The Night Of: Season 01, Episode 04, “The Art of War”
Like the opening closeup on flaming sheets, many shots in The Night Of feel experimental, almost like a film student applying some avant garde shots to a gritty crime master’s thesis. Actually, exactly like that. Then, cut to a mildly gross shot of Crisco being applied. When Stone’s conscience gets to him about Andrea’s cat, bring up the sound of dogs barking in cavernous cages over the background noise of a bar.
The tonal and stylistic jumps continue, and while they aren’t jarring enough to throw one out entirely, they definitely keep the viewer off-balance. Since the occupants of the story, particularly Nasir, are mostly off-balance as well, it often works, but sometimes it’s just too . . . much. Too much pretension, too much obsession with the everyday grotesque when it doesn’t fit natively in the story.
But those shots of Freddy smoking sure are pretty. And the classical music sure is juxtaposed.
As for story, this episode continues to show us Naz is too nice for his own good, easily taken advantage of. Many times before this the show has been so overt it feels as though it’s “telling not showing” Naz is too soft but prison will beat it out of him. It’s used the growth of some facial hair to put an ‘edge’ on him. Now it gives up on even those feints and has Naz’s lawyer Alison Crowe literally tell the judge and us “If you want to turn him into a criminal, then leave him in Rikers.”
Rikers is where we spend much of this episode. While I personally want more of the mystery aspect, I understand why the show wants to be more ‘grit,’ showing the violent, unfair world behind procedurals. At the same time, if we want details of prison violence we want Oz, and w *really* could have gone without seeing Box have sex as payment for his court services. Black dudes be backstabbing assholes, except for Omar, I mean Freddy. Naz will get ruined / tough in prison. Etc etc. Yeah we get it. Much of this episode is spinning its wheels in between important scenes, such as the conversations between Naz and Alison, the battle for Naz’s loyalty in prison, and Stone’s independent investigation.
We get more examples of the ‘types’ of cases Stone picks up, mostly involving criminals who know exactly the lines they should say. (All black, all dripping with insinuations of guilt. Please, nobody be surprised.) Whether besotted by Naz’s sweet charm as some of the inmates, or bored with his usual cases, or inexplicably enraptured by one series of strange events the way we all get at times, Stone can’t shake Andrea’s case.
He (creepily) goes to the funeral, and accosts some mourners. Stone is also (creepily) there to throw a wrench in his plans.Box appeals to Stone’s gut. Stone issues vague threats. Box catches two men arguing by the empty graveside. This is all perfunctory. NexBox goes to check out a rehab facility based on recognizing a purple sign in the background of social media pictures, and proves himself to be both unbelievably good at detecting, and unbelievably bad at being subtle about it. Like Naz, he happens along the right people who appear to take pity on him, but want something out of the transaction. Stone pays a guy $35o for sneaking him private health documents, and in turn leverages them to make a quick $150 from Chandra. And around and around we go, every participant in the system making money off both the rightly and wrongly incarcerated.
For reasons which at first are unclear, and later are stupid, Calvin appears to take pity on Naz and teaches him ‘the ropes.’ Calvin is a plot device to act as counterpoint to Freddy, while reinforcing our ideas about how harsh prison is, how you can trust nobody and nothing. Though in the end Freddy’s motives turn out to be a stretch, it’s a nice touch when Naz gets the same advice from Alison as he did from Calvin. How to act and appear in court may require different specifics of body language, but is the same sort of act and self-preservatory playacting as prison.The judge throws a snide comment when Naz doesn’t look at him properly, and prisoners will cut or take advantage of him for equally trivial offenses.
Naz asks Freddy what we are all wondering:“Why me?” Freddy answers in a long ramble about his education, survival, and reading, including Sun Tsu and Jack London. Basically, he’s picked Naz as being the smartest person in the prison, as a survival tool who gives him brains, while Freddy can give him brawn. In a later scene Freddy shows off said brawn, beating a man in a casual boxing match while Naz watches and is literally bloodied by Freddy’s business for the first time.
We still haven’t seen Naz show off his brains, so it’s unclear where Freddy gets this idea other than knowing Naz is a college kid. All we’ve seen so far is panic and instinct and insistence on the truth, and that’s how he makes his crucial decision here after Alison wrangles him a deal. Most people think 15 years is a ‘gift from the gods.’ Calvin tells him a story which supports going to court, hoping to get off on a technicality. Naz gets conflicting reports from all sides, including Stone and Chandra. In the end – and it’s really at the death, as he listens to the prosecutor reel off the court procedures, you can see the struggle in his face as he sits in the courtroom – he goes with his Chandra’s advice, which is to go with the truth. At least, he goes with everything he can remember of it. It’s a move of desperation, of clinging to what he knows above all sense and advice.
His lawyer is furious, as though she shouldn’t have made him rehearse his speech to her before the plea in court. For someone who is supposedly the best, the most experienced, she did a terrible job. Even naive Naz knows it. “So quit” he tells her. Quit she does, leaving Chandra in charge and charging by the hour. It’s intended a giant “fuck you” to the Kahns, but in the way of this grim fairy tale, and because we’ve seen Chandra as capable, empathetic, and willing to get her hands dirty, I’m sure it’s going to end out turning out to be a better move, and I’m far more interested in seeing what Chandra will do, and what sort of a weird pairing she and Stone will make as [presumably] co-counsel, than I am in watching more doctor’s visits, prisoners pumping iron, or correction officers being sleazy.
– In my experience, pharmacists are absolutely some of the most unprofessional and jackassical medical professionals.
– That nun texting on a phone which color-coordinates with her habit: fucking great.
– Do we think Freddy paid the guy in the hallway to slash Naz to drive him into Freddy’s arms? Yes. Yes we do.
– Ah, the irony of white dudes writing a show about brown folk in which white people are cast as being somewhat pricks for not letting the brown folk speak for themselves.