The Night Of Review: Ordinary Death

My dad’s the only person in the world who believes me. — Nasir Khan

I believe you. — Chandra Kapoor

A few days ago, I took five hours out of a rainy evening and watched Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, the BBC series on which The Night Of is based. The first season of that show was the inspiration for the tale of Nazir Khan’s bad evening out, and the biggest difference between the two is that the accused is a British young man. The Muslim angle is entirely absent.

After viewing the original from start to finish, both versions have strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve seen how that story ended. I was asked yesterday whether I thought the HBO treatment would conclude in the same manner, and quite frankly, I don’t. I’m going to avoid doing any predictions during this review, however, because of what I know possibly influencing my opinion.

The Night Of didn’t begin as a mystery story, but it’s impossible not to wonder who committed the murder of Andrea Cornish, if only so we can wrap our minds around the clear innocence of our protagonist. The series is more concerned with a large-scale look at the problems of the criminal justice system, from the accusatory phase through the trial, and of course centering on the issues in the punishment and detainment stages. I feel we’ve seen enough of Rikers Island to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it would suck to end up there. My complaint has been the rapid decline of Naz into a less than sympathetic figure.

Criminal Justice takes its lead and puts him through the drug muling for Freddy, who is virtually never presented as anything but a villain, and eventually to heroin. The difference is the drugs are forced into his body to try and get him addicted, and thus desperately reliant upon his supplier. No tattoos, no haircut, and you feel sorry for this young soccer player throughout the five-episode season.

Oh, and Stone’s eczema? It’s maybe 30 seconds to a minute of TOTAL screen time or focus. He never treats it on screen, one person asks him about his feet, and he itches them the first time he meets his client. That’s it. Also, there’s no cat, and no hearse driver. Actually, there’s no hearse, although there is a gas station.

As we enter the final few hours (the finale is scheduled to run 1:45 next Sunday) of The Night Of, it will be fascinating to see how this version gets to its endgame, and what sport it’s playing by the time it arrives. Chandra kissed Naz, which wasn’t exactly surprising, but still felt a little inappropriate. We got much more of the courtroom this time around, and we saw Stone lurking around, following Don Taylor and trying to find additional reason to point the finger at him. That led to a relatively uncomfortable scene involving a weight bench and a veiled threat from Andrea’s irritated stepfather.

John does learn that Don has maxed out multiple credit cards and has filed for bankruptcy twice in the past. He also attempted to choke another ex-wife to death, and she gave him 200K in the divorce to get away clean. As we already knew, he’s a scum bucket, but is he a murderer? There’s still a significant lack of physical evidence, even if the money could be a motive for the murder. The concept of The Night Of as a non-whodunit isn’t without merit, but for the rest of the story to work, we still have to have an actual boogeyman, so that Naz’s angle is more compelling.

As for Khan, he dealt Adderall to fellow students for ten greenbacks a pop, which is quite the hustle when Helen Weiss tells one of his customers that he got a bottle for ten-dollar copay, and thus each pill was worth around a quarter to him. Another new revelation is that Naz didn’t just injure one kid; he actually hospitalized two, using a Coke can to the head as a weapon that required 12 stitches to his victim. The more things we learn about Nasir Khan, the less heroic or even innocent he appears, and then when we’re with him in Rikers, watching him in action, it gets even worse.

Andrea’s dealer admitting he knew her, but didn’t know Naz, and that she came to him for ketamine and ecstasy helped his cause, because it did add credence to the idea that she was the one who was troubled, not him. It defeats the belief that he lured her, stalked her, or had any preconceived notion of raping and stabbing her to death. It doesn’t mean he’s innocent, but it creates some distance between Nasir Khan and the criminal underworld.

A battle of criminalists in the courtroom made for intriguing television, and the defense expert does a nice job at belittling the state’s case, as well as who they chose to analyze and help support it. One of the four knives in the Cornish set is missing, and might have been lost, stolen, or even used in the killing. The coffee table gouges and the dangerous game Naz and Andrea played together finds a foundation through expert testimony, and thanks to Dr. Katz, the prosecution looks to be taking on water.

However, when Dennis Box has to answer to the missing inhaler, Chandra’s effort to skewer doesn’t find the mark. His explanation is somewhat believable, and her assertion that an asthmatic isn’t a good fit for a murder suspect isn’t depicted in a way where the show wants us to think it had a real effect. I’m uncertain as to what the final repeated shots of Box in the bar at his retirement party are going to mean in the grand scheme of the show, but I’m still not willing to say he isn’t going to be instrumental next Sunday night.

Naz still plays distractor for Freddy and his goons, in retaliation for Petey’s death in the bathroom, and by no means does he come across the way his British counterpart did, though this was a better episode for Khan’s side of the story. The romance with Chandra is a little out-of-place, but it’s a way to tie Naz to someone we like, and someone for whom we’re rooting. When Safar excuses herself as the crime is described, it’s clear she’s starting to buy into the notion that her son could be a monster. It’s a terrible visual for the defense, and though we’ve seen basically nothing from the jury, watching her leave is something the show doesn’t even need to illustrate in order to imply.

There’s still no real lead suspect OTHER than Naz, and as Stone and Kapoor are chasing various threads, time is running out for the (likely former) cab driver’s son. The choice of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” in the closing moments of last night’s episode was deliberate and fit the mood, both for Naz and for Box, who probably has no clue what to do with the rest of his life. 33 years working with the police hasn’t left him much else of substance, and he doesn’t strike me as someone who looks at the golf clubs and pines for a daily trip to the country club.

This was my favorite of the last three episodes, and the pacing was appropriate for the circumstances. One more episode to go, but there’s nearly two hours of time. Criminal Justice did its thing in five hours, so believe me, what has to be done, can be done. You may be wondering if there’s enough show left to accomplish all the goals, but there is. It’s going to move faster than any of the other installments, but we have to get a verdict, and then we have to see what that leads to for Naz, his family, the attorneys, Box, and possibly even Freddy.

Next week’s finale review will be much more detailed, and then I can compare the endings of both versions, and see where the diversions came and why they might have occurred. If you want to see it for yourself, both seasons of Criminal Justice are currently streaming on Hulu. As for The Night Of, Naz’s fate is almost sealed, but his future is still very much in the air. It should be a strong finish, and a very emotional and dramatic conclusion to a dark, foreboding story.

Can it possibly have a happy ending?

I’m @GuyNamedJason. I’ll take evidence, over a confession, any day of the week.

Written by Jason Martin

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