Hello, Michael K. Williams. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)
Okay… stay with me.
I say this for two reasons:
- After an all-time great premiere episode, the last two weeks of “The Night Of” have been slow for the type of show we assume we’ve been watching: a week-to-week procedural. It should be obvious by now that it is only a procedural in the sense that we’re dealing with crime and those who investigate it. What gets wrapped up in 60 minutes of “Law & Order: SVU” or “Criminal Minds” is going to take eight weeks to solve on HBO.
- The fun part of watching and conversing about a show like “The Night Of” is exploring all of the ins and outs. Dissecting the influences is more than half the battle; you have to stick with it.
Last week, I drew some heavy comparisons to Season 1 of the This American Life podcast “Serial.” After a slow-burn episode like “A Dark Crate,” there is an even more apt comparison to draw in how we are consuming this show.
I, like many other people in the Fall of 2014, discovered the “Serial” podcast in mid-October. Patton Oswalt — a writer/comedian and cultural commenter/big deal on Twitter — was going Tweet happy about it, so I decided to check it out. At that point, there were four episodes already released, so I was able to binge through nearly half the season in an afternoon. I was left more than enough time to get thoroughly hooked and re-listen several times before new episodes debuted.
We’re attacking “The Night Of,” a piece of media with very similar themes, threads, and layered storytelling, in real time. We don’t have the luxury of binging it and allowing it to sink its jaws deep into our culture consuming throats.
For every minute tonight that was spent away from the crime scene and away from Det. Dennis Box exploring who could have done the crime, we spent learning more about who is being defended and who is doing the defending. It’s all important. It’s all connected. So let’s stick with it.
Questions heading into Episode 3:
- Who does Naz meet in prison?
- How is Box & the DA building the case against Naz? How is Stone building the defense?
- What does the crime scene tell us about the killer?
Theory Heat Check:
- Don Taylor, the step-dad, is no good. Could his indifference towards Andrea’s behavior, his cold reaction to the events of “The Night Of,” and his reluctance to actually face Andrea’s body or evidence of the murder be masking a guilty conscious?
You can check out the full Notepad for all three weeks HERE.
About half way through “A Dark Crate,” it became pretty clear that we’re watching two shows at the same time — one is a legal drama that is looking more and more like “The Verdict,” and one is a crime drama that is looking more and more like “The Shawshank Redemption,” with the two sides posturing for top position in the battle for who gets to defend Naz.
We spent a lot of time with Jack Stone this week and I’m not entirely sure that is a good thing. His Willie Loman-esque adventures around New York really painted a picture of the depths through which this character must swim. From being talked down to in the men’s bathroom at the courthouse by a lawyer who looked like he was running late for a Chemistry 201 final, to his podiatrist telling him to rub Crisco on his feet before wrapping them in saran wrap to sooth his ailing feet, to being the funniest guy at an eczema support group, the show “Jack Stone at Home” would be the saddest drama on TV right now.
Seriously, imagine paying a co-pay to have a doctor tell you to rub baking grease on your feet… and now imagine that man defending you in court. The only detail this was missing was his tightening his tie and muttering, “no respect, I tell ya, no respect at all,” delivered with all the heartbreaking realness of an Arthur Miller play.
For all of those highlights of life kicking sand into Jack Stone’s face, they were shown to us to tell the audience that he can only go up from here because we cannot possibly sink any lower.
Throughout episode three, Stone break our hearts by resorting to every trick in his bag to treat this case like any other on his desk. This isn’t because he is a bad lawyer, or because he just wants to be rid of another guaranteed loser of a case. His fear is that he won’t be able to pull off saving Naz, and his frequent attempts to take the legal version of a dive builds throughout the episode until he is cast aside.
As this limited series is much closer to a novel than it is an anthology in the vein of “True Detective,” it is layered with some pretty heavy metaphoric imagery — specifically the worsening eczema. Simply put, something is eating away at Jack Stone and the skin ailment is the manifestation of his guilt he has over what could have been his life.
My theory is that he gave up a promising career as a serious litigator in exchange for as many take-the-money-and-run cases as he could get to support his family. If I were to guess, the eczema starts to get better as his hero’s journey brings him onto the team with the Kahn’s new shark, Allison Crowe, and back into the courtroom. Why else film him starring longingly at the shoes he would have worn to trial?
Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse for Naz at Rikers which is made even worse because he has no idea how much danger he is in. While it looks like Naz has made an ally in Freddy — played immaculately by HBO’s strongest go-to guy, Michael K. Williams — the situation that Naz finds himself in is just too big for one person to protect him at all times; Naz is just too naive to know that, which Freddy immediately takes advantage of.
Their interactions are so packed with twists and turns it is nearly impossible to unpack, so I’ll leave it at this: The Naz/Freddy interaction mirrors the pitch that Naz’s new defense attorney, Allison Crowe, gives to the Khans. Both the offers made for protection from persecution and the prosecution are offered to Naz and his parents without any discussion of payment and both hang over the scene like the blade of a guillotine.
While we don’t know exactly what they want — presumably, material goods in exchange for protection is how Freddy keeps his flow of cash and merchandise coming into prison and TV ratings for high-profile cases is how Allison Crowe maintains great white status in the legal sea of New York City — it is plain to see that neither of these characters care at all what happens to Naz. The only person that does is Jack Stone, who continues to dig into Naz’s case even after his is dismissed.
Episode 3 did nothing to help the army of internet sleuths solve the case before the finale, but that is completely fine. If the episode titles of the next five episodes are any clue — which include next week’s “The Art of War,” and future episodes, “Sampson and Delilah,” and “The Call of the Wild” — the two separate show threads are about to start getting braided pretty tightly together.
- Lots of bargaining going on — nothing comes without a price. Family with Crowe, Naz with Freddy.
- Freddy getting favors from the guards is probably not unique to the two guards he interacted with tonight. His entire setup in Riker’s could be built around payment for protection from other inmates, former inmates, and prison employees.
- That veal speech was definitely one he has given before. He has seen many cases like Naz’s and is reeling him in as a big fish. It’s nearly identical to what Allison Crowe is doing to Naz’s parents.
- Det. Box ripping into the two arresting officers was fantastic. Telling them to keep Officer Maldenado’s puking at the scene in the official report is a brilliant chess move — humanizing the officers, the victim, and putting the jury directly in the shoes of a “fresh out of the academy” officer seeing his first dead body is genius. It’s also foreshadowing as to the picture that Allison Crowe is going to paint in Naz’s defense. I cannot wait for this.
- CROWE vs. STONE: “I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase.” Even more perfect because Michael K. Williams is part of this show now.
UPDATE: The cat theory is dead. The cat as a literary device is alive and well.
- The cat represents the truth and for the third week in a row is right under a character’s nose and just as quickly dismissed.
- Just give the truth a little attention and it will open itself up to you, just as the cat wrapped itself around Stone’s leg because he gave it some milk.
- Stone bringing the cat to the MSPCA — and almost assured death — is going to haunt Jack, metaphorically speaking. He sent the truth away in this instance, and is going to be searching for it from here on out.
- Stone, like Naz, is allergic to cats. He’s defending Naz because he sees himself in him — a young kid with a bright future scraping away in a city designed to destroy him. He is compelled to help Naz and give him the chance he didn’t fight to give himself.