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…
The feet thing
Dear Lord. Let’s circle back briefly to the thing about a limited series. The Night Of will run for a total of eight episodes. That gives it about eight hours, give or take an opening and closing credits sequence, to tell a full, apparently complicated, multi-faceted story about a murder investigation that now has two suspects, and a young man in jail and on trial for a crime he might not have committed, and a scummy lawyer maybe having his heart grow three sizes like he’s the Grinch grasping a sleigh as it teeters over a mountain. So why are we spending 10 minutes an episode on John Turturro’s cracking red feet?
Now, I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased here because I find feet — all feet, even healthy ones — to be weird and gross. It’s possible that my reaction to this part of the show is influenced by that. But I do think there’s an allocation of resources issue going on here, too. It would be one thing if this were season one of what was intended to be four or five seasons (or more). Then, by all means, shoot down a bunch of side streets to give us a real feel for all the characters, and take all the time you want to do it, even if one of those streets is named Nasty Feet Things Avenue. I’ll still be skeeved out by it all, but whatever. If it serves the character and the show, go nuts.
My problem is that I can see the clock counting down on this show, and every time it takes a leisurely little break to show us John Turturro smearing Crisco on his feet, I know that’s a few precious minutes that won’t be dedicated to explaining the case or Naz’s mental state. I’m not saying there should be no feet stuff (although that would very much be fine with me). I’m saying that maybe the show could get the same point across with less.
John Stone with the pipe
So I’m not sure how this last one will play out, and I’m a little hesitant to even dive into it yet, but… are we buying John Stone grabbing a dang pipe and chasing hardened knife-wielding criminal Duane Reade through an empty warehouse-type building? Because that was kind of crazy. It might have topped every decision Naz made in the first episode on the “My Dude, You Definitely Should Not Do That” power rankings, which is an incredible thing to say, because I was literally shouting at my television when Naz was handing Detective Box the entire case in a gift bag.
But again, I don’t know. Maybe John Stone is a lot tougher than we’ve been led to believe. Maybe the next episode will start and reveal a reason for him to be in the warehouse. Maybe he’s a super hero, like a version of Daredevil that has psoriasis instead of vision problems, and that’s secretly been the show all along. But if not, given everything we know about Stone so far, it feels like a bit of a stretch.