The Night Of created by Richard Price and Steven Zallian (BBC Worldwide Productions, HBO, Film Rites)
Starring Riz Ahmed, Peyman Moaadi, Poorna Jagannathan, John Turturro, Jeannie Berlin, Paul Sparks, Amara Karan, Bill Camp, and Michael Kenneth Williams.
Put the Kettle On
Surprise! The systems around which you operate influence you. Example: I work with a British expatriate. My lexicon now skews toward sayings like “Put the kettle on” instead of “Boil water” and “Two weeks’ time” instead of “Two weeks from now.”
It’s a small example but it goes to show how external influences alter who we are, how we act, and what we believe.
When it comes to murder mysteries, most narrative arcs focus on the “whodunnit” aspect of the story.
But behind every murder lies myriad ramifications for criminals, victims, and administrators alike. As always, the genre tends to place the victim in the lure plot device realm to observe how the rest of the character fling off into orbit much like a drop of paint on a fast spinning canvas.
With The Night Of, the showrunners seek to subvert the standard crime drama while simultaneously crafting compelling television. Such an approach represents a narrow path to tread.
Speaking about the Night of
The central character and prime suspect is Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed). A solid student, he encounters a night gone wrong when he meets a young woman, takes enough drugs to sedate a horse, and wakes up to discover her dead body.
Every detail in the stunning pilot adds up to a murky representation of Naz. He quite possibily did it. But given the grinding wheels of justice, The Night Of argues that the system itself is a more interesting character.
Naz, with a clean record, does not receive bail and lands at the notorious Rikers Island. The clean boy now must face hardened criminals and figure out how to survive.
His lawyer, Jack Stone (John Turturro), discovers a lucky draw. He is in the right place at the right time to score a notable case. But, he suffers from all the afflictions. Skin diseases, cat allergies, and a constant fear that he won’t receive the lucrative pay day that a big case provides consistently weighs him down.
Notably, the legal process utterly destroys Naz’s family. The further Naz disappears at Rikers and the more details that emerge, the more confused the parents become, even as they take multiple jobs and sell everything in their possession to pay for an adequate defense.
And lastly, Box (Bill Camp), the detective in the case sacrifices his gut convictions about the case in the name of expediency. Box finds just enough evidence to make a case against Naz and hands it over to the prosecutor (Jeannie Berlin), even though his gut says otherwise.
Nevertheless, conviction rate is often more important than the truth. To the prosecutor’s office, it doesn’t matter whether or not Naz actually did it; it only matters that they have reasonable confidence that they can put someone behind bars.
And in this systemic explorations around how the collective influences the individual, the viewer sees the strategic intent behind The Night Of. The show argues for the pervasive influence of the criminal justice system. It suggests no matter your guilt or innocence, your mere existence within its clutches irrevocably changes you for good or for ill.
Such a position is inherently unsatisfying and The Night Of logically mirrors that dissatisfaction. But I’m ok with ambiguity. So I love the show.
Verdict: 4 out of 5