Welcome to the maw of a terrifyingly unjust system of justice
THE worst gap between rigorous style and ridiculous substance fortunately comes early in The Night Of, which is why I can argue that you should push through it to what comes after.
In HBO’s new miniseries, Naz (a tremendous Riz Ahmed), finds himself in trouble when a young woman whose name we will learn is Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia) gets into his father’s taxi, which Naz has taken without permission intending to drive to a party thrown by the basketball team for which Naz works as a tutor.
She’s pretty, and Naz is lost, so he doesn’t kick her out of the vehicle. Naz takes a pill, shots of tequila and snorts cocaine with her. They have sex and when Naz wakes up in the kitchen and goes upstairs to say goodbye, Andrea’s been stabbed.
There’s a great moment when Naz turns on her bedside lamp, sees the horrific scene and quickly pulls the chain again to shut out the gore.
It can’t make up for a mildly preposterous setup for a series that wants to be realistic, or that Andrea’s made out to be just another reckless girl whose death becomes a vehicle for someone else’s story.
But once Naz leaves Andrea’s flat in a panic, carrying a knife, The Night Of improves immediately, as we see every minute coincidence that leads the police to believe that he is Andrea’s murderer.
And once that process begins, we get to the best thing about The Night Of, the series’ forceful, persistent argument that even the smallest contact with the criminal justice system can be profoundly dehumanising.
When Naz is first stopped by the cops for missing a turn signal, the officer, an African American woman, patronises him. At the station, Naz is greeted by unfamiliar slang as he’s searched and denied his inhaler during questioning. He’s pushed and slapped as he’s undressing. In the cells, one inmate becomes violently ill, and another beats the sick man for moaning.
In Rikers Island, Naz tries to decide whether to accept protection from Freddie ( Michael Kenneth Williams); when he dithers, his bed is set on fire.
That the detective investigating the case, Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is a methodical investigator who is willing to extend small kindnesses to Naz and his parents, or that the prosecutor (Jeannie Berlin) is conscientious and offers Naz a plea deal doesn’t matter. The criminal justice system can’t help but deform Naz; that’s what it does.
And for all the drab ugliness of the system that is chewing up Naz and his family, the critique of the criminal justice system that emerges is necessarily limited by the fact that we’re supposed to believe that Naz is innocent.
The Night Of is grander in tone, and more fully stocked with recognisable actors than Orange Is The New Black was when Netflix’s prison series debuted in 2013. But Orange Is The New Black is still the more audacious discussion of crime and punishment in the US. – Washington Post