The first few minutes of Sunday night’s penultimate episode of The Night Of served the same purpose for viewers as it did for the jurors we’ve also become. Gruesome, graphic photos of Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the girl whose murder Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is on trial for, are flashed, one after another, reminding us that for all our back and forths over whether Naz “did it,” the “it” in question is brutal, grotesque, and horrific.
“An animal did that,” Naz’s mother (Poorna Jagannathan) tells his lawyer, Chandra (Amara Karan), after storming out of the courtroom following the photos being shown, and questioning over whether Naz obtained a cut on his own hand while allegedly stabbing the body. “Did I raise an animal?”
The sheer violence of the murder—animalistic violence—contrasted with this apparently “good boy” we were first introduced to in the series is the reason behind Mrs. Khan’s disgust, doubt, and the relationship between the two. It’s a relationship that, perhaps along with most of the viewers, has begun to skew closer to the former as we learn more about Naz’s secrets and watch his hardening—a survival mechanism, a glimpse at his true nature, or a boy confused?—behind bars.
Episode 7 Sunday night, titled “Ordinary Death,” largely dealt with the defense team as it presented its case to court. Editing and story wise, it probably had the quickest energy of any episode of the series thus far, hurtling toward what we hope is a satisfying or at least provocative conclusion as the series wraps next week.
The first part of the episode dealt heavily with the toll Naz’s trial is taking on his family. Key to stoking any fire in your brain (or heart) that Naz is innocent is the fierce support of his family, even as the cost of the trial threatens to bankrupt them and the spotlight of the case isolates them from their community.
“Are you happy now?” one neighbor asks Naz’s father (Peyman Moaadi) as he walks past graffiti on a building reading “Muslims Go Home.” The two men that Mr. Khan owned the taxi cab and expensive medallion with—the cab that Naz drove the night he met Andrea, which is currently tied up in evidence leaving the men with no source of income—inform him that they are purchasing a new cab and don’t want him to be part of it. They will buy him out of his third of the medallion, but at a crook’s price.
“Look what he has done to all of us,” they tell him, referring to the effect of Naz being on trial in the Muslim community, tossing a NY Post on the table that has a story about Pakistani cabbies being beaten on the cover. “You are thieves. I don’t do business with thieves,” Mr. Khan tells them, reacting to their short-change offer to buy him out. “You are the father of a killer,” they reply.
We briefly move to a shot of Naz in prison, smoking crack—a new, horrifying development doing a bang-up job to show that nothing is black or white when it comes to this person’s character, and maybe, too, his guilt. The scene is contrasted with a shot of his mother tearfully looking through baby photos of Naz, interrupted when a brick is thrown through her window.
How are we supposed to root for him when, as his parents sacrifice everything—their reputations, their standing in the community, and especially their finances (we see them at a pawn shop later in the episode trading in their valuables)—to support him, this is how he is behaving in jail? But, again, maybe it’s what he needs to stay sane, or stay alive.
Meanwhile, we learn more about Andrea’s stepfather, who (Paul Sparks) it seems is a hustler who milked Andrea’s mother for money—a scam he’s apparently worked before. Andrea’s financial planner tells John (John Turturro) that the guy has maxed out multiple credit cards and could be filing for bankruptcy for the third time. John snoops around the gym where he works as a trainer, to get a sense from his co-workers if he’s seemed sad at all about his stepdaughter’s murder.
He meets a woman named Donna Paul, a socialite who was used by him for her money before, which she was quite all right with. “It worked for us,” she says. “Until the night I had to call 911 with his hands around my neck.” In the end, she gave him $200,000 as a divorce settlement and walked away. “He’s a trapeze artist,” she says. “Swings from one old bag to another.”
We hear from more witnesses at the trial. There’s the student who bought Adderall from Naz, being used by the prosecution to paint Naz as some sort of high school drug lord. A school official talks about the utter lack of repentance Naz exhibited after throwing someone down the stairs in an outburst at his old school.
When Chandra brings up that this might have been because, in the wake of 9/11, Muslim students were bullied, the official says that is certainly true, but points out that Naz is the only Muslim student to have sent a classmate to the hospital twice. Yes, there was a second incident—which no one on the defense team knew about it. Another secret. Chandra looks ready to vomit.
The extent to which Chandra is out of her element becomes evident not in the courtroom, in which she does a brilliant job casting doubts that Naz could be the killer during testimony from the pathologist she and John hired, and then credibility-ruining questioning with Detective Box (Bill Camp).
Instead it becomes evident during a meeting with Naz in which the two end up kissing, she so entranced by his new, confident demeanor, assured manner of speaking, and bulked up sexual appeal. In a show that’s been praised for the realism with which it portrays this kind of crime story, it’s a twist that threatens to, as they say, “jump the shark.”
Still, the pathologist’s testimony helps Naz’s case immensely, introducing a theory that another killer could have broken into the house easily through an open window or broken door and killed Andrea in the bedroom while Naz was passed out in the kitchen without ever spotting him.
She also makes Detective Box look like he did a shoddy job investigating his final case before retirement. She asks why he didn’t question other possible suspects, like Duane Reade, the man who called Naz a slur on the street when he saw him going home with Andrea, or the hearse driver who saw them at the gas station.
Operating off an observation that John had made, that Naz’s inhaler was left at the crime scene but returned to Naz by Detective Box—breaking protocol—Chandra quoted the O.J. Simpson trial to make the point that Box zeroed in on Naz early and was subconsciously manipulating other parts of the investigation to make his case.
After Detective Box looks at her like she’s insane when she quotes “if the glove doesn’t fit” in her theory as to why he didn’t keep the inhaler as evidence, she explains, “An inhaler doesn’t fit how we picture a crazed killer, trying to stab someone 22 times between hits off his Ventolin.”
As that theory is left to linger, the final sequence of the episode begins. Scenes from Detective Box’s retirement party are interspersed with the fallout after Naz discovers that Petey (Aaron Moten), another one of Freddy’s (Michael K. Williams) henchman, committed suicide.
We last see Detective Box staring off into space forlorn after his party. Maybe he’s questioning if he really did do a poor job? Maybe he did have an agenda that involved covering up the fact that Naz was a sweet, nerdy kid with asthma?
The sweet, nerdy kid, though, is next seen orchestrating the murder of another inmate.
Petey is the member of Freddy’s crew who helped get the drugs into the prison, smuggled in by his mother, who tells Naz that she thinks Petey isn’t doing well. Naz saw Petey being used for sex by another member of the crew, but doesn’t say anything to Petey’s mom because her participation and trust was key for the drug smuggling operation to work.
So when Naz discovers that Petey had committed suicide, he knows why. Maybe out of guilt, maybe out of responsibility, or maybe because he’s now just hardened enough to do it and annoyed that his drug access is being ruined, he snitches on the other crew member and helps Freddy orchestrate his murder... by distracting the prison guard in asking for a refill of his inhaler. The inhaler he only has because Box gave it back to him. Everything is connected.
And just as we’re starting to believe these alternate theories and return to our belief that Naz is a good guy at heart, we’re reminded that now he’s a drug-using, organized crime member at Riker’s partly responsible for one man’s suicide and another man’s murder. It’s nearly impossible at this point to argue definitively for his guilt or innocence based on what we know and how much stock we want to put into evidence versus our perception of his character.
It’s hard to say what a satisfying conclusion would be in next week’s finale, and how much his innocence or guilt would play into that. The logline for the episode promises a controversy that puts John in the spotlight as the trial reaches its climax. Maybe that’s the surprise twist of it all: At the end of the day, after all these questions, the whole series really was about one man’s struggle with eczema.