What To Take Away From “The Night Of”

“Everyone’s got a cross to bear. Fuck ’em all. Live your life.”

Creator: Richard Price & Steven Zaillian

The show of the summer, HBO’s “The Night Of”, ended earlier this week with a finale that critics seemed to deem “unsatisfying”, more than anything else. Regardless of whether or not you’re happy with how everything was concluded, there are some large-picture things we can all take away from not just the finale, but the entire 8-episode set.

Here are 3 things to take away from “The Night Of”:

A perfect system cannot exist in an imperfect world.

“The Night Of’ is, above all else, a questioning of the American justice system. On the night Naz first meets his future saviour, John Stone, John tells Naz that “the truth can go to hell, because it doesn’t help you.” During closing arguments, after he is forced to take Chandra’s place, while fighting his worst eczema outbreak yet, he tells the ladies and gentlemen of the jury:

“’Beyond a reasonable doubt’. We hear that term a lot, but what does it really mean? What’s its definition? It doesn’t have one. It’s what we think, and as much as we think, what we feel. And what we feel, and what you feel, will determine what happens to the rest of the young man’s life.”

Something about that just feels wrong. It seems wrong that a person’s freedom can hinge on how a selected group of individuals feels about them. Granted, in a less than perfect world where crimes and evidence, law and order, and guilty and innocence can often be mucky, it’s difficult to imagine a perfect, clear-cut way to deal with this all. “The Night Of” and its less than clear-cut ending is symbolic of this.

Having the capacity to commit a crime does not make you a criminal

A large chunk of the courtroom scenes were spent focusing on Naz’s capacity to commit murder. Courtesy of D.A. Helen Weiss, we see that Naz has used and sold drugs and we see that he has physically hurt people with little to no remorse. What we are supposed to believe, and what D.A. Weiss wants the jury to believe, is that murder is not beyond Naz.

“The Night Of” asks: how much of a stretch is it really for a man capable of doing what Naz has done to have also committed murder? It’s not a crazy stretch, I’ll admit, but just because it’s not a crazy stretch doesn’t mean Naz actually committed murder. Yes, we see Naz be an accomplice to murder, among other things, in Rikers, but there is one thing we never see: Naz kill. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s one thing to have criminal capacity and it’s one thing to become engulfed by the survival-of-the-fittest culture of Rikers; it’s another to stab a girl you like 22 times the night you meet her.

Jumping to conclusions based on appearances is dangerous

“You smell like innocence”, Freddy tells Naz. He’s not wrong. Naz looks as gentle and innocent as Rick (also played by Riz Ahmed) in the little-known film Nightcrawler. But while still carrying that smell of innocence, we see that Naz really isn’t that innocent: he beats people (who deserved it), smuggles drugs into prison, and even orchestrates a murder. Looks can be deceiving.

“What kind of cold individual do you think I am?”, Freddy asks Naz as they sit in Freddy’s cell. Freddy, the boxing-urban-myth-turned-prison-kingpin, is not that different from the criminals we’re used to seeing. Except that he is. Freddy beats grown men to a pulp, yet he is not a brute. Freddy kills without blinking, yet he genuinely cares for Naz. He’s violent, yet he seeks intellectual companionship. Be careful to make rapid assumptions.

Looks became a huge factor in Naz’s trial. We see Freddy and John worry about the shirt Naz wears to court. We see Chandra worry about what Naz’s mother leaving the court mid-trial looks like. We hear Naz talk about how he took the drugs and bloody knife with him from the scene of Andrea’s murder because he was worried about it would look. Whether we like it or not, how we look and how our actions look often come to define us and our fate.

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