A review of tonight's The Night Of coming up just as soon as I tell you why not to put sailors on the jury…
“But maybe I did kill that girl. That's what you're thinking.” -Naz
Naz's trial finally begins in “Samson and Delilah,” as The Night Of continues to introduce or elaborate on alternate suspects even as we get more and more signs that the defendant was capable of committing the crime of which he's accused.
With Duane Reade in the wind, Chandra and Jack alternate playing Nancy Drew this week, with Chandra getting to know Mr. Day, the funeral director who showed an unusual level of interest in Andrea when Naz stopped at the gas station, and Jack chasing down more information about Andrea's stepfather Don Taylor. The former encounter is disturbing in the extreme, with Day's particular brand of misogyny and religious fervor presented so coldly and calmly that it's actually creepier than if he had just yelled at Chandra for the bulk of her visit. Taylor at the moment seems the more plausible suspect (and not just because Paul Sparks is a relatively recognizable actor in what's otherwise a small role), but the series is being smart about presenting many potential theories of the case at the same time, rather than moving from one red herring at a time to the next, the way some other short-term TV mysteries (say, The Killing) have.
And while there are many reasons to assume Naz is innocent (as many of you have noted in comments and tweets and emails, the bloodiness of the crime scene goes against the amount of blood found on Naz himself after he was arrested), both Box's ongoing investigation and the scenes at Rikers continue to paint a far different picture of our main character than the one we saw when the series began. As a teen, Naz was not only capable of pushing another boy down the steps, but of feeling no guilt about the act, save for the grief it brought his mother(*). And as an adult in jail, Naz is falling way too easily into his new role as a member of Freddy's crew, pairing his new shaved skull with multiple prison tattoos, most visibly “SINBAD” on his fists, which both plays off of the stereotypes and mistaken assumptions people make about him as a man with brown skin, but also breaks up into the words “SIN” and “BAD” when his hands are apart. It's not just that he doesn't care about the signal that this sends the jury that's troubling, but that he seems far more comfortable in this crew, with this look, than he did as tutor to the basketball team in the opening episode.
(*) And this new knowledge of Naz's past puts the unwavering support of Mr. and Mrs. Khan in a new light; even with past evidence of violent behavior, they still don't believe he could have done this thing.
While continuing to drill down effectively on the minutiae of the criminal justice system – the bored looks of potential jurors as they watch the introductory video in court, Stone's advice to Chandra about which jurors to seek out and which to avoid – “Samson and Delilah” also does a powerful and at times shockingly funny job of portraying the way Stone and the Khans' fortunes are rising and falling as the case continues.
It's nothing but bad news for Naz's family. His brother is acting out at school and spraying graffiti on the walls. His mother has lost her job selling clothes and now has to work as a janitor. And, in the episode's most mortifying moment, Chandra opens her door to accept a food delivery and finds Mr. Khan standing there holding the bag.
Stone, though? Stone's living the life at the moment. He finally lands on an eczema cure that works, as the Chinese herbalist's disgusting concoction improves his feet enough that he can swan around in proper dress shoes again, and while Chandra (on whom he's developed a bit of a crush) is too caught up in trial prep to notice, the members of his support group are suitably (and amusingly) awed by his new condition, and footwear. The eczema has easily been the show's most divisive element, with some not wanting it at all and others just lamenting how much time has been spent on it, but that commitment pays off hugely here because of how much emphasis was placed on it, and the many previous failed cures, earlier. Stone's only working as Chandra's second chair, and he still can't get anywhere near Angela's cat without major protective gear, but he's beginning to look like a respectable member of the legal community for the first time in a long time.
And his relative triumph and slicker new look contrast not only what's become of Naz's family, but of Naz himself. At one point in court, the two men have to switch shirts because Stone knows that Mrs. Khan's choice of blue for Naz will play poorly to the jury, but the two have reversed roles in many ways beyond that one swap of garments. When they first met, Naz was in big trouble, but also the wide-eyed, well-dressed kid who would seemingly never require the services of such a sketchy-looking attorney as John Stone. Now, Stone seems quasi-legit, while Naz is embracing his inner thug.
We're now at the three-quarter mark of this story, with things very much in the air about who actually committed the crime, whether Naz will be convicted, and whether he and his family can survive this ordeal even if he's not. It'll be a relief if the case works out okay for someone, but given how often Stone seems to exist as the universe's punching bag, I wouldn't place a wager on his happy ending just yet.
Some other thoughts:
* The episode finally gets around to explaining why Freddy, who has already been convicted of multiple murders, is at a jail like Rikers rather than prison upstate: he arranged to take the fall for another murder as an excuse to get another trial and live closer to his wife again. It's something of a contrivance to put Naz in the orbit of a veteran con who has the run of the place, but it's also not outside the realm of possibility for what a man like Freddy might do when he's serving life with no possibility of parole.
* Naz is not only more comfortable being around Freddy, but more watchful of what's going on in the rest of the crew, as he spots catches Petey performing oral sex on Victor.
* That's Royal Pains alum Paulo Costanzo as Andrea's friend, who feeds Stone intel about how Don preys on rich older women, and prompts Stone to take a closer look at his most promising alternate theory of the case.
* Finally, just because some people keep asking: Stone's proper name is John, his nickname is Jack (see also JFK), and different people refer to him by one or the other, as confirmed by HBO. Both names are right.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com