily rushed pacing, Freddy says it best. Naz has some rage inside of him, and prison is stripping away the nice college-kid facade away.

The most gripping episode to date, Zaillian and Price amp up the plot without sacrificing atmosphere. They find a convenient way to get Stone and Chandra together, though I could have done without the Alison Crowe detour. Box, Helen, and Stone all get to do some fantastic investigative work. I know I’ve criticized the show before for going the more formula-laden route, but they know how to do right by a procedural. The sequence where Box is going through hundreds of call logs and hours of video tape strongly recall Jessica Chastain’s Maya doing boring CIA dirty work in Zero Dark Thirty. Something about ultra-competent people poring through the minutiae of their work with fanatical thoroughness is oddly satisfying, and to my surprise, audiences have agreed.

It’s also the funniest episode in the run as well. So far, The Night Of has read like the grim drudgery of a Zack Snyder film except with things like subtlety and timing. Stone’s self-esteem destroying pursuit of Viagra through sketchy channels (from Richard Price himself in a cameo!) is a nice mirror to Naz’s own journey from Adderall to smuggling eight-balls down his gullet. I almost expected Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell to show up. And Jeannie Berlin as prosecutor Helen Weiss continues to light up the room like a flickering laundromat sign as the surest source of laughs.

Speaking of things like missing subtlety and penises, Zaillian also close-ups in hard on the corpse in the morgue. Maybe this is just HBO’s answer to the swelling criticism they’ve received about full-frontal female nudity and sexual violence, but more likely they’re commenting pretty flagrantly about the dehumanization of these characters to meat on a cold slab. On every single level, everyone has shown themselves willing to do whatever it takes. Helen will shape and load a witness; Stone will impersonate more people than Dana Carvey; and Naz will start to Hulk out. Everything has been reduced to call logs, bloody photographs, toxicology reports, and X’s on a map. We’re all just numbers and data.

Eventually “The Season of the Witch” transforms into a horror-thriller movie at the end, complete with a cliffhanger. It’s an abrupt and incongruous about-face for such a meticulously paced show. Like Naz’s transformation, the end is narrative whiplash. Maybe Zaillian and Price should ask Stone for a card.

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