Oh my goodness, John Stone — what the hell are you doing? Following suspects with a history of aggravated assault and committing crimes with a knife down dark alleys, where he could jump out from behind a corner or dumpster and start stabbing?
But our favorite eczema-suffering, prostitute-patronizing, precinct crawler is on the trail and doesn’t want to give up the best lead he has in proving Nasir Khan’s possible innocence in the murder of Andrea Cornish. After three episodes in which the investigation of Andrea’s murder was effectively shelved, story-wise, in favor of detailing the process of Naz being fed through the criminal justice system, being sent to Rikers Island, and deciding not to plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter and 15 years in prison, Stone finally starts investigating and initiating the murder mystery and police procedural that many thought The Night Of might be to begin with. That results in the best episode so far of this eight-episode season.
Following last week’s developments, Allison Crowe has walked away from defending Naz and left the case to her assistant, Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan). But she can’t mount a proper defense by herself and has been told that she can’t use the resources of Crowe’s firm for the case. So that leaves her to reach out to Stone, the lawyer most interested in defending Naz all along and the one who’s done some actual investigating into Naz’s possible guilt or innocence.
Stone doesn’t just jump into Chandra’s arms, however. Using what leverage he has, he insists on being paid what he would have charged Naz’s parents. He gets nothing close to it, as Chandra can’t pay him $50,000 and mentions how little Stone made last year, due in part to several non-payments from clients (who were only on the hook for $250 apiece). So after negotiating a $30,000 fee (and subjecting Chandra to watching him apply medicated cream to his feet), he agrees to help. But we knew he was working the case anyway.
Also doing some further investigating is Detective Box (Bill Camp), who had previously been content to go with all of the evidence that pointed to Naz as the prime suspect. Now that the case is going to trial, however, prosecutor Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) wants the case as tight as it can be. Even though they have the knife and Naz at the scene, Weiss wants Box to establish a firm timeline and sequence of events to present to the jury. So the surveillance footage that was alluded to in episode one begins to become a factor in the case. Based on surveillance and cell phone records, Box traces the steps Naz and Andrea took on the night of Oct. 24, 2014 before the evening ended fatally at her apartment.
While going back to the various scenes, and checking the cameras that filmed Naz picking Andrea up in his father’s cab, we get a haunting image of Box alone on a street corner. The timestamp on the camera shows us that one month has now passed since the murder. After reviewing footage with the officers who initially told two men to get out of Naz’s off-duty cab, preceding Andrea’s entry into the backseat, and going over it with Weiss, the prosecutor sees what she perceives as her hook. According to the footage, Naz kicked two guys out of his cab, then let Andrea in and sat there for a while before driving off. To Weiss, this signals premeditation. Naz decided at that moment he was going to rape and murder the young woman who got into the cab. Box doesn’t quite seem to draw the same conclusion, but Weiss apparently knows she can make that argument in court.
But Stone is digging deeper than Box and Weiss, trying to find what the investigation hasn’t yet turned up. Naz had a vial of ketamine in his possession when he was arrested, and Stone follows the steps to Andrea’s drug dealer. Did Andrea owe him money, thus putting him in debt with his supplier? That could indicate some motive, and raise the possibility that someone else could have killed Andrea. Armed with a fake warrant and pretending that a cop is nearby waiting to make an arrest, Stone visits the drug dealer at the bar where he works. He doesn’t get the solid answers he needs, but the dealer is hiding something and eventually asks for a lawyer. That tells Stone he’s on the right track.
Much more importantly, Stone takes a harder look at the one witness who places Naz at the scene, going with Andrea into her apartment: Trevor (J.D. Williams), who we haven’t seen since episode one and deliberate neglected to mention that someone else was with him when he confronted Naz outside the apartment with racial insults. Weiss also interviews Trevor, but doesn’t get much out of him, other than a clear indication that he doesn’t care for “A-rabs.” Weiss has all she needs from Trevor and sends him on his way. But when Stone and Chandra visit Naz in prison, he mentions that someone else was with Trevor during their argument. Checking the interrogation footage when Trevor says he was alone, Stone and Chandra realize he was lying, giving them something to look into.
Stone tracks Trevor to a laundromat, where he keeps asking questions and leaning on the witness until he finally admits he wasn’t alone — and even more importantly, gives up a name. The lesson here is that if you need to question someone, do it while he’s waiting for his clothes in the dryer and can’t go anywhere, probably because he doesn’t want those clothes stolen. Amazingly, Stone gets his information through sheer persistence and doesn’t have to offer fabric softener.
However, the name Trevor gives Stone is highly suspicious: Duane Reade, which happens to be the same name of the pharmacy chain ubiquitous throughout New York City. That can’t be his real name, right? (We certainly weren’t sure when ranking the show’s suspects, though the character was listed as “Duane Reade” on IMDB.) But Stone checks it out, and the guy’s name is indeed Duane Reade — or maybe “Dwayne Reed” — and has an extensive criminal record. His preferred weapon of choice? A knife. Chandra warns Stone not to try and find or confront Reade on his own, but Stone has had a rough week with needing Viagra to counteract the libido-killing effects of the corticosteroid he’s taking for his eczema and getting turned down by his favorite prostitute client for a better, richer offer. Oh, and he was also humiliated by high school students while speaking to his son’s class.
Stone apparently needs to feel like a man. Or maybe he was still feeling the effects of the Viagra. So he tracks Reade down to the bodega where he hangs out and perhaps conducts business, finds him in the back playing dominoes, says he’s Trevor’s lawyer and wants to talk. Reade bolts out of the store, and Stone chases after him in what has to be the worst idea in a miniseries that’s been full of bad decisions from its characters. But Reade ran for a reason, and how else will Stone find out unless he catches him? That leads him to the aforementioned dark alleys where Reade could be hiding anywhere with a knife ready to attack, while Stone only has a steel pipe to defend himself. We’re left wondering whether or not he’ll continue to pursue Reade or come to his senses and get the hell out of there.
While Stone is chasing other leads, Naz is on a downward spiral at Rikers, well on his way to fully embrace his life as a hardened convict. After being betrayed and attacked by someone he hoped was a friend in prison, Naz realizes he can’t trust anyone and decides to take up Freddy (Michael K. Williams) on his offer of protection. Accepting Freddy’s offer yields immediate benefits. He gets a private cell, presumably close to Freddy, where he’s not surrounded by fellow inmates looking to harass and attack him. Freddy also sets up a situation that allows Naz to help beat up the inmate who burned him. Sure, Freddy and his right-hand man did most of the work, leaving the guy in no position to defend himself. But once he’s provoked, Naz takes out some significant frustration, unleashing some brutal kicks and punches.
Freddy sees that side of Naz and later talks to him, pointing out that he helped put a guy in intensive care and later goes to sleep like it was no big deal. Naz has been holding in some rage, something that appeals to Freddy. Obviously, the circumstances Naz now finds himself in contributed to his anger and brutality. Who wouldn’t be angry at losing control of his life and future, and facing a lifetime in prison, as Naz has? But maybe that frustration goes much further back, to being dismissed and picked on by the athletes he tutors, to living under the control of his parents, to not having the life he imagined, to facing this sort of fate when he’s presumably been a hard-working student and good person?
Naz begins to embrace what increasingly appears to be his future. He does push-ups in his cell to bulk up. He shaves his head to look meaner and tougher (much to Stone’s lament). He acts entitled and cocky with other inmates, knowing that he’s under Freddy’s protection and part of his crew now. But that does come with a price, an inevitable result of Freddy’s offer. Freddy tells Naz that he has to smuggle in four packages of cocaine brought in by another inmate’s mother as payment for protection. After receiving the handoff, Naz then swallows the four eight-balls, trying to conceal them as he talks to Stone and Chandra. Chandra might not know what’s happening, but Stone certainly does. He’s dealt plenty with this sort of thing among his clients before. He tells Naz that he knows he has to do this to survive, but just don’t get caught, otherwise he’ll never get out of prison.
What will we see from Naz next week? Will he have a teardrop or spider-web tattoo? One thing he no longer has is the complete benefit of the doubt from Stone and Chandra, in addition to the prosecution. A tox screen turned up amphetamines in Naz’s system. He wasn’t just doing the drugs that Andrea gave him on the night of her murder. And doing speed makes it less believable that he fell asleep after his drug-fueled romp with Andrea in her apartment and was unconscious while she was killed. Naz has his own secrets that he’s hiding. Was he doing Adderall to keep up in school, or to ramp himself up before going to that big party? The bigger question is what else might Naz be hiding? Maybe he’s not quite the good kid that everyone thought he was.
[You can read all of our The Night Of recaps and coverage here.]