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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Night Of makes a hellish stop at Rikers Island

Illustration for article titled The Night Of makes a hellish stop at Rikers Island
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Why does Naz push back when his father tells him that a bigtime lawyer is taking on his case pro bono? Saying that he kind of likes Jack Stone is no sort of answer, even if not everyone takes as dim a view of the man as Naz’s father does. But implicit in that fumbling response is the truth of the matter: Stone, for all his obvious shortcomings, cares enough to show up and spend time with Naz, to form a connection with him. Sure, as we discussed last week, it would be naïve to say that Stone cares about Naz, but he cares enough about the case and what it means to his future to take Naz’s wellbeing seriously. He’s the one who brings clothes to Rikers, he’s the one who tells Naz he will make a deposit in his account. None of this is being done out of the goodness of his heart. After all, he’s working on the assumption that that 40 dollars’ worth of clothing and that money in Naz’s account will eventually be covered by that $50,000 retainer. Maybe Stone’s conversation with Naz’s parents isn’t technically a shakedown, but it’s absolutely his big play to make the payday of his career, and he’s not especially worried about the impossible financial situation he’s putting the Khans in.

The pat answer here is to talk about how Stone shows his true colors in that scene, that he reveals himself to be every bit the money-grubbing huckster that Abigail Crowe later paints him as. But The Night Of has so far allowed for a little more nuance than that, and it suggests that who people really are can shift depending on the specific context. The diligence that Naz sees and the avarice his parents see may appear opposed, but it’s all consistent when understood from Stone’s perspective. He can be genuinely good for Naz and genuinely bad for the Khans as long as he’s always doing what’s best for himself. Naz understands the former well enough that he’s not inclined to care for the latter, and vice versa for his parents. And in all this, we see the real question hidden away: How can Naz like, or even kind of like Abigail Crowe when she’s not yet taken the time to meet him? It’s a little hard to judge the passage of time on The Night Of, so I’m not sure how bad her failure to meet with Naz yet actually is, but we can say this much: Stone has consistently made it a top priority to meet with Naz and work the case, and Crowe so far has only prioritized the symbolic victory of securing the case, not meeting with her new client.

She might be good for Naz, or she might be bad for him. Her use of her firm’s one Indian-American lawyer as a prop in the meeting with the Khans suggests a certain degree of high-class, well-orchestrated sleaze, to contrast with Stone’s more obvious, lived-in sleaze. That’s not to say one is better than the other. It’s just that Naz—and, by extension, the audience—has only gotten to know one of the two well enough to judge with any accuracy. From the moment of Naz’s arrest, The Night Of has depicted his journey through the criminal justice system as an exercise in alliance-building. There’s no way in hell he can survive, let alone be exonerated, without help from others, but the very nature of being an accused murderer is that nobody else is concerned with what’s in his own best interest. Detective Box values truth and justice, but only to the extent that those virtues lead to closeable cases. Jack Stone values the career-making potential of a big murder case, but that may well just reduce to the pursuit of one huge payday from the Khans.

Hell, let’s not forget the automatic alliance Naz forms with his parents: They love him and believe in his innocence, but the fact that Crowe offered to defend their son for free was more important than the fact that she offered to defend him better than Stone was. Not that I blame them: Who budgets for their son being on trial for murder? But it again means that even Naz’s staunchest defenders aren’t necessarily on exactly the same side as he is, and there could come a point where he has to cut ties with them. “The Dark Crate” adds the two murkiest potential allies to date. One is Crowe. The other—the man who gets the titular line when discussing how calves are raised for veal—is Michael K. Williams’ Freddy, a former champion boxer and gang leader whose incarceration has done little to dim his influence both in and out of Rikers.

It’s unclear why he’s eager to help a man the rest of the prison population has already convicted of raping and murdering a white girl. To some extent, it doesn’t matter. As Naz’s new neighbor intimates, Freddy isn’t as much a crime lord in Rikers as he is a god, someone who holds the power of life and death over the inmates and most of their families. Given his power, Freddy can afford a capricious will, and Naz is just lucky that, at least for the time being, he’s in Freddy’s good graces. That’s no guarantee that will remain the case, but it’s not as though Naz has any good alternatives, considering his fellow prisoners are this close to killing him. It was easy enough for Naz to tell that, allowing for an awful set of options, he should trust Stone and push away Box. Now? He’s stuck with Crowe and Freddy, and there’s absolutely no way of telling what that will mean. It’s a safe bet that nothing good will come of this, though.

Elsewhere, “The Dark Crate” once again excels in capturing the minutiae of the criminal justice system. Box only has a bit part tonight, but his one big scene is a highlight, as he explains to a young cop why he should absolutely leave in the detail he threw up at the crime scene. Naz’s parents continue to be chewed up and spat out by the system. As Naz’s mother Safar, Poorna Jagannathan hasn’t necessarily been given a ton to say, but her reactions speak volumes as she sits in the waiting area in Rikers before finding out she has to be roughly, invasively examined by one of the guards. As Salim Khan, Peyman Mooadi has more points of interaction with the outside world, particularly as he leads the conversations with Naz’s prospective lawyers and embarks upon the likely impossible task of recovering his taxicab. The annoyed but ultimately helpful—well, kind of helpful—cop at the impound could easily be just a mouthpiece for exposition about the evils of asset forfeiture. And yes, there’s a bit of that here, but he also explains to Salim’s co-owners that their best bet to avoid being sued by the state would be to file charges against Naz for grand theft auto … and he’s got just the lawyer they should speak with. Petty revenge doesn’t quite seem like Stone’s style, but hey: If those two call about the cab, it’s just business.


Stray observations

  • I realize you all probably enjoy me harping on about the same old stuff about as much as I do, so I’m retiring my criticism of the eczema subplot for the time being. I still don’t think it serves all that much of a purpose, and if anything it feels like a departure from the more closely observed realism of the rest of the piece. But, eh, I’ve already said that, so I’ll just leave that as read until it becomes necessary to revise that opinion.
  • I leave it to everyone else to point out all the alums from The Wire on this show, because I’m much busier pointing out all the alums from rival cultural touchstones like Doctor Who and, um, Sgt. Bilko. So then, hi, Amara Karan from “The God Complex”! And hi, Glenne Headly, whom I realize has done way better stuff than Sgt. Bilko. I just have a stupid soft spot for that film.