The Night Of - Steven Zaillian and James Marsh
When Game Of Thrones season 6 was airing, I remember sitting with Brian before and after the episode generally discussing where we left off last week and later what had transpired. We’d be eager to start or catch up on theorizing what would happen the following week, and we would keep HBO on in the background. Just about every week, there was a new teaser for The Night Of. We had no idea what to make of its incredibly vague dialogue and ominous, empty scenery, but it stopped us in our tracks every time.
A few days ago, I was doing the usual scroll through Facebook and passed a review of the finale of the miniseries. I had no idea that it had finished and thought it was a good time to finally put the time into the show.
We follow Nasir “Naz” Khan, a student living outside New York City with his family. At school, he and his friend are invited to a party that promises a good time. After his friend bails, leaving Naz without, he takes his father’s taxi into the city. Upon entering the city, a woman jumps in thinking he's an actual taxi driver, and after a little persuasion, Naz decides to take her where she wants to go. One thing leads to another and Naz is invited into the woman’s house where they have a few drinks, take an unknown drug, play a little Five Finger Fillet, and then fall asleep in an intoxicated haze. Naz wakes up sitting in her kitchen. Thinking it's time to go, he goes to the bedroom to get his clothes and say goodbye. He finds her stabbed to death. In a panic, Naz grabs the presumed murder weapon and runs out of the house, forgetting the keys to the car. He breaks in, grabs the keys, and finally takes off. Long story short: Naz is arrested before the end of the episode and is believed to be the killer.
It's hard find a fitting place to start on this masterful series, but I think the best blanket statement to make is that it's quite obvious that the writers and directors were inspired by the works of David Fincher, specifically Gone Girl. The stark color pallet that washes over New York City is oppressive, and the journey minor characters take either trying to understand that night or trying simply live their life leads them to meet unsavory characters and into difficult confrontations. The camera is often an omniscient observer when following these peripheral characters, catching a mannerism or look in their eye that triggers a gut feeling, but is at its best diving into Naz’s psyche. Being in his shoes as he's cross-examined by biased interviewers will turn your stomach, and the jail scenes - claustrophobic, overcrowded, full of hardened prisoners - are terrifying. But what makes it truly feel Fincher-esque is the prevailing theme that despite the outcome, everyone is coming out of this changed and it's never for the better.
None of this would have come together the way it does if the cast wasn’t on point. Riz Ahmed, who plays Naz, is the enigma he needs to be, genuinely distraught in the heat of the moment but all too calm and reserved later on. It probably rubbed off in the time he spent with Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. John Turturro is the lawyer, comedic relief, and occasional punching bag, whether he’s schmoozing a person of interest or schlepping all across New York City in search of a “magical cure” for his almost debilitating eczema. It's not that belly-laugh form of standard comedy, but a way to make light of grim situations. It can be painful. Topping off the cast is Bill Camp as the seasoned detective who at first believes it's cased-closed shortly after opening, but later realizes there's more of a story than previously thought. He is set apart from the archetype by his ability to maneuver, and sometimes circumvent, the rules. Certainly the most compelling character, right behind Naz, but sometimes doesn’t get the time he deserve.
There's so much to dissect and talk about, but in the interest of keeping spoilers to a minimum, I’ll leave you here. Don’t let this one slip you by. It’s an eight-episode binge that can be heavy to take in, but the captivating nature of the story will keep you wanting more. This isn’t the last time you’ll hear about The Night Of because I’m certain that it will at least be up for Best Miniseries at the Emmys. I’m calling it right now: if this is beaten by another miniseries, it will be the upset of the night.
- Alex B.
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