Witness testimony continues as the series barrels towards its conclusion

By Joe McGovern
August 22, 2016 at 03:52 AM EDT
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
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You can tell The Night Of is reaching its finish line. This penultimate episode (the nearly two-hour finale airs next Sunday) is utterly trimmed of fat — and that’s saying something for a series that’s already 100-percent not guilty of spinning its wheels to drag out the plot.

Last episode began with Stone thinking inside the (litter) box; this one begins by thinking inside the (Detective) Box. And it ends that way, too, with glimpses at Bill Camp’s tired, grizzled cop character, ready to hang it all up.

The elder detective vexed by one last case is a hoary cliché, but Box puts a different twist on it. He’s not really deeply troubled, as far as we can tell, by the plight of Naz Khan. One of the canniest observations in this episode is that most people in the criminal justice system, including career criminal witnesses, have been doing their jobs for way too long. And that’s ultimately Box’s undoing: Apathy towards a case he knew in his gut had holes in it; sloppiness with evidence — there’s that asthma inhaler; followed by a damning, shrugging obliviousness on the witness stand.

Thus the haunting, lingering title of this episode, “Ordinary Death,” which aren’t spoken during the hour, but written.

That’s Box’s pension application he’s filling out during his last days on the job. In the courtroom, after he’s been subpoenaed to come back and explain why he removed Naz’s asthma inhaler from the scene, his performance is a mixture of deadpan defensiveness and genuine psychological self-examination. “If one could describe what goes on in their subconscious mind, it wouldn’t be subconscious, would it?” he remarks. “Unless you’ve got Freud out there waiting to be called.”

Chandra, meanwhile, throws in a few zingers of her own, though there’s no real compelling narrative purpose for her to say, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Yes, that was a famous defense argument about evidence tampering, but it’s a flimsy analogue for the defense of Naz by tearing apart Box — except we can imagine writer Richard Price getting pretty smiley at his old-school typewriter while thinking it up, even more tickled when he realized he’d be plugging the show into a cultural vogue of everything O.J.

But for Chandra, bringing up an ad hominem reference to Johnnie Cochran is the least of her problems. What in the world is she thinking when, while conferring with Naz in the courthouse jail, she initiates a brief makeout session with her client?

Chandra would certainly not be the first lawyer to get so cozy. Sexual relationships between lawyers and clients are more than just a concoction of Hollywood. Look up the name Jalal T. Sleibi, for starters. Or Jessica Mishali. Or Othman Atta. Or Linda Dawn Hadad. (Those are four lawyers accused of engaging in sexual relationships with clients in the past year alone.) Perhaps we sometimes see indecent behavior when it’s not there. Serial host Sarah Koenig, who is not a lawyer, blasted as “f—ing offensive” any suggestion whatsoever that she had developed romantic feelings for Adnan Syed — but the fact that some listeners insinuated such is not necessarily just some dirty-minded, bottom-feeding, f—ing offensive gossip. Human sexuality is, after all, a real thing. And, as Chandra has proven in this episode, a complicated one.

But with that lean-in, she has also jeopardized the entire case. Every state has rules on the books about attorney misconduct, but none of them are too cool with intimacy developing between a lawyer and their client. When Chandra crossed that line, Naz might have gotten lucky — in more ways than one.

NEXT: Notes on broken glass, retro music, and, of course, the cat

Petey Justice

Last episode, Naz was threatened with a razor to his neck after he witnessed young, frightened Petey in a forced compromising position with Victor (Mustafa Shakir), one of Freddy’s crew. Now we know why. Petey has committed suicide and Naz tells Freddy what he saw — then acts as an accessory to murder, when he draws attention away from the guard station as Freddy slices Victor’s neck.

Lots of echoes here: The asthma inhaler, which might just save Naz’s life in his criminal trial, is used as a tool to take someone else’s life in jail. The broken window, which it’s implied Petey used to kill himself, is just like the one on which Naz cut his hand at Andrea’s apartment. The carotid artery, same spot where Naz was threatened, is where Freddy dishes out his punishment.

Thousand-yard stare

Here’s how Naz reacts to his friend testifying about his side career as an Adderall rep.

The friend might want to start worrying about what could happen if the dude he testified against, with “bad” and “sin” tattooed on his knuckles, gets out of jail.

Regarding those tattoos: There is an outside chance, I suppose, that Naz was paying homage to this great fictional Middle-Eastern sailor?

Taxi to the dark side

A lengthier scene in this episode, during which Naz’s father argues with his business partners about their taxicab, gives us a chance to admire the acting chops of the wonderful Pakistani actor and director Mohammad Bakri and, as usual, the unsung Peyman Moaadi as Naz’s dad. Moaadi is the star of Ashgar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning A Separation, one of the most twisty, trenchant movies of the decade so far. Fans of The Night Of who haven’t seen that movie are in for a big treat.

Don in the dumps

John Stone continues to learn more about Andrea’s stepfather, who has maxed out his credit cards and continues his predatory hunt for older women. One of the episode’s lighter scenes (though it throbs with an undercurrent of menace) features Stone visiting one of Don’s wealthy ex-wives, whom he reads about in New York magazine’s “Party Lines” page.

“My first husband was a deadbeat, too,” she says. “I guess I’ve got a type.”

Stone replies, “Yeah, my wife’s got a type, too, and I’m not it.”

Metro lyrics

Bryan Ferry’s “More Than This” is playing on the speakers at the gym as Stone scopes out Don, eventually leading to a weight bar on his throat. “I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing…”

And then there’s the blast of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” bridging both Box’s plight after his testimony and Naz’s decision to tell Freddy about what (or who) caused Petey to take his own life. “If I’d known for just one second you’d be back to bother me.”

Coroner cornered

In a nice novelistic touch, we hear from Chandra about a convicted prisoner named Arthur Metz, who was sentenced based on the testimony of forensic pathologist Harry Chester (Frank Wood). A couple episodes ago, we heard Harry tell District Attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) about the cut on Naz’s hand. But now we learn that his false testimony — according to the appellate court, at least — led to Metz’s release.

“That’s all we’re talking about here,” Chandra says to him on the stand. “A different interpretation, to avoid having to have you come back, like you had to with Mr. Metz.” That’s a score for the defense, though it might not be enough to sway even one jury member.

Kitty pride

Stone’s asthma is afflicting him badly, leading him to ask his Chinese-medicine miracle worker for a remedy. “Get rid of your cat,” the doc says. “I don’t want to get rid of my cat,” Stone replies. Note the possessive noun.

In an episode filled with violent images (we’ve all now memorized what a dead Andrea looked like in her bloody bed), the sweetest moment is undoubtedly Stone, clad in rubber gloves and a mask, petting his little friend.

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seasons
  • 1
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  • 07/10/16
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  • In Season
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