The Night Of recap: The Art of War
Chapter 4 of The Night Of starts with the charred remains of Naz’s mattress on the general-population floor at Rikers prison and ends with him getting a shot at his own bed — for a price. He also has a price to pay for another big change in his life: the resignation of his fancy big-firm lawyer from his case.
It’s an episode ripe with big decisions, though there’s still one choice for which we’ll have to wait a little longer. And it’s the four-legged one many of you have been curious about. At the end of this hour (which takes its title from Sun Tzu’s ancient book on military strategy), we see John Stone make a phone call to the animal pound, inquiring about “the ugly orange thing.” Yep, the cat is still there — but nah, he doesn’t actually want it. We know from last episode they keep animals for 10 days before euthanizing. The clock is ticking.
But the cat is doing pretty good compared to Naz. At least there’s a date of execution at the animal shelter. Naz has no idea when his might happen. In this episode, he suffers a knife gash on one forearm and a mug of hot oil on the other. The latter was intended for his face, thrown at him by a fellow inmate named Calvin, who appeared to have been becoming a confidante of Naz’s. He’d even explained to Naz why he was in Rikers: While attempting to shoot the man who had murdered his niece, he missed and killed someone else. (Calvin is played by Ashley Thomas, who’s starring in next year’s 24 reboot — and he’s yet another British actor, along with Riz Ahmed and Amara Karan, who performs a flawless American accent in The Night Of.)
But the tipping point for Calvin appears to be when he tells Naz his niece’s murderer gamed the system to get a shorter prison sentence, by pleading not guilty and going to trial. When Naz, after agreeing to cop to manslaughter, flips the script and declares himself not guilty in court, Calvin sees that as Naz’s confession. How tricky is this whack-a-mole? War, indeed, is peace. By declaring himself innocent in one place, he gets hot oil in the face for essentially confirming his guilt.
The episode is also provocative for how it juxtaposes the characters of Calvin and Alison Crowe (Glenne Headly). Both tell him never to look anyone in the eye; both are types of consiglieres who give Naz just enough information to help pull out his roots. One, ostensibly, to save him and the other to destroy him. Or is it the other way around? Watch Crowe in this scene with District Attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) as they negotiate the terms of Naz’s plea.
We almost believe Crowe when, after the DA offers a 15-year sentence, she ends the conversation with “I can try that with him.” Here’s how she “tries that” with Naz one scene later: “I can somehow convince the DA’s office, and it’s a long shot, to accept a plea of manslaughter with a max sentence of, say, 15 years.”
Good Crowe. We also get an insight into John Stone’s own justifiable slipperiness, when he acquires Andrea’s patient history from a rehab clinic. He pays a clinic employee $300 for the file — which turns into $500 when he gives the file to Chandra (Amara Karan). Nothing wrong with a little finder’s fee, right? And as we see in this episode, John accepts a variety of payment types: When defending a prostitute, he offers his services pro-bono. Or should we say a word that sounds like “bono”?
The funniest line of the episode (courtesy of Turturro, of course) is during his remarks to the judge, who asks if the diapers the lady of the night was holding were for infants or adults. “They were Pampers, your honor,” Stone says. “Not grandpas.”
Turturro, whom Denis Leary wants to Uber-deliver an Emmy for his work here, tops the depth and unexpected poignancy of his performance yet again during a scene in which he implores Naz to take the plea. Just look at this dazzling dialogue, courtesy of Richard Price:
Stone: “Hey, unless you f–k it up in there, 15 years is 12 years. Twelve years, you’ll still have a chance of walking out of there normal. Any more, no. You’ll be 35 when you get out and you still have a life. Take the deal.”
Naz: “It says that I killed her.”
Stone: “No, it doesn’t. It says you don’t trust 12 idiots on a jury to get it right, and neither do I. You wanna play roulette, go to Atlantic City, where the odds are better.”
Naz: “But my parents will never know that I didn’t do it for sure.”
Stone: “They don’t know that now.”
[Naz looks at his parents.]
Stone: “Naz. I’d kill to be 35 again. Take the deal.”
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And in a lovely bit of wordless interaction (credit Man on Wire director James Marsh for how this scene unfolds), Crowe mouths “Thank you” to Stone. It marks her silent acknowledgement of Stone’s unorthodox legal acumen, and perhaps an apology after she earlier insulted him in court for being an unprofessional embarrassment to the legal system. Crowe was scolded by the judge for that, and though Stone (who she didn’t know was present) just rolled his eyes, we know him well enough to know how it stung.
NEXT: Naz asks for real help — and let’s take a look at the cameo gallery
We learn much more about Freddy (Michael K. Williams) in this episode, and most fascinating is his admission that he’s drawn to Naz because the Bambi-faced kid represents “a care package for my brain.” Freddy, the ice-cold lord of Rikers, is also a bit of a snob. In addition to The Art of War, Freddy name-checks Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight (a romantic thriller set during World War II, which culminates with scenes set in a prison) and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
Close readers of Into the Wild, the great book about Christopher McCandless, will remember what author Jon Krakauer warned about blindly obedient devotees of London’s fiction: “McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had…died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of 40, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print.”
It’s very important to separate the myth from the man — and Naz profoundly understands that he needs to grapple with the promises of Freddy versus the reality of Freddy. If Naz says yes and asks for Freddy’s protection, his life (and likely the lives of his family members) will by profoundly altered, and not for the better.
But he will be alive, at least. By the end of episode 4, Naz has already missed one chance to ensure his survival by making a deal. He’s not going to miss another. And so the episode ends with these words:
Freddy: “Say the words for me, Nasir.”
Naz: “I need your help.”
A few other notes:
We see that Naz’s younger brother (Syam Lafi), with bruises on his face, has been expelled from school for fighting — or rather, fighting back against the taunts of other students. The connective tissue here is to Naz’s pushback against his lawyer Crowe, twisting him to plea, and maybe to something else as well. Perhaps a shared attitude regarding bullies between the Khan brothers? It’s already emerged as a theme.
There’s a great echo scene from late in the premiere episode, when John left the police precinct after noticing Naz. He got out to the street, stopped, turned around, and went back into the station. Here, after listening dispassionately to the jumbled tale of a young man who stabbed a barber for not getting the haircut he wanted, John stops in the same spot again. This time he sinks, all the wind out of his sails.
Episode 4 is also ripe with cameos you should look out for. Fans of The Sopranos will obviously spot Aida Turturro (John’s cousin) as the angry rehab-center employee who snipes at Stone for taking photos of the building, thinking he’s a paparazzo. Max Castella, left, who sells Stone Andrea’s file, also appeared in The Sopranos.
That’s Fisher Stevens, erstwhile star of Short Circuit and onetime husband of Michelle Pfeiffer, as the pharmacist. He has more than 90 credits on film and TV — and as a producer, he won an Oscar in 2010 in the Documentary Feature category for The Cove.
New York’s Calvary Cemetery is maybe the most urban resting place in the city, thanks to the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which runs literally right over it. It’s also the place where Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) was buried, and you can also see the trucks on the expressway in this clip from The Godfather.
Did you see that man who was being yelled at by Andrea’s stepfather, Don (Paul Sparks), at the funeral? The one whom Stone videotaped with his phone, as Don was screaming “Sign the papers and send the checks and don’t f—ing call me”? The actor playing that guy is Paolo Costanza from Royal Pains. And he’s listed in the show’s opening credits — in other words, expect to see him again.
There’s everybody’s favorite (not really) cable TV rabble-rouser Nancy Grace, talking about the Naz case on her HLN show — and lending The Night Of, if not herself, a nice dose of real-world credibility. She’s also appeared as herself on Law & Order and The Wire.
And we get two pop-up appearances from the New York Post, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid that never met a lurid scandal it didn’t love — and always has a questionable pun on the cover. Credit to the show for thinking like the Post and coming up with that terrible Sikh headline.
That’s longtime character-actor Jack Gilpin (Law & Order, Madam Secretary, and Turturro’s costar in Quiz Show) as Stone’s eczema doctor. Gilpin is also an Episcopalian priest.
And speaking of the church, how about this texting nun?
And finally, props to the show’s visual style, which amid everything else going on doesn’t get enough credit. When Helen is confronted by Box in the stairwell of the court building and lectured for agreeing to a plea bargain, the show has the amazing foresight to portray her dilemma — trapped in her own system, as so many of us feel like at work — like THIS: