Sunday, August 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Night Of' - Chandra and Stone Do Their Best to Defend Naz at Trial in 'Ordinary Death'

HBO's The Night Of - Episode 1.07 "Ordinary Death"

The trial of The State v. Nasir Khan moves to the defense phase.

The evidence against Naz is so high that it takes more than one episode for Helen to present all of it to the jury at trial. She took them on a very effective journey through the scene of the crime and Nasir Khan's life last week. But she still has a few more details to get to. She has to have the medical examiner talk about the cut on Naz's hand and the high school gym teacher reveal Naz's past violent tendencies. Those only strengthen the case against Naz. But "Ordinary Death" focuses more on the defense as well and how Stone and Chandra are planning their strategy. Last week's episode was significant because so much of the trial was told through the prosecution's point-of-view. It was their turn to present the evidence. But more importantly, Chandra didn't do a whole lot to challenge any of the statements about the night in question. And now, it's her turn to lead the jury on a journey. It's a journey that is still coming together moment-to-moment. But the show is laying the seeds of how Naz may be about to escape all of this without a conviction.

Of course, Naz is still changing so much as a character. He may still be guilty of killing Andrea. The answer to that core mystery doesn't even really need to be answered. Right now, it's important whether or not he'll be convicted of that crime and what his life would be like if he were to be set free. The show has presented a number of alternate suspects who could have done the murder. Naz still seems like the main suspect because of all the evidence against him. But Chandra is doing her duty to focus on Box's misgivings while handling this investigation. That first episode set up a number of opportunities for the defense to attack how this crime was handled by the police. Very few of those details have actually had staying power though. Stone and Chandra are doing their best working with the few details they actually know about. They remain surprised whenever a new piece of information appears before them. Chandra is taking aback when she learns Naz had yet another violent outburst in school. It's a reveal that happens on the stand too. But Stone's discovery that Box took Naz's inhaler from the crime scene and returned it to Naz is enough to really call into question all of his detective skills.

And yet, Naz is still showing the audience that he is no longer the doe-eyed, naive young adult he was at the start of the series. That really was just a facade. It was genuine when he spent that night with Andrea and then fled the crime scene. He was overwhelmed by a foreign system that he didn't understand. But now, he is growing more and more comfortable with the criminal lifestyle within prison. He's bringing drugs in with no problems at all. He no longer has any issues with doing that for Freddy. He has no problem continuing to rely on drugs to survive this ordeal. It's his coping mechanism to handle the changing details of the trial. Now, even his mother has her doubts about his innocence. She's doing whatever it takes just to survive on the outside. But now, she's wondering if she raised a monster capable of such despicable violence. That really gets to Naz. By the end of "Ordinary Death," he basically confirms everything that his mother feared. He really is a monster. The prison stuff hasn't been as great as the police and legal aspects of the show. Freddy has been interesting but that's because of Michael Kenneth Williams. It's hard to care about another inmate killing himself because he's ashamed of what he has to do to survive in prison. But that all builds to the key moment of Naz helping Freddy kill another member of his crew.

Naz isn't the one who ultimately kills the inmate though. However, he is a complicit accomplice. He distracts the guard so that Freddy can kill the man and get away with it. It's a violent final action for the hour. It's a key turning point for Naz's story too. He has gone from a man who couldn't believe he was associated with a crime to someone who actively plans and executes one. He has formed such a strong bond with Freddy that has fundamentally changed him as a person. Of course, he wasn't the sweet kid everyone believed he was at the start of the season. His arrest and time in prison have only changed him so much. The narrative has instead revealed who Naz truly is at his very core. It's a messy and eye-opening experience for everyone. No one fully knows anyone else. Everyone is surprised by all of the details they learn about Naz. His family would be shocked and horrified by his actions in prison. He remains well-poised in the courtroom. But he still sits there as a man who really could have done this horrifying crime. It's no longer as simple as it was before. That has made this such a captivating journey to watch.

Chandra is committed to getting Naz released though. She has gotten so attached to this case. She needs to win because she knows how all of the Khans' lives will change if she doesn't. They are going to change no matter what. The show is never blind to that fact. It shows how the animosity to the Muslim community has only grown because of Naz's trial. Outspoken members of the public believe he's guilty and are taking it out on an entire community just because they look like him. It's horrifying and sadly all too realistic. Chandra can relate to all of that too. She sympathizes with Naz lashing out at school in a post-9/11 world. But there's only so much of that that she can take. And yet, she is still at his side defending him. There's just something about Naz that is captivating to her. That could take a tragic turn so quickly if he is found guilty. The two of them have gotten so close because of this trial that they mistake that intimacy for a sexual connection. Chandra knows it's wrong as soon as they kiss. But it's something that happens nevertheless. She does her best to defend Naz in court but this case is really starting to define her life as well. She has no life outside of this case. Her whole world is Naz. This trial will come to its dramatic conclusion next week. It should be interesting to see what the fallout is like for all involved.

Stone is a crucial member of the defense as well. In court, he just sits at the table and lets Chandra do all of the questioning. She's lead council for Naz. But Stone is just as supportive as well. He's committed to this case. But he has also lived a life outside of this trial. He's struggled with his eczema. But now, that's cleared up. And yet, his personal life isn't any better. He has more confidence with his appearance while out in public. But he is still all alone in an apartment with a cat he is allergic to. He has really grown attached to that animal. And yet, the cat has the potential of killing Stone so easily. All it takes is getting out of that room to really throw Stone off. That's all it takes. The cat is the only thing he has in his life too. That's depressing but it also means he has the time and conviction to see Naz's trial through to the end. Box doesn't have a life outside of work either. And yet, he's retiring after 33 years on the force. He's ending with a case he thought would be a slam dunk. But now, Chandra is pointing out all of the other suspects he failed to question in this case. He got his man early on. He worked towards that narrative against Naz and nothing else. He may be right to just believe the facts and the evidence of the case. But as Chandra presents all of the other pieces, it may just be enough to create reasonable doubt for the jury.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ordinary Death" was written by Richard Price & Steven Zaillian and directed by Steven Zaillian.
  • Stone does a really bad job with following people. It's not an easy skill set at all. And yet, Stone does it anyway to investigate Don. Of course, that nearly gets him killed in the process. Don shows himself to be a man not afraid to intimidate and threaten others just to get what he wants.
  • Helen gets into a heated match with the defense's forensic expert. The audience knows that she coerced the medical examiner into testifying that the cut on Naz's hand came from stabbing Andrea. And yet, she uses that to call into question just how reliable a witness this doctor can actually be. It's a match that she doesn't win though.
  • The inhaler is a crucial plot point that led to a murder. So, it wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if the cat was somehow involved with Andrea's murder. The tension was definitely high when it found it's way to Stone's bed.
  • Stone's son no longer wants to be seen with him. His classmates know who he is because he had that embarrassing experience talking in front of the class. But Stone's son still doesn't want to spend any quality time with him. That is sad though not surprising given what we know about Stone.
  • The owners of the taxi believe Naz is guilty of the crime. Naz's father refuses to believe that. And yet, he needs to work with them because driving a taxi will make more money than what he's now doing. The family has to sell everything precious to them but they do get the finances together for that taxi. Now, is that a better investment than actually paying for Naz's trial?
  • Just because Don has gotten more screen time than any of the other alternate suspects in Andrea's murder, I'm guessing he'll be revealed as the killer - if it's not Naz. Or he could just be one big red herring. If that's the case, the show has been very effective with that angle as well. It wouldn't feel like a cheat.