This article contains spoilers for The Night Of
By Jay Hunter – The Night Of isn’t a unique premise, in fact it’s almost vanilla. But in it’s execution, it transfigures into a masterfully crafted crime-drama. After a sluggish opening, the world of Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed)’s life is thrown into chaos, and tossed into the jaws of America’s criminal justice system for the murder of Andrea Cornish (Sophia Black-D’Elia).
It’s easy to compare The Night Of to HBO’s infamous crime-classic, The Wire. However, The Night Of plays off as a much more simple, leaner show confined to an eight-episode series. There are no complex stories or elaborate character-arcs. Despite it being simplistic a ‘who done it story’, the show compellingly delves into a fractured morality of Americana and it’s post 9/11 psyche towards Muslim citizens.
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of (Images: HBO)
The story mostly centers around Naz himself, who through a string of bad decisions ends up seemingly dead to rights for a murder. The most engrossing moments of the series, are the scenes leading up to his arrest, encapsulated by tension that Tarantino himself would admire.
Whilst the majority of the series is carried on Ahmed’s shoulders, a fair portion of the load is carried by the strength of John Turturro’s performance as John Stone, Naz’s eczema ridden lawyer. Initially, Stones character comes off as money hungry and unlikeable, preying on Naz’s wide-eyed family, yet as the season evolves, so does Stones, becoming more of a flawed hero as his relationships bloom and his personality shines through.
This juxtaposes my main problem with the series. As Turturro’s character becomes more likeable, Ahmed’s character is just the opposite. As Naz fails to learn from his mistakes time and time again, it becomes harder to sympathise with his character. After he finds himself incarcerated, he takes it upon himself to indulge in more risks, at first it’s simply to survive in jail but soon he finds himself becoming victim to the system and doing things for power. You see his loved ones making sacrifices and dealing with abhorrent behaviour in the outside world in order for Naz to get his freedom, whilst he seems content with life in jail getting “respect” from other inmates.
John Turturro, The Night Of (Images: HBO)
Creators, Richard Price and Steven Zaillian owe a lot of thanks to the supporting cast also. Whilst other protagonists aren’t explored nearly as much as the aforementioned, performances from Peyman Moaadi, Jeannie Berlin, Bill Camp and Amara Karan are all remarkable.
On a technical level, the cinematography from Frederick Elmes, Igor Martinovic and Robert Elswit also deserves huge credit, adding to the atmosphere of the series. There’s no denying that The Night Of gives us a gritty, realistic portrayal of prison life and whilst the majority of characters weren’t explored in detail, many (at least on a superficial level) had a fair amount of depth, making them more interesting . Their flaws and questionable actions made them seem more genuine, and instead of archetypes they felt more like real people simply trying to do their jobs
The lasting message of the series was light in darkness. Whilst we never got concrete answers to some questions, we always had hope that the good people were just that. The Call of the Wild reference and Naz’s wolf tattoo hit the theme home. The harrowing events ultimately transformed Naz’s life, and all around him and although they may be scarred, the alchemic properties left them with an enlightened experience of a harsh world. Most simply put, in the world of The Night Of, you adapt to survive.