Back when HBO’s crime drama The Night Of premiered, I heralded the pilot as a truly spectacular piece of television, comparing it favorably to True Detective’s stellar first season. So, why then, has my interest in the show waned with each passing week?
Don’t get me wrong, all the aspects that made me love the premier are still present. The show has provided great acting in spades, it has an interesting story, offers a unique take on traditional crime dramas, and the directorial attention to every aspect of procedural minutiae that goes into solving a criminal case has been fascinating.
But rather than being excited to return to this world, I have been dragging a little bit more each subsequent week when it comes time to tune is. The reason being that show offers the audience no one to root for in this story – we have no stake in the outcome.
Now hear me out. The show has many redeemable characters even beyond the defendant Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed). Watching his family struggle to get by and cope in the aftermath has been captivating and heartbreaking, but I don’t find myself rooting for Naz to be cleared for their sake. Similarly, Naz’s legal team Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan) and John Stone (John Turturro) have done noble work defending him and trying to find the “true” killer. But what does that matter? They are lawyers and not detectives – the major divergence from True Detective. While they chase down alternative suspects, they have no ability to bring them to justice, only to divert attention from their client.
And when all’s said and done, that client is no longer the innocent kid who made a string of bad decisions that put him in a dangerous and compromising position. What’s worse is that Naz has continued to make poor decisions at Rikers Island, each one seemingly worse than the last. In these decision, Naz has lost much of the humanity that made the audience writhe with discomfort as we watched him that fateful night of the murder. He is no longer the good kid who forced the audience to believe he couldn’t have murdered an innocent girl and ended up in this mess due to poor judgement, but no malice on his part.
That is not to say I believe Naz murdered Andrea. I maintain that he is innocent and that Andrea was killed by one of the nefarious characters on the periphery, whether it be Duane Reade, the hurst drive, or a henchman of her stepfather. But, is it possible to say at this point that Naz deserves to be found innocent? Are we even rooting for the jury to decide that way anymore? My answer is not to the former and ambivalence towards the latter.
Maybe not having a dog in this fight is the point of the show. After all, The Night Of is many things but it was never meant to be about the outcome of the trial. It’s purpose is to be an in-depth analysis on the procedures that occur from the moment a crime is committed until a jury’s verdict is read, an analysis of how prison can affect an admittedly impressionable young man, an examination of different albeit equally difficult forms of loneliness, and how a crime affects the people beyond simply the suspect and victim. Saying all these things show just what an impressive undertaking The Night Of is. The show has accomplished all its goals, the only problem is it may of come at the cost of audience buy in to the outcome of the central plot.
There is an oft repeated phrase in life that goes something like “It is not about the destination but rather the journey.” The same is true about The Night Of. So when the show wraps up on Sunday, I won’t be focused on the outcome of the trial or where the characters end up, but instead on the final moments of their journeys.