Would The Night Of really introduce a new potential suspect in the second episode of the series? If so, seems like kind of a trick on the part of writer Richard Price and director Steven Zaillian. (And both are better than that.)
All of the important players to be considered in the murder of Andrea Cornish were presumably presented in the first episode. That’s the most fair game to play with the audience, right? Of course, that’s assuming this story is a traditional sort of mystery, rather than a procedural.
The second episode, “Subtle Beast,” could have been entitled “The Day After,” as the investigation into Andrea’s murder truly gets underway. Part of that is informing her next of kin that she’s been killed. Detective Box (Bill Camp) reaches Andrea’s stepfather, Mr. Taylor, who immediately says “What’d she do now?” Obviously, this isn’t the first time he’s received a call from police about Andrea. And it’s quickly clear that the two don’t have a good relationship.
But the stepfather (played by Paul Sparks), who seems a bit young, comes down to the station to look at some photos for identification, then the body. Considering he’s about to look at photos of a dead person, and the medical examiner tries to prepare him for that, he seems rather apathetic. Strangely, he first says that the woman in the photos isn’t Andrea. Then when the examiner asks him to take a look at the body, he changes his mind and says it’s her. Did he just not want to see a dead body up close?
Detective Box later interviews Taylor, and he says that Andrea has gotten into plenty of trouble before, notably with drugs. He also admits that he didn’t really know her all that well, having been married to Andrea’s mother for only a short time before she passed away. Andrea wasn’t in school, didn’t have a job, and had plenty of boyfriends. Box asks if he she was involved in prostitution, but the stepfather says no. And if you were wondering how the hell a woman in her 20s was able to afford a brownstone on the west side, Taylor explains that Andrea’s mother owned the place.
Did Taylor kill his stepdaughter? He’s certainly being presented as a potential suspect, though it’s not certain if Box sees him the same way. All of the evidence points to Naz Khan, and that’s surely why we don’t see any of the other possible perpetrators in this episode. They’re not under consideration. Though Box still seems hesitant in charging him with Andrea’s murder, a fact of which Naz’s lawyer, John Stone, has definitely taken notice.
Most of the episode concerns the duel between Box and Stone, with Naz in the middle. Stone reminds his client not to talk to anyone about what happened, though Naz does tell his parents about the events of the previous night (while Box listens in). Naz understandably feels that the truth will set him free. All he has to explain what happened, and it will become clear that he couldn’t have killed Andrea.
Except Naz can’t explain how Andrea was murdered while he was apparently the only one in the apartment with her. And that’s the only truth that matters to Box and will matter to a jury. Nothing can be gained from talking to Box. Stone doesn’t even want to know Naz’s side of the story. Because all that matters is what the police can prove, and how the defense can provide a reasonable doubt as to Naz’s culpability.
Naz struggles with that, as anyone would — especially if he or she had never been in such a situation before. If you weren’t guilty (or felt you weren’t guilty), wouldn’t you say so and try to defend yourself? The struggle seems even more difficult when Detective Box seems like a nice guy, understanding and compassionate. He’s kind to Naz’s parents when they come to visit him at the police station, letting them see their son after the desk sergeant initially wouldn’t because Naz is an adult (23 years old).
But eventually, Naz listens to his lawyer and realizes that Box is trying to get him to incriminate himself. Fill in the gaps that the evidence doesn’t explain. Stone lands a body blow when he rightly points out that Box is hesitating to charge Naz because something just doesn’t add up. He doesn’t seem like the type. He’s a good kid who appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet everything points to him doing the crime, and when Naz won’t talk, it makes him look guilty. Frustrated by Naz lawyering up and refusing to talk anymore, Box feels he has no choice but to formally charge him with homicide.
Contrarily, Stone was in the right place at the right time when it comes to landing Naz as a client and getting the opportunity to defend him. This comes up twice, once when speaking with his (presumably) ex-wife while getting ready to appear in court. (Why is he wearing a tie? He’s arguing a murder case, not some small-time theft or drug possession.) Defending Naz could raise Stone’s profile significantly (which Box taunts him about). And though it doesn’t come up, maybe Stone sees this as a case that can also test him as an attorney. Or is he just looking for the best deal while getting his face on all of the New York newspapers and newscasts?
Above all, Stone seems to be looking for respect. All of the detectives in the precinct see him as an ambulance-chasing bottom feeder, defending the smallest of the small-time crooks to make a quick buck. Based on the judge in Naz’s arraignment also expressing surprise that Stone is the defense attorney, he’s probably viewed that way by the court as well. Is it possible that this one of the reasons for Stone’s rather gross case of eczema that requires him to wear sandals everywhere he goes, and scratch his feet with a chopstick or pencil whenever he needs some relief? His nasty feet are a manifestation of his self-esteem! Will Stone’s feet improve as the case progresses?
The episode ends with the grave seriousness of Naz’s situation now becoming frighteningly apparent. He’s denied bail (because of “family roots in Pakistan”), which means he’s going to prison while the trial occurs. While he’s in holding, Naz fears for his safety, especially when one of his fellow inmates beats up another for making too much noise while experiencing drug withdrawal. Another perp who tried to smuggle a cell phone into jail has it pulled out of his ass by a guard. Following his arraignment, Naz is sent to Rikers Island — real prison.
Does this seemingly innocent college kid belong there? (In the episode’s darkest laugh, a couple of other offenders are surprised when they hear what crimes Naz is convicted of committing.) Until proven otherwise, that’s where he’s going. This is now much more than spending a night in jail and being ashamed of bad judgment. You can feel his fear, and it’s difficult not to put yourself in his position as a viewer. How scared would you be going to prison, especially if you didn’t think you were guilty of a crime?
[You can read all of our The Night Of recaps and coverage here.]