Detective Box is having second thoughts about just about everything. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)
It took seven episodes, but we have finally reached our most procedural chapter in “The Night Of.” “Ordinary Death” gave us everything we’ve been clamoring for: examination of the evidence, revisiting our list of suspects, and a look at the true nature of our principal characters. Next week’s finale, “The Call of the Wild,” will be an extended episode that should give us plenty to chew on.
“Ordinary Death” delivered big time by serving not only as a gripping hour of television furthering the penultimate-episode-is-the-best-episode trend, but as a great review of the important parts of the show we’ve been obsessing about this summer.
Heading into Episode 7:
- Where does Det. Box stand on the case? Does he actually think Naz did it?
- Is stepdad Don Taylor the prime suspect? If Stone and Chandra were the prosecution would they be going after him?
- Is Naz going to continue to unravel in prison?
- Are we going to get some clues or what?
“Ordinary Death” dealt with the repercussions of the murder for all of our characters in “The Night Of” — one of the “real questions” posed in this limited series. How everyone other than Naz is processing the fallout from Andrea Cornish’s murder has been used only as scene painting until this point. As the focus of the penultimate episode, we learned — as suspected — it is not good. For anyone.
Understandably, Naz’s parents are feeling it the most. Naz’s father is being hamstrung by his former business partners into selling his share of the taxi medallion for a fraction of its worth, his mother is questioning if somehow she was to blame for raising Naz into someone who could have committed such a heinous crime, they both are being forced to sell anything of value to pay just to survive and the greater Muslim community of New York being victimized as the case gains more notoriety. As the case has drawn on and those closest to him have taken on more and more of the burden, Naz is becoming more and more myopic in his actions. Obviously, the case is having a profound effect on him, but it is almost as if he is sitting through court as a formality and waiting to get back to his life at Rikers. Is that kind of acceptance of the situation and realization of his true nature the whole point of the series?
Since his transformation began, collectively we’ve been hoping and praying it was just a defense mechanism, but we’re starting to understand who Naz truly is and what exactly he is capable of. The revelation that he sent not one but two kids to the hospital and was regularly selling Adderall to classmates was shocking. Not the actions themselves — we’ve already seen and dissected how Naz deals with stress — but his reactions to these things being brought up in court in front of his defense team, his parents, and the jury. He sat in unflinching silence staring stone-faced at whomever was on the witness stand, not ashamed, not angry, not even surprised that these new details were being brought up. He looked at his former basketball coach, the medical examiner, and his friend/client, in the same way a predator looks at its prey. Who is this guy, and why am I still asking this question with only one episode left to go?
Regardless of Naz’s actions being brought to light, both Chandra and Stone are still at it trying to drum up as much plausible deniability as possible. Presumably, their key witness, the hilariously named Dr. Katz (THE CAT THEORY LIVES) gave the audience what we’ve been waiting for for two months: explanations for every single piece of evidence we’ve seen. Through his testimony, we learned that the knife that killed Andrea is not necessarily the knife that they have in evidence. We learned that breaking into Andrea’s house on the night in question would have been easy to do — the lock on the gate is broken, the basement door was unlocked, and the scalable tree outside in front of her house lead directly to her open bedroom window. We also learned that if someone did break into her house through either the window or the basement door, they wouldn’t have necessarily seen Naz passed out in the kitchen or the kitchen itself. None of this testimony exonerates Naz, but it does — no pun intended — hold the door open for a shadow of a doubt to creep in.
The final sequence of “Ordinary Death,” a chilling juxtaposition of both Naz’s and Det. Box’s acceptance of the next phase of their respective lives, put a bow on the gift that has been this show. After finding out that Petey — the son of Freddy’s drug mule — has committed suicide, Naz comes clean to Freddy about what had been going on between him and Victor. Brilliantly edited against Det. Box’s retirement party, we see Freddy and Naz run a misdirection that allows Freddy to murder Victor in cold blood in plain view while at the same time Det. Box is reconsidering the events of the case and his retirement. Naz — really putting his myopic vision superpowers to good use — has now eliminated any buffer between himself and the most ruthless man in Rikers. There is no one else for Freddy to lean on now, and I have a hard time believing that even if proven innocent, he will let Naz leave prison easily if at all. He’s in too deep. The same can be said for Det. Box; while we all assumed he was going to play a much bigger role in this series, the doubt he has about the events surrounding Andrea’s murder is casting a pretty big shadow of its own.
The Red Herring Checklist – SUSPECTS
- Duane Reed: In the wind and being joked about in court. If we do see him again, I doubt it’s in the back of a squad car.
- Mr. Day: The looming specter of death is here, but he isn’t the culprit.
- Stepdad Don Taylor: THE ONLY CHARACTER WITH MOTIVE IN THE ENTIRE SHOW. WHY IS JOHN STONE THE ONLY GUY GOING AFTER HIM?
- Scumbag waiter/dealer: Man this dude is twitchy, but it’s doubtful he did it.
The Red Herring Checklist – EVIDENCE
- Broken back gate: Theory confirmed; the gate was open.
- Unlocked basement door: Theory confirmed; the door was open.
- Multiple ways to get into the house: Naz doesn’t necessarily need to have done it because, in theory, he’s not the only person with access.
- The murder weapon might not be the murder weapon: The knife in evidence isn’t necessarily the knife that was used; one of the set was missing, even though there are a million reasons why it is missing.
- Shout out to Dr. Katz, the best character on this show by far. “If The Night Of” turns from limited series to anthology series, I hope he is the through-line character. I could watch him discuss his crime scene analysis for at least eight hours.
THEORY HEAT CHECK
- The Cat Theory: The cat as a stand in for the truth holds true. As John Stone has redeemed himself, he has become more and more accepting of the cat. At the beginning of the series, he didn’t care about the truth; he cared about what the defense could prove. This is no longer the case – Stone is now a cat owner and a truth seeker. Not as fun as the time traveling cat version of this theory, but it’s poetic as hell.
- The Motive Theory: Don Taylor is the only person with motive for killing Andrea, but he is the least likely to have done it according to his M.O. He’s a bankruptcy claiming, white collar, grey lady chasing kind of creep; not a knife wielding psychopath kind of creep. Even though the motive makes sense, it is only in a “Law and Order: SVU” kind of way.
- Occam’s Razor: To summarize, when there are many options, the simplest answer is the truth. At this point, Naz is still the person closest to the murder scene and the only known person to be in the house at the time of the murder. I doubt he did it, but who else could have? What other options to the jury have to consider?
- The Padraic O’Connor TV Sleuther Theory: We are not going to see who actually killed Andrea Cornish. We may “see him/her” but they aren’t getting hauled in. This show isn’t about a murder; it’s about what happens after.