It’s been a treat to watch The Night Of unfurl its wings and shift from a gruesome HBO mystery to a gritty procedural to what has become a cynical, surprising courtroom drama. Throughout the season, I’ve been impressed with both the story being told and the show’s sense of proportion and depth.
"Ordinary Death," The Night Of’s seventh and penultimate episode, all but set the table for the show’s end by throttling us with an uncomfortable idea: that this grand fight to save Naz might actually not be worth it. That he’s already a lost soul, a man who’s slipped into a dive that he can’t pull himself out of. That maybe he isn’t who we thought he was.
The queasy asthmatic kid who was afraid of girls is now doing drugs and has become a stone-cold accomplice to a murder. If the first few episodes of the season were determined to present him as incapable of killing, these last few, especially "Ordinary Death," seek to unspool those ideas and see what comes tumbling out.
What else has Naz lied about?
"Ordinary Death" sees the courtroom procedural portion of The Night Of shift to Chandra and Stone’s offensive. They call into question the state’s experts, while bringing in their own to open up the idea that Andrea might have been a damaged, drug-using junkie. Everything seems to be going well, until they’re hit with a surprise.
Naz’s basketball coach from his previous school mentions that Naz once put two kids in the hospital. It’s a shock to Naz’s defense team, who only know about one violent incident — a different one — in his past. Chandra is blindsided by the revelation, which completely derails her argument that Naz is a good kid who was once lost control in the face of racism and bigotry.
Naz has become unreliable and untrustworthy.
But it’s also not like Naz has proved otherwise during his stint in prison. He’s adapted so well to being one of Freddy’s boys, gaming the system to his advantage. At the end of "Ordinary Death," he’s creating a crucial distraction, allowing Freddy to commit murder.
He also kisses Chandra in this episode, in a scene intercut with flashes of him kissing Andrea. The way it’s edited creates a slip of suspicion toward the end of the sequence, where the camera lingers on Naz. It’s almost as if he’s calculating his next move, which may include betraying Chandra — the American Bar Association states that lawyers shouldn’t have sexual relationships with their clients. It’s a signal to the audience that even though this guy may not have killed Andrea, he might have no hesitation killing someone now.
Is Naz worth saving? Is justice even worth it?
To pay for Naz’s trial and all the repercussions that his arrest has set in motion (the taxi Naz’s father shares keeps coming up), his parents go to a pawn shop and sell of some of their goods. It’s a sad, heavy scene, perhaps because I find pawn shops to be gateways to worlds of depression. But also because it reveals the sacrifices that everyone who loves Naz is making, and they have no idea what’s happened to him in jail.
It’s a damning portrayal of the criminal justice system’s ability to corrupt, but also one that shows the devotion and bonds between parents and their kids. Naz’s parents will do anything for him — they will sell everything they own and clean restrooms for their son.
That’s all but invisible to Naz. And, reflexively, the man he’s so quickly become is invisible to his parents.
Naz’s parents still very much believe that Naz is the victim of a big misunderstanding, that he’s incapable of killing. At one point during the trial, his mother is so disgusted by the allegations that she leaves the room. Her outburst gets her a lecture about optics from Chandra, who tells her that every little moment matters because the jury is looking at every single thing someone says or does in the courtroom.
Never mind that Naz is now sporting finger tattoos and a buzzed head.
Would his parents still sacrifice everything if they knew what he’s been up to at Rikers? If their lives are so painful now, what happens to them if Naz is released from prison? What kind of resentment does Naz have for the justice system? Does Naz’s freedom have the potential to be worse for his parents than his incarceration?
"Ordinary Death" nimbly floats these ideas without fully crystallizing them. I found myself already writing a story in my head where Naz is acquitted of Andrea’s murder but ends up going back to jail because he’s incapable of living a normal life after what he’s been through.
It’s made me think a lot about how this experience will shape the future for The Night Of’s characters. Even if we only have them for one more episode.