With one episode remaining in HBO’s The Night Of, are you beginning to feel fear? Are you beginning to wonder if this limited series can possibly come up with a satisfying ending for the finale?
HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall reported that next week’s eighth episode will be 95 minutes long, so the creative team of Richard Price and Steven Zaillian is giving itself plenty of time to pack a bunch of story in. And there are bound to be some story threads left dangling. But The Night Of can’t leave us hanging on the identity of Andrea Cornish’s killer, right? Even if Nasir Khan, Detective Box, Prosecutor Helen Weiss, Chandra Kapoor, John Stone and the jury in this murder trial don’t learn who really stabbed Andrea 22 times on the night of Oct. 24, 2014, we as the audience have to know.
To leave us without that answer would be unforgivable, even if this story is about much more than a murder investigation, incorporating the criminal justice and prison systems, racial prejudice, and, of course, eczema. Early on in the series, it never would have occurred to me that not solving the murder was a possibility. But in discussing The Night Of with friends and fellow TV watchers during the past couple of weeks, the question has been raised, the fear has been instilled. Mostly because there is so little time left. As a fan of Price and Zaillian’s individual work, I have faith. But there is also a little bit of doubt.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s getting to the point of The Night Of. All that Naz’s lawyers have to do is create reasonable doubt — poking holes in the medical examiner’s findings, Box’s short-sighted investigation, and Andrea’s lifestyle — among the jury that 12 of his peers can’t sentence him to life in prison with good conscience. Obviously, we’ll find out for certain (hopefully) one week from now.
Episode seven, “Ordinary Death,” begins with Box at the scene of a murder that has similarities to Andrea’s, notably the location and the age of the victim. Could this murder have been committed by the same person who killed Andrea? Box seems to be considering that possibility, which is something he never opened himself up to in Naz’s case because all of the evidence pointed at him. Is it also possible that Box never wanted to consider other options because this was his last case before retirement, and he wanted something open-and-shut before he boxed up his desk and headed out the door?
From the beginning, Box seemed as if he didn’t quite believe that Naz murdered Andrea. He seemed like a good kid, and didn’t quite fit the bill of a cold-blooded killer, especially one who would stab his victim 22 times in a fit of rage and passion. Yet again, all of the evidence pointed toward Naz. It was just easier to draw that conclusion.
In court, however, Chandra points out all of the other suspects that Box seems to have overlooked. Should Trevor have been investigated further, especially when just a little digging by Chandra and Stone turned up a hole in his story? Did he know anything about Duane Reade (Dwayne Reed)? What about Royal Day, the creepy hearse driver who was seen on surveillance footage talking to Andrea? And though he wasn’t mentioned to Box on the stand, why not look further into Andrea’s stepfather? Box did interview him, but seemed to gloss over the questions begging to be asked.
Most importantly, Stone notices that Naz’s inhaler was in one of the crime scene photos, yet wasn’t among the items turned in for evidence. Box picked it up from the scene and gave it to Naz while he was being held at the station, but we never did quite learn why he did it. Was it a moment of compassion for a suspect who didn’t quite fit the crime and appeared to be a terrified kid overwhelmed by a nightmarish situation? Was it a ploy by Box to earn some kind of trust from Naz, perhaps to get his defenses down, so he would confess to the murder and make everyone’s job easier?
Armed with this new revelation, Stone subpoenas Box back into court and Chandra attacks him on the stand. She calls his professionalism into question. How could he remove a key piece of evidence from the scene? Box defends himself, rebutting that the inhaler had been photographed and catalogued, and thus didn’t need to be turned over as evidence.
But perhaps the most important question is, does Box even know why he took the inhaler and gave it to Naz? Those doubts and uncertainties seem to plague Box as he goes through the motions of his retirement party. One could view his behavior as that of a man who doesn’t care for such attention, doesn’t want to retire, and doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself without his job to define his life anymore. But he also seemed like a guy wondering if he really worked this case as hard as he should have.
While Chandra tries to cast doubt on Box’s judgment and send him into retirement with some disgrace, she has her own poor decisions to worry about outside of court. (Actually, “Bad Judgment” or “Poor Decisions” could have been alternate titles for this entire series.) Kissing Naz while meeting with him in his courthouse cell may have been the worst move of all the bad moves we’ve seen the characters in this story make.
What is she thinking? Is she lonely? (She mentioned in the previous episode that her boyfriend broke up with her.) Does she feel sorry for Naz, who knows that his mother doubts his innocence? Is she reaching out to someone whose life has been and could continue to be taken away from him because of being wrongly accused of murder?
Whatever the reason, it’s surely a decision that will come back to haunt Chandra and possibly affect this case somehow. Zaillian made sure to show the view of Naz’s cell from a surveillance camera. That kiss is on the record. Could Chandra’s behavior and poor judgment lead to a misconduct violation that somehow leads to a mistrial? Is that how this case —and this series — could possibly end?
That would be wholly unsatisfying, though perhaps it would be consistent with the downward spiral into darkness that we’ve seen from Naz. He’s become disturbingly comfortable with prison life and has no problem with helping arrange the murder of Freddy’s right-hand man Victor, who pushed Petey into a sexual relationship and over the edge into suicide. So much for that drug supply. Oh, and we all found out that Naz not only pushed a classmate down the stairs in high school, but also threw a full can of Coke at another. The kid definitely has a capacity for violence.
Stone might not be guilty of a bad idea, but perhaps pushing a good idea too far. Armed with confidence now that his eczema has been cured by mysterious Chinese herbs that allow him to wear shoes again, Stone hits the gym where Don Taylor, Andrea’s stepfather, trains and preys on rich older women. Ray Halle, Andrea’s financial adviser and Stone’s new ally, finds out that Taylor has three credit cards maxed out and has filed for bankruptcy multiple times. Again, this plants the seed for possible motive. With Andrea out of the way, Taylor stood to inherit her mother’s fortune.
But Stone is a bit too obvious with his snooping around (personal trainer bros stick together, bro), and Taylor threatens him and his family. The stepfather is probably too obvious of a suspect at this point, but does Stone have enough to introduce him as such to the jury? And is Andrea’s cat going to become a key part of this case or what? Stone isn’t irritating his allergies just because he feels sorry for an abandoned kitty, is he? (Although the cat isn’t necessary to prove that Andrea’s back door didn’t lock. The pathologist he hired uncovered several ways into her apartment, also establishing that the intruder may not have seen Naz in the kitchen.)
Will 95 minutes be enough to tie most of this up next week?
[You can read all of our The Night Of recaps and coverage here.]