If "The Season of the Witch" marked The Night Of's transition from police procedural to courtroom drama (with a side of whodunnit), then "Samson and Delilah" sees the show hurtling forward toward the climax.
Truth be told, it’s a touch unconvincing. Suddenly, it seems like every single person Andrea and Naz met on the night in question is either a murderer or has the potential to have been one. They all have motives, and they all have open windows of time in which they could have slipped into the house (somehow) and killed Andrea while Naz slept.
It’s a little far-fetched, I think, but it reflects the way that Chandra and Stone are attempting to save their client. Rather than say Naz didn’t do it, they’re trying to find a variety of other narratives for people who might have done it. They know their best defense is that Naz doesn’t really look like a murderer; he looks like a college kid. So the more they can push the narrative that others were there, ready and willing, the more they’ll have a chance of keeping their client out of prison.
Of course, while all of this is going on, Naz increasingly doesn’t seem like the good-natured college kid he first appeared to be. He’s getting tattoos in Freddy’s jail cell. Box discovers an incident in his past when he pushed a kid down the stairs. And the more time he spends in court, the more he seems like he’s already lost, his sullen demeanor weighing down everything around him.
Above all else, The Night Of is a show about how contact with the criminal justice system can’t help but destroy everything it touches — and with one notable exception, that’s more or less true this season.
Chandra and Stone’s desperate hunt for other suspects paints lots of people with the brush of suspicion
Let’s face it. None of the people the two lawyers go after are saints. Duane Reade is a convicted criminal. The hearse driver is a hugely creepy dude. And Andrea’s stepfather seems like a rank opportunist, who married a rich woman and didn’t count on her kid being the one to inherit most of her money.
But by simply pulling them all into the story of the night when Andrea died, Stone and Chandra are painting them all with the same brush, one that more or less suggests it will be impossible to know who truly committed this crime. Maybe it was any one of them.
To be clear, this is their job. And if you believe (as I do) that Naz didn’t commit the crime, then the most likely conclusion is that one of these men was the murderer. But then two of the others weren’t the murderer, yet they’ll still be dragged into the same pit of suspicion Naz finds himself in.
And it extends from there. Say that Chandra and Stone successfully argue that Naz didn’t commit the crime, but fail to suggest that any of the others actually did. Then a young woman was murdered, and nobody ends up in prison for having killed her.
Meanwhile, those who survive her are left to put the pieces together without ever knowing for sure what happened — and Naz likely continues to be the number one suspect just because of all of the evidence against him.
Again, I don’t want to suggest this is somehow terrible. This is how the system is supposed to work, after all, and it’s not like the other suspects Stone and Chandra have turned up did absolutely nothing to make themselves suspicious.
But one of the things The Night Of is so good at suggesting without coming out and saying is that the way the system works has a lot of problems. As soon as the police suspect Naz of committing the crime, they pivot from trying to figure out who did it to finding every little bit of evidence they can use to prove it was Naz — even if the evidence doesn’t necessarily fit.
And because Chandra and Stone need to find another culprit, they start grasping at any straw that they can find — regardless of how tangential it is. (For instance: How on Earth could Andrea’s stepfather have somehow chosen that exact night to kill her? It would be far too coincidental.)
But Naz and his family are being consumed by the system, too
Some of the most heartbreaking moments in this episode involve Naz’s mother, quietly giving herself over to a life of custodial work because it’s what her son will need to pay his legal fees when the time comes. (And whatever money she saves will just be a drop in the bucket, ultimately, which is the even sadder part.)
Meanwhile, Naz himself is falling deeper and deeper under Freddy’s influence, getting the word SIN tattooed across his fingers, in a somewhat portentous decision. (One of my favorite little details in this whole season has been that the tattoo ink is made via melting down chess pieces.)
It doesn’t matter whether Naz is guilty or innocent — just spending time in jail is going to make him into a convict regardless. When he’s nearly killed in the shower, he seems completely non-flummoxed. This is just his life now.
That’s another point the show is making without drawing too much attention to itself: It almost doesn’t matter what happens to Naz from here on out. If he is found not guilty by the jury, he’ll still get to deal with the psychological weight of everything that’s happened to him behind bars. And if he’s found guilty, well, the hardening process that’s already beginning will likely complete itself in time.
Most of the characters on The Night Of are going above and beyond to find some way to save Naz from prison. Most of them don’t truly believe he killed Andrea. Even Box is a good enough detective to harbor doubts here and there. But you also get the sense that the man they’re trying to save is, more and more, a memory. Even if he’s released from prison, he’s not going home the same.
Of course, the courtroom makes for heroic figures — or so these lawyers tell themselves
The trial gets a ton of buildup (there’s even a mid-episode montage of what the characters do the night before the trial), only to be as demystified as everything else on this show. It’s just two sets of attorneys in a room, trying to convince the jury that their version of the truth makes the most sense.
I suggested last week that Stone is the character who’s benefited the most from this whole process. Sure, he comes off as an opportunist, but he’s had many chances to bail on Naz and never has. And when push comes to shove, he’s the one who’s done the most to complicate the narrative of what happened to Andrea. (That said, Chandra’s the one who tracks down the hearse driver, in a deeply unsettling scene that ends up giving the episode its title.)
It’s almost as if the show is giving Stone a karmic reward for his trouble. Not only is he settling into a life with his new cat (and even playing with it through the crack underneath the door), he’s also discovered a secret Chinese remedy (seriously!) for his eczema that doubles as a cure for his erectile dysfunction.
Is this all a bit much? Yeah, kind of. I’m not sure the scenes in Chinatown needed the Asian-influenced music cues, to say nothing of the sheer goofy randomness of Stone’s cure coming via some tea he buys from a guy in a back room somewhere. But there’s some fine comedy in how proud he is to be wearing his fancy shoes — like when he shows up at his eczema support group showing off his cool footwear.
But the trial is where this whole story has been building, and the trial is where Stone’s inexperience has most threatened to blow up in Naz’s face. Instead, however, the series has sidestepped that by having Chandra present most of the arguments in court, while Stone does most of the investigative work. They make a good team, and it’s good to see that Naz trusts Chandra enough to place a call to her from Rikers Island.
But if anything in this whole season feels a little bit false, it’s that The Night Of wants to be a serious-minded take on the criminal justice system, yet features Naz essentially falling into the lap of these two incredible attorneys who just might see him acquitted of all charges. All of these characters are interesting, to be sure, but for a show so sober-minded elsewhere, it feels a bit weird to occasionally skew into Perry Mason territory.
Then again, maybe that’s the point: If you want to escape the criminal justice system and you don’t have lots of money to spend on doing so, then your only hope is for the protagonists of a legal drama to randomly step into your holding cell one day and say they’ll take the job. The Night Of is full of sneaky little arguments about the failings of our justice system, but this might be the best one — salvation doesn’t come in the form of the truth; it comes in the form of dumb luck.