The Night Of: Season 01, Episode 06, “Samson and Delilah”

At some point, Stone’s litany of absurd eczema treatments and extreme methods of dealing with a dead woman’s cat are going to collide into a grand epiphany relating to Naz’s case. The heavens will open, we will all realize the point to incessantly showing all minutiae of two wildly insignificant plot points which substituted for character development, angels will rejoice.

Until there is such revelation, we groan. We wonder if Stone’s travails are meant to stand in absurdist contrast to the profundity, depth and darkness of the other storylines. Whether their entire point is that Stone has no character to develop. Whether their point is life is sad and pathetic and Stone is as much in prison as Naz, who at least has compatriots, even if they nick him with shanks every once in a while. Whether the feet being cured in time to wear the shiny new shoes to court is supposed to signify The Night Of is a modern fairy tale, that Naz will get exonerated but that it won’t be real.

This episode has a few other fairytale and biblical allusions, blurring the line of where the latter runs into the former. Samson is directly cited by the Charon-esque undertaker, Naz’s trial is essentially David versus Goliath, etc. Mr. Day continues the literalist naming convention – whether in reference or ironic opposition to their tasks – and it’s beginning to feel as though John Bunyan named all the characters. Day is the hearse driver / mortician whose babbles are straight out of a misogynist’s Midsummer Night’s Dream acid trip. He’s not just creepy, he’s auditioning for Lord of the Rings villain or Greek oracle.

If the rest of the show weren’t working so hard to portray a dark gritty ‘lifelike’ side of our American reality, this might be a lovely sequence. It’s certainly exquisitely composed and lit. Instead, it sticks out as atonal and bizarre.

6 morgue scene

I very much enjoy the absurdist bits by themselves, but because these sequences are squeezed in between ‘street thugs’ and strip searches, grimness and gross realities, they make the show as a whole seem disjointed. When the fantastical is used too sparingly, as it has been in this show, it’s badly jarring instead of thematic. The deer’s head, for example, would have been better if their were more, similar elements, in later episodes rather than cutting to the stag so many times without supporting it in other ways. The red drop of blood-looking fingernail polish in the morgue here is an absurdist exclamation point, and one we saw coming miles away. Etc etc etc; there’s one or two examples every episode.

The sequence of Freddy smoking is profound because Michael K Williams is profoundly good, despite not being given much to work with. He’s in prison because he’s a bad dude, he blackmails the guards into bringing him food and sexually servicing him, he ticks all the boxes a kingpin is supposed to tick, but we don’t know why. The camera loves Williams, though, and his Cheshire-cat smile in the dark of his cell is entrancing.

Thankfully, Riz can hold his own, acting-wise, and he’s having to convey a lot of nothing in his long medium-close-ups. Even when we can’t tell what Naz is thinking, his somewhat obscured, conflicting emotions are relatable given his foreign, dangerous environment — not just prison, but the labyrinthine justice system.

Naz puts on a confident front, but he’s grasping at straws as much as his lawyers are. The one thing Naz stands firm on is wearing the clothes his mom brings him, and that decision is a bad one. He’s got to be willing to compromise in prison, that’s understandable. What’s not understandable is the “SIN” “BAD” knuckles tattoo. Starting with an incriminating mark in the most visible place, really? After trying to point out to us how smart Naz is and how he’s trying to survive? It’s not profound, it’s not something we can buy Naz doing on a stupid whim, and it’s just trying too damn hard if it’s supposed to make us think Naz has turned, or really is a bad dude, or has conformed to the gang, etc. I’m not sure I can trust the show will bring the tattoo back around in a meaningful way; I would’ve trusted after the pilot, but six episodes later, too much seems to exist in the story because writers think it’s edgy and profound and substitutable for developing story. The best development is the discovery Naz left school after pushing a fellow student. Naz explains he pushed a bully in self defense, Box acts as if it’s a preamble to murder, Chandra seems understanding of the difference between murder and frustrated emotions, and everyone in the audience will fall all along the spectrum.

Once the courtroom gets going, it speeds right along. Evidence and testimony is produced, bing bang boom. The opening statements are shown in full, the process marches on, and despite her minor panics, Chandra performs as well as she could hope.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 23.06.29

Last episode gave us a second viable suspect (which it left completely dangling – we are supposed to assume Stone waited in the alley until he was startled by a cat, then walked home), this episode gives us a third and hints at a fourth. Presumably next episode we’ll get at least one more, the question is whether they’ve left enough room at the end of the season to satisfactorily conclude.

I’m longing for a Poirot character to step into the courtroom and sum it all up, but the whole series has been skewing less Christie and more 2014 BBC, so I’m not holding my breath.

Stray Observations

– “Want a drink? Oh, I forgot, no alcohol.”
“That’s Muslims. I’ll drink anything.”
You could make this ‘joke’ with Mormons, too, but nobody does. 

– Some beautiful extreme thirds framing going on here.

– Back to those tattoos: how much time has passed, anyways? Next episode do we see Naz in rehab, looking like The Rock and with a full tattoo sleeve?

– The jury selection shots are taken to the extreme, as well; do we believe every single on of them was openly snoring? It feels either cartoonish or like we the audience are being spoonfed, maybe both. Still, we nod in sympathy, we understand how people on the jury are conditioned and treated like cattle and bored out of their damn skulls, and that’s before anything starts.

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