It’s all in the details. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)
Over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2014, I — like just about every other person who measures time in new media sensations — discovered the “Serial” podcast.
“Serial” Season 1 focused on the murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore. Lee was last seen leaving school at 3PM on January 13, 1999. Her body was discovered in a shallow grave in nearby Leakin Park two days later. The case was immediately treated as a homicide and eventually Lee’s ex-boyfriend, fellow student Adnan Syed, was arrested, charged, and eventually convicted of first-degree murder. For anyone reading a TV recap blog not familiar with this podcast, this probably seems like a huge spoiler, but it is not; these facts introduced to the listening audience almost immediately. The genius thing about “Serial” season 1 is that every episode was about the details surrounding the case, the “characters” involved, and questioning the “open-and-shutness” of a crime of passion.
The best episodes of “Serial” weren’t focused on forensics; the best episodes of “Serial” were focused on the personalities of those involved, the motivations for their actions in the turbulant aftermath of the murder and investigation and host Sarah Koenig’s constant questioning of the facts and her personal feelings to them. It sounds boring and was fascinating. “The Night Of” is the sequel to “Serial” we were all hoping Season 2 would be and wasn’t. Sorry, Sarah Koenig.
The reason I bring up “Serial” has less to do with the similarities between its main suspect, Adnan Syed, and the main suspect of “The Night Of”, Nasir Kahn, and more to do with the incredible detail being put into the character development of the main “players” in each story respectively. What we lacked in hardcore-network TV drama-style clue discovery goes above and beyond in the character development area, which reveals a ton about who we are dealing with in the wake of the murder of Andrea Cornish.
Questions Heading Into Episode 2:
- What kind of kid is Naz?
- What does John Stone see in Naz? What drew him back to this kid?
- Of all the detectives in NYC, why call Box? What makes him so important?
- What does the crime scene tell us about the killer and the crime?
Theory Heat Check
The Cat: The cat is more than likely a red herring. The cat was a device to show:
- Andrea left the back door open after she put the cat out.
- Andrea putting out the cat was not shot from Andrea’s point of view; this could be a cinematic device showing that her putting out the cat and possibly leaving the door unlocked was seen by someone else/someone watching the house.
- The cat showing up in Queens at Naz’s house is to show that the answer is closer than we think and that the answer is in what the cat saw. In other words, the truth will be revealed to the audience, not necessarily the characters.
You can check out the full notepad for both weeks HERE.
Entitled “Subtle Beast,” the title of episode 2 beautifully describes the mutual admiration Jack Stone and Det. Dennis Box have for each other as they stalk patiently around Naz’s case just waiting for their moment to strike. Jack admires the things Box has done in his career; Box admires what he seemingly knows Stone is capable of when properly motivated. Early on in the episode when speaking to his client, Stone reveals to Naz just who they are dealing with as Box’s reputation precedes himself:
“Box is the senior man here. He got that way by doing what he does well. He rolls up his sleeves, delegates nothing, takes all things personally. I’m not saying he’s a bad cop. On the contrary, he’s very good. And like all good cops, he does you over just inside the rules. He’s a talented oppressor. Subtle beast.”
We get to see how subtle Box is in virtually every single scene of this episode; it is genius-level procedural sleight of hand. Naz’s parents have no legal right to see him because he’s no longer a minor? That’s fine; Ol’ Box will just sneak your parents in to visit because they seem like nice people and casually get the conversation on video recording just in case Naz lets some details slip.
Can’t speak to the suspect without his lawyer present? It’s fine; Ol’ Box will just do some paperwork in the room the suspect, Naz, happens to be held.
Can’t get Naz to spill any details about the night in question even though he literally handed him a lifeline in the form of an inhaler? That’s fine; let’s just ship you off to Riker’s Island in a Harvard tee-shirt; a nice subtle way to help a naive kid scared out of his mind stand out when all he wants to do is fade into the background.
His actions aren’t vindictive, they’re just “Inception” level tactics of planting land mines that will eventually go off; they are ways to rattle the tree to see what falls out. The dark eyes of the deer head in Andrea’s brownstone aren’t the only pair staring straight out in hopes of catching subtle details. This isn’t the first time Box has been in this situation.
Standing across the ring from Box and pacing like a journeyman fighter who has made a career out of taking punches is Jack Stone. While there is nothing subtle about his direct actions — verbally sparring with detectives in the bullpen, sitting beneath his own garish “NO FEE UNTIL YOU’RE FREE” signs on the subway, violently scratching his increasingly worsening eczema-ridden feet — he too is moving into the perfect position to strike. The audience is treated to a hint of just how sharp Stone is when crossing paths with Det. Box in the bullpen:
Box: I feel for him.
Stone: I’m sure you do.
Box: I do. I let him talk to his distraught parents.
Stone: Yeah? You tape it?
Box: This is a little out of your league, isn’t it, John?
Stone: [gesturing towards the vending machine] Bloomberg would have been appalled by the snacks here.
Box: You’re not gonna get rich off of it, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s gonna be the shortest trial in history.
Stone: Yeah? Is that why you haven’t charged him? He doesn’t feel right for it, does he? Something in your gut isn’t liking him for this and you can’t bring yourself to pull the switch.
Granted, while you can expect David Price’s dialogue — which has made everything from movies like “Clockers” to television staples like “The Wire” to works of fiction like “Lush Life” explode off of their respective mediums — to pop like that, John Turturro’s delivery reminded me of a boxer just luring in his opponent so he can land some hurtin’ bombs right before the bell. Straight Rope-A-Dope style gamesmanship. Like his opponent, this isn’t Stone’s first match either.
Side Note: I want to see the backstories of both Jack Stone and Dennis Box and I want to see them now. I’m more interested in seeing their early tangles on the way up in the New York City justice department than I am seeing young Han Solo and young Boba Fett cross paths on various Kessel Runs.
Ultimately, the most revealing parts of the episode had everything to do with the storytelling — not necessarily WHAT was said, but HOW it was said. Every single character in tonight’s episode– with the exception of Naz and his family– approached the events of the worst night of this 23-year-old’s life as if they were as routine as getting a coffee on the way into the office.
Det. Box has risen to his level of prestige because of his relentless pursuit of the truth;that pursuit takes time, patience, and repetition. Going through the motions of investigating this case is no different.
Jack’s navigation of the legal system has been honed over years of battling in the courts on every case he can scare up — which by the looks of it are few and far between and not the most prestigious. He takes good news and bad news about his clients the same way: en route to another meeting trying to hustle for to be someone’s legal representation. That kind of numb perseverance takes a long time to craft.
We meet District Attorney Helen Weiss. She’s outside smoking a cigarette on the steps of a courthouse during jury deliberation, as she probably has every single day for her entire career. A person’s life hangs in the balance but it’s also hanging during my cigarette break — ho hum. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
We even learn the other men who are being transported to central booking before going to Riker’s Island — through ADR/off-screen dialogue — have all been there before. This overnight pitstop is just a part of the process.
What is a journey through all pathways one can find themselves inside of a courtroom is presented as mundane: just your normal everyday inconvenience, except in this world the inconvenience is a first-degree murder charge.
But not Naz. There has to be something to the fact that everything that happens to him is a surprise; absolutely nothing is routine for him here. He has spent zero time thinking about the future and all of his time trying to remember the past and what really happened the night of. That has to mean something… right?
- The friend who stared down Naz & Andrea just a second too long
- This creep, Don Taylor:
- This week’s Could be something, could be nothing: Box’s paperwork project:
- The hazy, fuzzy sounding dialogue in the opening, that’s new information; we have not heard this part of the conversation between Andrea and Naz previously. He’s remembering things.
- There is blood on the deer head. How did it get there? It can’t be from from Naz sprinting out of the house; that blood is on the railing. Perhaps from the knife game? Perhaps from Andrea and Naz hooking up mid-walk up the stairs?
- The forensic scientist at the scene of the crime mentions the cat to Det. Box. I’m telling you, the cat is more than a red herring — it’s Chekhov’s cat.
- There is a tremendous amount of blood splatter on the walls of Andrea’s room. There is no way Naz could have killed her based on the the splatter alone. Naz wouldn’t be absolutely covered in blood when he came to in the kitchen.
- Don Taylor (the stepdad) is no good. He is almost certainly hiding something or at the very least, he is withholding crucial pieces of evidence. This is explicitly shown when called to ID the body. As next of kin, it is his word that can put the part of the case to rest and he withholds it until he would have to be confronted with seeing the body itself. Even if he isn’t the killer (BUT HE DID JUST SHOOT THE TOP OF MY SUSPECTS LIST), he is a character whose very presence on screen is screaming out that he feels underappreciated for a bevy of reasons that double as motive.
- Also he lives in Queens and COULD HAVE TRANSPORTED THE CAT FROM MANHATTAN BACK TO HIS NEIGHBORHOOD WHICH ALSO JUST HAPPENS TO BE WHERE NAZ AND HIS FAMILY ARE FROM.
- I’m not letting this cat thing go.