A review of tonight's The Night Of coming up just as soon as there's an excellent chance I'll hit 75 homers this year…
“If the answer's yes, take the deal. If it's no, don't.” -Chandra
As we reach the midway point, The Night Of remains two shows in one – the legal/investigative drama with Stone, Box, and company; and the prison drama with Naz and Freddy – tied together by Naz's fate, obviously, and the moments when he crosses from one show to the other, but also by the ways that Price and Zaillian cleverly show how similar the two worlds are.
In both arenas, Naz spends “The Art of War” considering deals that offer a path of least resistance, but with strings. The plea bargain Alison Crowe negotiates with Helen Weiss would make him a free man by his mid-30s, but he'd always be a convicted killer, and his parents would never be sure of his innocence. And while Freddy's promise of protection sure feels useful in the wake of Naz's bed being burned at the end of last week's episode (and given Naz's overall ignorance of how to survive in jail), but his new “friend” Calvin raises a good point – even if he's doing it as part of a plan to use Naz as a proxy for his revenge on the man who murdered his niece – in pointing out that Freddy wants something from him, and more than just being, as Freddy insists, “a care package for my brain.” Freddy doesn't just run Rikers because he has money and celebrity, but because he's ruthless enough to hang onto what's his, as we see when he savagely beats on the man who tried running a rival cell phone business.
We also learn that there are similar rules and hierarchies to both places, crystallized in a darkly funny moment where Alison gives Naz advice about how to carry himself in court that's at times word-for-word from how Calvin told him to act around the other cons. But beyond that, there are issues of respect and proper decorum, like the way everyone – the judge, Box, Weiss – seems to agree that Alison crosses a line when she insults Stone in open court, or how the regulars in both settings seem to constantly know everything about everyone else's business, like the way every lawyer Stone runs into offers him condolences on losing out on his “kid” and his shot at the big time.
Stone's frustration at getting that taste at another level of law and then having it snatched away was palpable here, and you get the sense that his determination to stick with the case is as much about a desire to do and be something more than the “No Feel Till You're Free” guy as it does with his very genuine affection and concern for Naz. So he turns private investigator as much as lawyer, looking into Andrea's struggles with addiction and the sketchiness of her stepfather, all while feeding intel back to Alison via Chandra. (He is, of course, not entirely saintly about it, and hustles Chandra into paying him much more for the info on Andrea's time in rehab than he himself paid.)
Yet there's that surprising moment – more from a genre tradition standpoint than from a character one – where, in the moments before Naz is about to make his final choice about the plea deal, Stone approaches and tells him to take it. That's not the move you typically see in this kind of story, where the Stone equivalent would puffed up with self-righteous indignation as he told his former client to fight til the last and never confess to a crime he didn't commit (or doesn't know for sure he committed, at least). Stone's more complicated than that, and his own derailed life helps inform the advice he offers Naz. Given the mountain of evidence and the racial/ethnic component to the case, the odds seem extremely high of a conviction if it goes to trial. Here, Stone and Crowe are on the same page: a plea bargain is the only safe play, and the only realistic way Naz breathes free air before he's an old, old man.
In the end, the bargain Naz accepts isn't the one with the DA, but the one with Freddy. In court, memories of the night with Andrea begin flooding back, and he can't bring himself to tell any version other than the one he remembers, even if it's a version with an enormous gap where the murder actually took place. His candor leads to a very public humiliation for attorneys on both sides of the case, and costs him the particular services of Crowe – who was only in it for the publicity and the promise of a quick plea deal – and promises to cost his parents a lot of money now that Chandra won't be representing him pro bono. And it gives the case a more personal tint for Helen Weiss, who now has to rebound from that mortification in court on top of the pressure to close such a high-profile case.
Whether or not Naz was right to tell the truth in court, we'll have to wait and see. But once Calvin burns him with the hot water and baby oil mixture, there's really no choice at all when it comes to accepting Freddy's patronage. The issue is what Naz will have to do to keep it.
Some other thoughts:
* I understand why many of you are grossed out by the running subplot about the eczema on Stone's feet. That's an element from the UK original (though I have no idea how much time Criminal Justice devoted to it), but it's working for me on a bunch of levels: 1)As a way to humanize Stone and illustrate that he's someone more than just the guy caught up in Naz's case; 2)As a physical symbol of the way his life and career haven't turned out as planned, and left him a joke or an afterthought to the people in his life (note how forlornly he looked at the men's dress shoes in the store window last week, as representation of all that he wants in life but can't have); and 3)As a source of ongoing, if frequently disgusting, comic relief. Oscar Winner Fisher Stevens injected a welcome dose of deadpan black comedy as Stone's pharmacist, giving him the business about the steroids that his latest doctor has prescribed for him, after tossing the previous doctor's treatments in the garbage.
* While the majority of the episodes were directed by Zaillian, James Marsh was behind the camera for this one.
* A couple of weeks ago John Turturro's brother Nicholas popped up as another detective working the case; here, we get their cousin Aida trying to keep Stone from getting inside the rehab facility. It's the rare minor bit of casting that would have worked equally well if James Gandolfini had lived to play Stone, since then it would be a three-person Sopranos reunion with the two of them and Max Casella.
* As NY tabloid headlines go, It's no “Headless Man Found In Topless Bar,” but “Sikhing Revenge” very much has the feel of something you'd see on the cover of the Post or Daily News. The ripple effects that Naz's prosecution is having on the city's immigration population as a whole – including on people from entirely different countries and religious backgrounds – is part of the pressure cooker everyone is trapped in.
* What will crime dramas like this one do for shorthand for the way the media is covering one of their fictional cases once Nancy Grace isn't doing her HLN show anymore, and thus unavailable to play herself?
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com