When The Night Of is good, it is really good. This week’s episode, “Season of the Witch,” drove that home a few times. The scene in which Detective Box traced Naz’s timeline throughout the city leading up to the murder was terrific, both in the way it showed how they plan to account for his minute-by-minute whereabouts and the way it served as a kind of mini-recap of events as we head toward trial. The acting is still top-notch, especially the performances by Riz Ahmed and Michael K. Williams, the latter of whom remains about as menacing a figure as you’ll see on television. And there was an all-time great “Hey, that’s a pretty unnecessary penis” scene in the morgue, which was a nice little step toward balancing out gratuitous nudity between the sexes.
Unfortunately, when The Night Of is less good, it can inch toward really less good, too. It might even be all the good parts that make the little issues it has extra sticky, like how teachers get worried if a typically well-behaved student starts getting a few detentions. But there are a few things that are starting to bug me a bit, and I think they’re worth discussing.
The tricky thing about a limited series is the word “limited.” You only have a set number of episodes — usually between 6 and 10 — to tell a complete story from beginning to end. So while a show like Breaking Bad could turn Walter White from Mr. Chips to Scarface piece by piece over the course of multiple seasons, if you want to, say, turn your own main character from a sweet naive fawn into a dead-eyed monster who beats a naked man half to death in a prison shower, you have to crunch the timeline a bit. That’s understandable.
Still, that switch was a little jarring, right? I mean, I get that the point was to show us some combination of a) the fact that Naz has rage boiling inside him somewhere, b) how quickly prison can make someone hard, and c) the possibility that maybe he was capable of the murder. But to take us from a scared kid almost bumbling into a half-confession to a badass who stares down Treach from Naughty by Nature over the channel selection on the community television, and to give us nothing but a head-shaving — speaking of Walter White — and like seven push-ups to justify the transition… it just seems like a lot very fast. Probably too fast.
And I would be very happy to give the show more leeway with that crunched transition if not for…