The Night Of is a 2016 HBO mini-series written by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, and stars Riz Ahmed and John Turturro among a long list of supporting cast members. As the title implies, this mini-series involves the night of a crime, and the case and trial following said crime. Riz Ahmed plays Nasir Khan, who spends his evening with a girl who is dead when he wakes up in the morning. He flees from the scene, but later gets arrested and is on trial for the murder of the woman, but is convinced that he didn’t do it even though he has no recollection of most of the night. I gotta say off the bat that this first episode was one probably the single most intense episode of television that I’ve seen in my life; hit after hit, it delivered surprises, shocks, and jaw-dropping moments that I’ll not soon forget. The rest of the episodes were very entertaining and impossible to take my eyes off of, but to be totally transparent, I think there’s a lot about the show that I simply do not understand. Throughout the rest of the review, I’m going to highlight parts of my viewing experience and hopefully give you a good idea as to what expect before you watch it!
To start, this mini-series played like a long movie, and it felt like a movie too, even though it was a 9-hour-long story. I guess what usually separates television from film for me is the cinematography, as well as acting, but mostly how the piece looks, and this looked fantastic. I mean, this entire 8-episode show felt like a David Fincher film, which is a huge compliment by itself. I never got bored or tired of watching this show, and the story hooked me from beginning to end. All of that is due to the writing, which is multi-layered and full of subplots that warrant study and repeat viewings for sure. One major theme of the show that takes a lot of thought is that of race. Of course, since the lead character is a Pakistani man arrested for murder, there is going to be a lot of controversy in the show itself about the race of the man and if that factors into the crime. The conversation on race and skin didn’t stop there, however, as there are many mentions of skin color in the show, even going down to John Turturro’s character having eczema, which is a skin disease (non-contagious, as he disclaims). Skin color is mentioned throughout, and the prejudice and racism that go along with different skin colors in the media.
One aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed was the unpredictability of the story. Since this is such a dark show, it’s impossible to tell if Nasir is going to end up free or imprisoned, and it’s a constant and stressful struggle to prove his innocence and fight against the prosecution. I won’t say how it ends, but how it did end surprised me, and made me think about the story and characters a lot. Furthermore, the fact that Nasir doesn’t really know if he did it or not comes into play and brings up the question of morality. One thing that is never brought up that I would have liked to see is that if Nasir gets off free, will somebody else who is innocent get tried and put away, even if Nasir did it? That would have made for a great duality in his head as he goes through the trail, unsure of his guilt… but alas, is not here.
One thing that very much confused me, and even though I’ve put a lot of thought into it, I still can’t piece together Nasir’s character arc. He goes from being a very sweet, polite, and innocent young man to sort of a hardened criminal-type during the show. When he gets moved to Riker’s prison, we’re introduced to a bulk of the story, which is his time in prison. As with all shows dealing with prisons, we are shown the important people to know, the tough people, the initiation, the threats, etc., and Nasir has to learn to survive in prison by befriending the guy who can have people killed with the snap of his fingers. This relationship/friendship leads Nasir to lose some of his innocence, and descend into a mindset that allows him to survive in the prison, but at the cost of himself. It’s a strange character arc that you’ll have to witness for yourself as you watch, but it’s one that I’m a little unconvinced of. I mean, how he is at the end (which I won’t say), almost baffled me. I mean, is this a commentary or political message that prisons change people so drastically that they are completely and unrecognizably different people after awhile? I guess, but I wouldn’t be able to say for sure and I’d be a little surprised if there wasn’t some sort of agenda behind this.
Edit with Spoilers: (in the “block quote” format)…
After about 24 hours of casual contemplation, I suppose that the meaning of our lead character being so drastically different is to beg the question: who is the real victim in the story? Of course, the woman who dies in the first episode is a victim, but so is Naz. Naz’s victimhood is different, however, as he has to evolve in prison into a hardened thug in order to survive, and carries that mentality with him everywhere he goes. Even though he’s “free” at the end, he will never be free of the untrusting glares that he attracts every moment of his life. Furthermore, he will always be treated as a suspect because of this and will never live a normal day until his death. To contrast this, Andrea got herself into a lot of trouble, hung around bad people, and made choices that were potentially damaging to her well-being, and those choices may have ended up being fatal (depending on who killed her). She is much more deserving of a prison sentence than Naz was, who went from being an innocent man at the beginning who only ever took prescribed amphetamines, into a man who smokes crack just to relax. That’s a stark character transformation, and the meaning of it is something I have ideas about, but am not sure exactly what it means.
End Spoiler Discussion.
As I’ve mentioned, this is a long “movie” but the pacing is never slow, only deliberate throughout. This story demands attention as it misleads, surprises, and constantly twists and turns to keep the viewer on his/her toes. There is a lot going on throughout and it’s impossible to know what really happened, which makes each new episode a new mystery for the story and all of it’s characters. There is a lot to love in this show, however, and the fact that I don’t understand the character transformation at the end doesn’t mean this was a waste of 9 hours; I had a great time watching this show, and being confused is just incentive to study it and analyze it further, which I love doing. The Night Of is sort of a mix between, say, Oz, A Few Good Men, and American History X I guess, but only with certain aspects of each (the best aspects of each). Riz Ahmed delivers a transformative performance, and Turturro also blew me away, especially with his monologue in the finale. Overall, I’d say The Night Of is a really good show, but there are a few hesitations and reservations I have from calling it “great,” at least upon first viewing. Some things have been seen before in any prison or crime show, but what this brings that’s different is it’s own flavor to the genre; one that’s sort of haunting, chilling, and gritty, and always entertaining because of it. I’m going to give The Night Of a 7+/10, and a green recommendation! Have you seen this? What did you think about it! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!