The Night Of rebounds strongly from last week’s stumble with “An Ordinary Death.”
“Did I raise an animal?”
– Safar Khan
It’s a testament to ‘The Night Of’ that I’ve flip-flopped half a dozen times on Naz’s innocence. I can’t shake the feeling that Naz is innocent, a troubled person with twisted roots inside. Only the criminal justice system has allowed those roots to grow and flower into the asthmatic Keyser Soze we see at the episode’s end.
Riz Ahmed continues to convey worlds of emotion through a few flickers of his eyes and a smirk or two, and there’s no way to solely heap the blame on Freddy as the gateway drug. It’s been Alison Crowe and the prison uniforms, the media and the guards and the everything. And it’s also Naz himself.
The ugly revelations emerge, and the toll it takes on his parents is crushing. Watching Safar’s slowly unraveling belief in her son is like the audience except times a million. Salim continues to maintain his faith, but he’s the last devout practitioner in a rapidly dwindling religion. You can never quite tell if he’s clinging to his hope in Naz out of sheer inertia and a father’s love, and it’s the worst.
If Salim is the last practitioner, Chandra is the ambivalent priestess. She’s been admirably holding up on the big stage, playing the game and nimbly fencing in this duel of verbal wits and the court of public opinion. But every so often she takes a hit, and the doubt is building. But it’s here that showrunners Zaillian and Price stumble hugely with her motivations. She knows Naz has lied multiple times to her, and yet she leans in for the kiss. It’s a strange soapy moment that flashes in acrid neon out of the show’s dark gritty realism. It’s sad to see Chandra’s determined professionalism undermined, but maybe that’s the point. Everyone’s getting their hands dirty. Everyone’s blurring the lines of right and wrong. I just wish the showrunners had picked a better, less obvious path.
Joining Chandra on Ambivalence Island is Box. Our erstwhile detective has had diminishing screen time since Episode 1, which is a shame because he’s such an intriguing balance of weary humanity and single-minded cunning. The subtle beast has cut corners, and it threatens to destroy his legacy. It’s unclear whether the impressively sad retirement party is due to his self-doubts about Naz’s innocence or the mountain of baggage he’s accumulated over 33 years. Even if Naz needs to go away, the price of being the man who holds the ax weighs heavy. The lines of Bill Camp’s face and the set of his shoulders carry an unimaginable burden. He’s seen things he shouldn’t have seen and done things he shouldn’t have done, and you recognize in him a soul that tried to do the right thing but never quite always managed.
On the lighter side of things is the verbal tennis rally between prosecutor Weiss and Dr. Katz (Chip Zien). Weiss has shed her playing possum personality and has thankfully returned to someone more interesting, more dangerous. A subtle beast of her own making, she tries talking slow circles around Dr. Katz’s wily fox, and you really see something: two old professionals who know the game, who know when they’ve drawn blood and when they’ve suffered themselves. The moment Weiss slows Katz down to explain to the jury and audience is just beautiful. It’s like watching Olympics gymnastics. I have no idea why the roundoff Amanar triple-sundae vault scored this and was deducted that, but I have a pair of expert commentators to walk me through. If they want to build a fake Law and Order around these two, I’m in all the way.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the time. The Night Of has just one more episode, and the dismount is always the hardest part. It’s time to see if they stick the landing.