The Night Of
In “Samson and Delilah,” John and Chandra go to a bar in the afternoon to drink and talk about jury selection. John emphasizes that selection isn’t about picking who you want, but rather “getting rid of your worst nightmare.” While he details all the people whom they want to push away — law enforcement, small business owners, working-class whites, anyone who listens to Fox News, golfers, bowlers, sailors, etc. — Chandra downs booze and tries to explain that she broke up with her boyfriend. John doesn’t care at first, but when he does open up, he offers sage advice: Love is fickle. It’s not the end of the world when it fades away. Chandra astutely points out, “You’re alone.” John smiles and replies, “So are you now.”
Compared to last week’s quick-paced procedural, “Samson and Delilah” is a low-key episode. That may be a surprise, considering that it gives us the first glimpse of Naz’s actual trial, but Price and Zaillian choose to emphasize the sheer loneliness of their subjects throughout the hour. The justice system may be a big club, but everyone dines alone. Watch how often the episode lingers on solitude: John cleaning out Andrea’s cat’s litter box with a mask on, Naz working out in his cell, Chandra going over her opening statement again and again, Box drinking alone, Naz’s mother mopping floors to make expenses. Zaillian highlights the characters’ isolation against their busy environments and crowded city. The world of The Night Of is harsh and dark, filled with people looking out only for themselves even when they preach the opposite.
Naz’s world, in particular, is collapsing more quickly than he even realizes, but it’s not clear if he minds. Now that he’s under Freddy’s protection, he has a cellphone and the privilege of throwing his weight around, but he’s also introduced to hard drugs, prison tattoos, and clandestine sexual encounters. Last week, Naz started to adjust to prison life, but this week, he’s become hardened by it. Some of that is image projection, to make sure other prisoners stay out of his way, but much of it is an uneasy acceptance of his fate. He may lose his trial badly. Prison may be his home for the rest of his life. It’s time to embrace that possibility.
But his inner kid hasn’t completely been vaporized by Rikers. One night, Naz uses his cellphone not to call his family, but to call Chandra. She wonders why, and he replies that he misses saying goodnight to someone because there was always someone there. Riz Ahmed shines in this brief scene, modulating his voice to both hide his intoxication (he had just smoked crack prior to the call) and his fear, both laughing it off and falling into it. It’s telling how much Naz trusts Chandra, evidenced by his honest retelling of an incident in ninth grade when he pushed a peer down a flight of stairs because of the racial abuse he faced after 9/11. Their relationship is certainly professional, but it’s also one of open-minded trust, something that Freddy warns him about. Remember: Chandra was the only one who told Naz to take a leap of faith and enter a legal system biased against him so he wouldn’t have to accept a lie. It’s unclear whether it’s the best or worst thing she’s done for him.
Meanwhile, Chandra and John are busy trying to crack open every lead they can find. Chandra tracks down the hearse driver who confronted Andrea at the gas station and discovers he’s a creepy, Bible-quoting misogynist who claim women like Andrea “are out to destroy” men and “sometimes you gotta strike first.” He quotes Judges 16 — the Samson and Delilah story — and stares Chandra down until she runs to John’s apartment claiming he’s the suspect. Of course, he’s just one of many, like Duane Reade or Andrea’s stepfather. They’re all promising suspects, but at the end of the day, only one guy was found with the victim and the murder weapon.
We also catch a first glimpse of Helen’s case and, as advertised, it’s pretty damning. Her opening statement promises a tour through Hell; she provides that and more. Her witnesses are coached, their answers are articulate and scripted, and they’re all pointing to a narrative that proves Naz is a cold-blooded, calculated murderer who killed a young white woman. Though Chandra keeps her opening statement short, sweet, and forceful (“People have busy lives. Don’t read them War and Peace,” John advised the night before) by emphasizing the burden of proof on the state, she still has to sit quietly and watch Helen string a tale that sounds good, regardless of its veracity. All the while, Naz must split his time between Freddy and his drugs and the trial where he’s pretending to be a golden boy.
And then there’s John, who finally gets some good luck amid all the humiliation. He heads into Queens’ Chinatown and meets with Dr. Yee about his foot problem. Dr. Yee gives him a grainy mixture for him to drink with water for $300, and … it works. Price and Zaillian relish the moment when John gets to wear shoes again, almost like he’s wearing them for the very first time. It provides him with confidence and energy, a bounce in his step he surely needed after weeks of personal and professional embarrassment. John’s eczema has been such a prominent part of The Night Of that the moment reads like a triumph, a response to what could have been a meta-joke regarding the series’ measured pace. “You think nothing happens in this show? Try watching John Turturro struggle with a skin condition for six weeks!”
John’s eczema functions as a malleable symbol of sorts, meant to be deployed as needed. Is it local color meant to spice up the series? Sure. Is it designed to humanize John Stone, demonstrating how desperate and lowly he is? Yes. Is it a cipher that sends wayward souls down the wrong path as they try to project Rosetta Stone–like significance onto it? Possibly. To me, it’s an unlikely beacon of hope, a problem whose answer is buried somewhere deep in the heart of Chinatown. John tried doctor after doctor and pill after pill, and all he got was headaches, shame, and impotence. But he didn’t quit. He walked into court with his Saran wrapped feet, head held high. When he finally finds a solution, it feels earned, making all the wrong turns and dead ends worth it. In a show as lonely and frightening as The Night Of, it’s the little things that can turn someone’s whole worldview.
Crimes and Misdemeanors:
- The episode’s funniest scene is when Naz walks into court wearing a blue shirt, another thing that Freddy tried to warn him about, and John has to frantically switch shirts with him so he looks like an actual defendant. They’re bickering is fantastic. “You look like an extra from West Side Story!”
- Price keeps Naz’s parents in the margins this week, but every time they make an appearance, it illustrates the wide-ranging devastation of the criminal-justice system. Naz’s mother is forced to mop floors, and when Chandra orders takeout, she finds Naz’s father as the deliveryman. When she goes to get money, plus a hefty tip, she sees he already left the food at her door.
- I love how much contempt The Night Of has for the jury system. Price and Zaillian take care to portray the average juror as bored, frustrated, or asleep, even when they’re watching the “inspirational” video.
- John’s favorite type of juror? “Young urban women,” because “they don’t give a shit about any opinion but their own.”
- John shows off his cured feet to his support group. They’re absolutely stunned and jealous.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Chandra is an excellent drinker.