The Night Of Recap: Trial and Error

Riz Ahmed as Naz. Photo: HBO
The Night Of
Episode Title
Ordinary Death
Editor’s Rating

"Ordinary Death," the penultimate episode of The Night Of, stands as one of the most-confident episodes of the series. While Richard Price and Steven Zaillian use Naz's trial as the episode's main runner, they cut between the numerous subplots — John's investigation of Andrea's stepfather, the financial and emotional struggles of Naz's parents, Box's retirement, and the general prison drama — with ease, as if they're organic parts of their manufactured world. The clock is running out, not just on the show, but on Naz's potential for freedom, and Price and Zaillian adopt urgency by slightly ramping up the pace. They do so, not to communicate tension or thrills like in "Season of the Witch," but rather melancholy and a sense of impending doom.

Naz's trial takes center stage as Helen and Chandra duel over witnesses, evidence, and, most of all, the jury's affection. Instead of portraying the event like a circus, Price and Zaillian depict it as a sober presentation: two competing narratives vying for the attention of 12 idiots in a dark dungeon. Helen plays up her incriminating facts, like the wound on Naz's hand that supposedly happened when it slid off the knife, Naz's Adderall deals, his violent past with bullies. All of these elements demonstrate that Naz is an unstable individual with a shady history of drugs and violence. Regardless of the full truth or unmentioned nuances, Helen creates a damning image, one that will remain through the deliberation process.

Chandra confidently and powerfully gives back plenty, throwing many of the prosecution's witness statements into question. The medical examiner, whom Helen convinced to make a statement about Naz, had testified in another case that put an innocent man behind bars. Chandra brings up a pathologist whose testimony not only contradicts the medical examiner's statements, but also illustrates that Andrea's brownstone was not secure. (There were three potential entry points, if you're keeping count.) Finally, Chandra takes down Box, who didn't bother to check up on Duane Reade, the other person who was walking with Trevor, nor the hearse driver who followed Naz and Andrea out of the gas station, and most critically, he removed Naz's inhaler from the scene, breaking chain of evidence and protocol. She calls his experience and judgment into question just as he's about to retire, pushing Helen's case off its axis.

In recent episodes, Box has receded into the background, so Price and Zaillian make a point of bringing him back into the fold at a crucial moment. His testimony serves an immediate narrative purpose, of course, but it also illustrates a veteran's broader doubts in the face of his own mortality. We see Box going through the motions of another crime scene, filling out his pension form at a bar, and then unceremoniously packing up his things. The daily routine eventually becomes life, and the world stops surprising you after you've seen enough of it, but at what cost? Embracing that mentality has blinded Box to the truth about Naz. After his retirement bash, Zaillian lingers on Bill Camp as Box sits alone at the end of the night, looking at his various gifts, drinking and contemplating the case. Chandra got under his skin when she implied his doubts about Naz's guilt (something that John hinted at way back in the early episodes), and now it's too late. He's off-duty and heading off into the sunset, possibly living with his decision to put away Naz forever.

Meanwhile, Naz's parents are living in the hell of their son's actions. Both are working menial jobs to stay above water; they're selling off their possessions to cover the legal fees. Salim ends up selling his share of the cab medallion because there's no way that he and the other co-owners will ever see the original again. But most importantly, their community has turned on them. When Salim and Naz's brother see their mosque has been vandalized, a passing woman in a burqa orders them to look at what they've done. Not to mention, the Muslim cab drivers who are being assaulted in droves because of Naz's supposed guilt. All the Khans can do is keep their heads low and watch as the world slips from their fingers.

While Salim maintains his son's innocence, Naz's mother, Safar, begins to have public doubts. After seeing the photos of Andrea's murder, she leaves the courtroom in a huff, and when Chandra tries to tell her she needs to return, she immediately pulls away. "An animal did that. Did I raise an animal?" she quivers. Chandra has no time for Safar's doubt, especially because she's doing everything in her power to get Naz out of prison, but it ends up affecting his confidence about the trial. When Safar doesn't pick up Naz's call, he knows that he's lost his mother's faith.

Up until now, Chandra has functioned as a maternal presence in Naz's life, a woman who works tirelessly for and believes his innocence. In "Ordinary Death," any semblance of maternal or professional boundaries fly out the window when Chandra and Naz make out in his cell. It's a moment of desperation and pity: Naz feels completely alone and Chandra has no idea how to fix that, and they do a profoundly foolish thing that could throw the whole case into jeopardy. (Note how Zaillian cuts to the videotape that catches the whole event.) It's the one moment that seems out of character for the show, especially this late in the game, and it calls into question Chandra's tact, especially since Price and Zaillian have portrayed her as such an impressive talent. Yet, they are quick to juxtapose stupidity with tenderness. Though the kiss is undoubtedly lustful, it's also an act of comfort, an attempt to nurture someone in a horrible situation.

But Naz is no longer an innocent. Hardened by prison, he deliberately orchestrates the death of Victor, a member of Freddy's crew. In "Samson and Delilah," Naz promised not to say anything to Freddy after he caught Victor raping Peter, their coke supplier, but he turns on him after repeated assaults drive Petey to commit suicide. Price and Zaillian repeatedly demonstrate how innocents become criminals when they enter the system, and Naz is the poster child of the idea. He may not have murdered Andrea, but he has now murdered someone, albeit indirectly. His mother may not have raised an animal, but he has become one.

These elements combine to make "Ordinary Death" the most conventionally satisfying episode of the series so far. The trial scenes have a procedural pleasure that's hard to deny, and the character relationships are so well-established at this point that Price and Zaillian can push them to interesting places. With only one episode left, it's unclear whether The Night Of will conclude in a programmatic mode by tying up loose ends, or if it'll go the atmospheric route and capture the psyches of everyone involved. It's hard to say, but a judgment will be made either way, and no one will get out clean.

Crimes and Misdemeanors:

  • The other major subplot involves John, who stalks Don's ex-wives and lurks around his gym. After he finds out that Don's credit cards are all maxed out and that he's filed for bankruptcy twice before, Don threatens John's family by using a barbell to crush his chest. Suffice to say, it's definitely possible that Don is the murderer.
  • John also goes to Dr. Yee to ask him about a cure for his asthma. His response? "Get rid of the cat."
  • Someone throws a brick through the Khan's house, adding even more aggression and paranoia to their little corner of the world.
  • Box gets a pair of golf clubs for his retirement. He does not seem thrilled.
  • Naz may have been squeamish about smuggling coke into prison the first time. Now? He's an expert!
  • The expert pathologist is named Dr. Katz, and as a fan of Jonathan Katz and Tom Snyder's beloved Comedy Central series, this brings me endless joy.