Sunday, July 10, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Night Of' - Naz's Night Takes a Tragic Turn When He Meets Andrea in 'The Beach'

HBO's The Night Of - Episode 1.01 "The Beach"

What starts as a perfect night for Pakistani-American student Nasir "Naz" Khan becomes a nightmare when he's arrested for murder.

"The Beach" is such a strong opening episode for HBO's new miniseries The Night Of. It's a taunt and tense crime thriller that builds and builds as it goes along. It's the kind of propulsive episode that is rewarding despite its lengthy running time. It's a bold and original series that proves that HBO is still capable of creating great things - which has been under scrutiny a little bit over the past year or so. So much happens in this premiere. And yet, so much of it is crucial in our understanding of Naz and the crazy circumstances around this tragic night. It's a premiere that does more than just establish the tense mood of this series. It's rich with its depth of characters and situations. It's meaningful when it comes to understanding action. It's nerve-wrecking when it highlights just how broken the police system and the whole world is capable of being.

Trapped in the center of all of this is Naz, who just wanted a fun night out at a party. Instead, his whole life is changing and he has no idea how to react to any of it. This hour works because of Riz Ahmed's powerful performance. It's very understated. Naz is simply a college kid still living at home and struggling to be an effective tutor. He's still trying to find his place in the world. All of that changes instantly once he becomes the prime suspect in a brutal murder. This hour effectively sets up the circumstances being the central crime. It sets out to explain how Naz and Andrea met and what their night together actually was. It doesn't just put them together in his father's taxi and then immediately cuts to him waking up to discover her dead body. The premiere takes its time to set up this main mystery. Everything points to Naz being responsible for this brutal crime. He blacks out because of the drugs and alcohol she gives him. He embraced them as a way to change up his reality and have fun with this really beautiful girl. But she was an off-center presence as well. She got in the taxi just because she wanted to go to the beach. Those weird details add up and build a connection between the two characters.

It's thrilling to watch as Naz cuts loose a little bit and enjoys this night out with Andrea. He doesn't understand anything that she does. And yet, he is still drawn to her. Her mystique is captivating to him. He is willing to do anything with or for her. She pulls that quality out of him. But that leaves his innocent and naive nature to be corrupted. Things are tense and brutal long before he wakes up and discovers that she has been stabbed to death. In fact, the tension before that reveal helps explain just how guilty Naz may actually be. Naz and Andrea were messing around with that knife long before it was used to kill her. She wanted to see if they could successfully stab the countertop and not their hands. That's a horrifying and nerve destroying sight. Both Naz and Andrea are successful with it on their first tries. But when Naz does it with Andrea's hand, he actually does stab her. But it's not a moment built on concern for this injury. Instead, it amplifies the sexual connection between the two. That's such a surprising and really visceral reaction. That's the moment where Andrea wants this bond to become romantic. It's also the moment that essentially dooms Naz for the remainder of the premiere.

Naz does black out. He wakes up in the kitchen and is ready to leave to return home to his happy and normal life with his family. And yet, he can't return to normalcy. Andrea is laying in the bed upstairs having been stabbed to death. Naz has no idea what has happened. He's horrified by the nasty sight of her lifeless body. He doesn't know how to react. He wants to just run away as quickly as possible. That's his first instinct. He doesn't do so because he's guilty. He doesn't know what to do. He wants to escape to normalcy. But seeing her like that really does a number on him. He can't just escape this. First off, he doesn't have the keys to the taxi. So, he has to break into her place in order to retrieve them. That's the action that alerts the neighbors that something criminal may have just happened. And then, he isn't in the proper headspace to drive. He's been drinking and taking drugs. Plus, he just saw the girl he was with dead in her bed. It's not surprising at all that he is pulled over by the cops. He doesn't make it far at all. But despite the blood on his hands and the knife in his possession, he isn't immediately arrested for this vicious crime.

This premiere strategically shows just how complicated the police system can be. Naz is brought back to the scene of the crime. But he's not a suspect. The officers responding to the burglary don't know there's a dead body in the bedroom. They are simply responding to a call and had to take Naz with them before returning to the precinct. But a dead girl is there which complicates the whole night for all of the officers involved. The two who picked up Naz were already working overtime and just wanted to clock out for the day. This murder doesn't allow that to happen. As the detectives piece together the story, they don't know Naz's involvement with Andrea. They learn the details of a Middle Eastern guy running out of the place and getting into a taxi. But the connection to Naz doesn't come until much later. Naz is able to just sit at the police precinct for hours it seems. He is allowed to just walk around the place too. He's not arrested or handcuffed to a desk. He's not waiting for someone to interview him about what happened with Andrea. He's distraught. But the officers just think he has to give a witness statement. That's how easily this system can break apart. Naz is given the opportunity to walk out of the precinct and no one would know the difference. And yet, he doesn't take that opportunity. He believes he has to stay in the precinct. That's how twisted his thought process is right now.

Everything eventually crashes down on Naz too. The officers find the knife on him. A witness points him out as being at the crime scene. He basically even admits that he was there and this was a whole big misunderstanding. And yet, Naz still doesn't know what to do. The detective in charge of this investigation, Box, is able to manipulate him into giving him exactly what he needs to make his case. As the questioning begins, it's easy to see the tricks Box uses to get Naz to talk. They are very effective as well. Box wants to understand what happened. He wants details from Naz. But the experience is still so overwhelming to Naz. He wants to tell the truth. But he's not absolutely sure about it either. At one point, Naz was even wondering if his night with Andrea was even real or not. It seems like it was though. But that doesn't make his official statement coherent. He doesn't do a great job at explaining himself to Box. In fact, Box is able to push Naz around to get the story and evidence necessary to make his case. It's not until after the fact that Naz realizes he should have asked for a lawyer. That thought never occurred to him. By then, he's not even in a position to be asking for one. The detectives have what they need while the crime scene analysts are finishing up and heading back to the lab.

And yet, Naz does get a lawyer. One just happens to fall in his lap in the form of Jack Stone. It's only because of that innocent and doe-eyed look on his face throughout this entire process. Jack only decides to take him on as a client because he believes he just cut a woman. He doesn't know Naz is being looked at for murder. That complicates everything. It shows how one simple conversation can play entirely different with context. Jack didn't have the full story when he talked briefly with a cop outside the precinct. He went in and gave Naz his legal advice. That's something he wanted to do. It shows that he is perhaps a good person. Naz believes Jack has been informed of his crimes and what all has happened. He has not. It's only later when Jack gets that realization. He may not be able to get Naz out so easily. All he can reasonably give him right now is a phone call to let his family know what all is going on. It's a dreadful final moment where his family realizes just how tragic Naz's night was while they were all sleeping. Their lives are about to change as the twisted narrative of the miniseries is only getting started.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Beach" was written by Richard Price and directed by Steven Zaillian.
  • Naz just wanted a fun night out on the town. He took an invitation to hang out with the jocks as a way to break out of his normal existence. He got that for a moment but the tragedy soon took over his world.
  • It should also be fun to watch as Detective Box tries to piece together Naz and Andrea's night together - which will include Naz refusing a couple of guys who got into his taxi, the cops who helped with that situation, a stop at a gas station, Naz paying for drinks, a driver trying to poach Andrea while she was in the taxi and the guys who harassed Naz outside of Andrea's place.
  • The fact that Jack Stone wears sandals everywhere because he has eczema is a fun and quirky detail for that character. It's a brief moment of levity in an overall serious, tense and emotional premiere. His life is about to get worse because he decided to help this kid out.
  • It's also amusing that the two officers who pull Naz over for driving under the influence are working overtime and just want to go home. And yet, this mess with Naz keeps them from doing so for a long time.
  • It's a chilling final image for Naz's father to run out into the street to see that his taxi isn't there and just how doomed his son's night has been. And yet, how did no one in the family think to look to see if the taxi was still there once they had no clue where Naz was?
  • I'm already in love with this show's score. The orchestration that plays over both the title sequence and credits is wonderful.