The Night Of: Season 01, Episode 07, “Ordinary Death”
The very first line – in a stark, noir-y opening observed from the POV of a murder victim looking up at Box – is “what we have here is the same scenario as Andrea Cornish, would you agree?”
Why are there no news trucks, he asks.
Then the camera cuts to a black woman, answering his question.
Then the camera cuts to Andrea Cornish, displayed in the courtroom to the obvious horror of the jury as the coroner recites the “Naz’s wounds are from the knife slipping” explanation he was fed by the Weiss the DA, two episodes ago.
Then the episode forgets about the woman entirely.
Then the camera cuts between Stone and Don* playing eyeball tennis across the courtroom, bouncing Meaningful Looks back and forth.
You get the point.
Much of the episode is taken up with courtroom back-and-forths over what happened, and it’s almost cheating because we the audience didn’t just see what happens, we’re reminded here in flashbacks. But Weiss obligingly continues in her role as villain prosecutor, contradicting ‘facts’ or what we presume to be facts at every turn.
But as utterly cheeky and enjoyable as it is, and as much as I’d love to watch Law & Order: Cross Examination staring her, much of Weiss’s cross shouldn’t have been allowed. If you’re going for realism above melodrama or fun, you can’t have these blatantly objectionable rambles. “What were you thinking while at this congratulatory dinner.” “I bought my husband a drill with 24 bits, how many bits do you think he has lost?” “He doesn’t deserve for me to buy him a new one.” The exchange about Adderall-as-business-deal on the stand is funny enough and even informative, but shouldn’t have been allowed, either. Every other stunt Weiss pulls is out of bounds, and not objecting to any of the most egregious makes Stone and Chandra look bad. Chandra is also visibly surprised by facts which arise in court not once, but twice. It’s quite apparent they’re the David in this David and Goliath story.
Chandra does manage the rest of the courtroom work well, though we’re left to assume why she – far the junior of the two with no trial experience we’ve heard of – does all the talking. You’d think with all the time they have to take us on tours as Stone visits his kid’s school, etc., they’d’ve had time to show us talking about how she has better optics and is a good speaker.
The way Chandra paints the coroner into a corner and refuses to take his bait is important, she clearly delineates how his painting things as “different interpretations” is the same as “possibly mistaken,” then she calls an expert witness to back her up.
She undermines all that good work and capability by becoming romantically entangled with her client. I’m unsure whether to be more angry that the purpose the two attractive young women serve is to fall for a dude, or that it seems indicate a weird supernatural sway Naz has, which stands in contrast to much of the other tones the show strikes (more on that later). The kiss throws the whole episode off kilter, because it practically jumps to point out how the show has been treading soap operatic ground with this really great character, and how it’s not above being melodramatic.
Back in Naz’s community, anti-Muslim graffiti adds to the tension. The Khan family – well, the parents, as Naz’s brother has been forgotten entirely – is taking blows from all sides; not only do faceless vandals throw a rock through their window, the other two taxi-owners say “look what your son has done to all of us.” The family suffers for the perceived sins of one, just as the community as a whole does.
Another surprise revelation – Naz hospitalized a second student via coke can – is sprung in court. Now, throwing a coke can is hardly accurate, it could have been intended either to hurt or as a bad joke. But this second incident isn’t so much a commentary on Naz any more, but his parents. They had to have known he hospitalized two kids, that he had a temper, that he pushed back. Yet they never brought it up or seem to have considered it problematic. It’s only now, confronted with crime scene photos and evidence that his mother Safar can bring herself to think he might have done this thing; it’s a shame the show has spent so much time on Stone’s eczema, when Poorna Jagannathan’s performance is so wonderful but she gets so little to do.
We revisit themes, visuals, and specific items; for example, we go from the discussion of how Naz cut himself on broken glass, to broken glass being cleaned up in the prison, to Naz finding an apparent suicide-by-glass-shard. Several little touches populate the episode, though few are as effective as that one. Stone throwing the judicial subpoena on top of the box of Box’s personal effects as he leaves work on his last day is somehow less subtle than both O.J. Simpson references. The final sequence cuts between Stone’s retirement party and Freddy’s preparing to murder one of his flunkies on Naz’s word. All these things would possibly feel more profound if the editing and music and camera lingering weren’t trying so hard to make us feel they were profound.
Last episode has many good scenes, but placing surrealist bits into a gritty realistic world didn’t work. Well, neither does insisting your gritty realism be noticed. It’s good, it’s fine, but even with the stellar performances and beautiful lighting, it doesn’t add up to more than that. I wish HBO had really gone for it, really made this a parable or a modern-day Greek tragedy or a surrealist nightmare or The Wire: Prison. Instead, it’s pulled elements of all these things and thrown them together, stretching out some we don’t need while minimizing parts we should have more of.
The result is something which has great elements, and says important things about the justice system, and often has powerful sequences. But the result is also too full of itself, subs character quirks and cliched bits for character traits, and still has neither lived up to the pilot or quite gelled, one episode from the end.
– *Andrea’s stepfather. I know, he’s as unmemorable as his name. The only thing worse than his utter lack of memorability is his attempt to seem threatening.
– Not only does Stone look zero like a Production Assistant, the moron at the copy place literally just heard Stone identify himself as an attorney. It did get the fact that the show, and we, exist in a Law & Order saturated world, though.
– Naz has a much easier time swallowing what he has to do. Figuratively and literally. Get it?
– Ooooo, Freddie is watching a nature program about tigers, while Stone’s kitty cat stalks him.