“The Season Of The Witch” might be the best episode of The Night Of to date. It also might be completely pointless. The episode picks up some welcome momentum as both Box and Stone begin investigating in earnest. For Box, this is mostly a question of bookkeeping, as he uses data pulled from E-Z Pass, credit card, parking ticket, and cell tower records to reconstruct Naz’s journey from his home in Queens to Andrea’s apartment. There’s no real search for new information going on here, at least not at first, and what’s remarkable to some extent is the fact that it’s only now, past the show’s halfway point, that Box is even bothering to do this. But then, such information wasn’t relevant until now—all that mattered was what happened once Naz and Andrea entered the apartment, and Box didn’t see much room for uncertainty there. He only does any of this to ensure there are no nasty surprises later, to confirm what he and the State of New York have already concluded.

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Box does make one unexpected find, but his expression as prosecutor Helen Weiss looks over it suggests he would rather not have discovered it. The video of Andrea getting into Naz’s cab after the first two would-be passengers are kicked out feels like a huge find, but it doesn’t actually reveal anything at all. Instead, it’s a blank slate onto which people can place their own interpretations. For Weiss, this is proof of premeditation on Naz’s part, the best evidence yet that he is a far more dreadful figure than his appearance and demeanor would suggest. Box, however, looks uncomfortable. He’s convinced Naz murdered Andrea, because the evidence really is overwhelming, but he believes he understands Naz well enough to place a few limitations on what is and isn’t possible. The only explanation that really makes sense to him is some twisted crime of passion, a murder fueled by a loss of impulse control rather than something dispassionate and clinical. Hence why Box says he wished Naz had weaved three lanes over to pick her up. Box isn’t likely to raise any fuss over that discomfort, not least because he’s decided he’s ready to retire. Either way, Box understands every case has loose ends and moments of incongruity, and Naz doesn’t have to be precisely the person Box thought he was for him to still be guilty.

What’s fascinating about “The Season Of The Witch” is how other characters deal with those loose ends. For Weiss, everything is a question of strategy at this point. Trevor Williams’ obvious unsuitability as a witness simply means he won’t be called to testify. The fact that his unsuitability is tied up in some undetermined lie is beside the point. Then there’s Weiss’ trip to the medical examiner, who may well be the most bored man in existence. He barely looks up from his work on a naked corpse to consider Weiss’ leading questions, recognizing automatically that the only real issue is whether he can plausibly testify that Naz sustained his hand injury from stabbing Andrea. He makes no secret of his uncertainty, but he never pushes the point or makes any sort of ethical issue out of this. The temptation is to think of this as an instance of specific corruption, of both the medical examiner and Weiss putting aside their ethics in the name of expediency, but I suspect this is something subtler.

The medical examiner genuinely can’t distinguish based on a photograph between the two scenarios Weiss outlines. It’s likely that, all things considered, there’s a greater probability Naz suffered that wound breaking through the glass than from stabbing Andrea, but both are possible. The medical examiner trusts Box and his detectives have done their job in assembling the evidence, and that Weiss has done her job in evaluating the case she is about to try. He trusts everyone else has done the right thing and that Naz is indeed guilty. At that point, his willingness to testify serves the larger purpose of convicting a guilty party, even if there’s some massaging of the strict truth along the way. People—particularly those who are overworked and underfunded, which I suspect describes just about everyone we’ve met on The Night Of, give or take the now absent Allison Crowe—evolve holistic approaches because they don’t have the luxury of interrogating the accuracy of every last detail. That all works great right up to the point that everyone collectively agrees on the incorrect conclusion, then fills in details that all point the wrong way.

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Stone, for his part, might just be chasing shadows, and this is where the possible pointlessness of “The Season Of The Witch” comes into play. His investigations into Andrea’s drug use may or may not just be about finding ways to smear the murder victim when forced to, though there’s a vague sense here he’s entertaining the possibility of alternative suspects. It’s actually only after the toxicology reports come back and he confronts Naz over his amphetamine use that Stone discovers the first really compelling lead, which is Trevor’s protection of his non-friend, the improbably named Duane Reade. (Or Dwayne Reid, or whatever. We’ll go with the pharmacy name for now.) The fact that Duane’s past violent crimes involved a knife at least leave open the possibility that he might actually be the true culprit, but who knows? That Stone loses him at the end of the episode might hint at a dispiriting truth: Reade could absolutely be the guilty party, and he might still disappear into the ether if nobody with real resources—not Stone, in other words—is willing to go after him. Or maybe Stone’s need to find something, anything that could exonerate Naz has led him exactly nowhere, to an admittedly unsavory character who didn’t actually have anything to do with this specific crime. That the combination of Naz’s Adderall and all the drugs Andrea gave him could lead to a psychotic episode makes it at least possible that Naz really is the guilty party, though the lack of blood on him still makes that feel unlikely.

But then, I’m still not sure any of that speculation is really relevant to what The Night Of is all about. The show remains at its best when it attempts to be naturalistic in its depiction of police procedure—anything to do with Box, basically—and the grim dehumanization of prisoners. (That’s not to say what goes on in Rikers is necessarily all that realistic in terms of what actually happens there, but the show does a fine job depicting the more universal story of Naz making impossible decisions to survive.) In terms of those elements of the show, the question of Naz’s guilt or innocence is beside the point, and to make the show too much about finding Duane or discovering some other exonerating evidence risks making the show feel too much like, well, a TV show, undercutting a core aspect of what makes The Night Of so compelling. For The Night Of to remain true to the best aspects of its selves, the best creative decision might just be for Naz to be guilty. No, wait, scratch that—for him to be found guilty. Not the same thing, though both sound just about the same amount of bleak.

Stray observations

  • We’re still getting way, way too much Stone doing non-case-related things for my liking, but Fisher Stevens as the dickish pharmacist remains a national treasure.
  • Meanwhile, we’re five episodes in and have had I think three whole scenes devoted to Naz’s father trying to get his cab back. That’s probably about right, honestly, but it’s a good reminder of how The Night Of plays favorites with its subplots, and decidedly not in the way that I would.
  • I mentioned above that Naz’s story in Rikers feels universal, which may well be a nicer way of saying “familiar.” His getting violent with the inmate who attacked him, his shaving his head, his taking part in a drug deal at Freddy’s behest—none of this is exactly revelatory, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The storytelling here is pretty straightforward: Naz wasn’t a criminal when he entered Rikers, but he sure as hell is one now. That’s a story worth telling, and I appreciated the detail of Stone obviously recognizing what Naz was up to, understanding why he has to do it, and warning him of the consequences if he gets caught.
  • Also, let’s give all the credit in the world to Riz Ahmed—or BLANK, as he likes to be known—for steadily ratcheting up the intensity on his performance.

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