One very strong emotion The Night Of has tapped into thus far is fear. Writer Richard Price and director Steven Zaillian have worked to put the audience in Nasir Khan’s shoes, getting us to relate to his suddenly dire situation.
What would it feel like to be accused of murder when you believe you’re innocent? What would it feel like to spend the night in jail at a police station, to talk to a detective when you feel you’ve done nothing wrong, yet can’t account for your actions? How would you deal with a lawyer telling you not to say anything to defend yourself, while the police are trying to get you to tell a story that will most likely incriminate you?
Episode three, “A Dark Crate,” begins where the previous episode left off: Sitting us next to Naz as he goes to prison. Real prison. Rikers Island, where the really bad guys go. That’s what Naz looks like to the police and to the culture at large right now. Though we think he’s a good kid, whose fun night turned into a nightmare, who was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, he’s charged with a heinous crime. Rikers Island is where the rapists and murderers are sent.
The episode begins by making it very clear that Naz is in a terrible place. It’s dark, grey, bleak and hopeless. With his wide eyes, Naz has always looked like an overwhelmed innocent kid. But in prison, he looks like fresh meat, ready to be torn apart by the predators surrounding him. Most of the inmates going in with Naz are returning prisoners, like upperclassmen going back to campus with a freshman among them.
What do you do to prevent from getting bullied and beat up? Or worse, raped or killed? Do you try to somehow fit in? How does anyone fit in, unless they’ve been in a situation like this before? Do you just keep to yourself and hope for the best? Do you try to act tough? In Naz’s case, that won’t work. No one’s going to buy that. He’s literally smaller than everyone around him.
“Are you in fear for your life?” Naz is asked by a guard during a routine interview. “Should I be?” he responds. The answer he gets is hardly reassuring.
Yet even in this environment, people look to help Naz, seeing a calf going to the slaughter. He’s given advice by a fellow new arrival (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones). Keep your head down. Don’t talk to anybody. Don’t show any signs of weakness. Almost immediately, Naz also catches the eye of Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire), a former boxing champ who’s the top dog in Rikers. He has a TV in his cell, along with boxes of cigarettes and a bunch of cell phones. Clearly, he’s connected and holds most of the currency in this environment.
Slowly, Freddy begins to reach out. Through a guard, he sends shoes to Naz “for traction” in the shower. (The scene during which Naz takes a shower is terribly tense, as he constantly looks over his shoulder, wondering if he’s going to be attacked. How many of you were practically yelling at the TV for Naz to wash up quickly and get the hell out of there?) Eventually, Naz is summoned to Freddy’s cell for a conversation.
Freddy offers protection to Naz, who clearly needs it. He’s accused of raping and killing an innocent woman. He’s Muslim, believed to be Arab. He doesn’t look like he can protect himself. Naz is a target. Yet what does Freddy want in return? Those suspicions are only intensified when Freddy tells Naz to close his eyes and hold out his hand? What is about to happen in that cell to poor Naz? Freddy surely knows what Naz is afraid of and exploits that fear, but gets Naz to feel a piece of veal that a guard brought to him in return for making sure his family is protected from gang violence on the outside.
It’s creepy, and you have to wonder just how Freddy is going to cook that veal. Hotplate in his cell? Special arrangement in the kitchen? But the allegory is stark, especially when Freddy describes how veal are kept before they’re killed. Remembering what he was told by the other inmate, Naz keeps quiet and doesn’t accept Freddy’s offer. When Naz’s new buddy finds out about this, he asks him if he’s crazy. Naz’s head is spinning. Does he talk or doesn’t he talk? Was he supposed to trust Freddy? How would any civilian know the right answers to those questions?
Regardless of what happens in his murder trial, is Naz going to make it out of prison alive? His fears (and ours) are further confirmed at the very end of the episode when he goes to the bathroom. Once again, Naz is looking over his shoulder and we certainly feel like he’s going to be attacked, either at the urinal or the sink. But something else is going on, as seen by a light in the corner of the mirror. The light is coming from a fire. The fire is coming from Naz’s bed, which has been set aflame by several prisoners who look at him menacingly and make throat-slashing gestures at him.
Outside of Rikers, John Stone is fighting his own battle. And not just with his eczema, which he is now treating with Crisco and Saran Wrap, per his dermatologist’s recommendation. (Other than whether or not something terrible is going to happen to Naz in prison, why Stone doesn’t wear socks to cover up his wrapped feet might be the episode’s biggest question.) We also see Stone attending an eczema support group, with many people whose condition is far worse than his. But the point is clear. These people are outcasts in one form or another, struggling to live a normal life while their bodies have betrayed them.
More importantly, Stone is getting shoved aside as Naz’s lawyer. He gives it straight to Naz’s parents: A defense in a murder trial isn’t going to be cheap, and Stone needs the financial resources to help Naz as best he can. But Naz’s parents can’t afford the $75,000 Stone is asking for. Even after Stone relents to $50,000 (one-third of what a suitable defense would likely cost), they don’t have that kind of money. Who does? Will they have to take out a loan against their house to pay for Naz’s defense? Also hurting their financial situation is that Naz’s father can’t make money from his cab, which is in police possession as evidence.
Everyone involved with the case is snickering behind Stone’s back (if not right to his face). The prosecutor tells the district attorney that Stone (a “precinct crawler”) being Naz’s attorney only helps their case. When Stone visits her, attempting to lay the foundation for a future plea deal, she gives him nothing because she knows she doesn’t have to. This case looks like a lock for the prosecution. Stone fishing for a deal also confirms the misgivings about him. He’s in over his head. He’s not a trial lawyer. He’s not in the business of getting his small-time clients acquitted; he’s looking for the best deal.
Thus swoops in big-time defense attorney Allison Crowe (Glenne Headly), seeing an opportunity for another high-profile defense case. (Her latest case involves a woman suing her doctor for a botched plastic surgery, in addition to the airline that dismissed her because of her scarred appearance.) Naz’s case is now big news, making the front page of the New York tabloids with police press conferences televised live. Crowe wants in, telling her assistants to get her everything they can on “the Khan kid killer.” She also tabs an Indian-American aid (Amara Karan) at her legal firm to accompany her while visiting Naz’s parents.
Crowe tells Naz’s parents everything they want to hear: Namely, that John Stone is a bottom-feeder who’s only interested in getting paid and making a plea deal. He won’t get Naz acquitted. Stone asking for $50,000 is a joke because a real defense in a murder trial could cost five times as much. But Crowe won’t charge them that much. She won’t charge them at all because she and her firm can afford to take the case pro bono. (Naturally, she wants the publicity that comes with a big murder case, but doesn’t say that.)
Just like that, Stone is no longer Naz’s lawyer. His parents have hired Crowe, though Naz expresses misgivings because he likes Stone, who seems like a good man. When Naz breaks the news to him, you can see the heartbreak in Stone’s face. His big break isn’t going to happen. No need to buy the nice suit and shoes he had his eyes on. He’s been underestimated and overlooked yet again. Stone seems to understand that this wasn’t Naz’s decision, but it’s out of his hands and he doesn’t know if Naz is going to fare well in prison. (Is that a concern Crowe has? Is she as familiar with this environment as Stone might be through his clients?)
But let’s not write off John Stone yet. He’s become invested in this case, even if he still doesn’t seem entirely aware of how brutally Andrea Cornish was murdered (stabbed 22 times) — which puts him at a disadvantage when he meets with the prosecutor. Whether he realizes it or not, Stone may also have stumbled upon a key to the case in Andrea’s cat, who comes and goes from her apartment through a backdoor entrance. Taking a liking toward that kitty might turn out to be beneficial.
Additionally, Stone may end up being hired by the two men who own that cab with Naz’s father. They need that cab back to make a living, but the only way the police may release it is if they report the cab as stolen and press charges against Naz. Obviously, Naz’s father won’t do that to his son, but his two co-owners might. The officer gives them the card of a lawyer who might be able to help: Mr. “No Fee Until You’re Free,” John Stone. He’s still in the game. Like that embarrassing foot condition, he’s sticking around.
[You can read all of our The Night Of recaps and coverage here.]