Photo: Riz Ahmed (Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO).
Sunday’s episode of “The Night Of,” entitled “The Call of the Wild,” marked the midway point of the show. Since the premiere episode — which right now is easily the best single episode of television you are going to see on any network — each week has slowed down further and further to focus on very specific details of the characters orbiting the murder of Andrea Cornish.
Episode 2 focused the man in charge with putting Naz behind bars, Detective Box, and the man who stumbled his way into defending him, John Stone. Episode 3 focused on the sharks circling Naz and his family — his new high-profile, Nancy Grace stand-in, Allison Crowe — and the resident kingpin of Rikers Island, “The King of Queens” Freddy Knight. Episode 4 was all about Naz navigating the waters in prison and his defense testing the waters too see if they were going to jump in and actually defend him or reach for the lowest hanging branch — a plea bargain good for a 15-year sentence — and get out of the river before they even get wet.
On the plus side, after this much time spent on character development the audience knows exactly with whom we are dealing. We should be able to guess moves our characters are going to make, which makes the subtle twists and turns the plot takes one of the more engaging hours on television. This show isn’t riding and dying with surprising the audience; it is cashing in on the richness of execution and anticipation.
On the minus side, we haven’t seen anything about with what we are dealing. We haven’t seen any evidence be analyzed, or the cops formulating theories outside of, “The dude with the knife in his pocket did it.” Our collective TV sleuth hats are sitting on the couch collecting dust. If this show were on NBC, Olivia Benson would have had this thing delivered to the D.A. with a bow on it and we’d be focused on a recap of “American Ninja Warrior” right now.
It would be easy to dismiss the last three episodes as being boring, but they weren’t. There is a big difference between “boring” TV and TV that “takes its time.” We’re dealing with the latter. If that’s not your bag, let me point you in the direction of the USA Network and their daytime block of procedural television; the new season of “Suits” looks LIT.
While Sunday night’s explorations of just how far beneath the earth’s crusts lay John Stone’s life prospects was fun and insanely dark, the episode was made by Naz and Freddy’s discussion of prison literature — specifically regarding “The Call of the Wild.” For those of you who haven’t had to bang out a book report on this junior high school summer reading list staple in a solid 20 years, this one is for you:
“The Call of the Wild” is the story of a dog named Buck who is stolen from his home and sold into service time and time again in the turn-of-the-century wilderness of Canada. Throughout the story, Buck becomes progressively more and more feral as his situation becomes more and more dire. The title, “The Call of the Wild,” refers to Buck’s necessity to abandon his behaviors learned as a domesticated dog and embrace his animal instincts to not only survive but become an alpha in the wild.
American literary scholar Donald Pizer, in critiquing Jack London’s masterpiece, said it best in describing the themes explored in “The Call of the Wild” as, “The strong, the shrewd, and the cunning shall prevail when … life is bestial.”
Does this remind you of anyone?
Was watched Naz age about 10 years in 60 minutes this week. After four episodes in a row of being told what to say, how to act, how to feel, and what to do, Naz finally made a decision for himself, even if he did so unconsciously. He essentially pleaded innocent by telling his version of events after entering a plea of guilty during his hearing. In any other show on any other network, this moment would have swelled with dramatic music punctuated by Naz defiantly saying, “NOT GUILTY.”
Take for example 2016’s other prestige courtroom drama, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” when O.J. vehemently declares his innocence, it’s the culmination of weeks of his defense team plotting to tie the L.A. judicial system into a knot — it’s the debut of a trick they’ve been rehearsing for weeks. In the same situation, when called upon to explain his plea, Naz does what comes instinctively to him — he tells the truth and all hell breaks loose. It wasn’t a conscious decision to dismantle his defense; he did what any wounded animal does when it’s cornered — he let his instincts take over.
To check out the full notepad, click HERE.
- John Stone, man. This guy is so consumed with guilt over what his life could have been, HBO could re-cut only his scenes into their own show and call it “The Telltale Eczematic Feet.”
- Is it me, or did the scratches on his neck look like they were done BY A CAT?
- The red-herring-cat theory is basically now the Shakespearian rat at the end of “The Departed”. I am now 100 percent convinced that it represents the truth about what happened in a Malcolm Gladwell “What The Dog Saw” sort of way. Mentions of the cat and allusions to the cat surrounding John is just a very literary nerd way of saying that he is closest to the truth and seeing things in a way that other characters refuse to.
- Ashley Thomas’ performance as Calvin — the guy overexplaining life in prison to Naz like he was a personal Greek chorus — was staggeringly good. I think we all knew he was bad news (especially when explaining Chekhov’s baby oil) but he dragged it out over the course of the entire episode.
- There was a lot of foreshadowing in Sunday night’s episode, with the baby oil and scolding hot water being the best example. What I’m worried about is the rest of Calvin’s story means for Naz. He repeatedly told Naz about the real criminal — the man who shot his niece — being free while he, the true victim, is in jail. If we’re sure that Naz is not the killer and is the victim, than just like in Calvin’s story, we can assume the real perpetrator is poised to ultimately go free, which makes Calvin a harbinger casting a shadow from here to the debut of “Westworld.”
- Glenne Headly’s Alison Crowe pulling a prada suit and matching bag version of the same crisco and sandals “let’s make and take a plea deal” that Johnny Boy did last week was a perfect example of how the wolves circling Naz only helped him answer the call of the wild by episode’s end.
- Every single person orbiting planet Nasir in this show is trying to play him like a puppet — John Stone, Alison Crowe, Detective Box, Freddy, the inmates, etc. They pull the strings and he dances up until someone — Crowe’s protege, Chandra — actually asks him what he wants to do. When Naz is asked to tell his version of the events of Oct. 24 in court it marks THE FIRST TIME IN THE SERIES that someone has let him finish telling the story. Everyone sees this as an open and shut case, absolutely no one has listened to him. Well, they’re all listening now.
Stepdad Don Taylor; glad to see this creep is still around. And glad to see he brought a friend.
Next week’s episode, “The Season of the Witch,” looks like it is going to give us what we’ve been looking for: meticulous examination of clues, motives, and other TV sleuthing fixings. Let’s see if that helps me shake the feeling that this show ends with Naz being locked up for good and taking over for Freddy as the top dog in Rikers.