THE NIGHT OF Review: “Ordinary Death”

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This week’s episode of may be titled “Ordinary Death,” but things were anything but ordinary, as we propel towards the finish line for what arguably has to be one of the best current TV shows.

The murder of Andrea may have taken place in the first episode, but the consequences of that crime is starting to rear its ugly head in surprising ways. We continue to dive deeper into Naz’s (Riz Ahmed) trial as the defense and prosecution bring in more witness and expert testimony to the foreground. One of the best moments of the episode arrives with the questioning of the medical examiner for the prosecution and the crime scene investigator for the defense. As we saw two episodes, Helen (Jeannie Berlin) was questioning the medical examiner about the cause of the blood on Naz’s hand and that it was most likely from the murder weapon slipping from his hand, even though it appeared that both Helen and the medical examiner were unsure how valid that likely was, they went ahead and agreed to it being factual to help the prosecution.

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On the stand, the medical examiner gives his answers verbatim, but this doesn’t sit well with Chandra (Amara Karan), who punches back strong by bringing her crime scene investigator to the stand, who provides damning evidence against the prosecution. The investigator discredits the medical examiner by bringing up a previous case where the examiner’s testimony put an innocent man in prison. He also mentions that at the crime scene, the murder weapon was part of a set of four, where one of the knives is currently missing, which is a surprising piece of information, which works in the defense’s case. Helen tries to discredit the investigator’s findings, but is unsuccessful and their exchange is one of mutual respect, which brings some unexpected humor and force to the scene. Kudos to Berlin’s performances in keeping cool and focused, but also revealing concern that her case may not be as winnable as she thought. The writing and acting in these scenes are superb in providing the facts through character, which prevents the information from coming off as dry and keeps it dramatically rich and tense.

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In prison, Naz continues to wallow further into the dark side of Rikers. He now functions under the complete influence of Freddy (Michael K. Williams), by getting another tattoo on his other hand that reads as “BAD” and combined with his other hand, reads as “SIN BAD.” The hardened demeanor that Naz currently carries himself with is in stark contrast with the nervous and timid guy we met at the beginning of the series. He is now smoking crack on a regular basis and running errands for Freddy. He smuggles in drugs from Petey’s (one of Freddy’s young fellow inmates) mother, who is worried for her son’s safety, but Naz shows no sympathy and only wants the drugs that she has for Freddy. Naz takes them expertly and shows no trace of hesitation in swallowing them. Co-creators Price and Zaillian continue to subtly, but powerfully, comment of how our criminal justice system can transform seemingly good guys into criminals. Later in the episode, Naz discovers that Petey has committed suicide, by slicing his wrists with broken glass (an eerie reference to the glass that Naz broke the night of the murder) and Naz can’t help but see himself in Petey’s demise. This leads Naz to reveal to Freddy that Petey was forced into a sexual relationship with one of Freddy’s right-hand men. Petey’s suicide correlates with the title of the episode, “Ordinary Death,” that an ordinary death can create extraordinary and unexpected ripples for the living.

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Stone (John Turturro) has been front and center of the show and is more of a supporting player in this episode, but no less important to the narrative. One of the more humorous moment occurs when the cat escapes and runs to his bed to snuggle up against. This leads to Stone to panicking since he has been very allergic to the cat the whole time. Stone’s Chinese doctor humorously tells Stone to just get rid of the cat, but Stone has grown affection for his cute pet and Turturro’s reaction to having to possibly part ways with his cat is surprisingly touching and tender. More importantly, he is stalking Andrea’s suspicious stepfather because of his affinity for targeting wealthy older women, which leads to a dangerous altercation at the gym. As Stone is doing bench presses, the stepfather allows the weights to sit on Stone’s neck and threatens him to stay away, which only makes Stone further suspicious of this elusive man.

Naz’s parents are dealing with the struggles of their son’s predicament. Naz’s mother hears the medical examiner’s testimony about Naz’s hand wound possibly being from the murder weapon and runs out of the courtroom upset. Inside the bathroom, Chandra tries to comfort his mother, who questions if she helped raise a murderer. Later, she is seen cleaning on the and ignores Naz’s call, furthering her doubts of her son’s innocence, which also affects Naz’s mind frame. Naz’s father is forced to buy out his Taxi Cab ownership in order to get more cash. This also the first episode, where we get a real sense of the anti-Muslim prejudice being thrown at his parents, from their own community, and from the outside. Once again, as with everything on the show, these elements are presented in subtle manners: a woman walking in their neighborhood and saying how they should be ashamed of their son, graffiti on the walls proclaiming anti-Muslim sentiment, a brick being thrown through the bedroom window. All of this effectively conveys the nightmare that Naz’s parents are enduring. Kudos to Price and Zaillian for never going the preachy route with issues of race and staying true to the characters and their actions (actors Poorna Jagannathan and Peyman Moaadi continue to give touching and dynamic performances).

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Chandra does some bold and unexpected things in this episode, none being more surprising than when she and Naz start to make out in his jail cell. It appears that they are both caught off-guard by the moment and is extremely dangerous for their situations, considering that it was caught on a security camera, there may be some damaging consequences. Though it may be surprising, they are both functioning out of necessity in that moment. Naz has lost the support of his mother and feels abandoned, while Chandra wants to bring care and reassurance to him.

Chandra must refocus because detective Box (Bill Camp) is being brought back to the stand due to his tampering with evidence. Chandra questions Box with authority as she discredits him as a detective (it happens to coincide with his retirement) by bringing up the inhaler that was taken from evidence, how he failed to watch the gas station footage showing the hearse driver as a possible suspect, and not questioning the mysterious Duane Reade, who was walking with Trevor (who Box did question) the night of the murder. All of this information sends Helen into a confused and worried state. Chandra’s forceful questioning sticks with Box. The acting by both Camp and Karan during the trial is effective and powerful in showing Chandra firing on all cylinders and Box being brought down a few pegs.

The festivities of Box’s retirement party are juxtaposed with Freddy and Naz playing out the killing of Freddy’s right-hand man, who played a hand in Petey’s suicide. Zaillian’s directing is expertly done in the way the scene plays out. We see two men in opposite worlds, Naz and Box, trapped in their circumstances. Naz is now an accessory to murder and Box is guilty of putting an innocent in jail, which makes him question his integrity as a detective. Ahmed and Camp are great in showing that their characters have lost their way.

I would also like to point out the incredible cinematography of this show, which deserves all of the Emmys in the world, for bringing an artful grace to the gritty reality of the show.

This was a riveting and jam-packed episode that sets up all of the pieces for the grand finale next week. We will soon find out what the outcome for Naz and everyone else will be. Until next week!

TB-TV-Grade-A
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
The Night Of airs Sundays at 9PM on HBO

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Cristian wishes that he could be paid to watch TV shows for a living….oh wait. 

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