A review of tonight's The Night Of coming up just as soon as I take a cookie and the milk…
“Why would he do that? -Chandra
“Because we don't know him.” -Stone
What, exactly, do we know about Nasir Khan at this stage of the story? The series deliberately began only a few short hours before his disastrous outing in his father's taxi, and while we got a sense that Naz was a quiet, studious young man, the pre-Andrea glimpse was so brief as to be useless in evaluating his character. The series has left ambiguous the idea that Naz could have been the one who killed Andrea. And the longer the show goes on – and the more time that Naz spends as part of Freddy's crew at Rikers – the clearer it's becoming that our first impression showed far from the whole picture of who he is and what he's capable of doing.
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Freddy needs more from Naz than just intellectual stimulation, since our man is innocuous enough to make a good drug mule. But Naz gets more out of the deal than protection: he gets a mentor on all the ways of surviving imprisonment, and even someone who will serve up the treacherous Calvin for a vengeful beat-down – a beat-down that Naz takes even further than Freddy did in last week's episode with the guy running the rival cell phone business. You could look at that beating as Naz venting all the frustration and rage and fear of being trapped in this situation, or you could view it as a sign that this guy is much more dangerous than he seemed in the series' opening momments – maybe even dangerous to fit the mountain of evidence Box has collected. Stone isn't happy to see Naz's new prison haircut, because it makes him harder to sell to the jury as an innocent victim of circumstance, but if the new 'do doesn't reflect who Naz was before Andrea got into his cab, it's very fitting for the man he's letting himself become in jail.
Where Stone spent much of last week continuing to work the case despite no legal standing, he gets hired by Chandra to be her assistant, since he knows the case and Naz better than anyone. Here, he's playing investigator as much as lawyer, and finally chases down a lead that Box isn't even aware of: Trevor's scary friend from the sidewalk, the colorfully-named Duane Reade(*). Visually, it's interesting to see how the roles are starting to reverse between Jack and Naz: where it used to be that everywhere Naz walked seemed to take forever as we waited for someone to jump out from the shadows and attack him, now Jack is starting to be photographed that way, particularly as he briefly catches up to Duane Reade before scaring him off.
(*) And yes, per HBO, his name is spelled just like the ubiquitous New York pharmacy chain.
Stone's work is presented in parallel to what Box and Helen Weiss are up to. Each part of the trial has his or her own role to play, so Box puts together a timeline of Naz and Andrea's night together (finally getting a look at many of the surveillance images we saw in the first episode), while Weiss pays the coroner a visit to demonstrate how a veteran witness can be coached to sound definitive even when it's more of a 50-50 proposition.
More than ever, “The Season of the Witch” reveals just how small and sad Stone's life has become, and how badly he needs this case to improve his sense of self-worth. He's a joke when speaking in front of his son's high school class, only gets sex as payment from one of his hooker clients – and even that doesn't work out, thanks to side effects from his latest eczema treatment, and then from the bad timing of her getting a better offer right after Jack's off-brand Viagra has kicked in – and is recruited by Chandra in part because Alison wants no one else from her firm wasting any time on Naz's defense. Jack is the court of last resort, but he's doing much better so far than anyone might have expected from his reputation.
And in taking in Andrea's cat, he gets another form of companionship, even if it's from a creature he can't physically be around due to his allergies. In that respect, he seems to be doing better than Box, who appears to have no life outside the job from which he's about to retire. One man's looking at Naz's trial as a capstone to an impressive career, while the other sees it as a ticket, however temporary, out of the minor leagues. Yet, as Stone has pointed out a few times in noting the misgivings Box doesn't want to acknowledge out loud, they both deep down don't think Naz did it.
Even as we're beginning to get suggestions that he's very much capable of such an act, under the wrong circumstances.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org