In this week’s chapter of THE NIGHT OF, titled “The Art of War,” Naz (Riz Ahmed) learns some hard lessons, but makes some important power moves in order to survive the “war” he has found himself in.
The episode begins with the charred aftermath of Naz’s bed being lit on fire, as a result of not accepting Freddy’s (Michael K. Williams) offer of protection. Naz fears deeply for his safety and doesn’t know what lies ahead. He makes a new “friend” with a fellow inmate named Calvin (Ashley Thomas), who offers Naz advice on surviving in prison: don’t look, but look at other inmates, be polite and respectful because respect is everything, don’t play cards with other inmates because you will owe them something. Calvin, like all of the characters on the show, is never fully clear on his motives for interacting with Naz, until Naz learns about Calvin’s crime. (Credit to Thomas’ effective performance for making Calvin into a charismatic yet dangerous character, one who we can never fully trust).
We also continue to dive deeper into the injustices of the criminal judicial system. Calvin admits he is doing time for trying to kill the man that murdered his niece (who received a shorter sentence for pleading not guilty) and instead, by accident, shot a nearby busboy at a night club. This is juxtaposed with a scene of the district attorney and Naz’s lawyer Crowe (Glenne Headly) bargaining behind closed doors, the length of Naz’s prison sentence. Crowe says she can make 15 years work for her client. This is handled as if they are conducting a business transaction about a person’s life. Richard Price (the writer of the episode) is wonderfully subtle in displaying the cracks in our system and that most trials aren’t as “fair” as they should be. Price also is adept at portraying the corrupt and shifting elements surrounding Naz, by having Calvin and Crowe both tell Naz to look but, don’t look in different context, but both characters are essentially setting him up to fail for their own personal gain. Calvin is trying to harm Naz because of the similar nature of his niece’s crime and the one that Naz is charged for. On the other hand, Crowe wants a quick conviction so she can feed off the press for her law firm.
There is a strong theme that runs throughout the episode of how many of the characters feel trapped by their circumstances: Naz’s parents feeling entrapped in their own home because of the swarming media stationed outside, The DA feeling pressured to make the deal with Crowe because of the bosses wanting a sentence, Stone (John Turturro) feeling helpless by his foot condition worsening and constantly dealing with doctors who offer quick fixes, but no real solution, Crowe’s lawyer colleague Chandra (Amara Chan) feeling used and trapped in her position of only being utilized in Naz’s case for her ethnicity, and Naz, who is in constant danger of being killed and not knowing who is trustworthy. The direction by James Marsh beautifully illustrates this with shots of the characters in enclosed spaces. A particular shot of Stone staring helplessly at the ceiling transitions into Naz helplessly staring at a similar ceiling. It’s a simple transition, but elegantly conveys their emotional claustrophobia by the talented Igor Martinovic’s camera work (which deserves the highest of praises).
This is probably the strongest episode since the premiere, which is important, since we are at the half-way point with the series. There is a strong forward momentum in the narrative, the subtle switch in Naz finding his inner strength by the end of the episode. He starts to catch on quicker to people’s true motives: Crowe’s need for a quick conviction, without ever questioning that Naz may actually be innocent, Naz taking advice from Chandra, which leads him to plead not guilty and allows Crowe to quit, but puts him danger when Calvin pours steaming water on him for believing Naz is guilty of his crime. This then leads Naz to make one of the biggest power plays, by aligning himself with Freddy, which appears that Calvin will be having some unfortunate events coming his way soon.
Turturro continues to give one of the best performances on television by presenting all of the different facets of Stone: his desperate need to want to help Naz, even though he is not on the case any longer, how he manipulates Chandra to help him by making her pay higher for the evidence of the victim’s rehab file, his worsening foot condition, his sexual interaction with his prostitute client, and laughing off, but secretly feeling wounded by the digs of his worthiness of being a lawyer.
This was an excellent hour of television, with the writing continuing to shine a light on relevant social issues and being able to dive deeper into the murder mystery at hand, without succumbing to crime show cliches. There is a live-in authenticity to the characters (all of the actors are doing award-worthy work). The world being portrayed allows us to want to explore further the many questions we are left with now. Will Naz’s partnership with Freddy put him and his family in danger now? Will Stone be brought back as Naz’s lawyer? Will Chandra team up with Stone full-time? Will we find out what the victim’s step-father’s argument with a mysterious new man was all about? Will Naz become a changed man from his prison time? Will Stone be able to crack the case? Will Stone get that cat back from the animal shelter? Will Stone finally find a cure for his foot condition? Will we get more pieces from the night in question? So many intriguing new questions. Until next week!
Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
The Night Of airs Sundays at 9 PM on HBO
Cristian has a strong addiction for TV, so don’t bug him while he binges, he’ll get back to you shortly.
Cristian Barros | Contributor