Before The Night Of Finale, Let’s Consider the Murder Suspects

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Photo: HBO

On Sunday, The Night Of will end its eight-episode run on HBO and, presumably, finally reveal who actually killed Andrea Cornish. After investing seven weeks in watching Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed) turn prison tough and John Stone (John Turturro) act in Naz’s defense while picking at his eczema, it’s exciting to think that we’ll finally get some resolution in this matter.

But how will it be resolved? HBO hasn’t shared screeners of the finale, so we writers are as much in the dark as everyone else. In preparation for Sunday’s finale, then, let’s consider the key suspects — a list that runs the gamut from the obvious to the sublimely ridiculous — and the evidence that suggests (or doesn’t suggest) each one could be the murderer.

Note: The following article will contain spoilers about Criminal Justice, the British series on which The Night Of is based.

Naz Khan
Naz has consistently maintained his innocence since he woke up from his blackout and discovered Andrea’s stab-wound-riddled body. But it’s important to remember that we — and, for that matter, Naz — still don’t know exactly what happened between the time Naz had sex with Andrea and the moment he woke up at her kitchen table, after she had, apparently, already been killed. Steve Zaillian and Richard Price, the show’s creators, have pointedly illustrated how prison life has turned Naz into someone who’s capable of breaking the law. Was he also capable of committing an unspeakably violent act on the night Andrea died?

I say no, in part because the first season of Criminal Justice, the BBC series that inspired this one, is constructed on an almost identical narrative foundation, and its Naz equivalent — a young soccer player played by Ben Whishaw — did not commit the crime. Plus, it would feel like a betrayal if Naz wound up being guilty when we’ve spent so much time watching Naz and his attorneys defend him. Within the context of the show, the media, and members of the public seem all too willing to connect Naz’s presumed guilt with his Pakistani heritage. Making him actually guilty would reinforce that kind of xenophobia, and I don’t think Zaillian and Price want to do that.

Don Taylor, Andrea’s stepfather
Given actor Paul Sparks’s track record of playing slick, handsome dudes with minimal moral principles — I present Exhibits A and B, his recent work on House of Cards and The Girlfriend Experience — I’m ready to convict his character for killing his stepdaughter right now. I’m no legal expert, but I’m pretty sure previous TV roles can be used against you in a TV court of law. (I am basing this largely on the degree I received from The Grinder School of Law.)

Even if they can’t, there are plenty of good reasons to think Don had something to do with Andrea’s death. Thanks to John Stone’s effective, albeit privacy-invading and probably illegal detective work, we know that Don may have stood to inherit a substantial amount of money in the event of Andrea’s death. We also know he’s a gold digger, a fact confirmed by his ex-wife. (Guys, Trudie Styler doesn’t lie.) And we have seen that he’s a volatile guy, the kind that will press heavy weights deep into your chest if he doesn’t like the way you’ve been poking around in his business.

Now, would it be satisfying if Don turned out to be the killer? No, only because he seems like the most obvious, non-Naz candidate, the most boring, typical procedural drama one. Also, for the record, Criminal Justice introduced the idea that the father of its murder suspect may have killed her but ultimately dismissed it. That show didn’t build as strong of a case for his guilt as The Night Of has constructed around stepdad Don, though. He’s still one to watch.

Duane Reade
What do we know about Duane Reade, aside from the fact that he’s named after a chain of drugstores? Not much other than the fact that he has some incriminating prior convictions on his record, likes knives, and was with one of the other witnesses, Trevor, after the murder. Oh, and he also tried to run away from John Stone and wasn’t questioned by detective Dennis Box. All of that could be meaningful or just some interesting information that doesn’t add up to anything relating to Andrea Cornish.

I feel like there’s a good chance he could be our murderer, mainly because of the series on which this is based. (Note: Major Criminal Justice spoilers ahead.) In the final episode of the first season of Criminal Justice, the killer is revealed to be a witness in the case who was also seen on security tapes from the night of the show’s central murder. (He also happens to have committed another murder nearby, information that is ridiculously revealed at the eleventh hour.) He’s also a man that the British version of Box seems to knows nothing about when initially questioned about him. In The Night Of, this figure has essentially been divided into two more fully fleshed-out characters: Duane Reade and Mr. Day, who we’ll get to shortly. In Criminal Justice, the fact that the killer is who he is reveals the extent of Box’s corruption and his collusion with already incarcerated criminals. If Zaillian and Price replicate that same concept, I’m more inclined to think that Reade, rather than Day, is the guy who killed Andrea, although I’m still holding out hope that there’s yet another witness with homicidal tendencies who happens to have the last name Walgreens. Because if that guy did it: major twist.

Mr. Day, the hearse driver on the security tape
As previously noted, this is someone we need to consider carefully, even though I think he’s ultimately a red herring. In the sixth episode, after reviewing security footage from the gas station that Naz and Andrea visited on the night of the murder, Chandra met with Day, who exchanged words with Andrea at the station and appeared to tag along behind the cab as it drove away. What Chandra encountered was a menacing, seemingly misogynistic dude who, on the surface at least, came across as someone very capable of terrorizing a woman. (“I saw her for the destroyer that she was, and I did not like that,” he says of Andrea.)

But let’s go back to the first episode and remember what prompted Day to walk over and say something to Andrea in the first place: the fact that she had just flicked a lit cigarette out of the taxi window in close proximity to many gas pumps, which is not a smart thing to do. Day put out the cigarette and asked her: “You want to be my next passenger?” Which, again, sounds threatening on paper, but is a somewhat understandable question considering she could have just blown up the whole joint. There’s definitely something creepy and sexist about this guy, but it doesn’t seem like he has enough of a motive to kill Andrea; it would feel pretty random if he winds being the murderer. He is 100 percent guilty of applying red nail polish to corpses in a way that seems very ominous, though.

And finally, there’s the cat. Hear me out for a second. We know the cat was there the night of the murder. I’m also pretty sure those marks all over Naz’s back weren’t the result of Andrea’s fingernails digging in during sex, but cat claws sinking into his flesh. Somehow the cat stabbed and slashed Andrea to death, jumped out the open window on the second floor, then wanted to get back in the house but got locked out and had to wait for John Stone — who has been harboring an allergenic fugitive this whole time — to come to the rescue.

Not convinced that a cat can stab a person, even though science has already established, via the SNL Toonces the cat sketch, that kitties can drive? Consider the additional hints that have been dropped into The Night Of’s dialogue: Trevor Day’s comment that Andrea is a woman who “acts like she’s the cat and you’re the yarn,” and, even more damningly, what Naz’s mom said about the murder in last week’s episode: “An animal did that.”

“An animal did that.”  You guys, the cat obviously killed Andrea and if there is any justice in this world, in this week’s finale, that feline will be sentenced to nine life sentences in prison. Would this be a beyond preposterous way to wrap up this series? Of course it would! But it was also preposterous when Chandra started making out last week with Naz, so what the hell, let’s go nuts and pin the whole thing on a cat. It would definitely make for a series finale no one would ever forget, not even after a night of heavy drugs.